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Sunday, 2 April 2023

REVIEW: Home, I’m Darling at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

As one-character quotes, nostalgia is not what it used to be, and author, Laura Wade uses this idea to explore feminist themes about the role of women as long-suffering wives and how women’s choices have changed over the last seventy years. We meet Judy played with a delightful playful charm by Jessica Ransom in her ideal Fifties home, dressed stylishly in period costume and lovingly waiting on her husband, Johnny, played by Neil McDermott, the family breadwinner who is “appallingly happy”. The setting, music and styling paint a picture of perfect marriage enjoying a Fifties lifestyle but (spoiler alert) when Judy pulls out her Apple laptop from a drawer, we realise that all is not as it seems. 

Through a short neatly staged flashback scene we discover she adopted this lifestyle three years ago when she was offered redundancy from her successful job and that she is a smart fifties obsessed 38-year-old struggling to reconcile and understand the reaction of those around her to her own life choices and gradually the play explores the reality of the situation and the relationships with her husband, mother, work colleagues and friends. The writing is sharp and witty, the staging slick and well-choreographed and the characters well-developed and believable. The interplay between Judy and Johnny is beautifully handled drawing us into their chosen world and then blowing it apart as the other relationships test their commitment to both the lifestyle and each other and setting us to wonder whether their marriage can survive the tests. The challenge hits home when one character asks Judy “ what do you do all day?”.

Tuesday, 21 February 2023

REVIEW: Sister Act at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

When I saw this production at the Hammersmith Eventim Apollo in August 2022 with an all-star cast including Jennifer Saunders, Keala Settle and Beverley Knight it was a glitzy star-driven show with ticket prices up to £250 to justify and while enjoyable I noted that the show was designed for the UK Tour to follow and would represent much better value in regional venues around the UK. The tour arrived at the New Victoria Woking this week with a full house on a Monday night with a top price of £62 and proved that it is a wonderful feel-good party night out. The tour will now continue until April 2024 with 24 more venues to visit so there are plenty of opportunities to get a party together to go and enjoy the show.

The Hammersmith cast largely continues on the tour with Lesley Joseph stepping up as Mother Superior to replace Jennifer Saunders, Sandra Marvin moving from alternate Deloris Van Cartier to replace Beverley Knight and Catherine Millsom stepping up as Sister Mary Patrick to replace Keala Settle. Overall, the band and ensemble are reduced to make it more economical to tour but the show still delivers a fun, nostalgic and uplifting night out and is no less enjoyable despite the absence of the headline stars.

Saturday, 18 February 2023

REVIEW: Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

A decade since its glorious premiere, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty became the fastest-selling production in the New Adventures’ history when it was revived at Sadler’s Wells just a few months ago. Now embarking on another UK tour, the delights and dreams of this production find their way to a theatre near you, so you have no excuse to miss this utterly sensational ballet.

This gothic turn of the classic fairy tale beguiles and bewitches. It is a haunting and dark reimagining of the story of Princess Aurora we all know so well. With vampires, fairies and sorcerers at every turn, this production is not your typical fairy tale by any standard. Described as a “Gothic Romance”, there is much conflict and violence to be seen here. With peril seemingly around every corner and much to be feared, Sleeping Beauty keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Monday, 30 January 2023

REVIEW: The Ocean at the End of the Lane at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

The National Theatre’s extraordinary production of The Ocean at the End of the Lane continues its UK tour at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre before heading off to another twenty-seven venues through September. Rarely will you see such a brilliant theatrical stage magic experience in these regional theatres as in this production with its exquisite lighting design, beautifully conceived and executed magical illusions and thrilling performances. They create an ethereal world where reality and mysticism merge in an exploration on our childhood memories and fears and of the heartbreak of death and passing over to the afterworld. 

Neil Gaiman’s book which has been adapted for the stage by Joel Harwood explicitly draws inspiration from the books we see and hear the boy reading in the play. The classic stories of Alice in Wonderland, The Lion and the witch and the wardrobe and Peter Pan all revolve around children on the edge of adolescence who discover an alternative world down a rabbit hole, through a wardrobe or by a flight across London and this book explores the same life transition through its own portal to the alternative world, in this case, the ocean at the end of the lane (a farmyard pond!). Are the alternative world and the family and creatures the boy meets real or just a product of his vivid imagination and swirling hormones? We hear the story from the grown-up boy returning to the area he lived in for a funeral and having his memories jogged by meeting Old Mrs Hempstock, a wonderfully charismatic Finty Williams with strong echoes of her own mother, Dame Judi Dench in her performance. We learn he has returned before, but he has no memories of that until prompted. 

Sunday, 11 December 2022

REVIEW: Cinderella at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

The Fairy Godmother of all pantomimes is back at the New Victoria Theatre Woking for the festive season, and it is a true Christmas treat for the whole family. It's the well-known rags-to-riches, magical pumpkin, glass slipper story set in Woking and full of panto magic.

This cast are just fantastic. Sarah Vaughan plays the title role and brings a graceful beauty to it. Samuel Wilson-Freeman's Prince Charming is suitably dashing and has great fun on stage; his dance break in the Act 2 opener is awesome! The Fairy Godmother, played by Jenny Gayner, ties the story together and brings festive magic. Her aura and sparkle shine through, and her levitating trick had the whole audience guessing.

Sunday, 13 November 2022

REVIEW: The Northern Ballet’s The Nutcracker at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

This iconic Christmas delight for all the family has arrived bright and early at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre and my goodness, what a delicious treat it is. The auditorium sparkles before curtain up; titillating us with the delights to come as we meet young Clara and her family celebrating Christmas. The arrival of a mysterious magician entrances the family and their party, amazing them all with incredible feats. He offers Clara the gift of a Nutcracker who at the stroke of midnight, brings to life as a handsome prince who whisks her away to a land of sugar plum fairies, snowflakes and flowers who dance in her honour.

(Fear not, if you are more ballet-curious than a seasoned visitor, the programme includes an in-depth explanation of everything you would wish to know of the story in all its glory.)

Wednesday, 26 October 2022

REVIEW: Bat Out of Hell at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Jim Steinman’s rip-roaring musical is tearing up towns across the UK before its residence back in London’s West End in 2023. Featuring the greatest hits of Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf, this all-guns-blazing barrage of rock is not for the faint-hearted.

Set to the music of the multi-million-selling album of the same name, this musical is loosely based on the lynchpins of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan; ‘Loosely’ being the operative word. For those destined to witness this show, you will want to read on as I attempt to untangle the plot of this show in as few sentences as possible.

Set in a post-‘chemical war’ city which is now run by the trump-like Falco (Rob Fowler), the Lost Boys are a group of underground dwellers frozen at 18 years old and helmed by their charismatic leader Strat (Glenn Adamson). When Falco's daughter, Raven (Martha Kirby), falls in love with the leather-loving, chest-baring Strat, all hell breaks loose between the enterprising control freak Falco, and the rock ’n’ roll Lost Boys.

Wednesday, 7 September 2022

REVIEW: The Cher Show at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

The Cher Show tells the life story of the music legend and icon, Cher. Premiering on Broadway in 2018 the production closed in August 2019 but did pick up a few Tony Awards for Best Leading Actress (Stephanie J Block) and Best Costume Design (Bob Mackie). A new production was announced to tour the UK with direction from Arlene Phillips and Choreography by Oti Mabuse starring West End stars Debbie Kurup, Danielle Steers and Millie O’Connell. Playing at the New Victoria theatre in Woking this week, the show is pretty much midway through its run. 

Debbie Kurup, Danielle Steers and Millie O’Connell are an absolute sensation. The iconic woman that is Cher is a character most of us are familiar with, whether that is from her lengthy career or just through impressions through Drag Race. Her mannerisms are iconic and completely individual and each one of these ladies brings everything and more, the challenge with playing a character like this is that it can get very mimicry and flat but theses actors manage to make her a real life, living, breathing, 3D person. Which of course she is, but to take the story and breath believable life into it is not be an easy job! 

Thursday, 4 August 2022

REVIEW: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

The award-winning Linzi Hateley and rising star Jac Yarrow lead this impressive and hardworking cast in the latest revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical, Joseph. The story follows gifted Joseph and his brother’s struggle to remain in his shade accompanied by a number of sing-a-long classic songs.

The set design is vibrant, flexible and moves slickly from one scene to the next allowing the story to move along at a good pace and no song or scene outstaying their welcome. Morgan Large’s design is a feast for the eyes, especially once the story moves into Egypt and we meet the charismatic Pharoah played by Bobby Windebank. Windebank sparkles as the Elvis-esque Pharoah full of hip thrusts and high-energy moves. 

Thursday, 7 July 2022

REVIEW: Dreamboats & Petticoats – Bringing on back the Good Times! at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

For audiences nervous returning to the Theatre post covid or choosing between which shows to see, here is a show that delivers exactly what it promises on the poster. It’s a feel-good musical Jukebox of Sixties hits sung by a youthful energetic cast that is full of nostalgia. You can’t help tapping your foot, singing along with the choruses, and smiling at the dated references. For those over Sixty, it is a delightful trip back to a simpler time and an entertaining two hours.

The production is not a surprise with its pedigree stamped all over it. Bill Kenwright as producer and director knows how to put together a cost-effective show. Marks and Gran have written better scripts but link the songs with a very simple story of romance amongst aspiring singers. Laurie Mansfield and Decca Records know their way around the catalogue of pop music of the period. The title has extensively toured in two previous editions and been to the West End and this latest version is subtitled after the 1969 hit by the Love Affair, “Bringing on back the Good Times!” but it is the same formulaic set-up.

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

REVIEW: Footloose at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

The adaption of the films of the twentieth century for the stage and creation of jukebox musicals around artists’ catalogues has become a regular feature of West End and Regional Theatres. They benefit from a familiarity with the title and the music but have to live up to our memories of the original versions and often fall short of the expectations. It was, therefore, a delight to find at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking that the adaption of the 1984 film Footloose on its UK tour is much more than a celebration of eighties American culture and is a story with heart and emotional engagement with a strong feelgood vibe, some cracking good songs, and some lovely comic touches.

It is a simple story of three relationships and the impact on their lives of the death of four young people in Bomont five years earlier. Reverend Moore and his wife Vi are grieving over the death of their son Bobby and have banned dancing in the town. Their rebellious daughter, Ariel, is grieving too the loss of her brother and falls for the newcomer to the town Ren who carries the burden of being abandoned by his own father. Willard is one of the few local men to befriend him but struggles in his relationships too despite his affection for one of the local girls, Rusty. As the story plays out, we find ourselves caring about these individuals and their relationships.

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

REVIEW: Singin' in the Rain at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

It is a real pleasure to go to the theatre when you can hum the tunes on the way in as well as on the way home, although it does set the expectations levels higher as you hope for a highly entertaining and amusing night. For once this regional tour of Singin' in the Rain delivers and exceeded those expectations to the delight of the full house at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre.

It helps that it is a remounting of the 2011/12 Chichester Production that had a spell at the Palace Theatre in the West End and returned to the Sadlers Wells Theatre in 2021 and for once those billboard promotions of direct from the West End ring true. This is a show that brings the production values of the West End to an extensive 20 venue regional tour until August this year. Brilliantly staged with a large rain trough by Water Sculptures for the iconic Singing in the Rain routine, beautifully lit for the ballets, stunning choreography throughout and all performed with great chemistry and comedic delivery by the principals. It fully deserves that standing ovation it gets on its press night in Woking.

Saturday, 26 March 2022

REVIEW: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

One of the great pleasures of going to see live theatre is to witness the alchemy of the production process in bringing a story to the stage. The blending together of the essential elements of a strong story, magic and illusion, music and dance and the creation of believable characters when it works creates emotional engagement and assists in the suspension of disbelief to transport the audience into a different world. The pedigree of the creative team behind this touring version of the Lion Witch and the Wardrobe promises a great deal so it was with great anticipation that we caught up with its UK tour in Woking.

Director Michael Fentiman was the man behind the extraordinary Watermill production of Amelie and recruits a handful of that cast to this show. Chris Fisher supervises the illusions in the wonderful Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and in the latest West End hit Back to the Future astonishing audiences with the magical effects. Toby Olie is the puppetry director on the current amazing tour of Animal Farm and on the Watermill’s latest incredible production of The Wicker Husband. The creative talents of these three are evident in this show but whether because of budget limitations or the challenges of weekly touring, the production falls short of their earlier successes. It is still an enjoyable and entertaining show, very suitable for young audiences and GCSE students but I hoped for more.

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

REVIEW: The Osmonds at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

There is a continually growing trend bringing Jukebox musicals to the stage in Regional Theatres and the West End with the fabulous Jersey Boys still leading the way at the Trafalgar Theatre in London alongside the Drifters Girl, Get up Stand up, and Tina. Out on the regional road are Thriller, Beautiful, We Will Rock You and very soon, The Cher Show, together with a host of tribute band acts. They work because the Artists featured have a catalogue of hits and a loyal following of fans with memories of their music interweaved with the nostalgia of their youth. Occasionally we get insight into the artist's back story but mainly it’s a celebration of their musical legacy.

The Osmonds is riding this wave of recognition and nostalgia and is presented as a new musical with a story by Jay Osmond (the drummer in the group who he says was always stuck in the middle). For a short period from 1972 to 1974 members of the Osmond family had UK number 1 hits and Osmondmania hit the streets and concert halls of the country although the family members had been performing in the US from 1963 and would continue to perform together until the Eighties. The story is told through two simple overused devices of Jay Osmond (Alex Lodge) narrating the back story of the family relationships and development as artists and their “Number 1” UK fan, Wendy, (Katy Hands) reading her letters to him giving the fans perspective. While it fills in the gaps it lacks drama even as it describes the draconian relationship the boys had with their father (Charlie Allen).

Tuesday, 22 February 2022

REVIEW: Cluedo at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Cluedo is a perfect play to get an audience of a certain age, who grew up playing Waddington board games, to return to live theatre for an entertaining fun evening with plenty of laughs. It does not require them to exercise their “little grey cells” to solve the murder mystery as in an Agatha Christie play but simply sit back and let the farcical mayhem wash over them. 

The origins of the play are visible throughout. It is a British play based on a US film based on a British Board game and writer Sandy Rustin and Director Mark Bell remind us constantly of this route to the stage. The six characters and six murder weapons from the Board Game are at the centre of the story and are led on a merry dance around the various nine rooms of the Boddy Mansion including the secret passage. The Butler, Waddington and maid Yvette are retained from the film and Jean-Luke Worrell brings the energy and exaggerated style of Tim Curry to the stage as the Butler and is matched by Laura Kirman’s maid pretending to be French. They generate plenty of laughs as they lead the ensemble cast around the Mansion. Worrell takes his time in his delivery, savouring the silliness and knowingly engaging the audience with side glances and milking each pause. They have together created a highly stylised dramatic language to stage the play with freeze frames, actors moving furniture and Keystone cop movement and chases which provide the physical comedy.

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

REVIEW: Waitress at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Having seen ‘Waitress’ five times (with four different Jennas) during its time at the Adelphi Theatre in London’s West End, to say I had high expectations for this tour is an understatement. 

Based on Adrienne Shelley’s film of the same name, Waitress follows Jenna Hunterson, a hugely talented pie baker who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant by her abusive husband. Jenna dreams of escaping her marriage and starting a new life. With the help of her best friends and an exceptionally charming gynaecologist, she is able to dream again and create bakes like never before and learn all about love in its different forms along the way. The show embodies romance, comedy, tragedy and whips it all together in one big beautiful pie to offer a night a the theatre you will never forget.

With a score crafted to perfection by chart-topper Sara Bareilles, the music is the beating heart of this stunning story and mixed with the book by Jessie Nelson, this really is a special show. There’s hardly an ear out there who hasn’t already heard “She Used To Be Mine”; Jenna’s sensational ballad from the climax of the show, but Waitress has so many more gems throughout. Jenna’s best friends Becky and Dawn (played by Sandra Marvin and Evelyn Hoskins respectively) who work with her at the diner each have brilliant numbers encapsulating their characters with “I Didn’t Plan It” and “When He Sees Me” in turn. 

Sunday, 26 December 2021

Pocket Picks: Our top Pantomimes of 2021!

Pantomime is one of the greatest British festive traditions, bringing so many people to theatres; some for the first time and some as a yearly tradition. We look back at some of the pantomimes we've reviewed here at Pocket so far this year and pick out some of the highlights! But even though we're choosing our favourites, we must send our admiration to all those involved in theatre across the UK, whether in a panto or anything else. With closures happening all over due to the pandemic yet again, it has reminded us how privileged we are to get to experience the joy that is live theatre. So keep supporting your local venues, and go see a panto!

"...this year we’ve got a couple of proper names in the always good value, Bonnie Langford and Lee Mead. Along with Myra Dubois as the wicked fairy, Lloyd Hollett as Muddles, the Court Jester, Claudillea Holloway as the princess and Joelle Moses as the Queen, this combination proves to be the best overall cast I can recall." 


Thursday, 9 December 2021

REVIEW: Snow White and Seven Dwarfs at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Pantomime is back in Woking with a bang in an excellent version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with a strong cast, a lively ensemble of eight and some great comic pantomime business in a bright colourful funny production that was a delight to watch. They packed a lot into the two-hour running time and the Principals worked extremely well together.

Gok Wan has developed a confident stage presence as the Man in the Mirror from his first entrance flown in on that mirror. He struts across the forestage engaging the audience with charm and wit and becomes a very good foil for Aaron James as Muddles whose comedy routines were delivered with great timing. Gok feeds Aaron the lines for an excellent music clips routine which is as good as you will see this Christmas and then joins him for the classic ghost’s bench scene and the traditional 12 days of Christmas. James also delivers a fresh take on the shopping trolley full of props to tell a witty story that was a show highlight and delivers a good monologue of A to Z of impressions. 

Thursday, 23 September 2021

REVIEW: Bedknobs and Broomsticks at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

From the talented minds of the two busiest composers in cinematic history, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a staple Disney classic from the seventies. This new stage production still harnesses the brilliance of the film and injects a smouldering cauldron-full of new material, from songs to narrative. 

The story begins at the height of the blitz. Bombs are raining down on London as three children hunker down in their bedroom. The bedroom is a small, warmly lit haven surrounded by a vast void as the show opens. The Luftwaffe (albeit never explicitly named as such) drop another bomb and the bedroom shatters across the stage. The cast storm on, and in a whirlwind of tightly choreographed movement the children are whisked away to the safety of the countryside; And thus begins our adventure filled with magic, anthropomorphism, and a whole lot of heart. 

This stellar, multi-talented cast is led by Dianne Pilkington as Miss Eglantine Price, Charles Brunton as Emelius Browne, and Conor O’Hara as Charlie Rawlins. O’Hara brings a naivety to the 13-year-old character and harnesses the fear and forced adulthood that a child of the time had. A brilliantly embodied performance for his professional debut. 

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

REVIEW: Looking Good Dead at the New Victoria Theatre

Peter James has written 36 crime detective novels many featuring his Brighton based Detective Roy Grace and won many awards for his writing with five adapted for the stage and two, Dead Simple and Looking Good Dead adapted for the TV screen. There can be no denying his writing credentials but, in the adaptions, he is reliant on someone else squeezing down his words into a two-hour show. In March 2017 I saw Dead Simple at the Mill at Sonning which has subsequently been adapted into a TV film to much better effect. The problem is portraying multiple locations on a stage and his reliance on technology at the centre of both stories adds to the adaption problems. In Dead Simple, it was a walkie talkie and mobile phones to develop the drama and in Looking Good Dead it is iPads, laptops and noise-cancelling headphones as well as mobiles phones at the centre of the story. These don’t translate easily to the stage.

In his programme notes James writes “one of the essences of drama is that something seemingly utterly normal and every day goes wrong” but in this plot, nothing seems utterly normal at any point. Are we seriously asked to believe that that Tom has found a computer memory stick on a train seat and brings it home to view the contents? James goes on to write he loves to “have you sitting on the edge of your seats, wracked with nervous tension until right up to the very end” but sadly this adaption by Shaun Mckenna had me laid back in my seat in utter disbelief. The situation seemed ludicrous, the characters were all one dimensional and most of the twists and turns were blatantly obvious. Why on earth are we meant to accept that the American Jonas Kent who turns up at Tom’s house ordering 12 Rolex yellow gold Oyster watches for £300,000 is anything but fake? Or that Tom’s business offers “high-end bespoke services” and could deliver this?
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