Tag Archive: Antony N Britt


After seeing them several times now, nothing about Birmingham Youth Theatre (BYT) should surprise me, however, each time that I do, the excellence raises another level. And this was again the case with their January 2023 pantomime, Cinderella.

Cinderella — The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham — 15 January 2023

I’m not going to waste words on the plot; it’s Cinderella, for heaven’s sake. However, every version written is individual and this one by Joe Logan was top-drawer. As a writer myself, I praised Logan last year and once again we had a well-written (and extremely funny) script. Contemporary in style but keeping pantomime elements audiences have loved for years.

When recently reviewing Dick Whittington at the Birmingham Hippodrome, I spoke about the differences between professional pantomimes, boasting named stars, and the amateur equivalents. I can honestly say, although both excellent, I cannot separate which I enjoyed best, nor which was the more polished. Because from the opening company number in Cinderella, Get on Your Feet led by Lola Harper as Cinderella, quality oozed from the stage and into the auditorium. And it’s Harper in the title role I must praise first. What a voice! Strong and controlled, superb in Easy on Me and (Ed Sheeran’s) Perfect, duetting in the latter with the equally outstanding Luke Griffiths (Prince Charming).

Cinderella — The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham — 15 January 2023

One of the things I love about BYT is their inclusion and versatility. Last year Lily-Mae Nicholls was “wonderfully evil,” while Maddison Clarke took on the comic fairy role. This time roles reversed with Nicholls as (the not too competent) Fairy Non-Bio, whereas Clarke ranked high in the villainous stakes in the part of the Baroness. Clarke, on the day, gave a great rendition of Confident and Nicholls did likewise at the end of Act One in a superb version of You Will Be Found with Cinderella and the Dance Team.

People who read me will know I have modern views about the portrayal of Pantomime Dames and once again I am delighted with what I saw. Gone, thankfully, are the days where we would laugh at the ugly, hairy-chested man in a dress, now having more trans sympathetic portrayals. Caedon O’Malley (Stacey) and Rhys Bishop (Tracey) were as good as anyone I have seen in such roles. In fact, so well were their characterisations, I had accepted them as female from the off and forgotten the actors were men by Act Two. Juice was amazing and both O’Malley and Bishop in this performance engaged the audience like professionals.

Cinderella — The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham — 15 January 2023

Unless you mess around with the traditional plot (Yes … I did in 2021), Cinderella is full of unrequited love. This time, it wasn’t only Buttons, but Dandini as well. David Morrison was a wonderful Buttons, full of energy and like the dames, interacting well with the audience. There was confidence great to see from one so young and What Makes You Beautiful was as good as any number on the day. The unfortunate Dandini, on the other hand, was portrayed by Carter Evans who made the character his own and I Can Hear the Bells was one of the best songs in the show.

Once again playing a monarch was Dylan O’Connor as the bombastic King Bernard. He gave a good showing in the other Perfect, this time the Fairground Attraction one before duetting well in Act Two with Carter Evans during a poignant Let Him Go. Then we also had great comic foils in Bish, Bash and Bosh (Harrison Doherty, Charlie McRoberts and Andrew Morrison) trying to be a One Direction Tribute but singing a Backstreet Boys song in Everybody instead.

Cinderella — The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham — 15 January 2023

Another of my top numbers in the show was Hammer to Fall. Let’s face it, you can never have enough Queen. This was excellent from Lucie Holcroft (Fairy Nuff) and Charlie Bland (Mysterious Figure, revealed to be Baron Hardup). And if one can’t have enough Queen, there is always room for Abba as well and favourite of the night for me was Angel Eyes (Lola Harper, Caedon O’Malley, Rhys Bishop and Company).

Other named principals were the excellent Saran Sambhi (Principal Godmother), Kitty Smart and Amelia Jennings (Masters of Ceremonies with some witty one liners), Marni Carroll (OAP Princess, proving again how good she is at these comic cameos) and Josh Mills (The Troll with excellent timing). Duos inside the animals were Niamh Flannagan and Sophie Terry (Moo Moo) with Abigail Bell and Cat Allsop (White Horse).

As well as writing a brilliant script, Joe Logan was also choreographer and the results on view were well above what you would expect for a youth company. You must remember, all these kids are 19 and under. Ellie Johnstone and Olivia Jefferson were dance captains to the highly talented team of Beatrice Roberts, Bella Hoppner, Hannah Allsop, Ruby Blount, Tabitha Vlok and Tegan Lynch. I particularly liked their movement as the trees in the forest, finding it hypnotising at times.

Cinderella — The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham — 15 January 2023

Completing the ensemble (because nobody deserves leaving out) were Daisy Wright, Edina Bilham-Moore, Emily Green, George Beckett, Kamile Kazlauskaite, Luke Holcroft, Maisie Cotterill, Megan Allsop, Mia Hodges and Sophia Cupples.

The other members of a brilliant production team were Vivienne Morrison (Director) and Chris Corcoran (Musical Director). Morrison can be extremely proud of her work and students in making this a show to remember. There really isn’t a negative word to say about it. And Corcoran once again shows why he is highly rated in Musical Theatre.

July sees Birmingham Youth Theatre taking on Sister Act, again at The Crescent Theatre, which is to be their new home. One of the reasons for this, we are told, is the increase in membership, essential to any company. Praise, therefore, must go to those behind the scenes; the committee, the friends and parents who support and spread the word. The Crescent is a great theatre and BYT fully deserve it to be their new base of performing.

Cinderella — The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham — 15 January 2023

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

I discovered Script Youth Musical Theatre Company earlier this year with their amazing production of Grease, so had no hesitation in booking tickets for their latest offerings. I say that in plural as the evening was split into two with the first half featuring a newly formed juniors’ section and Beauty and the Beast while the seniors treated the audience to a Musical Theatre Showcase in Unscripted.

Beauty and the Beast & Unscripted — Grange Playhouse, Walsall — 10 December 2022

It’s bold to separate the ages but the move should prove good as the younger members can now develop at their own pace and not fall behind in the shadows of their older counterparts. This showed with confidence at being to the forefront in Beauty and the Beast and it was noticeable how well they shined. The panto featured excellent performances, particularly from Gracie Reynolds (Beauty), Hannah Bennet (Beast), Alex Brown (Bruno), Edward Lawlor (Papa), Lexi Shaw (Teapot), Isla Thorpe (Cup), Darci Rice (Clock) and a lovely extrovert character from Lee Stubbington as Candlestick. Narrating and delivering a good offering of Beauty and the Beast (Tale as Old as Time) was Maddie Howard who repeated the song alongside Gracie Reynolds with full company at the end of the show. We also had company versions of Be Our Guest. There are a couple of supporting members I’d also like to mention (even though I’d love to name them all). The first is Poppy Kerr (An acrobatic Rose) and Zachary Duke as the mime who I could not take my eyes off due to some brilliant facial expressions. Yes, these kids are young, and have a long way to go, but here is a good start and who knows where they will be in a few years’ time.

Beauty and the Beast & Unscripted — Grange Playhouse, Walsall — 10 December 2022

After an interval the older members of Script took centre stage with songs from musical theatre and film opening with Finlay Laidlaw and Mya Cartwright leading a full ensemble with The Greatest Show. Following, Evie Rice and Harry Robbins delivered a lovely fun rendition of Love is an Open Door (Frozen).

Again, impossible to name every number but some of my other favourites included We Will Rock You, On My Own (Superbly sung by Sophia Powers) and Harriet. This latter number was an outing for a Script Society formed band, Fading Embers (Ollie Roberts, Finlay Laidlaw, Kadenna Glendon and Harry Robbins). It’s great to see initiative and another avenue for talent to progress and shine.

Beauty and the Beast & Unscripted — Grange Playhouse, Walsall — 10 December 2022

I also enjoyed numbers from my two most favourite musicals. Seventeen (Heathers) was executed well by Erin Mooney and Sam Williams and I was delighted and could not help joining in during Stick it to the Man (School of Rock). I don’t care how loud I sang, it’s a song I have performed myself and relish every chance to relive the moment. Top number of the night, though, was Ex Wives – The Queens (Six the Musical) featuring Erin Phillips, Erin Mooney, Mollie Fitzpatrick, Sophia Powers, Evie Rice and Ella Gibson-Brookes. Brilliant.

Yes, this was a youth production and there is always room for improvement, obviously. The only area I would say was the case, however, would be for more confidence and audience engagement, especially during rock numbers like Stick It and Rock You. Break that fourth wall and get in the audiences’ faces. Performers will engage them and gain so much that anything is possible in the future.

Beauty and the Beast & Unscripted — Grange Playhouse, Walsall — 10 December 2022

The shows were produced and choreographed brilliantly by Louise Salt, Tim Rice, Molly Chamberlain, Madeline Fleming and Ellie Quinn. Compering events was Rob Bissett who linked songs with sometimes awful, but still funny jokes. He did pick on me at one point in the front row but at least this was to highlight that I was the strongest in joining in an audience participation song. As a performer myself, I’ll take that.

Overall, a wonderful night, so well done to everyone involved. Script Youth Musical Theatre Company return to Highbury Theatre in Sutton Coldfield next July with School of Rock. Oh, how I’d love to be a teenager again and part of that experience as I know the show so well, but I’ll settle for watching these talented youngsters bring it to life instead.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

The biggest surprise on seeing Beautiful is just how many Carole King songs you know. Sure, I’d heard of Tapestry, and It’s Too Late, You’ve Got a Friend and Beautiful itself, and I also knew she was one half of the iconic writing duo of Goffin and King. But what I didn’t count on was hearing classics from The Shirelle’s, The Drifter’s, Bobby Vee and Little Eva, then realising who wrote the songs in the first place. To be honest, as well as being an excellent show, it was an education.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical — Birmingham Hippodrome — 30 August 2022

From humble beginnings, King (with Goffin lyrics) wrote for the best. The show is based predominantly in the recording studios within an almost claustrophobic set which works well. There is also no intent on hiding rear and side stages with performers often seen moving with props and scenery. This too is effective as along with the enclosed studios, it gives the feel of a busy environment outside. Then, with all the music played onstage by the performers themselves, you really do feel you are in the studio as history was made.

Beautiful is a Jukebox Musical and that description is perfect because it is like hit after hit on the jukebox, with a story added for good measure. It Might as Well Rain Until September, Some Kind of Wonderful, Take Good Care of My Baby, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, The Locomotion, One Fine Day, and Chains (Made more famous by the Beatles). All of these were showcased in Beautiful.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical — Birmingham Hippodrome — 30 August 2022

Music aside, what Beautiful also offered was a well-written script from Douglas McGrath which moved at a good pace. Obviously, words and music to most songs came from King and Goffin, but there were also numbers from contemporary composers, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, who featured heavily as a side plot. And the education was there as well as I did not know much about them, but they also delivered fine songs, notably You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, We Gotta Get Out of This Place and On Broadway.

All the performers were outstanding, including Molly-Grace Cutler (Carole King), Tom Milner (Gerry Goffin), Seren Sandham-Davies (Cynthia Weil), Jos Slovick (Barry Mann), Claire Greenway (Genie), Sorrel Jordan (Betty) and Garry Robson (Donnie Kirsner).

The director for Beautiful was Nikolai Foster with Choreography by Leah Hill and Musical Direction from Sarah Travis.

After the breakup of King’s marriage to Gerry Goffin, she embarked on a new career as a performer in her own right and (as depicted in the show) the rest is history. Such an impact this show made on me, I immediately went out and ordered Tapestry (as I did not have it in my music library.

Beautiful is still currently touring the UK until the end of November. I recommend it highly.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical — Birmingham Hippodrome — 30 August 2022

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

*** Apologies for the lateness of this review. Covid came calling. *** 

Young Frankenstein is a musical I have waited a long time to see, and if you’ve read my reviews in the past, you know I don’t care if it’s professional or amateur productions. Masqueraders Theatrical Company fall into the latter category, but there was nothing amateur about this offering.  

Young Frankenstein—The Abbey Theatre, Nuneaton—Saturday 11 June 2022

Always a good indication of a great show is when your partner knows little about it, has reservations, but ends up buzzing at how good it was afterwards. This was the case and even me, who did have high expectations was not disappointed. 

Young Frankenstein is based on the 1974 Mel Brooks’ film of the same name and adapted for theatre in 2007 by Brooks (Music and Lyrics) with assistance from Thomas Meehan on the book. 

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (played by Andy Ward) inherits his grandfather’s castle in Transylvania (complete with his ancestor’s deadly experiments). Despite initial reluctance, he soon sees he can succeed where his grandfather failed, to great comic effect. Ward was excellent as the crazed doctor, particularly in The Brain, a number typical of Mel Brooks’ complicated arrangements. It must be so hard for any MD to reproduce. 

Supporting well was Chad Fletcher in the role of Igor who duetted well with Ward for the genius that is Together Again for the First Time. Then we had Naomi O’Borne as the very high-spirited Laboratory Assistant, Inga. Combining well with the aforementioned two, Roll in the Hay was superb. 

And then we meet Frau Blucher (cue the terrified horse noises), played by Kim Liggins who was simply out of this world in the role. He Vas My Boyfriend is such a good song, but you need a character actor to pull it off and Liggins did just that. 

But the principals just go on, and what a sign of a good show it is when you have so many characters of high-quality writing with performances to do them justice. Freja Brabazon shone as the pushy, insufferable, Elizabeth Benning (excellent in Deep Love and Please Don’t Touch Me) while Ashley Blackstock (Inspector Kemp) and Jenny Chappell (Blind Hermit) both supported well with He’s Loose and Please Send Me Somebody, respectively. 

Now, every version of Frankenstein needs a monster but until Mel Brooks, none had ever tapped on stage to Puttin’ on the Ritz. It’s the highlight of the film and the same is the result here. You cannot help but laugh, as did the entire audience. Richard Yates was amazing as the creature; great expressions, especially in the scenes with the hermit. 

Young Frankenstein—The Abbey Theatre, Nuneaton—Saturday 11 June 2022

Other numbers of the night from a wonderful ensemble included Transylvania Mania, Hang the Doctor and Hang Him ’til He’s Dead. This looked to be a good company, and everyone seemed to revel in their roles. No airs and graces, either; the cast were even selling programmes and raffle tickets beforehand.  

The director for Young Frankenstein was Mike Chappell (assisted by Abbe Shields) with Musical Direction from David Adams and Choreography by Jenny Chappell

A thoroughly enjoyable night and a brilliant show. Will definitely return to see Masqueraders in the future.  

Young Frankenstein—The Abbey Theatre, Nuneaton—Saturday 11 June 2022

Cheers.

Antony N Britt  

***Apologies for the lateness of this review. Covid came calling.***

Some films don’t transfer well to stage, and Shrek is one of them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an okay, enjoyable romp, but not one of the best scripts with a mediocre score. And that was such a pity because Quarry Bank Musical Theatre Company are one of the best I have seen on my travels. But you can only work with what material you have and fortunately, QBMTC did pull off a storm of a show, bringing alive characters far beyond what the script expects to deliver. 

Shrek—Brierley Hill Civic Hall—June 7 2022

Based on the 2001 film of the same name, Shrek the Musical follows the plot closely, with some added extras, most notably expanding on Lord Farquaad’s plot, excellently portrayed by Tom Robinson. But he wasn’t the only one to shine. Carl Cook in the lead role was as good as Mike Myers and likewise, Sarah Coussens excelled too as Princess Fiona. Completing the trio of heroes, one actor had the unenviable task of being an Eddie Murphey. Fortunately, Luey Pearce made Donkey his own and had me forgetting the Hollywood stars’ performance completely. Other principals were Natalie Baggott (Dragon), Gillian Homer (Gingerbread Man/Sugar Plum Fairy) and Isabella Cook (Pinocchio). 

It is a credit to Quarry Bank and amateur theatre that the performances were that good, it put the West End in the shade. Sometimes with professionals, you get the feel of going through the motions yet here, professionalism came from the heart of those who do it for the love of theatre. And didn’t it show. Wonderful. 

Shrek—Brierley Hill Civic Hall—June 7 2022

Shrek has a few excellent numbers: Morning Person, Build a Wall, Freak Flag and Story of My Life. Additionally, I loved What’s Up Duloc with the wonderful Duloc Performers. But my favourite number of the night was I Know It’s Today, where three Princess Fiona’s at different ages, tell of their wish to be rescued. Credit to Connie Davies and Katie Tranter who joined Sarah Coussens in this wonderful offering. However, there were a few songs which were fillers, not adding to the plot or moving it forward. Again, a fault of the original template. 

And I hate to keep going back to the script, but it amazes me how fast things date. Only 20 years since the original film debuted, I now feel uncomfortable at the ridiculing of a person’s size with Lord Farquaad’s being used as a plot device for cheap laughs.  

The team behind Shrek, making this an enjoyable night for all, was Zoe Russell with dual duties of Directing and Choreography, while Chris Handley was Musical Director. 

Brierley Hill Civic Hall isn’t the best venue for Musical Theatre, echoing like a cavern at times but Quarry Bank raised the roof with exuberance and quality throughout. A wonderful showing from an excellent musical theatre company. 

Shrek—Brierley Hill Civic Hall—June 7 2022

Cheers.

Antony N Britt 

Somebody once said to me that there were better Queen tribute bands out there than Queen & Adam Lambert. Now, I rarely do tribute acts, apart from when you can no longer see the real thing like Queen. So, how did Supreme Queen measure up to the dazzling legacy and did it beat the modern-day incarnation of the band?

Well, visually, it took time because obviously, they were not Queen, but the sound! With a voice so like Freddy Mercury, lead singer, Scott Maley immediately had me believing I was listening to the real thing. And that, I guess, is what you need with tributes. For tributes are what they are and to be successful you do need to believe. After a few songs, I forgot the physical differences and I experienced legends of rock.

Starting off with One Vision and Tie Your Mother Down, Supreme Queen treated a packed audience to hit after hit: Seven Seas of Rhye, Keep Yourself Alive, It’s a Kind of Magic and Under Pressure were among 25 instantly recognisable classics. I was also overjoyed to hear the fast (and, superior) version of We Will Rock You.

The set in the main modelled itself on the stadium tour songs of the mid-1980s. I guess when you have such an enormous catalogue, things must give way. Therefore, sparse on the early albums and nothing from the final three. A shame, but it’s probably what the fans want. And to be there, the audience most definitely were fans of Queen. Such energy and enthusiasm from Supreme Queen transferred onto those watching. And not just the oldies who formed the majority. It was also good to see younger members; teenagers with parents next to me and three children all under eleven in front with their family. It was clear all were brought up on the band, gloriously indoctrinated and now having the time of their lives. Brilliant. You see, we form many of our tastes based on those of others. I, myself, was into Queen aged 10, all because my elder sister had Queen albums in 1973 while my classmates went on to like The Bay City Rollers, .

The show divided into two sets, allowing audience and band time to recuperate and then we had more of the same: I Want to Break Free, Another One Bites the Dust, Radio Ga Ga and, of course, Bohemian Rhapsody. Mimicking Queen shows of old, Supreme Queen ended with We Will Rock You (single version) and We Are the Champions.

What we also had were two long drum and guitar solos. Now, I’m not a fan of Brian May and Roger Taylor’s musical masturbations, but they were mainstays of the original shows throughout Queen’s career, so I can see why they’re included.

Supporting Scott Maley’s Mercury was Luke Timmins (Brian May), Alan Wallbanks (John Deacon) and Allan Brown (Roger Taylor). In addition, we had Ben Marshall as the keyboard player Queen didn’t have but contributing the pieces Freddy Mercury would play. All were excellent. Let’s face it, to pull off being convincing Queens, you’ve got to be damn good at what you do, and Supreme Queen were that and more.

A thoroughly wonderful night. I will be back. Long live Queen.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

Tom Bryce finds a USB stick on a train and brings it home to try and find its owner to return it. However, on viewing, he witnesses the murder of a young woman in an online snuff video. Tom is then threatened by the perpetrators to keep silent otherwise it will be bad for him, wife, Kellie and son, Max. However, Max fails to do so and Kellie is taken to be the next star performer.

I’m a huge fan of Peter James, although I only started reading him with the Roy Grace novels. I guess that makes Looking Good Dead the second book of James’ that I read many years ago. I’ve since read them all and am now going through the standalones’ back catalogue.

Looking Good Dead, like many stage productions, had a small cast so roles from the book were reassigned. In fact, Grace wasn’t the main character on this occasion, the Bryce family instead receiving the focus. However, it was nice for a fan to hear references to off-stage police persons like Norman Potting, Cleo Moray, EJ Bountwood and Alison Vosper, among others. It brought a bit more of the books to proceedings.

In the roles of Tom and Kellie Bryce we had Adam Woodyatt and Laurie Brett duplicating their Eastenders soap marriage and the chemistry between them was obvious. Woodyatt had been in Eastenders for 35 years until recently and although Tom was similar in character to Ian Beale, he was different enough to be a person in his own right. Both Woodyatt and Brett delivered strong, believable performances on the night and the same can be said for Luke-Ward Wilkinson as Max. There were some lovely scenes which portrayed the typical lack of communication between parent and offspring.

On the police side were Harry Long as Roy Grace with Leon Stewart in the role of Glenn Branson. Completing the trio of detectives was Gemma Stroyan as one of my favourite Grace characters – Bella Moy. However, I didn’t see any Maltesers on this occasion (You need to read the books to get that one). Supporting, also was Ian Houghton (Jonas Kent), Mylo McDonald (Mick) and Natalie Boakye (Janie).

Looking Good Dead looked good indeed with a main set of the Bryce’s living room with occasional illuminated cellar backdrop behind a gauze and pop-up police station. Transition between scenes were smooth and you did have the feel of everything being bigger than it was.

It was probably good that it has been 15 years since I read the novel as I couldn’t remember many details. I’m now intrigued to learn the differences but will wait for the ITV adaptation as this tale is next in line to air, then I may re-read the book. I’m pretty sure, though, the brains behind the kidnapping differed in the book.

Looking Good Dead was adapted for stage by Shaun McKenna and directed by Jonathan O’Boyle with Joshua Andrews as Producer.

Overall, an enjoyable evening and I look forward to further theatre outings for Roy Grace and Co.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

First and foremost, I’m a Stranglers fan. So much so, in my 2015 novel, Dead Girl Stalking, my protagonist had a poster of them on his bedroom wall, and he defended the band from the derision of his girlfriend whose tastes were probably more R&B. I even acknowledged the band at the front of the book as having provided a running soundtrack while writing it. So if you ever do read Dead Girl Stalking, have a little Don’t Bring Harry or Baroque Bordello at the back of your mind.

My own love affair with The Stranglers began in 1977 with a BASF C-90 taped recording of Rattus Norvegicus. A multitude of albums and 21 gigs attended, that dalliance long ago became a full-blooded relationship. I have many favourite bands but if I’m honest, the one I could not live without are The Stranglers.

The last two years have affected everyone in varying ways, none more so than the Family in Black. The loss of Dave Greenfield in 2020 was that of a family member. A constant companion, friend, and lover, all through the years I have followed the band.

Yeah, I admit, when I first heard the news of Dave’s passing, I thought, “Well, that’s it.” I couldn’t see how the band could continue. Members, some of them huge, have departed over the years but along with the trademark bass of Jean-Jacques Burnel, Dave Greenfield’s keys are the sound of The Stranglers. So I was glad when the tour still took place in memory of Dave and ecstatic when the 18th studio album, Dark Matters, was posthumously released with Dave’s keyboards present. Within the opening minute of Water, I fell in love with Dave and The Stranglers all over again. But how would they be live without the great man on stage?

The answer was – superb. From the opening bars of Waltz in Black, I had that buzz I’d not felt for so long. Then the euphoria as the band took to the stage and launched into Toiler on the Sea. The Stranglers were back.

One massive change as Toby Hounsham had the unenviable task of taking the keyboards and was described by guitarist/vocalist Baz Warne as having massive balls to do so. Toby was brilliant, in fact, reproducing Greenfield’s arpeggios and sounding just as good as any other Stranglers gig I have attended. It was also nice to see Toby well received by the faithful, thankful, like myself, that the magic is not over. As JJ Burnel stated in the past, The Stranglers are a brand, not a band, so there is no reason they should ever end. I guess it’ll happen one day but aged 58 myself, I can be selfish and hope they don’t go just yet.

On the night we were treated to classic after classic: Something Better Change, Always the Sun, Strange Little Girl, Go Buddy Go, Golden Brown, Hanging Around, Sometimes and Skin Deep among many others. But we also had six new songs from the brilliant Dark Matters. Water, Last Men on the Moon and This Song, fans are already familiar with, having done the circuit on the last tours before Covid. But there was also a debut for White Stallion, which I believe will become a permanent fixture in future tours like Relentless has been since 2006.

It’s always good to witness The Stranglers gel. I’ve followed them from near the beginning but can honestly say in recent years they have never been better live. JJ and Baz come across as two who are on the same page. This also applies to the newer recruits. Jim Macauly on drums has been with the band several years now and even contributed to songs on Dark Matters. And along with Toby Hounsham, provided great backing vocals on several numbers, just as Mr. Greenfield did for many years.

The other two new songs were performed as a JJ/Baz duet during the first of two encores. The short acoustic, The Lines was excellent before a poignant and highly emotional version of And if You Should See Dave. Written as a tribute, there was many a watery eye during the line, “This is where your solo would go.” The empty keyboard lit to all round applause and cheers.

As the case is so often, The Stranglers finished with No More Heroes, always guaranteed to bring the house down. Thankfully, I do still have heroes and hopefully, mine will be here for some time yet.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

“One of the least known stories of the First World War.”

That was the opening blurb of the advert, and I was intrigued. I’m no fan of the British Empire; its atrocities make modern day Isis and Al Qaeda look like beginners in the human rights stakes: The Boer concentration camps, the massacre at Amritsar, the famines in India during 1940 and the subsequent partitioning years later. All are now known but still little talked about. But who were the Chinese Labour Corps?

Towards the end of the First World War, the British Government needed a workforce to continue its campaign. Therefore, the Chinese government, wanting to establish itself as a world power offered its own labour to help the shortages. Over 100,000 men from the Northern Chinese Provinces travelled to Canada, then onto Europe to help in a war they knew little about. Most worked as unskilled labourers in appalling, dangerous conditions near shellfire and were terribly malnourished. At the end of the campaign, up to 20,000 had died and for a hundred years, mostly forgotten.

I am therefore indebted to the author of The Chinese Labour Corps, Walsall poet and playwright, Ian Henery, for illuminating me on a subject I now want to know more about. An excellent story (additionally adapted by Emma Cooper) where the audience went on an eye-opening journey of life one hundred years ago.

Although only a cast of four, the story moved seamless from one scene to the next and was almost immersive with a feeling of being a part of proceedings. Fully rounded characters who you believed in, felt empathy for, and got to know intimately.

The Chinese Labour Corps – The Blue Orange Theatre Birmingham – February 4 2022

Our cast were Nathaniel Tan (Sun Gan – a teacher), Amanda Maud (Chinn An Chu – a woman pretending to be a man to enlist), Tao Guo (Lin Cheng – who leaves his family to earn money) and Ali Taheri (Liu Den Chen – the loveable rogue who does his best to make money in other ways).

The stage movement, courtesy of Director, Marcus Fernando worked well, particularly the drowning of workers during the sinking of the Canadian ship. Poignant and emotive. And the knowledge that when Chinn An Chu returned home, her father had died, having spent none of the money she sent back to him. But there was also humour, especially the sending up of a British Sergeant. Then you had both humour and sadness mixed. The beautiful scene where Lin Cheng recovers in a Field Hospital and befriends a young English nurse, Miss Alice. They play music together, badly, before life is cut short amidst the jollity when Alice falls prey to the horrors of war when the area is bombarded by opposition fire. Notice I do not use the word, enemy fire. For me, especially in this war, there was no enemy, only different sides. It’s something we could all learn.

The Chinese Labour Corps – The Blue Orange Theatre Birmingham – February 4 2022

A highly entertaining and informative evening at The Blue Orange Theatre. Not only did I enjoy the production, I also learned something too.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

Failing guitarist, Dewey Finn, takes a job under false pretenses in an exclusive and expensive private school. He then teaches his class to play rock music and forms a band with them to win a prestigious competition.

Yes, I love rock, and I love musical theatre, therefore it is no surprise that I adore School of Rock. Closely based on the 2003 film of the same name, this is the best feelgood musical going these days. The notion that dreams come true, and you really can do anything if you try. It lifts the audience to their feet, and not just in the finale. With a cracking script from Julian Fellowes, lyrics courtesy of Glenn Slater and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, you have the instant recipe for an outstanding show.

I first saw it in the West End but this UK tour for me was even better. Perhaps knowing the songs so well, I was singing and moving in my seat throughout. Also revelling in admiration for the kids who do play their own instruments. Such talent from all.

In the title role, and totally at home as the hapless Dewey Finn was Jake Sharp. Outstanding with the strongest of performances and excelling in all numbers. Alongside, playing school principal Rosalie Mullins was Rebecca Lock who delivered Where Did the Rock Go? and Queen of the Night in great fashion. Supporting well, though were James Bisp as the much put-upon Ned Schneebly with Amy Oxley portraying the domineering Patty.

And then there were the pupils of the School of Rock. What can I say? The twelve on show during this viewing were out of this world. Harry Churchill (Zack on Lead Guitar), Angus McDougal (Lawrence on Keys), Chloe Marler (Katie on Bass) and Eva McGrath (Freddy {Fredrica} on drums). I’ve only ever known Freddy as the male originally intended but Eva was brilliant as the student who struggled to achieve. I had great empathy for her.

Leading the vocal section was Angel Lucero as shy Tomika and she delivered a powerhouse of a performance in Teacher’s Pet supported well by Lily Rose Martin (Marcy) and Elisha Kerai (Shonelle).

As a huge fan of The Voice Kids, it was a surprise and joy to see 2019 finalist Keira Laver as school swot, Summer. And Keira was amazing leading the class during one of my favourite numbers, Time to Play. Completing the class of excellence were Riotafari Gardner (James – Security), Ava Masters (Sophie the roadie with the killer pigtails), Alex Shotton (Mason on Lights) and Logan Matthews (Billy the costume drama queen).

Credit is due to a fantastic production team including Laurence Connor (Director), Joann M. Hunter (Choreography) and Michael Riley (Musical Direction).

In addition to the songs already mentioned, there are others of top-drawer quality: When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock, the beautiful If Only You Would Listen, You’re in the Band and the awesome Stick it to the Man.

I have favourites in musical theatre which change constantly. I can honestly say, though, leaving The New Alexander, I have never enjoyed myself in a theatre as much as I did on this occasion. Buzzing madly and still on a high days later. School of Rock is touring the UK until the end of summer and if you only go and see one musical in 2022, make it The School of Rock.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

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