Birmingham Hippodrome Launch Cinderella at Villa Park

Cinderella – Birmingham Hippodrome Panto Launch 2017. 20th September 2017.
Pictured are Beverley Knight, Matt Slack, Suzanne Shaw, Ceri Dupree and Phil Randall.
Picture by Simon Hadley.

Wednesday saw Villa Park turned into a pantomime wonderland (not for the first time this season it has to be said – Baggies fan Joke!).  The Birmingham Hippodrome were launching this year’s panto, Cinderella, with an all star cast. Beverly Knight, Suzanne Shaw, Matt Slack, Ceri Dupree and Phil Randall were all there, in their best panto finery, talking to this year’s panto producer and director Michael Harrison. It was a funny, happy occasion and certainly wet the appetite for what looks set to be another astounding success for the Hippodrome.

Suzanne Shaw,Ceri Dupree and Phil Randall

For Suzanne, this is the third time playing Cinderella, although the first time playing at the Hippodrome. She was asked about songs and revealed that she will be singing some songs in the panto, including a duet with her handsome prince, Danny Mac. She also has a new song called ‘At the Hippodrome’ which tells of the history of the Hippodrome. Suzanne says she is a little scared to be singing alongside Beverley Knight – saying ‘who wouldn’t be’, and also joked how lucky she is to have some ‘eye candy’ over Christmas in the form of the delectable Danny Mac.

Veteran pantomime dames Ceri Dupree and Phil Randall are coming together this year as the Ugly Sisters, enjoying the chance to play the wickedly evilas Voluptua and Verruca  rather than cuddly dames. As ever, the costumes were the subject of much excitement, described as showstoppers, ‘so big they could be scenery, and the audience was told that the costumes to look out for are when the sisters arrive at the ball.

I loved all the little backstage details like make up taking around an hour due to needing to shave, cover eyebrows etc. Someone asked if the costumes need to be specifically cleaned and Ceri Dupree had the audience in hysterics as he said ‘no, just spray a little Febreeze around the crotch and you’re done’.

Matt Slack

Matt Slack could be considered a Birmingham Hippodrome legend, after starring in the last five pantomimes, holding the record for the most consecutive pantomime performances at the Hippodrome. Earlier this year Matt won a British Pantomime award  for best comic for his role in Dick Whittington. This year Matt is playing Buttons for the first time and joked that it is the role that gets lots of the laughs and the pathos, but that it is going to be rewritten so he also gets the girl.

Matt is well known for being the king of Birmingham Panto, but he is also a talented serious actor. This year has seen him playing in Eastenders and in a touring production of Mrs Henderson Presents, playing a 1930s Cockney Comic in the story of the Windmill Theatre.

Matt says he is lucky to be able to do diverse things, but that his heart always lies in panto.

Cinderella – Birmingham Hippodrome Panto Launch 2017. 20th September 2017.
Pictured is Matt Slack (Buttons).
Picture by Simon Hadley.

Beverley Knight

Making her pantomime debut this year, Midland born Beverley Knight was clearly happy to be back home in ‘God’s own country’ as she described it. Beverley is playing the part of the Fairy Godmother and is really looking forward to performing ‘Knowing that friends and family are just up the road.’

Beverley was resplendent in her gorgeous glittering costume and said ‘I’ve never been so sparkly and sequinny, I love the fact that I can float in and out of scenes.’

Beverley was asked about her other West End theatre roles, including playing Grizabella in Cats. She explained how much she had loved singing Memory, saying ‘If you have a voice, who wouldn’t want to sing Memory.’ She also said how happy she was to be singing in this year’s panto and admitted ‘ I will sing whatever is put in front of me.’

CINDERELLA runs at Birmingham Hippodrome from Mon 19 Dec 2017 until Sun 28 Jan 2018.  Tickets from £15.50* can be booked on 0844 338 5000† or from birminghamhippodrome.com.

 

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

Click here for ticket information.

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

Click here for ticket information