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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.

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.

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.

Thursday, 23 June 2022

REVIEW: A Murder is Announced at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Agatha Christie remains the Queen of Crime and her 66 detective novels are still masterful examples of the genre today. She adapted several herself very successfully for the stage including of course both Mousetrap (in 1952) and Witness for the Prosecution (in 1953). Indeed, both are still in the West End today. The latest production of Witness for the Prosecution which started in 2017 is a wonderful atmospheric production. The tour of A Murder is Announced (written as a book by Christie in 1950) which has wound its way around the county visiting over 50 venues before arriving in Woking, started too in 2017 and many of the same cast are still involved. Adapted from the book by Leslie Darbon in 1977 the stage version is a slow burner with a complex plot of hidden identities and plenty of exposition without any of the truly great characters of Murder on the Orient Express or any of the thrilling moments of Witness for the Prosecution. It seems at times to be uncertain whether to play it for laughs and even the (spoiler alert) two deaths lack drama, one played out on a darkened stage and the other comically overplayed.

It is set in the “two drawing rooms” of an early Victorian House in Chipping Cleghorn which on the wide New Victoria stage is a sprawling room in which all the chairs seem lined up in a straight line across the mid-stage, good for the audience to see the characters who are often sat down but rather unconvincing as a realistic residential room. Worse still from my seat, I could not see the stage right wall which I believe contained another exit to the Garden and where two shots embedded themselves in the wall. Characters occasionally disappeared from sight as they moved towards this wall. Furthermore, the full box set had no masking above it allowing us to see through to the rear wall and into stage left flies which distracted from the otherwise well-dressed set.

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.

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. 

Sunday, 12 September 2021

REVIEW: Grease at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

From Chicago in ’71 and Broadway in ’72 and the West End in ‘73, to the biggest box-office Hollywood hit, through two broadway revivals, five West End revivals, four tours and a TV adaptation, it's fair to say that Grease has been around the block a few times. Yet this UK tour version still manages to make the show feel fresh and exciting.

This wonderful cast are led by Dan Partridge as Danny and Georgina Louise as Sandy. Partridge truly commands the company when he takes to the stage; his presence and authority are matched only by his swagger and charm. He really comes to life in Act 2 as he gives us his heartfelt ‘Sandy.’ Louise is perfectly innocent in her part, and has a voice that would shake even the hardiest of the Burger Palace Boys. Again in Act 2, Louise’s voice tears through the auditorium in ‘Sandra Dee’— an absolute show stopper and truly magnificent to witness.

Friday, 21 February 2020

REVIEW: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

It’s hard to over-state the importance of Carole King on the music industry. Over a thousand artists have covered or released her songs from The Shirelles and The Drifters to Celine Dion and Aretha Franklin. As a solo artist King has had seven Top 10 albums and has recorded some of the most well-known songs in pop history. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical follows King (Daisy Wood-Davis) as she writes, falls in love and soars to great musical heights.

The overture starts and we tumble through some of the most iconic King masterpieces in a brash medley, ending with Wood-Davis sat at a grand piano centre stage about to preform to Carnegie Hall on 18th June 1971. The production then throws us back into the midst of 1950s America to watch Kings rise to stardom.

Wood-Davis is elegant in her portrayal of King; with wonderful vocals and a great portrayal of the southern twang that King is known for. Gerry Goffin is played brilliantly by Adam Gillian. With appropriate swagger he pulls off both the high-school jock and the budding playwright and lyricist with a voice to match that of Wood-Davis. His emotions sometimes seem to come from nowhere with some less nuanced choices than the other principal cast.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

REVIEW: Once at The New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Once is nothing short of the most joyous celebration of music on any stage anywhere. Dublin culture roared off the stage of the New Victoria Theatre, Woking and left the audience humming, toe tapping and clapping along. 

“Based on the critically acclaimed and much-loved film, you will meet (and never forget) two lost souls - a Dublin street busker and a Czech musician - who find each other unexpectedly and fall in love. You will fall in love too, with this brilliant and beautiful musical, filled with love music from lush ballads to barnstorming reels. Once the Musical is a spell-binding and uplifting story of hopes and dreams.” 

The stagecraft of this show is magnificent; an ensemble band of fourteen who barely leave the stage, encasing our “guy” and “girl” throughout the piece. Tastefully small and intricate sets allow for the music to lead this piece. “Once the Musical” much like the original independent film which inspired it doesn’t need fanciful costumes, lighting and giant moving parts - the score is so beautifully composed, I suspect even against a white backdrop I’d have loved it all the same. This is not to discredit the wonderful set and costume designs of Libby Watson, but moreso to commend Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova which proves the real heart in this musical.
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