REVIEW: ‘Les Misérables’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, May 2019

 

The soul-stirring lyrics in musical phenomenon Les Misérables ask “do you hear the people sing?”. Without a doubt, appreciative audiences at Milton Keynes Theatre will be responding with an exhilarated “yes” and a standing ovation for the entire four-week run of the tremendous touring production.

Theatregoers storm the barricades for tickets to this show. I dreamed a dream that I would be invited to join the revolution and found myself in my own castle on a cloud at Milton Keynes Theatre’s gala press night. The theatre is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year and boasts a team of staff who are justifiably thrilled to have secured such a lengthy visit from Les Misérables. Everyone in the building seems to be in awe of this stage sensation.

As one of the lucky revolutionaries invited for bubbles before the show, I was fizzing in anticipation well before the drinks were poured. Les Misérables is the longest-running musical in the West End and is consistently named as a global favourite alongside Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. Although I’m familiar with Victor Hugo’s epic nineteenth-century novel, the blockbuster films, the classic soundtrack and amateur theatre interpretations, I have never seen the London production (it opened back in 1985, long before I was even a twinkle in my dad’s eye!).

Having now seen the show performed on tour in all its glory, I can fully appreciate the scale of its success. But what can I possibly say that has not already been said over the last thirty-four years? At the end of the day, Les Misérables is musical theatre perfection.

 

Les Misérables

 

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REVIEW: Northern Ballet’s ‘Victoria’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, May 2019

 

Northern Ballet’s Victoria is an enthralling epic that intelligently and emotively chronicles Queen Victoria’s life as a monarch and mother.

Created to celebrate this year’s 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth, the ambitious two-act ballet is the impressive handiwork of acclaimed British choreographer Cathy Marston. Her spirited exploration of Victoria as a passionate woman, emblematic queen, working mother and stricken widow inventively depicts some of the most significant events in this remarkable Royal’s life.

Working alongside dramaturg Uzma Hameed, Marston has managed to condense Victoria’s lengthy reign (she spent 63 of her 81 years on the throne) into two hours of absorbing dance.

 

Northern Ballet's 'Victoria'. Two dancers depict Victoria and Albert embracing. A third dancer, in the role of Princess Beatrice, watches them in delight.

 

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REVIEW: ‘The House on Cold Hill’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, April 2019

 

Being scared has never been quite as much fun as it is in the stage adaptation of bestselling author Peter James’ supernatural thriller, The House on Cold Hill.

A distinct chill is discernible in the air at Milton Keynes Theatre thanks to the arrival of this entertaining play, which is described by the cast and creatives as a “modern day ghost story”.

All things considered, the production neatly fulfils its brief. The action occurs in a sprawling country house where things go bump in the night. The cast includes a geeky ghost hunter, a madcap medium, and a sceptical but likeable family. The everyday gadgets that we all now rely on are heavily featured and, at times, seem to be controlled by the spirit world.

This production is not so scary that it will send shivers down your spine, but the twists and turns will keep you gripped and there are moments that will tickle your funny bone. Expect to be intrigued rather than intimidated, amused rather than alarmed and somewhat spooked rather than totally terrified.

 

The House on Cold Hill. Charlie Clements, Tricia Deighton, Rita Simons, Persephone Swales-Dawson and Joe McFadden onstage in a shadowy, creepy house (photo by Helen Maybanks)

 

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REVIEW: ‘The Band’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, March 2019

 

Plot and pop are entertainingly in tune in The Band, a bubbly jukebox musical that celebrates fandom, friendship and fulfilment.

The Band is written by Tim Firth, features the music of Take That (Britain’s most successful boy band to date) and stars the winners of the BBC’s 2017 reality show Let It Shine. Thousands of talented wannabes applied to take part in the programme and a handful competed through four rounds of competition on prime-time Saturday night telly. At the end of the series, five young men were chosen to become “the band” for a new touring musical.

Significantly, The Band is not a tribute to the Take That boys. Nor, somewhat surprisingly, is it all about the winners of the television contest. Instead, it is a heartfelt “ta very much” to music enthusiasts and an affectionate ode to friendship.

 

The Band. AJ Bentley, Curtis T Johns, Sario Solomon, Yazdan Qafouri and Nick Carsberg as a boyband performing for adoring fans in The Band. Photo by Matt Crockett.

 

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REVIEW: Matthew Bourne’s ‘Swan Lake’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, February 2019

 

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is back at Milton Keynes Theatre as a revived production that brings astonishing new energy and emotion to a legendary piece of dance theatre.

I delight in Matthew Bourne’s work because he interprets his chosen narratives with intelligence and affection. He scrutinises characters’ motives, questions the situations they find themselves in, and reimagines their stories through drama-led dance in ways that all theatregoers can relate to.

Bourne provoked an immediate reaction from stunned audiences – particularly classical ballet aficionados – with the premiere of his Swan Lake in 1995. Vexed traditionalists and dubious dance fans mourned the absence of female swans in tutus and pointe shoes. Yet, many found themselves simultaneously marvelling at the glistening naked torsos of the menacing male ensemble and moved by earthy, emotive choreography set to Tchaikovsky’s timeless score. Audiences were challenged to reconsider their beliefs about dance, and many young men were inspired to consider dance as a profession.

Twenty-four years later and the current revival, performed by Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company, is winning standing ovations wowing the next generation of audiences and dancers.

 

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake. New Adventures production poster image showing a bare-chested male dancer leaping in front of a full moon.

 

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