Georgina Butler photographed outside in a tranquil garden, during a classical ballet photo shoot. She is sideways on to the viewer, in a kneeling swan pose, with an arched back and her gaze directed up to the sky.

REVIEW: Northern Ballet’s ‘Ugly Duckling’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, April 2013

 

A lonely duckling who just doesn’t fit in, a menagerie of colourful animal characters, and plenty of creative choreography feature in Ugly Duckling, Northern Ballet’s first ballet especially for children.

Ugly Duckling is a captivating adaptation of the classic fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen.

Northern Ballet is renowned for powerful storytelling and inventive interpretations of well-loved classical ballets and innovative new productions – all inspired by popular culture, literature and opera. Now, the company is on a mission to capture the imaginations of tots, introducing them to the magic of live ballet, music and theatre with a specially created short ballet, based on a familiar tale.

 

Northern Ballet dancers in Ugly Duckling (photo by Martin Bell). A male dancer and two female dancers are standing in a line across the stage and they are all dressed in yellow as ducklings. At the end of the line, a female dancer dressed in a fluffy grey costume stands out as being different. She is the ugly duckling.

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REVIEW: Northern Ballet’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, April 2013

 

Northern Ballet’s take on The Great Gatsby is a stylish adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel.

The story focuses on American life after the First World War, when the United States and much of the world experienced huge economic expansion. This surging economy meant easy money, hard drinking (flying in the face of Prohibition) and lavish parties.

Peripheral narrator Nick Carraway moves east to New York’s Long Island in the spring of 1922. Here, he rents a house in a wealthy but unfashionable area populated by the “new rich”. He is soon drawn to his mysterious neighbour Jay Gatsby – a millionaire with a secret past and a penchant for lavish parties and beautiful women.

Nick spends time with his cousin, Daisy, and her husband, Tom Buchanan. He meets Tom’s mistress, Myrtle, and has a tentative romance with pro-golfer Jordan Baker. And he gets to know Gatsby, which prompts him to reflect upon just how empty life among the wealthy can be. Ultimately, behind the optimism and frivolity of the decadent Jazz Age, hypocrisy and shallow recklessness pervade.

 

Northern Ballet dancers dressed for a lavish party in The Great Gatsby (photo by Bill Cooper).

 

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REVIEW: ‘Hairspray’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, April 2013

 

BIG HAIR, BIG HEART: Swinging ’60s show Hairspray has it all.

 

“If you can spray it and lock it, you can take off in a rocket” trills an enigmatic TV host in the latest musical to take to the stage at Milton Keynes Theatre. Hairspray certainly delivers a powerful performance.

Amidst a stage bathed in a pink glow, we are welcomed to the ’60s (June 1962 to be precise) in Baltimore, Maryland. Here, we follow the bold journey taken by a larger-than-life high school student whose sheer passion for dance sees her going all out to fulfil her dream to star on local teenage dance television programme, The Corny Collins Show (based on the real-life TV hit, The Buddy Deane Show).

The show begins with “pleasantly plump” Tracy Turnblad (Italia Conti graduate Freya Sutton, making her professional theatre debut) musing about her fondness for her hometown, her love of dancing and her desire to be famous. Tracy is all about big – big hair, big personality and big heart – and she is radically open to new ideas and new styles.

At school, Tracey receives a warning about her inappropriate hair height and her openness to others sees her embrace everyone (from “the rats on the street” to “the flasher who lives next door” and “the bum on his bar room stool”).

She is the perfect heroine, then, for this musical as Hairspray is a social commentary of the injustices experienced by sections of American society in the 1960s. Through the toe-tapping song and dance numbers, the serious issues of racism, “size-ism” and difference are addressed.

 

Hairspray the musical. Freya Sutton stands centre stage as Tracy Turnblad in the uplifting 'Good Morning Baltimore' number.

 

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REVIEW: Matthew Bourne’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, January 2013

 

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is at Milton Keynes Theatre this week and the innovative choreographer has added some bite to the ballet classic.

Matthew Bourne made his name with bold re-imaginings of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (his was set in an orphanage and titled Nutcracker!) and Swan Lake (with a mesmerising ensemble of male swans). Seventeen years after the premiere of Swan Lake, Bourne’s company, New Adventures, is completing the Tchaikovsky trilogy with Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, a gothic interpretation of the Charles Perrault fairy tale.

Storytellers and choreographers have adapted the potent plot before. Versions of the story explore the themes of good versus evil, the beauty of youth and transformation, the power of evil curses and the all-pervading idea of love conquering all. Walt Disney’s 1959 film sharpened the original narrative to create more of an ongoing love story. Somewhat more controversially, in 1985, avant-garde Swedish choreographer Mats Ek re-imagined Aurora as a drug addict, with a syringe causing her pricked finger.

In Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, we still encounter the poisoned rose thorn that audiences expect – but the love story turns supernatural as vampires feature in the scenario.

 

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty. A male dancer embraces a female dancer, presenting her with a single flower – a rose.

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REVIEW: ‘Cinderella’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, Christmas 2012

 

I HAD A BALL AT CINDERELLA AND YOU WILL TOO!

 

It just wouldn’t be Christmas without some panto magic and Cinderella at Milton Keynes Theatre pulls out all the stops to cast its spell over audiences.

I was delighted to attend press night for the annual pantomime at the new city’s incredibly popular theatre – particularly after interviewing leading lady Anna Williamson (Cinderella) and the multi-talented Kev Orkian (Buttons) a couple of weeks ago.

 

Milton Keynes Theatre pantomime Christmas 2012. Cinderella programme and ticket.

 

When I arrived at the theatre I was pleased to see audience members of all ages (from the very young to those in the “grannies and granddads” age bracket) milling around, enthusiastically anticipating an evening of festive sparkle. Carol singers from Arts1 School of Performance filled the steps of the theatre, helping to set the mood and providing distraction from the bitterly cold weather outside.

Meanwhile, excited youngsters queued up to bag their very own “bundle” of glowing goodies (complete with fairy wings and magic wand in the “Cinderella Bundle”, and different shaped light-up treats and magic wand in the “Buttons’ Bundle” and “Baron’s Bundle”, respectively).

Taking a seat in the auditorium, Christmas songs were playing to get everyone in the mood and the safety curtain was lifted up to reveal a stunning purple and pink themed Cinderella backdrop, showcasing lit up candelabras and swirls and flowers.

From the off, traditional good cheer fills the stage as the well-loved fairytale is brought to life in Eric Potts’ sharply written take on a classic story.
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