REVIEW: ‘The Drifters Girl’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, October 2023


Talented performers drift through sensational songs in The Drifters Girl, a disconcerting jukebox musical that strives to tell the story of an ever-changing line-up of singers.

The story, which is a frustratingly surface-level affair, follows headstrong southern girl Faye. She marries The Drifters’ manager, George Treadwell, and then sets about transforming the fluctuating band of rhythm-and-blues vocalists into a flourishing brand. When George unexpectedly dies, Faye Treadwell finds herself fighting to be taken seriously as one of the first female African American managers in a sexist and racist industry.

Faye relays her experiences from 1954 onwards to her daughter (credited as ‘Girl’ but essentially a bare-bones outline of real-life Faye’s daughter Tina Treadwell, who was consulted throughout the musical’s writing and development process). The entire narrative is basically Faye explaining what she did and why ahead of a court case to secure copyright of the ‘Drifters’ name.

The show tasks just six cast members with transporting an audience to the era of classic soul and charting the trailblazing efforts of a strong black woman who refused to give up on the group she loved. Disappointingly, with only four men portraying a dizzying succession of singers and assorted supporting characters, trudging along on the Treadwell treadmill soon gets tedious.


The Drifters Girl. Four men in smart blue suits perform as a vocal group. They are watched by a young girl who is sitting on the floor in front of them.


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REVIEW: ‘2:22 A Ghost Story’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, October 2023


More human than horror, 2:22 A Ghost Story harnesses the power of suggestion to serve up a satisfying synergy of supernatural intrigue and social commentary.

This tense but thoughtful play, which will be thrilling audiences at Milton Keynes Theatre all week, has set pulses racing meaningfully enough to become a global phenomenon since its premiere in 2021. It haunted five West End theatres in total, with record-breaking seasons and star casting at each, and there have also been productions in Los Angeles and Australia.

The overwhelmingly positive response to writer Danny Robins’ first ever play is understandable. Sharp writing and stellar acting bring a spirited relationship drama to life. Then spooky goings-on add to the laughs and suspense. As a theatregoer, you settle into your seat in the buzzing auditorium expecting to be scared. However, what really keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the show is witnessing – and experiencing – humanity’s burning desire to make sense of things.


2:22 A Ghost Story. Nathaniel Curtis as Sam and Louisa Lytton as Jenny. He is comforting her as she sits in an armchair looking scared.


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REVIEW: Ailey 2 – Milton Keynes Theatre, September 2023


Power, precision and presence. Ailey 2 showcases twelve dancers who wow with top-notch technical execution and incredibly infectious energy.

This exciting modern dance company is the younger sibling of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, so it is part of the renowned Ailey ‘family’ of training, performing and community outreach. The Ailey mission furthers the pioneering vision of the late dancer, choreographer and cultural leader Alvin Ailey; he united people of all races, ages and backgrounds through the universal language of dance, rooted in African American tradition. Ailey 2 bridges the gap between the studio and the stage for dancers at the beginning of their careers by giving them an opportunity to spend two to three years performing professionally, while continuing to hone their craft.

Current company members are aged between 19 and 27. Under the guidance of artistic director Francesca Harper – who took her first dance steps at the Ailey School, where her mother, Denise Jefferson, was director from 1984 to 2010 – they are excelling at demonstrating the awe-inspiring athleticism and artistry essential for individuals who want to make an impact on the next generation of dance.

The UK 2023 touring mixed bill features four works. At Milton Keynes Theatre, it opens with an excerpt from William Forsythe’s Enemy in the Figure (created for Ballet Frankfurt in 1989). Next comes an excerpt from Francesca Harper’s Freedom Series (created for Ailey 2 in 2021). Then Robert Battle’s The Hunt (created for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2001). Finally, as is characteristic of all Ailey offerings, the programme concludes with Alvin Ailey’s Revelations (created for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1960).

It makes for a thoroughly enjoyable evening of dance. The programme delivers an impressive amalgam of intrigue, intensity and introspection. There’s darkness and light on this journey, which ends with the joy life can reveal if you have faith.


Ailey 2 in Alvin Ailey's Revelations. Three black dancers, two women in white dresses and one man in white trousers, are kneeling and leaning back to gaze upwards. One of the women is holding a white parasol aloft.


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REVIEW: ‘Life of Pi’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, September 2023


Inventive play Life of Pi gloriously lives and breathes the wonder of theatre to conjure a whimsical, emotional, energetic exploration of the nature of belief.

This puppet-powered show plunges theatregoers into a dark, hallucinatory fable detailing 227 days at sea. Based on Yann Martel’s 2001 novel and the subsequent 2012 film, it tells the story of Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, an Indian teenager who survives a shipwreck and claims to have spent many months marooned on a lifeboat with a ravenous tiger named Richard Parker.

The narrative is awash with symbolism and philosophical musing. This doesn’t always float effortlessly because dialogue that is intended to evoke existential rumination lands heavily at times. It teeters towards a soaking in soundbites, rather than a ripple effect of nuanced thoughts. Nonetheless, this is a stunningly realised play. It beautifully depicts a brutal truth: life can and will be difficult, but the stories you tell yourself to make sense of things have the power to give you the strength to keep going.


Life of Pi onstage. Pi and the puppet tiger, Richard Parker. Pi is kneeling on a bed and the tiger is sitting beside the bed.


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REVIEW: Matthew Bourne’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, September 2023


Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet is an absorbing dance–theatre production that articulately explores both the ferocity of love and the fragility of the mind.

Devised in 2019 as a project to nurture and showcase emerging dancers and creatives, this striking interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragic romance is now being toured nationwide by Bourne’s New Adventures company. Clearly influenced and inspired by the young people who helped bring it to life, the show is charged with a raw, youthful energy and bursting with relevant themes.

Sir Bourne never shies away from radically reimagining scenarios. Here, he incarcerates his star-crossed lovers as inmates at the Verona Institute. This coldly clinical setting is some sort of correctional facility where the movements of adolescents are restricted. It could be a mental health unit, but it is left intentionally vague so that we make up our own (whirring and wowed) minds. The programme notes simply specify that the action takes place in the not-too-distant future, over a period of about three weeks.

This ambiguity lends itself incredibly well to the process of self-discovery and the crazed impulsivity of first love. The familiar feuding families format is replaced with generational conflict centred around the control imposed over non-conforming, cast-out juveniles (this includes sexual abuse and homophobic bullying). And there are no hard-to-swallow notions of potions (swallowing only occurs when the quirky youngsters gulp down their meds under the watchful gaze of a nurse and psychiatrist).

The title characters fall madly in love. Feelings are supressed and expressed. Violence erupts and lives are lost. The story told is recognisable as Romeo and Juliet – just rejigged in insightful and inventive ways for maximum impact as a gripping, unpredictable dance–drama.


Matthew Bourne's Romeo and Juliet. Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick) and Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaite) walk together holding hands as other inmates throw confetti.


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