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REVIEW: Tap Factory, Norwich Theatre Royal

There was certainly plenty of tap dancing, and yes, it was set in a factory – but Tap Factory is so much more than that.

It was the combination of dance styles, comedy, dramatic rhythms, incredible talent, precision, and non-stop energy which earned the cast a standing ovation at the end of their opening night at Norwich Theatre Royal.

The show is ageless and international, with a cast from around the world. Children and adults were enthralled and laughing together. There is no intelligible speech, just the universally-understood language of gesture and expression which were especially comic in the hands, face and body of African-born Konan Kouassi whose malleable features, vast smile, huge eyes and athleticism seemed super-human.

Intense dance sequences are interspersed with slower comedy sketches, but always involving rhythm and astonishing skill.

The creative team behind the show is French, and there is a definite Gallic feel to the humour and mime at times. The set is sparse and effective, just oil drums and scaffolding, and the all-male cast is mostly in work dungarees. But there’s no need for set-dressing colour, sparkle and razzmatazz – it’s all there, in the feet, arms and faces of the dance troupe.

The tap routines are sometimes fast, furious and fun, and sometimes interspersed with other tempos – clapping or drumming – with the fancy footwork passing in a perfectly-timed split second from one dancer to another, creating a Mexican wave of rhythm.

Dharmesh Patel, playing the comic stooge, had everyone on his side as he was bullied, overlooked and ridiculed by the big boys, but his superb dancing ensured that we all knew he was really every bit their equal.

Break dancer Jorffy Mayomba twisted on the floor and flipped through the air in ways which should only be possible in cartoons. And acrobatic artist Xavier Bouyer, with incredible strength and grace, struck impossible balances and rolled himself to the ceiling in ribbons before plummeting headfirst from a great height, in a gasp-inducing manouevre which, thankfully, ended with his skull a few centimetres from the stage but at first looked as if it might end with a 999 call to the East Anglian Air Ambulance.

If you enjoy fast dancing, gymnastics, silent comedy, and five kinds of hell being beaten out of oil drums, you’ll love this show. And if rippling, muscled, glistening male torsos are also your thing, then this is your birthday and Christmas rolled into one.

  • Tap Factory is playing at the theatre this afternoon, Friday October 27, at 2.30pm, and this evening, at 7.30pm. Ring the box office on 01603 630000 or visit: www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

 

Alex Hurrell

Photos: Philippe Fretault


Review: Abigail’s Party at Norwich Theatre Royal

I went to the drinks party from hell last night – and I loved it!
I will never forget my parents’ laughter at Abigail’s Party. I have to admit I wasn’t even born when it was first aired on the television in 1977, but at some point in my teens I recall watching it and, not surprisingly, not really getting it. However, the obvious pleasure my parents took from it was enough to make me re-visit it in adulthood, when I finally got it!
So when I heard the play was coming to Norwich Theatre Royal, and with Amanda Abbington playing the vulgar Beverly no less, I was straight on the phone to my dad.
Abigail’s Party was devised and directed by Mike Leigh and opened at Hampstead Theatre in April 1977 before being recorded and aired by the BBC in November of the same year, bringing it to a huge audience. And if the sell-out first night at Norwich Theatre Royal is anything to go by, 40 years on its popularity is enduring.
A satire on the new middle class of the 1970s, the play sees housewife Beverly and her estate agent husband Laurence hosting a drinks party at their suburban Essex home for new neighbours, Angela and Tony. Also invited is fellow neighbour and divorcee Susan, whose 15-year-old daughter Abigail is having her first party a few doors away.
As Beverly plies her guests with alcohol, cigarettes and cheese and pineapple on sticks, the party starts to spiral out of control. The well-mannered Susan is forced to listen to speculations about what antics might be taking place at her daughter’s party, while also being tactlessly questioned over her failed marriage. Ang, as Beverly inevitably calls her, is in awe of her neighbour’s home – complete with fibre-optic light, shag-pile rug and pull-down drinks cabinet – and will do and say anything to impress her new friend.
Beverly, meanwhile, shamelessly flirts with the monosyllabic Tony while chastising her husband at every opportunity. As the nights wears on, Laurence gets increasingly angry at his wife’s inappropriate behaviour and lack of culture and ultimately loses his temper with disastrous consequences.
Amanda Abbington had a big challenge to step into the shoes (or should I say platforms) of Alison Steadman in the iconic role of Beverly, but she was amazing! I was sold on the performance from the moment she put Donna Summer on the turntable and lit her first cigarette!
There’s still time to be a guest at Beverly’s party. The play runs until April 1 at Norwich Theatre Royal. Call the box office on 01603 630000 or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk.

The cast of Abigail’s Party.

REVIEW: Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Norwich Theatre Royal

The scene was set beautifully at the Norwich Theatre Royal for the adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s last night.

Lovers of the film need to go with an open mind and not expect a carbon copy of the onscreen version as there are significant differences due to the fact that the show is based on Truman Capote’s  novella from 1958.

Georgia May Foote (pictured) plays Hollie Golightly,  a sexual and vibrant but confused character who denies reality as a buffer to coping with what life has to offer her. She uses her feminine allure to manipulate the men in her life. Her Hillbilly origins come through, fighting with the sophistication of her ‘now’ life. However, unlike her character in the film, her vulnerability is only glimpsed at a couple of times throughout the play.

The main male character Fred, played by Matt Barber, is infatuated with his new neighbour Hollie and the two become friends. He is also the narrator for the story and effortlessly slips from this role to his character wonderfully. At times it seems as if more will come of their relationship but it is not to be . . .

I loved the 1930’s vibe with scenery and characters deftly moving from one scene onto the next. That and the minimalist set were just so effective. And the cat, there was dispute whether it was real or not, was a lovely treat, especially when it ran from one side of the stage to the other right on cue, perfect!

The play is on at the Theatre Royal until November 19. Book online at www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000.

KATHERINE MOORE

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Joe’s belting out the Buble

Norwich chap Joe Ringer grew up listening to swing and jazz and his love of the big band.

Now the popular vocalist, who turned professional three years ago, is set to perform on the region’s biggest stage as he brings The Joe Ringer Band and Swingin’ With Bublé to Norwich Theatre Royal on August 9.

Joe is promising an evening to remember with a 28-piece orchestra, guest soloists and a 40-piece choir of locally-recruited singers. “We will have a 28-piece orchestra and everything is especially arranged for this line-up. So we will have the standard big band which is 18 musicians, and on top of that we have added a seven-piece string section plus percussion.  That’s a massive amount of orchestra making a beautiful sound.”

Also joining him on stage will be international jazz singer and recording artist Claire Martin OBE, a seven-times winner at the British Jazz Awards, and locally-based Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons tribute band Frankie’s Guys.

Joe has been working on the arrangements himself, alongside arranger Mike West.  “The songs are beautifully written and to be able to do the true arrangements is brilliant. The lyrics are beautiful, which I feel a lot of the time today you don’t get in modern songs. I like singing pop music like anyone else, but there is something about these well-crafted songs from Cole Porter and Irving Berlin that I really love.  They are a pleasure to sing.”

On the programme on August 9 will be numbers from Michael Bublé with songs ranging from Cry Me A River and Haven’t Met You Yet, to Home and Feeling Good, as well as some of the all-time greats from Frank Sinatra, the Rat Pack and Ray Charles. Joe said: “We have some arrangements being specially written for the choir like Georgia on My Mind, so these will be bespoke arrangements and the first time you will ever hear them.”

Joe spent his childhood listening to his mum’s favourite swing and jazz music before joining the Norfolk Youth Music Theatre at the age of 16. “My mum was a massive fan of Sinatra and the Rat Pack and Nat King Cole, so that was always playing throughout the house, so I grew up with it and became that kind of singer. I’ve always had a passion for it and about ten years ago when Bublé came in, Jamie Cullum and the Robbie Williams swing album, it re-ignited that thing.

“I get to sing these beautiful songs from shows like Anything Goes.  Some of the lyrics are so beautiful and so clever you can get really lost in the story when you are singing them and listening to them too. They have a beautiful core structure and beautiful melody.  Add on top an 18-piece band and a string section and it is as it should be.”

The show in the Theatre Royal’s 1300-seater auditorium will be a long cry from Joe’s very first public gig which was at the Maid’s Head Hotel in Norwich when he was asked to fill in for another singer. Soon he was appearing with the Jonathan Wyatt Big Band and doing shows at The Norwich Playhouse and King’s Lynn Corn Exchange.

“Before I knew it I was ‘dep-ing’ in the industry, filling in with other bands around the area. And I’ve gone further afield around the region and to the Midlands and London as a solo singer with other bands. I saw what they were doing and thought I could do this, and with a background in design and marketing I thought I could do it better, so I put together my own band.

“We now run various sizes of band from six up to the full big band size and we do corporate events and a lot of weddings around the region and further afield. We go everywhere and are really busy and we work with some amazing musicians. I love the music side and the creative side. I think we have 100 events organised this year – weddings, shows, events – we’re out multiple times per week. It’s hectic.

Joe feels his time with Norfolk Youth Music Theatre was invaluable. “I did quite a few shows with them. It gave me good diction and a good vocal grounding and it helps you to sing in your own way.  A lot of people have beautiful voices, but you have to be able to perform too. You have to be likeable to the crowd. You have to endear yourself to the audience in the first five minutes.

“I can cover most things. I class myself as a musician as well. I take quite a lot of interest in the musical side because I do a lot of arranging. I think the voice sits in as part of the band and I’m using my voice as an instrument.”

He is pleased with the arrangements for the show. “They are sounding great. It will be a really superb evening for everyone who loves Michael Bublé, the Rat Pack, Sinatra, all those great singers from those days, a little bit of Ray Charles too – I’ll be paying tribute to all those guys.”

The Joe Ringer Band is at Norwich Theatre Royal on Tuesday, August 9, 2016, at 7.30pm. Tickets £7-£18. Call the box office on 01603 630000or book online www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

Joe Ringer

Behind the scenes at Norfolk’s biggest show this summer

The theatrical juggernaut Mary Poppins has arrived in the city and is set wowing audiences in supercalifragilistic style. JOHN BULTITUDE went behind the scenes to find out more.

It takes a little more than a spoonful of sugar to bring the magical story of Mary Poppins to the stage. To start with, there are 18 lorries full of set, costumes and equipment to be placed on stage. Company manager Neil White is the man at the helm of the production and says the show is actually treated as an installation within a theatre.

“It is very much that you enter the auditorium and it is the same as seeing a show in the West End whether it is down to the quality of the casting or the size of the set,” he said. “You are not going to Norwich Theatre Royal to see a touring production. This is exactly what you would see if it was in the West End.”

That attitude and approach comes from co-producers, global giants Disney and world-renowned theatrical impresario Cameron Mackintosh. Neil explained: “Both of them are at the top of their field in what they do and are both incredible brands. Disney is about the magic and if you go and see a Cameron show you see a certain standard of production. That is what he is passionate about. If you see a Disney show, you expect the magic of a Disney experience. You have those two images to keep up with.”

The whole process of bringing the production to Norwich from June 29 to July 30 stretches back to when the tour is initially being planned. The set is specifically built with the Theatre Royal (and other venues) in mind so that it will fit in all of them along with any adjustments that need to be met to fit in with the design quirks of each building.

Getting all 18 trucks of equipment into the venue is also quite a challenge. The first lorry leaves the previous venue at 10.20pm on a Saturday night and will arrive at its new home at 8am the following morning. From there, it is a question of getting everything out of the old venue and into the new one in exactly the right order.

That will mean backstage crew will be working 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, so everything is complete for a dress rehearsal at 2pm on the Wednesday afternoon.

To make this work and to ensure the production runs seamlessly, Mary Poppins needs:

25 production crew of rigger, carpenters and electricians to put the show in.

28 local technicians

The touring company of:-

35 adult cast

12 children

Resident director

Resident choreographer

Resident children’s director

7 stage management

3 carpenters

3 automation technicians

3 lighting

3 sound

5 wigs

5 wardrobe

4 chaperones

4 children

13 orchestra

2 merchandisers

1 physio

And Neil said precision is very important: “In each theatre, there isn’t a spare case that doesn’t need to be there. Everything is properly finished and it is a joy to work on because of the planning that goes into it.”

The tour’s production manager and deputy production manager oversee the installation. It is covered by exactly the same rules as a building site and there is a health and safety adviser around at the start of each run to make sure everything is safe and all the correct procedures are followed.

One of Neil’s key areas is to oversee is the children who star in Mary Poppins and have such crucial roles, with two performing in each show and two on standby. He said: “Their parents do not come with us. We have travel chaperones who pick them up from their homes and they then stay with our tour chaperones. During the day, they have to be tutored and do their 15 hours of schooling a week. They will have their break and then come in and do the show and then go back to school. You achieve a sense of normality for them although most of them have longer CVs than me.”

Neil is also the go-to person for all the cast and has to make sure they are all happy and have everything they need. He said the quality of every single actor is very high. “Having that calibre of performer is fantastic. We also have an amazing creative team with people like Richard Eyre, Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear. The first day of rehearsals was like walking into the House of Lords because everyone was titled.

“Cameron is also very passionate about the show. In a technical rehearsal, he can spot if the Admiral’s sideburns are not at quite the right angle. He approves every poster, every piece of artwork and every piece of merchandise because his name is on it. That attitude spreads to all of us. We are very aware and I am very aware that I am representing both him and Disney.”

For Neil, it is the latest show in a long career which saw him start off helping with amateur dramatic productions in his native Yorkshire before going to work at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford. Since then, his career has taken him into the West End and all over the UK (and beyond) with other productions. He is also no stranger to Norwich having company-managed the likes of Oliver! and Shrek in recent years, while he also came to Norfolk regularly as a child to stay at his parents’ holiday home.

“I know Norfolk well,” he said. “My parents had a holiday home in Weybourne for 20 years. I would spend so much time in Norwich, particularly summer holidays and Christmases. Norfolk is like my second home. I go up to Weybourne, Holt and Sheringham. The North Norfolk coast is just a place you can escape to. I come from the moors in Yorkshire which are wild and rural and this is the seaside equivalent.

“I absolutely love being in Norwich. It is different to a lot of cities. There is a calmer pace of life. I am also a big fan of independent theatres. With them, there is so much care and love that goes into the building and the staff are a lot more passionate normally as well.”

He admits being involved with a production like Mary Poppins is a fantastic opportunity. “It is like going into a garage and being offered a Porsche or a Mini. What do you want to drive? The Cameron Mackintosh brand is a global thing which is recognised all over the world. He will get the best possible production and make it so it can transfer all over the globe.”

And he is also a big fan of the story itself with memories of seeing the movie starring Julie Andrews. “I liked the film. Mary Poppins is that strange character. The brilliant thing about the stage show is that she is much darker and her character goes back to the books. There is that element of witchcraft and that darker side to it. You also ask ‘who is Bert and where does he come from?’ There is that mythical element,” said Neil.

“It is about how this mythical person helps out a troubled family. It is about people listening to their children and it is as relevant today as it was when PL Travers wrote it. It reminds us that people should not spend so much time immersed in their jobs or status that they forget what is going on around them. It is also about a series of adventures and about learning a lesson.”

So a spectacular show with a message for us all is on the way to Norwich thanks to Neil, the cast and company who are bringing the excitement of London’s theatre-land direct to Norfolk.

Listing:

Mary Poppins, Wednesday 29 June-Saturday 30 July 2016 at 7.30pm, and Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm except June 30. Please note there are no Sunday performances. Tickets £8-£57.50. Discounts for Over-60s, Under-18s, and Groups. Captioned performance on Wed 20 July at 7.30pm. Signed performance on Wed 27 July at 7.30pm. Audio-described performance on Wed 27 July at 7.30pm.

To book, log onto www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000

MARY POPPINS -  Step In Time - Zizi Strallen as Mary Poppins and the Company. Photo credit Johan Persson

 

Neil White1

Mama Mia! part of new Theatre Royal line-up

The first ever UK tour of MAMMA MIA!  is set to come to Norwich Theatre Royal from Thursday 2 – Saturday 25 March 2017. And it is one of a number of new shows announced by Norwich Theatre Royal which also includes a brand new stage production of a literary classic, the return to the city of a movie icon, a night of spiky comedy from a TV and radio favourite, and a celebration of one of the music world’s true legends.

MAMMA MIA!  is Judy Craymer’s ingenious vision of staging the story-telling magic of ABBA’s timeless songs with an enchanting tale of family and friendship unfolding on a Greek island paradise. To date, it has been seen by more than 60 million people in 50 productions in 16 different languages. MAMMA MIA! The Movie is the highest worldwide grossing live-action musical film of all time.

From West End to global phenomenon, the London production of MAMMA MIA!  has now been seen by more than 10% of the entire UK population. It is one of only five musicals to have run for more than 10 years both on Broadway and in the West End, and in 2011, it became the first Western musical ever to be staged in Mandarin in the People’s Republic of China.It boasts a strong creative team with music & lyrics by Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus, and is written by Catherine Johnson, directed by Phyllida Lloyd and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast.

Meanwhile this autumn, one of the UK’s best-known actresses Felicity Kendal will head the cast of A Room With A View which is performed from November 7-12. Based on the classic EM Forster novel, it is presented by Theatre Royal Bath who presented the critically-acclaimed Hobson’s Choice this spring in the city, which proved to be one of the year’s hottest tickets.

It tells the story of English rose Lucy Honeychurch who gets very close to the lower-class George Emerson while visiting Italy. On her return to this country, she becomes engaged to the eminently suitable but pretentious Cecil Vyse. When she discovers the Emersons have moved to her home village, will she be able to disguise her true feelings for George?

Written in 1908, the book is recognised as being one of the best novels of the twentieth century and also became a hugely popular film. This new stage production boasts a strong creative team headed by director Adrian Noble, who was Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1990 to 2003.

Three one-night shows are also being added to the Norwich Theatre Royal programme. Back by popular demand following its 2012 sell-out, you can enjoy An Afternoon With Sir Roger Moore on Sunday 13 November. The screen legend and James Bond star is going to leave city audiences shaken but not stirred as he chats with his biographer Gareth Owen about his incredible life and career. Inside stories and showbiz anecdotes are guaranteed, and there will also be the chance for audience-members to put their own questions.

You can get all shook up in the run-up to Christmas with A Vision Of Elvis on Sunday 18 December. The multi-award-winning Rob Kingsley brings The King to life in this show which takes the audience on a musical journey from Elvis’s Movie Years through to his comeback in 1968 and ends with a finale celebrating the spectacle of his concerts.

And start 2016 with the spiky comedy of actor, writer and comedian Miles Jupp on Monday 9 January. Best-known for his appearances on BBC Two comedy favourite Rev and BBC Radio’s Four’s topical panel game The News Quiz, he will be musing on a host of different subjects including astronauts, regrets, social media, hipsters and manners.

In addition, two cast members are confirmed for the return of Chicago to Norwich Theatre Royal on October 31-November 5. Taking the role of Billy Flynn is John Partridge, who has just returned to EastEnders in the role of Christian. As well as a popular TV actor, he is also a highly respected stage performer with roles in the likes of Cats, A Chorus Line, Miss Saigon and Starlight Express. Starring opposite him as Roxie Hart is Hayley Tamaddon, who played Andrea Beckett in Coronation Street and Delilah Dingle in Emmerdale. Hayley also has a strong theatrical pedigree and is no stranger to Norwich delighting city audiences when she took the lead role in the Theatre Royal’s pantomime Sleeping Beauty over Christmas 2011.

John Bultitude, of Norwich Theatre Royal, said: “This is your must-see musical SOS. We are very excited to be welcoming Mamma Mia to the city so that Dancing Queens (and Kings) can enjoy this hugely successful show and some superb performances. Add in a highly-anticipated drama and a wide range of other entertainment, and we are expecting a busy box office as people spend their Money, Money, Money on these fantastic productions.”

MAMMA MIA! International Tour 2016

MAMMA MIA! International Tour 2016

MAMMA MIA!
International Tour 2016

 

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Play for the Nation

Despite being one of Shakespeare’s most accessible and well-loved plays, I admit that until I found out about the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) Play for the Nation project, I knew very little of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The project is ambitious. It brings together 18 professional RSC actors with 14 different amateur theatre companies and 58 groups of 10 schoolchildren as the production tours the country to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

Here in Norwich, The Common Lot were selected to play the Mechanicals, while Titania’s Fairy Train was made up of pupils from Sprowston Community High School. My interest was piqued.

As the editor of Just Sprowston magazine, it’s always good to hear about the achievements of local pupils – and this is a big one! They played their part perfectly and I would encourage anyone who hasn’t already got tickets to grab some and see for yourself how good they are.

The Common Lot also included an ex-Sprowston High student in Eve Pandolfi, who played Snug, and Sprowston resident Dan Fridd, who played Flute. Both were fantastic. Dan’s hilarious performance as Thisbe had me in stitches, while Eve’s lion was brilliant.

It goes without saying that the RSC actors were amazing, but for me the stand out performance had to be Owen Evans’ Bottom. As one half of The Nimmo Twins, expectations were high; and with his Broad Norfolk take on the script, he didn’t disappoint. I had a big grin on my face every time he came on stage, and as my first experience of A Midsummer Night’s Dream I will forever compare future Bottoms to his – I don’t think anyone will come close!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation is at Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday, with performances each evening at  7.30pm, matinees on Thursday and Saturday at 1.30pm. To book tickets call the box office on 01603 630000 or book online at www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk.

Pictures: Topher McGrillis.

 

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New Norwich Theatre Royal lottery launched

Having a flutter could help Norwich Theatre Royal raise crucial funds for its education work, as the theatre launches its own lottery scheme, which includes two yearly draws of £15,000 each!

All income from the Theatre Royal Jackpot will be dedicated to supporting the expansion of the theatre’s educational, learning and participation work.

The Theatre Royal Jackpot costs £12 a month to play, with a monthly draw offering a top prize of £1,000, plus:

  • Two top price tickets to a show of the winner’s choice
  • 10 £50 Theatre Royal vouchers
  • 10 prizes of £100
  • Entry into the twice-yearly £15,000 draws

The Theatre Royal Jackpot is an official lottery product from Norwich City Football Club and cash prizes are shared with Norwich City Football Club’s Academy Jackpot lottery.

To play the Theatre Royal Jackpot, participants need to pick up an application form from the theatre or call on 01603 598556 to be sent a form in the post. Alternatively, an application form can be downloaded from http://bit.ly/NorwichTheatreRoyalJackpot. Players must be aged 16 or over.