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Sunday, 16 July 2023

REVIEW: Titanic the Musical at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

The towering sheets of the steel frame of Titanic covered the backdrop of the New Victoria Theatre and coated the proscenium. The atmospheric lighting (designed by Howard Hudson) highlighting Mr Thomas Andrews, Titanic’s leading architect as he scrawled his designs in silence while the audience took their seats. As the music started, we were instantly transported to April 11th 1912; the day passengers embarked for Titanic’s doomed maiden voyage. Cast flooded the stage and the aisles, bringing bustling energy through the auditorium.

Good luck finding a single person who knows nothing about the Titanic and her demise. The tragedy of 1912 remains prevalent in hearts all around the world thanks to the sensational James Cameron 1999 film but this musical takes an entirely different approach. This is not the story of two lovers from different classes thrust together and torn apart in a few short days, but an epic ensemble piece with a dozen tales all woven together with beautiful delicacy. I would stress over and over again how this musical is whole-heartedly an ensemble piece; a welcomed change from the conventional casting structure we see all too often.

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.

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.)

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.

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, 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. 

Thursday, 17 October 2019

REVIEW: 9 to 5 at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Dolly Parton presents 9 to 5, a superbly assembled cheese-fest of a musical based on the film of the same name, starring none other than Dolly herself. Following the story of 3 women, each subjected to sexual discrimination and inequality in the workplace, 9 to 5 is a hugely uplifting fun night at the theatre for newcomers and seasoned visitors alike. 

Via pre-recorded video, Dolly sets the tone for the show with narrations introducing us to our leading ladies and even kicks of the singing of the title song. 1) Violet Newstead, played by Laura Tyrer, is a working mother who’s spent years working for ‘Consolidated Industries’ as reaches her breaking point after she misses out on a promotion to a younger male colleague who she trained. 2) Judy Bernly, played by Amber Davies (of Love Island fame), a 21 year-old embarking on her first ever job after leaving her husband when she discovered he’d had an affair with his 19 year-old secretary, and finally 3) “Backwoods Barbie” Doralee Rhodes played by Georgina Castle, the role made famous by Dolly Parton in the original film. Doralee is happily married but after her loud-mouthed boss starts spreading rumours that he and Doralee are having an affair, the ladies of the office turn their back on her and judge this blonde-bombshell all too quickly. “We don’t like her” says Violet…. 

This feminist fun-fest of a musical sees Violet, Judy and Doralee embark on a fight for equality in the most ridiculous of ways - there are ball-gags, rat poison and spliffs involved… It’s wonderful fun; comedic and empowering all at once. The audience at the New Victoria Theatre was packed to the rafters and hugely responsive to this wonderful show. If you were fast enough to buy a ticket, you’re in luck - (the run has almost completely sold out at time of publishing). 

Saturday, 21 September 2019

REVIEW: Northen Ballet's Cinderella at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Cinderella is a fairy-tale we have all grown up with; a charming riches-to-rags-to-riches story of a young woman’s journey to happiness and love… Following the death of her husband, Countess Serbrenska (Cinderella’s Stepmother) enslaves Cinderella to a life of pot scrubbing and floor cleaning as she’s driven mad by grief. She continues to spoil her own daughters, Natasha and Sophie, but leaves Cinderella in the dark. Thankfully, there is magic in the air and Cinders is soon to be saved, and in turn, find true love and an inner strength any young woman should admire. 

Like many, I’ve known this story (or variations of it) since I was three years-old, but never before have I been moved by this tale like I was during this production. The Northern Ballet has created pure magic with this ballet; the spectacle, the costumes, the music arrangements, the dancers, the huge set pieces – it’s truly magical. A little Christmas-y for mid-September but you’ll hear no complaints for me in that regard.
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