Son Of A Preacher Man At The New Alex Theatre

The wondrous, timeless music of Dusty Springfield filled the New Alex Theatre last night with the opening of the crowd pleasing musical ‘Son of a Preacher Man’, a jukebox musical telling a story of unrequited love using the classic hits of the great lady. And while ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ is no classic, it’s talented cast and those wonderful songs make it a good solid night of entertainment.

The story revolves around three lonely people who are all suffering from loss and have been unlucky in love. Paul (Michael Howe) is still yearning for Jack, a man he met at the Preacher Man record shop in the 1960s, but never revealed his feelings to. Alison (Debra Stephenson) is a lonely widow who has developed feelings for a barely legal schoolboy she has been tutoring (the most uncomfortable storyline to be honest), whilst Kat (Diana Vickers) has just lost her gran and is yearning for a gorgeous hunk(Liam Vincent-Kilbride) who rejected her profile on Match.com. These three people all descend on the old Preacher Man record store on Dean Street, Soho, in the hope of finding some answers from the legendary owner. Instead they find his son (hence the title) Simon, played by Ian Reddington, who has none of the charisma of his father, with the record shop now turned into a coffee bar. But maybe Simon, with the help of the trusty(and rather fabulous Cappuccino Sisters) can help these lonely, lost people find true love somehow.

The cast is excellent, with Diana Vickers showing just why she should’ve won X Factor with ease. She adds her own spin on the Dusty songs, and with the exception of the thrusting and gyrating of ‘Stay Awhile’ each number is a success. Ian Reddington underplays his role to give a natural, lovely performance as Simon, a man lost in the shadows of his father. Debra Stephenson tackles what could be a difficult, uneasy role so well, making Alison come across as sweet and lonely rather than predatory, whilst it would be hard not to love Michael Howe as still hopeful Paul, he plays the role with such charm and enthusiasm. And I loved the Cappuccino sisters, great singers and performers who added a touch of early 1960s era humour to the show.

 

But it has to be said that the story is paper thin, with the ending where everyone suddenly finds love at exactly the same time feeling rather rushed, and maybe just a little too twee for what is, after all, adult entertainment. And, I still need to understand why the bereavement counselor was dancing like a chicken and dressed in what looked like bondage gear…yes that was a strange moment.

So when it comes to Son of a Preacher Man, I liked it, but didn’t love it. But if you love the music of Dusty Springfield this could be the one for you.

 

Son of a Preacher Man

New Alex Theatre 14-16th September

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The Whip Hand – Powerful Drama At The Birmingham Rep

The Whip Hand is a powerful new play from the Traverse Theatre Company and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre with the National Theatre of Scotland. It tells a family tale of money, greed, guilt and hatred, with all of these issues revealed during a seemingly happy celebration – a family birthday. Played out by a talented ensemble cast of five, The Whip Hand asks the question, are we responsible in some way for the actions of our ancestors.

Dougie is 50 and is life is most definitely at a crossroads. Back living with his mother, and sharing a room with his directionless nephew Aaron, his life is a direct contrast to that of his ex-wife, and mother of his daugher, Arlene, who is now living in an Ikea catologue show home with husband Lorenzo. Despite the divorce, it seems like happy families for them all, with Arlene and Lorenzo throwing a party to celebrate Dougie’s birthday, and the excellent exam grades that have ensured daughter Molly a place at Sheffield University. But during the course of the party, Dougie drops a bombshell that threatens the lives they are all currently living, and particularly the future for Molly. The party descends into a maelstrom of anger and emotion that ultimately leads the most placid, easy going member of the household into an act of violence.

All the cast are perfect in their roles. Jonathan Watson as Dougie is the epitome of a middle aged man at a crossroads, but he gives Dougie an air of menace that belies that soft exterior. His final parting shots are almost chilling in their coldness. Richard Conlon as Lorenzo is very much a new man, easy going, almost wet, but trying to be conciliatory and fair. His chemistry with Arlene (Louise Ludgate) is one of the high points of the drama, and also gives the play a warm heart and at least an early element of humour. Louise Ludgate is brilliant as the feisty, passionate Arlene, who will fight tooth and very long fingernail with Dougie to ensure that their daughter’s future is safe guarded. Her fast verbal altercations with Dougie and Aaron sparkle with hatred and are powerful enough to remain with you long after you leave the theatre. The younger members of the cast are great too, with Michael Abubakar as Aaron noticeably turning from a pleasant, friendly young man, to a questionably shady character as he tries to manipulate his friend and cousin into turning over her university fund to her father. Joanne Thomson plays Molly as the moral conscience of the piece, troubled by her father’s revelations, but totally questioning how responsible the current generation is for the crimes of their forefathers. Molly seems controlled and responsible, so when she descends into her own rage it is both potent and shocking.

The Whip Hand is a powerful piece of theatre, the sort that leaves you with so many discussions when you leave.

The Whip Hand

Birmingham Rep Theatre 05 Sep 2017 – 16 Sep 17

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Jane Eyre At The Rep, Birmingham – Delicious Gothic Melodrama

You have to feel for Jane Eyre, one of the most unlucky heroines in classic literature. Her life was one of low after low, orphaned soon after birth, hated by the family who took her in but saw her as a cuckoo in the nest, sent away to a school where she was treated brutally, losing her best friend to consumption and ill treatment, and when she finally breaks out as a governess and falls in love with her boss, the mysterious, and let’s be honest, rather strange Mr Rochester, her plans for true love are thwarted by the maniacal tendencies of the first Mrs Rochester, not so safely locked away in the attic.A sad and desperate story, but one with all the juicy ingredients to make a riveting, deliciously dark and Gothic piece of theatre. And, in the latest collaboration between the National Theatre and the Bristol Old Vic, that is exactly what you have.

Jane Eyre, which opened at Birmingham’s Rep Theatre last night, has all the hallmarks of a piece of work from the National Theatre, in that it stays faithful to the Charlotte Bronte story, but puts a very modern twist on the tale through the use of sparse and industrial style sets and music from a live band and the incredible vocal talent of Melanie Marshall as the mad, bad Bertha. The talented cast of six principals, plus Melanie, perform a series of roles with aplomb, with only the incredible Nadia Clifford as a spirited, driven Jane playing only one role.

The action through the early part of the play is moved on quickly. But certain scenes resonate as they establish that young Jane has a strong and honest character and a real sense of right and wrong. Lynda Rooke is a deliciously evil Mrs Reed, sworn to treat Jane like her own child, but instead viciously bullying and victimising the child before sending her away to a school governed by the God Fearing bully Mr Brocklehurst (Paul Mundell). Jane develops a friendship with the saintly and sickly Helen (Hannah Bristow) but finds it hard to understand how Helen accepts undue punishments without hate. As a young adult Jane has progressed to teaching in the school herself, but feels trapped and imprisoned, and so moves out to become a governess to Adela (again Hannah Bristow – I love her in this role, so effervescent.) It is only on meeting Mr Rochester that Jane discovers passion and love in equal parts, giving Nadia Clifford free rein to show a range of emotions to devastating effect, and to show real chemistry with the charismatic and commanding Tim Delap as Rochester.

This is a brilliant production of a classic book that is both full of surprises, doesn’t shrink from violence or politically incorrect treatment and labeling of women, but also has the power to shock and delight, particularly in the use of a favourite Gnarls Barkley hit single to illustrate the fate of Bertha and Rochester. And whilst it doesn’t end with ‘reader, I married him’, it is satisfying to lovers of the book in every other way.

Glorious.

Jane Eyre

The Rep, Birmingham 5-16 September

Click here for ticket information