REVIEW: ‘Waitress’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, October 2021

 

Bittersweet romantic comedy musical Waitress exuberantly proves the power of pie without sugar-coating life’s complexities and disappointments.

Protagonist Jenna Hunterson is passionate about baking and dreams up a new pie for every occasion. Trapped in an abusive marriage and living the same day on repeat as a waitress at a diner in a small southern American town, she temporarily escapes by experimenting with pastry.

The therapeutic mixing, kneading, rolling, filling and crimping helps Jenna process her feelings. So, whenever she has too much on her plate, she invents pies inspired by her experiences and anxieties. This means that her fanciful menu features creations such as “My Husband’s A Jerk Chicken Pot Pie”, “Where There’s A Whisk There’s A Way Pie” and “Almost Makes You Believe Again Pie”.

Jenna was introduced to the magic of a well-made pie as a child. Her now dearly departed mother distracted her with sugar, butter and flour to shield her from unhappiness in the family home. Discovering she has her own bun in the oven, Jenna tentatively begins to admit that she has had enough of taking orders from her husband and wants a taste of something else.

With her self-esteem as flat as a pancake, she must look deep inside herself to find the courage to bake a better life.

 

Lucie Jones as Jenna in Waitress. She is wearing a waitress uniform comprising a pale blue dress with white buttons and a white apron. Jenna is surrounded by four ensemble characters who are each holding two pies and positioning them as if they are floating in the air around Jenna, framing her.

 

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REVIEW: The 7 Fingers’ ‘Passagers’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, September 2021

 

The 7 Fingers convinces us to enjoy the ride in Passagers, an incredible show that combines high-flying circus skills with evocative dance, music and storytelling.

We have all been performing a balancing act during the pandemic. Juggling every aspect of life from home and enjoying the illusion of normality whenever possible. Compelled to avoid physical touch but urged to stay in touch. Dancing alone in small spaces. Watching dance on small screens.

Now, what a thrill it is to be united with other people in a familiar and full auditorium; to be collectively transported by theatre.

The production begins with the cast taking intentional, audible breaths. Attuning themselves to each new moment made possible by this rhythmic activity. Preparing to take our breath away. The train is coming and we are off on the journey of a lifetime.

 

The 7 Fingers performs Passagers. Circus artists Sabine Van Rensburg and Sereno Aguilar Izzo perform an awe-inspiring trapeze act, hanging upside down above the stage.

 

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REVIEW: ‘The King and I’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, March 2020

 

Something wonderful is happening at Milton Keynes Theatre: audiences are getting to know The King and I thanks to a sumptuous revival by The Lincoln Center Theater.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s glorious golden age musical first opened on Broadway in 1951 and has been whistling its own happy tune ever since.

Many people have experienced this classic story of contrasting cultures through the 1956 film. Broadway star Yul Brynner played the wilful monarch and actress Deborah Kerr – assisted by ghost singer Marni Nixon – was Anna, a widowed English schoolteacher summoned to Siam (now Thailand) in the early 1860s to tutor his harem of wives and many children.

Even if you have never seen the film, you will recognise the songs. ‘I Whistle a Happy Tune’, ‘Getting to Know You’ and ‘Shall We Dance?’ are just a few of the toe-tapping tunes you can expect to find yourself humming after the show. Perfectly pitched for musical storytelling, their melodies and lyrics are thoroughly entertaining while delivering profound insights into the characters and events.

The Lincoln Center Theater production of The King and I has four Tony Awards to its name and is touring the UK following a sell-out season at the London Palladium. It is directed by Bartlett Sher, who sensitively handles the monumental clash of cultures at the heart of this period piece.

His revival stays faithful to the dated narrative of ancient royal protocol and imperial mentality. But it somehow feels timeless. And this is probably because it uses old-fashioned glamour, light humour and an operatic quality to emphasise the enduring themes of power, tolerance and progress.

 

The King and I. Bartlett Sher’s interpretation of Rodgers’ & Hammerstein’s classic. Anna and the King of Siam swirling across the stage during the 'Shall We Dance?' scene.

 

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REVIEW: ‘Once’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, February 2020

 

Whatever your current relationship status is, winsome musical Once appealingly arranges all the right notes to remind you of everyday romance.

The show, currently engaged in its first major UK tour, is based on Irish writer-director John Carney’s critically acclaimed 2007 micro-budget indie film.

A folk-rock fairy tale, Carney’s super simple story focuses on the unlikely relationship between a heartbroken Dublin busker and a young Czech single mother. Their names are never revealed but these two unassuming characters are united by an overwhelming passion for music. They click personally and professionally, ultimately restoring each other’s faith in the power of love.

Years ago, an editor who knows her rock from her roll and was hooked on the Once soundtrack lent me the DVD. Shot in a casual, mock-documentary style, with all the heartfelt music played in situ, the film was truthful and tuneful. The cash-strapped but resolute characters, homespun quality and evocative soundtrack created a genuinely uplifting viewing experience.

It felt very real. Candid. I watched that DVD just the one time but Once seen, never forgotten. It left a lasting impression. So much so, I wondered whether this straightforward – albeit spellbinding – screenplay would adapt to the stage.

Short answer? It does.

 

Once the musical. Emma Lucia as Girl and Daniel Healy as Guy.

 

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REVIEW: Matthew Bourne’s production of ‘The Red Shoes’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, January 2020

 

Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes is an irresistible dance theatre production that radiates vintage glamour and vivacious grace.

Think of classic British ballet film The Red Shoes and delightfully dated images of ballerinas, and surreal displays of the agony of artistic expression, come to mind.

Whether you have watched Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 cinematic masterpiece or not, you have probably encountered the movie’s meditation on being an artist versus living a life. Or heard of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, in which a vain peasant girl disobediently slips on a pair of scarlet slippers that force her to dance until having her feet amputated and dying is a relief. Failing that, perhaps you are just aware that the film was one of the first to be shot in glorious Technicolor.

Whatever your level of familiarity, it’s likely you associate The Red Shoes with the magical lure of the theatre, the sacrifices that artists make, and the fine line between passion and obsession. And there is the dancing too, of course. A dance to the death once the heroine jumps into those blood-red shoes.

Celebrated choreographer Matthew Bourne might be known for his idiosyncratic re-imaginings of traditional ballets and stories, but his heartfelt interpretation of The Red Shoes is a gratifyingly faithful retelling.

 

Matthew Bourne's production of The Red Shoes. Cordelia Braithwaite as Victoria Page and Liam Mower as Ivan Boleslawsky.

 

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