Category Archives: Theatre

Theatre Review by Christine Hoey

anita1

Anita and Me – Grand Theatre, Blackpool

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Sitting in a chilly auditorium in Blackpool, we were treated to a warm-hearted and humorous performance of this play based on Meera Syal’s semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in the 1970s as part of the only Punjabi family in a close-knit all white mining community in the West Midlands. The set design realistically evokes the red brick terraced housing and is spot-on with 1970s interiors.

Aasiya Shah plays Meena, the gawky, bright Punjabi girl who forges an unlikely friendship with the seemingly cool and rebellious Anita (Laura Aramayo). Behind the facade though, Anita is the neglected daughter of an impoverished, troubled family and abandoned by her mother.

The first half of the play shows Meena’s family well integrated in the community. If anything, it is Anita’s family who are ostracised by their neighbours. This makes the violent racist attack on a visiting Punjabi council worker in the second half of the play all the more shocking. However, the play does not delve into the racial politics of the time, but instead focuses on the coming of age story and Meena’s eventual break with Anita.

Meena is surrounded by a loving extended family: her parents (Robert Mountford and ex-Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati), her aunt (Sejal Keshwala) and her formidable grandma, Nanimi, played with great humour and charisma by Rina Fatania.

Education is taken seriously in the play and the academically bright Meena has a glowing future in prospect, whereas Anita is isolated and destined, we are led to believe, for a bleaker future of early pregnancies and troubled relationships, repeating the pattern established by her parents.

Christine Hoey

Theatre Reviews by Christine Hoey & Alastair Thomas

Cyrano

Cyrano – Duke’s Playhouse, Lancaster

Saturday 1st April 2017

At just short of three hours’ duration, Northern Broadsides’ touring production of Cyrano engaged all the emotions, with its mix of comedy, romance, music and pathos.

Cyrano is a swashbuckling soldier-poet, in love with his beautiful cousin, Roxane, but convinced that she will never requite his love, owing to his phenomenally prominent hooter.

Christian Edwards (still recognisable under the prosthetic nose as Cosmo from our visit to Singin’ in the Rain) plays Cyrano with the requisite humour, panache and pathos. When Roxane (Sharon Singh) falls in love with the handsome but tongue-tied Christian (Adam Barlow), Cyrano undertakes to provide eloquent and poetic words of courtship on his behalf. A comic highlight is his briefing of his inarticulate love rival on how to woo Roxane.  Left to his own devices, the best Christian can come up with is “I want to nibble your neck. Well, it’s alliteration, isn’t it?”

The ruse is successful and Christian marries Roxane, but within hours he and Cyrano are despatched to the siege of Arras. The dangers, hunger, boredom and privations of the siege are beautifully conveyed via a haunting melody “The Song of the Seasons”.

The final scene, 14 years after the siege, where the widowed Roxane finally realises that the dying Cyrano has loved her all along, is hugely affecting.

With high production values in both costume and set design, the play is very well-acted by all involved. Special mention goes to Francesca Mills who is an eye-catching bundle of energy, lighting up the stage in a series of cameo parts: a nifty pickpocket, apprentice baker and gossip-hungry nun. However, there was not a single weak link in the cast, with many playing several parts – and musical instruments. One of the highlights of the play is the original period-style music excellently performed by the very talented cast.

We hope that Northern Broadsides will visit Lancaster on their next tour.

Christine Hoey


Members of the Theatre Group went to Lancaster to the Duke’s Theatre on 1 April to see a matinée performance of Cyrano.   This was an outstandingly good performance by the theatre company Northern Broadsides in association with the New Vic Theatre of Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire.  We mentioned that we had come from far Leyland, but our table-companion told us she had travelled from London to see the performance: clearly, Northern Broadsides have a loyal and extensive following.  Having seen them for the first time, I shall watch for their future performances.  They are a touring company and take Cyrano to Scarborough, York, the Lowry, Cheltenham, Bury St Edmunds, Halifax, Derby, and Oxford over the next few months.

The dialogue and repartee were witty, and delivered with impeccable timing.  Act I is set in Paris in 1640, when France was at war against Spain.  Most of the male characters are cadets (junior officers) in the Gascony Guards, so there is plenty of sword-play, very well coached by the appropriately-named Philip D’Orleans.  The rustic origins of the Gascons are well suggested by the use of regional northern English accents, while Roxanne, ‘a brilliant and beautiful young woman’ played by Sharon Singh, spoke with a very ‘refined’ Scottish accent.  Cyrano, of the unmentionably long nose, was played by Christian Edwards, and dominated the action as ‘wing-man’ and speech-maker for Christian de Neuvillette, ‘the new boy in town’, in inarticulate love with Roxanne.  Francesca Mills used her short stature to great advantage, playing an impish pickpocket, apprentice to Ragueneau the Parisian pâtissier poet, and a solemn nun – she held the audience’s attention whenever she appeared.  All the other members of the cast gave polished professional performances.  When music was required, it was provided by the cast on violin, trumpet, flute or drums.  Ligniere, the troubadour guitarist, (played by Michael Hugo) was another comedic continuity character.

The romantic comedy was originally written in rhyming couplets by Edmond Rostand, as a fictionalised account of the real life of Cyrano de Bergerac.  Its first performance in Paris in 1897 drew an hour’s applause at the end.  There have since been many translations and adaptations in English and USAnian (otherwise called American!), and even one in Azerbaijani, for stage and film performance.  This version is a new adaptation in English by Deborah McAndrew.  She retains much of the rhyme and gives the play its French flavour by using many of the expressions in Franglais familiar to us all.  The result is a fresh portrayal of an everlasting theme.  Northern Broadsides performed it with appropriate panache (flamboyant confidence or style or manner).  Comments as we left the theatre were that many of us had not known what to expect, but all of us had enjoyed it immensely.

Alastair Thomas

Theatre Review by John Baggaley

Educating Rita – Bolton Octagon

Saturday 4th February 2017

educating_rita_media___image_swapper_572b5a82c230d

On the 4th February 21 members of the Theatre Group visited Bolton Octagon to see ‘Educating Rita’.

This is the story of a middle aged alcoholic university lecturer taking on an Open University student for the fees he could earn. She is a twenty-something working class Liverpool girl who feels the need for education.

He is tired of his life style and she brings a vision of life and a hunger for experience that his usual students do not show. Her speech is full of the humorous descriptions and allusions often shown by Liverpudlians. The play charts Rita’s change from inexperienced uneducated youth to thoughtful confident woman. We witness the effect she has in forcing her teacher to reassess his own life culminating in a forced move to Australia.

The set made full advantage of the audience surrounding the actors and enhanced the vision of a stick in the mud middle aged teacher.

The lecturer, Frank, was played by David Birrell and Rita was played by Jessica Baglow. Both are experienced actors on stage and television.

I found this to be a very enjoyable play as did all those I spoke to.

John Baggaley

Theatre Review by Various Members

Miss Saigon – Chorley Little Theatre.

Friday 13th January 2017

miss-saigon-25th-anniversary-special

Friday 13th January was the date of our private screening of Miss Saigon at Chorley Little Theatre.

Based on Puccini’s opera, Madame Butterfly, Miss Saigon dramatises a doomed love story involving an Asian woman abandoned by her American lover. In Miss Saigon, the setting is updated to 1970’s Saigon during and after the Vietnam War. Kim is a young bar girl, orphaned by the war, who falls in love with an American GI, Chris, but their lives are torn apart by the fall of Saigon.

Eva Noblezada as Kim gives the show real heart with strong singing and assured acting. Kwang-Ho-Hong also makes a very strong impression as Kim’s spurned fiancé, who ends up as a powerful figure in post-war Vietnam. For all of us, however, the standout member of the cast was Jon Jon Briones as the Engineer. When you boil it right down, his character is a sleazy, grubby, manipulative pimp, but played with such charisma and energy, that you almost hope he gets to realise his “American Dream”. Although we realised it would all end in tears, the end of Kim’s story (no spoilers!) still came as a shock.  Post-show comments included:

“The engineer (Jon Jon Briones) was stunning. I will look for other productions he is in.”

“A moving and gripping story, although I would have preferred more dialogue (rather than singing) between the numbers.”

“So refreshingly relevant to the history of Vietnam as shown in the Reconciliation Museum I visited in Saigon.”

“I loved every minute; the ending was heart-breaking.”

Many thanks to Chorley Little Theatre for organising this free special screening for Leyland U3A following the late cancellation (through no fault of theirs) of the screening scheduled for last October. We wanted to reciprocate such a generous offer, and are pleased to say we made a total contribution of over £90 to the theatre on the day, which will go towards the purchase of new seating.

Theatre Group

Theatre Review – Monica Lea

Canary Girls – Leyland Civic Centre

Monday 3 October 2016

canary-girls-top

The theatre group did not travel far for their October visit. We visited Leyland Civic Centre to see a play called The Canary Girls, organised by Leyland Historical Society and performed by the Mikron Theatre Company.

The story is about two sisters and the year is 1914. The young sisters work as maids for a domineering lady as there is not much work available for girls in 1914. They hear about jobs at the munition factory filling shells. This work makes their skins turn a yellow shade which is why they are known as “canary girls”,  but the money is good and it gives them independence.

They have many adventures involving a cost-cutting factory owner, bad working conditions and a fire that could have caused an explosion. The girls develop differently, one finding romance,the other becoming an organiser fighting for better conditions for the workers.

Some of us did not greatly enjoy this performance but the majority did. There were four actors – two women and two men – on the stage all the time. They all played many different characters, sang and played many musical instruments. It’s is not a glamorous job working for the Mikron Theatre Company – at the end of the show they packed their props into the van and drove away do it all again in another town next night.

In my own opinion not the best one of theirs I have seen, but still a very good and enjoyable performance.

Monica Lea

Theatre Review – Christine Hoey

To Kill A Mockingbird – Bolton Octagon

Saturday 17 September 2016

to_kill_a_mocking_bird_media___image_swapper_572b2da5ed9ee

Twenty-one Leyland U3A members attended the sold-out performance of To Kill A Mockingbird at Bolton Octagon on Saturday 21 September. Harper Lee’s semi-autobiographical novel is a much loved classic of 20th century fiction and was followed by a film version with Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in 1962.

So the story is well known: Atticus Finch (Rob Edwards) is a widowed small town lawyer and father of two young children, who takes on the (doomed) defence of a black man, Tom Robinson, (Marc Small) on trial for his life for the alleged rape of a white woman, Mayella Ewell (Leila Mimmack) in 1930s Alabama.

This stage adaptation features the adult Scout Finch (Barbara Drennan) looking back at the characters and pivotal events of that 1930s summer, when childhood innocence comes face to face with the harsh realities of adult experience.

Even though the majority of the audience knows what the outcome of the trial will be, the courtroom scenes are tense and suspenseful, as we watch events unfold with the townsfolk in the public gallery. Rob Edwards and Marc Small both play their parts with great assurance and understated dignity, whilst Leila Mimmack touchingly conveys both the abject misery and sense of guilt of the abused Mayella Ewell.  Harry Long as her father, Bob, becomes increasingly menacing as the play progresses.

Director Elizabeth Newman impressively marshals her cast of 14 adults (some playing several parts) and three children. Even the smallest roles are powerfully and convincingly acted and the child actors more than hold their own alongside their experienced professional colleagues. Indeed, some of the most moving moments involve the young Scout deflecting the mob who are intent on lynching Tom Robinson, and later showing her instinctive empathy with the solitary Boo Radley.

All in all, a gripping, powerful, engrossing and moving production of a story that still resonates strongly in 2016.

Christine Hoey

 

Theatre Review – Pam Carroll

#chipshopthemusical – Olympus Chip Shop

Saturday 21 May 2016

chipshopthemusical_production-shot

A video preview of the show can be see HERE

Eighteen members of the Theatre Group had a most enjoyable night out at the Olympus Fish & Chip Restaurant in Bolton on Saturday 21 May – the long awaited #chipshopthemusical had finally arrived. We sat down to a delicious plate of fish & chips at 7:30 PM. At 8:00 PM the tables were cleared and a dour Yorkshire man passed between the tables and sang of his woes, accompanied by brass band music. He was struggling to run his family chip shop business alone. Cue the arrival of a lively 16 year old aficionado of “grime” – a type of rap music. The contrast between the characters and musical styles and their growing mutual affection made the show. I still think they are called Fish Shops rather than Chip Shops in Yorkshire though!

Thanks to Pam Carroll for this report.