The Crucible at the New Alex Theatre – Powerful and Brilliant

The 1950s were strange times in America. The Second World War was over, but a Cold War emerged, and with it an aura of paranoia and hysteria that saw the country turning on itself, trying to weed out anyone who was a Communist, and therefore, un-American. Senator Joe McCarthy started his witch-hunts, which saw innocent people jailed, destroyed, their lives ruined by (often) false accusations, with people encouraged to name names. It was against this backdrop that America’s celebrated playwright Arthur Miller wrote his masterpiece ‘The Crucible’. a savage indictment of the modern day witch hunts played out through the Salem Witch hunts of the 17th Century. Last night, the play showed it had lost non of its power to shock when it opened at The New Alex Theatre.

Crucible-company-®Alessia-Chinazzo

In Salem, the teenage girls have started to act strangely, dancing naked in the woods in the dead of night, and falling into cataclysmic trances. The suspicious townsfolk, led by the sanctimonious but corrupt Reverend Parris (Cornelius Clarke), suspect witchcraft, with Parris worried for his reputation, as his niece Abigail(Lucy Keirl) seems to be at the core of the activity. Other townsfolk suspect nothing more than hysteria, with one, John Proctor (Eoin Slattery), fearing this is vengeance for his rejection of Abigail. Another priest, Reverend Hale (Charlie Condou) is called to the town to give his opinion, but soon the town jails are filled with men and women accused of witchcraft by the increasingly powerful girls. With the arrival of Judge Canforth (Jonathan Tafler), and the sinister arrest of Elizabeth Proctor (Victoria Yeates) and Rebecca Nurse (Augustina Seymour), events in the town of Salem descend into hell, anyone can be accused, and telling the truth may well lead to death.

Charlie Condou as Reverand Hale_Cornelius Clarke as Reverend Parris_Leona Allen as Betty Parris -®Alessia Chinazzo

This is a powerful piece of theatre which plays with your mind and lingers long after the curtain falls. Information about characters is flashed onto the stage backdrop in  a way that calls to mind Silent movies, perhaps a reminder of the Hollywood 10, destroyed by the McCarthy Witch hunts. Some of the cast are in period costume, others of suits and clothing more suited to the 1950s – again reminding us that this story from the past still has relevance in our more recent times.

The performances are excellent throughout the whole cast and show the mixture of emotions that run through the piece. John Proctor, as played by Eoin Slattery, is passionate and angry, even in the early scenes he is shown to be a man frustrated by the avarice of the church represented by Reverend Parris, and tormented by his attraction to Abigail. As his wife, Victoria Yeates is his polar opposite, her calm and dignity almost heartbreaking as she faces the accusations made against her.

Charlie Condou as Rev.Hale_ Eoin Slattery as John Proctor_Victoria Yeates as Elizabeth Proctor -®Alessia Chinazzo

Lucy Keirl is wonderfully evil as Abigail, showing no remorse as her words and actions condemn innocent men and women. Her ‘bewitching; is a tour de force in over the top histrionics – it would be funny if the consequences were not so devastating. Charlie Condou plays the role of the tortured Reverend Hale beautifully, his pain as he realises that the cases are built on lies and that good, innocent people are being killed is so real. Finally, Judge Danforth, as played by Jonathan Tafler, is an infuriating megalomaniac who cannot be wrong, nor made to see sense. It is a commanding performance that dominates the stage, sinister and yet measured in the playing.

The Crucible is an extraordinary piece of theatre that has so many echoes in our modern times. The final moments are as powerful and haunting as anything you will watch, and will remain with you long after you leave the theatre.

A must see.

The Crucible

New Alexandra Theatre

Tuesday 6- Saturday 10th June

Click here for ticket information

 

Jackie the Musical thrills audiences at the New Alexandra Theatre

As a child of the 1980s, Saturday meant just one thing, getting my latest copy of Jackie. The magazine that taught a generation everything it needed to know about fashion, beauty and, most importantly love, was literally my Bible as I made the trip towards adolescence. Sadly Jackie is no longer with us, it belonged to a more innocent time, with the last issue leaving the press in 1993. But now its spirit, and sometimes hilarious advice is back with us in the form of a brilliantly realised musical, complete with a musical soundtrack that captures the fun of the days of pinups and Cathy and Clare perfectly. I went along to opening night at the New Alexandra Theatre last night, and have to say that I totally loved it!

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Janet-Dibley-as-Jackie_Jackie-the-Musical_Pamela-Raith-Photography-1.jpg

Jackie, a fifty-something, soon to be divorcee, is packing up her belongings and moving house.  During the move, she discovers her collection of Jackie magazines from the 1970s, and soon finds herself being haunted by her younger self,  still filled with hope and optimism for her future. With her ex husband John now engaged to a 30 something, Jackie, with the help of her sassy friend Jill, her own younger self, and her Jackie magazines decides that she will find new love. But the course of love doesn’t necessarily run according to the plan of agony aunts Cathy and Clare, and Jackie is led on a trip of discovery that suggests that maybe you need to love yourself before you will be happy in love. A trip that is sound tracked with the best of TRex, David Essex, Mud, Barbara Streisand and Donny Osmond.

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Jackie-the-Musical_Pamela-Raith-Photography.jpg

 

Janet Dibley is just brilliant as Jackie, you literally never stop routing for her character, with lines that are delivered with real humour and make her so real. She is supported by Nicholas Bailey and Graham Bickley as Max and John,  the two men in her life, both bringing personality to the roles that means that even though the characters infuriate you, you can’t help but like them too. I was also really impressed with Michael Hamway as Jackie’s teen son and wannabe rock star David, and Daisy Steere, who plays the young Jackie. Both play their role with bags of charm and an exuberance that is just infectious.

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Janet-Dibley-Daisy-Steere_Jackie-the-Musical_Pamela-Raith-Photography.jpg

Janet Dibley as Jackie & Daisy Steere as Young Jackie_Jackie the Musical_Pamela Raith Photography

Janet Dibley as Jackie & Daisy Steere as Young Jackie_Jackie the Musical_Pamela Raith Photography

The songs are another star of the show, with ‘Enough is Enough’ and a truly surreal and hilarious Puppy Love performed by Bob Harms (the side splitting Frankie – a total scene stealer) being amongst the standouts. Add these 70s standards to the fabulous costumes from the decade that style apparently forget (although I beg to differ on this point) and you have a show that is a total crowd pleaser, delighting an audience who are just waiting to jump to their feet at the finale.

Jackie the Musical is a total delight, one which I would happily watch again tonight. Grab your flares and tank top and go lose yourself in the decade of disco, kipper ties and Party six.

Jackie the Musical runs until Saturday 28th May. Click here for ticket information and show times.

 

 

 

Breakfast at Tiffany’s at the New Alexandra Theatre

It is an iconic book that became an iconic movie classic. Now ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ has been turned into a play that opened at Birmingham’s New Alexandra Theatre this week, with pop starlet Pixie Lott stepping into the not inconsiderable shoes of Audrey Hepburn to play Holly Golightly. But fans of the Hollywood movie version may be surprised with the differences in the story, and, if you require a pre-requisite Hollywood happy ending, this may not be the show for you.

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Fred (not his real name but we never actually find out what it is.) is an aspiring, but down on his luck writer, living in an apartment block with an assortment of kooky neighbours. Chief amongst these is the beautiful, effervescent Holly Golightly, a charming party-girl with a lot of secrets in her past. Holly has one aim in life, to be rich beyond belief, pursuing the odious Randy Trawler as a means to this end. But love has a way of getting in the way, and as Holly and Fred bond over their similar situations, it seems that maybe money isn’t everything. But as the past and present collide, Holly is forced to make choices that will change all of their lives forever.

Pixie Lott as Holly Golightly and Naomi Cranston as Mag in Breakfast at Tiffany's (Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

Pixie Lott as Holly Golightly and Naomi Cranston as Mag in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

This version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is an altogether darker proposition than the Hollywood film, closer to the source material of the Truman Capote novel. There is no room for the Patricia Neal character, Fred’s trysts for money are with men, and you get the distinct impression that he is at least bisexual. Sex and pregnancy before marriage are all part of the story, and the action is transferred to World War 2 era New York, rather than the early 60s of the film. This makes the play interesting to compare to the saccherine Hollywood love story.

Pixie Lott as Holly Golightly (centre) and the cast of Breakfast at Tiffany's Credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes

Pixie Lott as Holly Golightly (centre) and the cast of Breakfast at Tiffany’s Credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes

As Holly, Pixie Lott is an engaging, elegant presence – a little shrill and shouty at times, but with a graceful poise that makes her Holly very watchable. Her singing voice is strong and powerful and fills the theatre when she sings Moon River. You feel that her Holly is a stronger, harder person than Audrey’s version – more suited to the darker edges of the story, but it does mean that Lott as Holly is sometimes cold and hard to love.

Pixie Lott as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes (5)

Pixie Lott as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes (5)

On the other hand I was really impressed with Matt Barber, who made Fred, warm and adorable. He narrates the play and pretty much holds the whole thing together with wit and charm. One of my fave scenes is when he has a drink with Doc – Holly’s abandoned husband. The scene is soft and charming and gives the play heart.

Matt Barber as Fred in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes

Matt Barber as Fred in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes

The costumes, sets of New York and the apartment block, and the use of newspaper reports to move the action along are great, and I loved the supporting characters Mag and Rusty. But ultimately, as someone who loves the romance and charm of the movie, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ is just a little dark for me.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s New Alexandra Theatre

Wednesday 20 – Saturday 23rd April 2016

Click here for ticket information