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 curtain rises as “pleasantly plump” Tracy Turnblad (Italia Conti graduate Freya Sutton, making her professional theatre debut) muses 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. 'Good Morning Baltimore'.

 

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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 (complete 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 fairytale.

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 cast Aurora as a junkie, with a syringe being the cause of a 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.

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REVIEW: ‘Cinderella’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, December 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 having interviewed leading lady Anna Williamson (Cinderella) and the multi-talented Kev Orkian (Buttons) a couple of weeks ago.

 

Cinderella programme

 

On arrival 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 awaiting the beginning of 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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REVIEW: ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, October 2012

 

The Phantom of the Opera is here in the new city this week, filling the auditorium of Milton Keynes Theatre with a chilling presence!

The West-End blockbuster is now into its 26th year and Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s phenomenal musical was especially created for the 25th anniversary national tour.

As I had hoped, last night’s performance was spine-tingling. Indeed, from the moment the glittering chandelier was unveiled just above our heads, the audience knew that a spectacular evening of entertainment lay ahead.

 

The Phantom of the Opera.

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REVIEW: English National Ballet’s ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, October 2012

 

Once upon a time, English National Ballet visited Milton Keynes Theatre to dance The Sleeping Beauty

 

The Sleeping Beauty was the very first ballet I was taken to see at a theatre as a child and it remains a favourite of mine.

World-famous ballerina Tamara Rojo’s first outing as both Artistic Director of, and principal ballerina with, English National Ballet saw her take to the stage at Milton Keynes Theatre last week, to dance Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty.

A narrative ballet, bringing to life the world’s favourite fairytale, The Sleeping Beauty is often the standard by which classical ballet companies are judged. This is because it is one of the biggest and most difficult ballets to stage, showcasing pure, unadulterated dance — heavenly for lovers of classical productions.

 

Tamara Rojo, Yonah Acosta and Shiori Kase in a promotional photograph for English National Ballet's production of The Sleeping Beauty

 

 

Tamara herself acknowledges the importance of such opulent productions and the commendable commitment that English National Ballet shows in meeting touring obligations. In an interview prior to the start of English National Ballet’s latest tour, she told me: “Classical ballet is a big and important part of the repertoire for a ballet company as it is traditional and it is what draws new audiences to the ballet.”

On opening night, Tamara would have been all too aware of the judgements being made of her — as both newly acquired chief ballerina (returning to the company where she first flourished as a principal) and top boss. What pressure she must have felt to dance as a carefree sixteen-year-old princess while carrying with her the challenge of ensuring the Company survives as a business in a climate of cuts and dancing with her very own employees!

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