The Last Tango in Whitby – Chorley Little Theatre

Back to school week, but the pensioners are off on their summer holiday for the Last Tango in Whitby. A light-hearted fun play, poking fun at characters who can easily be part of everyone’s lives. The play has it all: the bore, interfering busy-bodies, party animals, and downtrodden friends.

As the title implies, there is (hilarious!) dancing, but very little singing, as the characters enjoy their annual group holiday and reshape their relationships.

A good start to the autumn season by CADOS.

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The Three Musketeers – Williamson Park/Dukes Theatre

Dukes Theatre have foudn a brilliant idea for open air theatre: rather than having the audience sit static, they follow the play to different locations within the park. The play drifts from a rural setting, to Parisian marketplace, to ballroom. There was also a fun mix of professional actors and amateurs aiding the scene transitions and interacting with the audience as we moved around.

I had expected a more traditional three musketeers plot, but this one spent much of the time playing with gender identity and enjoying modern culture.

Despite some rain showers, we had a fun evening, and look forward to seeing what the Duke put on next summer.

Aspects of Love – Hope Mill Theatre

Back to Pollard Street for a classic Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that I’d never before seen on stage. I was familiar with both of the main themes though.

A emotional journey, Aspects of Love pulls on the heart strings as we were taken on a whirlwind journey of looking at the ties of love between family members. The heights and depths which they are carried to, and the importance of loyalties.

A memory of a happy moment –
That’s what this week will one day be.
Life goes on,
Love goes free.

Rather than the traditional orchestra, it was arranged for two pianos plus percussion. The music was fabulous, the actors sang well, and were captivating and acted well. The set was creatively laid out with Louvre doors swinging back and forth giving depth to the set and whirling chairs providing the impression of movement.

Both the musical director and producer are old friends. Its delightful to see them both doing so well.

 

Guards! Guards! Chorley Little Theatre

The reason I was retrying Discworld was the knowledge that Guards! Guards! was on this season’s programme at Chorley Little Theatre.

As could only be expected at this juncture, the play was well-acted and directed, and the set builders had done a brilliant job. There was one entertaining moment where the Night Watch managed to all end up inside the secret society without all making their way through the door!

The set and costumes were designed to mimic the cartoonish designs of Discworld covers, and many of the jokes are taken word for word from the text. In some ways, there are more jokes in the play as timing and delivery allow for some which are not possible in text.

I liked the use of a crow to deliver footnotes and other important asides. And Death, one of my favourite characters, appeared in a way which managed to be both humorous and ominous.

A good night, but I expected no less from the Little Theatre, and am sorry to have missed the talk on staging that ran today.

An American in Paris – Dominion Theatre, London

An American in Paris was a few hours of irresistibly danceable tunes and swirling skirts. A mix-up of jazz-driven tap and modern ballet. It is taken from a classic musical film, but I hadn’t seen that before I went into the theatre, although I’m tempted to hire it to watch at home one night.

Despite the grim settings and back stories of many of the characters (none of whom are prepared to discuss the war they have just lived through at the start), it is about finding purpose, beauty and love as life unfolds before them, so becomes a very feel-good show

The number of dancers filling the stage, and the music also helped with this: the band were fabulous.

The greatest mystery is how the woman two seats across from me (near the front of the stalls!) managed to fall into such a deep sleep that she was snoring in both acts!

Seasons Greetings – Chorley Little Theatre

This was, as can only be expected, well-acted and funny. A parody of a family Christmas, with an aunt getting drunk in the kitchen, the hostess falling for one of the guests and the men slouching around trying not to do anything. Although the children were oddly well-behaved in this party, always staying where they were told: just off the stage.

My disappointment was that it all ended in a rather unresolved fashion. Although of course that is how family gatherings do work: a continual rolling conversation spanning months or decades as people travel to group together infrequently. Potentially the unfinished nature is therefore a comment on the subject matter rather than a failing.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Manchester Palace Theatre

Joseph remains my favourite cheesy musical. Despite the latest director’s occasional wanders off the original score where the story was dropped and there is a “what the hell” moment.

…But all that I say can be told another way, in the story of a boy whose dream came true…

This was my son’s first proper musical at age five, and he announced that he liked two songs. But given how enthusiastically he applauded I think this was a case of remembering two songs in the moment. We generally had a lovely evening or, catching the 5pm extra showing, with hot chocolate beforehand and sushi when it turned out we’d just missed a train and had nearly an hour to wait to go home.

https://youtu.be/tAofhYdtVa4
The children’s choir were very good, as was Trina Hill as narrator. I’d never before realised quite how bereft of women the cast is, as in children’s productions several of the brothers have been women. The semi-naked men were a bit of a distraction from that though, with the costumes well done.

With perspective the idea that all Joseph wants once he is a great success as an adult is the cost his dad had given him without any warning or effort does suggest a very primal need for family love and acceptance, but I suspect I am reading too deeply into Andrew Lloyd Webber’s light hearted musical there. Although Any Dream Will Do always raises a year, even if the emotions behind that change as I have aged.

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice – Chorley Little Theatre

Even though the title of the play clearly gives away the trajectory this must take, this was a very watchable play, even if it is one that could do with a more closed-off ending. Jim Cartwright, the playwrite is a local man, who now runs a drama school in Chorley, and this play does have a very local feel.

Steve Unsworth was as always a very competent actor (and I’ve nearly forgiven him for picking me out of the audience in the Complete Works of Shakespeare), and Eleanor Anderton played Little Voice brilliantly, with beautiful singing switching seamlessly to shy, browbeaten LV.

The new seats are very plush, although it was odd to be on the “other” side of the auditorium from our previous season ticket!

Wicked – Gregory Maguire

I am a big fan of musicals, including Wicked, and wanted to revisit the novel that inspired the musical.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West does not have the same plot as the musical, but the same starting premise. Elphaba is given a stronger destiny, and Galinda more socially constrained in the novel. Not to mention the stronger political tones with genocide and murdering dissidents.

This is a full story of a life, starting with a difficult childhood, and an escape to university which is more complex than expected, and full circle being reached again with family links. She has life-long friendships throughout this in the flawed but loving Nanny and Boq, her partner-in-crime. But fundamentally it is about the life of a woman who faces discrimination and battles it to try and be a force for good in the world.

Maguire’s reimagining of Oz manages to be magical and political. He weaves together complex characters with a range of motives, each of them flawed, but so many driven by a higher purpose or destiny.

And of course, it being Wicked, we need a video. I’ve had a good few weeks of concerts recently, and have heard Defying Gravity at both Idina Menzal’s world tour and at an orchestral performance sung by Ashleigh Gray.

Persuasion – Jane Austen

With the second centenary of Austen’s death there are many events going on to commemorate her and celebrate her works. This runs from appearing on banknotes to plays and other cultural events. I went to a modern “retelling” of Persuasion at the Manchester Royal Exchange, which was both true to the original language and hilarious in its modern interpretations. I confess I didn’t recall a foam party in the text.

Having seen the play (at short notice) I then returned to the book, to take in the depths and layers that a play with limited cast and a short timeframe couldn’t include. Cousins are added, the full detail of who Mrs Clay is and a bit more detail that makes the courtship make more sense.

It is of course beautifully written, humerous in places and shows Anne Elliot manoeuvring her position to navigate through life and find a suitable future for herself.

Have you recently revisited any classics?