The Snowman enchants at the Birmingham Rep

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, The Snowman made a triumphant return to the place where it all started last night, when it opened at the Birmingham Rep, delighting audiences of all ages. The timeless story of a little boy whose snowman comes to life and takes him on a unforgettable adventure is a delight, and in the charming Lewis Chan, it has a truly adorable leading man.

The Snowman is based on the classic Raymond Briggs story that was later turned into a animated film that is now a perennial classic, with the beautiful ‘Walking in the Air’ as much a part of Christmas as mince pies are. The theatre version is just as stunning and memorable, a perfect combination of mime and acting, music and dance, all held together with snowy backdrops and adorable life sized toys and animals.

The Boy (Lewis Chan) is excited to see the outside world transformed into a winter wonderland, and heads outside to enjoy the snow, making a rather large snowman in his garden. When night falls and his parents are asleep, the Boy creeps out to check on his snowman. He finds it has magically come to life and starts out on a night of adventure, first in the confines of his home, and then, after ‘Walking in the Air’, in a wonderful world of Snow people and Ice Princesses and even a certain Santa Claus. But even the best of adventures have to end, with the boy flying back to his bedroom as the sun comes up on Christmas Morning. But was it all a lovely dream?

Set-Up shots showing The Snowman @ Birmingham Rep Theatre.
©Tristram Kenton 

As mentioned, Lewis Chan was simply lovely in the role of the boy. Charming and adorable in a role could be annoying, Oscar had just the right amount of wide eyed wonder and his dancing and acting were both admirable. Also wonderful was the Snowman played by Martin Fenton, who managed to be both graceful and lumbersome in his dance with the enchanting Ice Princess. The beautiful sets added so much to the story, and the moment when The Snowman and The Boy finally soar into the sky actually had me wiping tears away – a lovely, magical moment.

Set-Up shots showing The Snowman @ Birmingham Rep Theatre.
©Tristram Kenton

There are not many theatrical experiences that offer the opportunity to watch a giant pineapple, coconut and banana limbo dancing, and with a stunning ending that I won’t spoil here (clue, you usually have to be outside to experience this), The Snowman continues to delight and enthrall audiences just like it did during Christmas 1993.

The Snowman

The HOUSE at The REP

Click here for ticket and performance information.

Countdown to Cruella Pt 2 – A Chat With The Cast

Following on from my chat with the director of 101 Dalmatians, Tessa Walker, and puppetry designer Jimmy Grimes, this post is, as promised, a chat with some of the cast who will be bringing Dodie Smith’s much loved classic tale to life at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre next month.

Emma Thornett and Oliver Wellington

We start with a chat with Emma Thornett and Oliver Wellington, who play Missus and Pongo in the new adaptation. If you are unfamiliar with the book, you may be wondering who Missus is, but, as Emma explained, Missus is actually the mother of the puppies, rather than Perdita. Disney merged Missus and Perdita into one character in the film, but in the book they are both mother’s who have lost their babies. Emma mused that maybe

Disney liked the alliteration of Pongo and Perdita, but it is a shame they weren’t both in the animation.

I asked if either Emma or Oliver had any prior experience of working with puppets. Oliver had no prior experience, saying ‘it’s all new to me.’ Emma, on the other hand, had worked on Warhorse previously with Jimmy Grimes and said that initially, she didn’t think she would enjoy it. Both agreed that puppeteers need to be in a devoted state, even if they are physically in pain, stuck in funny positions controlling the puppet.

I asked if they found it easier to get into the character having the puppets. Oliver explained:-

It’s kind of like when you finally get your costume, you feel more in character. I guess it may have taken longer to get into the character without the puppet.

Emma Continued

So much of the role is based on the physicality. It is like when you’re a kid and you play with figures and dolls, you lose yourself in play.

The actors also talk about how long it took for them to get the synergy. Oliver said the actors fell in love when they saw the puppets, loved how they moved and worked. The nuances were so realistic and detailed. Emma further explained that:

With puppetry, performance is always evolving and becoming finessed, with things working in a better way. We’re still finding out things about what the puppies can do – for example the feet have changed from the original design.

Gloria Onitiri and Jo Servi

Gloria Onitiri as Cruella De Vil_credit Graeme Braidwood_preview

We conclude the countdown to Cruella with a chat with the lady herself, Gloria Onitiri, and Jo Servi, who plays her husband Horace. Both Gloria and Jo were feeling super excited about the show. Gloria was very passionate in her reasons for wanting to play Cruella, saying

I know I should be super nervous, but I feel like I’m bringing something else to the role that hasn’t been seen before, her humanity, her humility. I want to show a back story, what is is that makes her act the way she does. In the Dodie Smith novel her unusual hair is natural, showing she’s always been different and has never fitted in. She saw her mother pour all her love into dogs in her animal shelter, thinks that people will love me if I wear fur as well.

Jo explains his love of the role

It’s certainly not boring being married to Cruella. She is his muse and model for his fur designs, it is a match made in heaven. It starts off being wonderful being married to Cruella, but throughout the story things start to turn sour. Horace is more of a henchman in the Disney cartoon rather than a husband, but I am not that familiar with the cartoon, which probably worked better.

I asked if Gloria had taken any inspiration from Glenn Close or the Disney Cruella. The answer is no

I really wanted people to think, Oh Cruella and really feel for her. I don’t need to take my tips from Glenn Close or Disney, my Cruella is much younger for a start. And the book is so rich, it’s all there. The novel is dark, Disney took the edge from it. We are definitely doing our own version.

Both Gloria and Jo are excited to see the real version of 101 Dalmatians on the stage, feeling that audiences really don’t know that much about it. They feel audiences must not be afraid to see something new.

Birmingham Repertory Theatre presents

The Hundred And One Dalmatians

Click here for ticket information

 

Reviewed – Tommy at the Birmingham Rep

The musical Tommy arrived at the Birmingham Rep last night, in a new production by the inclusive theatre project Ramps on the Moon. This version of the iconic rock opera from The Who featured the epoymous lead, the ‘deaf, dumb and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball’ being played by an actor who also happens to be deaf, the excellent William Grint, and the use of Grint, and other actors who have disabilities, added a new power and poignancy to what is a classic piece of musical theatre.

A new opening scene, featuring news footage, showing how people with disabilities are facing additional cuts to benefits and support in 2017 has been added to striking effect. We are then transported back to the Britain of the second world war, where the lovely Nora (played by Donna Mullings, with Shekinah McFarlane providing the incredible vocal performance.) meets Captain Walker (Max Runham) and falls immediately in love. They marry, but this is wartime and Captain Walker is soon called back for duty, leaving the pregnant Nora behind. He is then reported as missing, feared killed in action. Nora gives birth to a child, Tommy, and meets Frank (Alim Jayda). They fall in love and are happy, but then the missing Captain Walker comes back, not dead after all. A fight breaks out between Frank and the Captain, a gun is pulled, and the captain is killed. Tommy witnesses the whole scene through a mirror, and is told by Frank ‘You didn’t see anything, you didn’t hear anything, you can’t say anything’. He takes this message literally, and after this he becomes the ‘deaf, dumb and blind kid’ of the song. This leads to a life of misery, abuse and humiliation at the hands of adults and children alike, all whilst his parents are searching for a cure, a reason for his condition. But a chance game on a pinball changes everything for Tommy as the kid becomes a star, a new messiah. But at what cost?


Julian Capolei William Grint and Matthew Jacobs Morgan

Foreground Max Runham as Captain Walker. A New Wolsey Theatre Production in co-production with Ramps on the Moon. Photo Mike Kwasniak

The whole cast is uniformly excellent, but for me there are a few standouts. Donna Mullings as Nora is so beautifully expressive in her interactions with William Grint, and I genuinely believe that by not singing, her pain and suffering as she tries to help her son are all the more powerful. The Acid Queen, as played by the legendary Peter Straker owns the stage, and steals every scene she is in, making it all the more exciting that Pete Townsend wrote a new song especially for the role. Max Runham is a dashing Captain Walker, his scenes with Tommy were filled with pathos, while both Lukas Alexander and Garry Robson, as Cousin Kevin and Uncle Ernie respectively, are both deliciously evil in their portrayal of Tommy’s abusive relations. But is is William Grint who is the heart and soul of the story, making Tommy sympathetic both as a victim and a hero, filling the role with pathos and strength.

The cast of Tommy. A New Wolsey Theatre Production in co-production with Ramps on the Moon. Photo Mike Kwasniak

Peter Straker as the Acid-Queen. A New Wolsey Theatre Production in co-production with Ramps-on-the-Moon. Photo Mike Kwasniak

Tommy is a visual feast and a real treat for all of the senses. The fact that sign language, subtitles and a cast that includes talented people with disabilities are all part of the story makes it a truly incredible piece of theatre.

Tommy

Birmingham Rep

17 May 2017 – 27 May 17

Click here for ticket information