Reviews from shows, plays, comedies and music events.

The Scouse Cinderella

Well, here we are again. It’s that time of year when everything goes tattyfilarious. And when it comes to getting into the Christmas spirit, there’s nothing like a good old traditional pantomime.

And The Scouse Cinderella is nothing like a good old traditional pantomime.

“Oh no it is”

“Oh yes it isn’t”

The Royal Court has a tradition of putting on raucous comedies at Christmas time. Grown-up shows with a seasonal flavour aimed squarely at grown-up audiences. A sort of antidote, if you like, to the usual Yuletide family shows.

The Scouse Cinderella, however, is more closely aligned to traditional pantomime than any staged at this venue over the past ten or so years. Its title alone, suggests so – and it has two Ugly Sisters, a Charming Prince, Buttons and a Wicked Auld Fairy Godmother.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘The Court’ has bowed and curtseyed to the countless collection of children’s charades being staged throughout the land.

Let’s put it like this, it’s defo not for kids – in fact, it says so on the programme – and if you’re going to take your granny, make sure she’s au-fait with the expletives. This show has less ‘veiled innuendo’ and more ‘in yer face’ coarse comedy; less double-entendre and more ‘exactly as intended’.

And that, of course, is precisely what the producers intended. It is a comedy designed to delight the faithful hoards of laughter lovers who have flocked through the theatre’s hallowed art deco entrance year in year out for their dose of adult Christmas fun.

Writer-director Kevin Fearon took no chances when it came to casting, selecting actors who know exactly how hard to hit the funny bone.

The Fletcher brothers Stephen and Michael, perfectly play the proud prince and the down-trodden Buttons. Comical Keddy Sutton is, one minute an Owl, the next a flatulent Mayor. The larger than life Lindzi Germain is magnificent as the scheming Fairy Godmother with a singing voice that is one of the most powerful in the business.

Also larger than life is the darling Hayley Sheen, whose singing voice is as sweet as Lindzi’s is strong, and whose Cinderella outfits were carefully chosen to conceal her progressing pregnancy. Due to the fact that this show runs for eight of those waist-expanding 36 weeks, the producers have very wisely engaged an under-study for the duration.

Eva McKenna will not be languishing in the wings, however, as she was also assigned the part of a hilariously inept stagehand who continuously “breaks a leg” (theatre parlance for appearing on stage) and manages to break everything she touches. This adds such a clever extra layer of comedy that makes me hope they have got an under-study for the understudy, should Eva be called upon to step into Cinderella’s glass slippers.

And as Ugly Sisters go, you would have to walk many a pantomime mile to find two finer examples of the genre than the perfectly dour Paul Duckfield and the amazingly hilarious Andrew Schofield.  Their escalatingly drunken version of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas” was one of the funniest things you will ever see. Pure musical comedy gold.

If all you do is sit watching rubbish television this Christmas, you will be missing out on far better entertainment, with more humour than a hundred hapless stand-ups and better music than an extortionate estimation of X-Factors, all served up live by a truly talented cast at this wonderful theatre.

The Scouse Cinderella runs (at least) until the 19th of January. There is no guarantee that the run might be extended as sometimes happens, so do get your tickets booked. You really don’t want to miss this one!

There aren’t enough stars to give it a star rating. Honestly – it’s just too good!

By |December 4th, 2018|0 Comments

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There’s Something About Simon

Photo by Mark McNulty

There is something about the music of Paul Simon.  It was the sound of my generation. When I hung up the bass guitar that had accompanied my teenage journey through the clubs and pubs of the north-west, I bought myself a vintage EKO and a couple of songbooks. After six or seven years of thumbing out basslines to the  sound of the Mersey beat, I was ready for something a little more folkie and so it was the Paul Simon Song Book and later, Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, that helped me realise that one man’s ceiling really can be another man’s floor.

I didn’t get very far off that floor though, my efforts to learn fingerstyle guitar were thwarted by day-job, marriage and family, but I always loved those Paul Simon songs and am still crazy about them after all these years.

Gary, Skeet and Christian at Ruthin AllStyles

Fast forward several decades to the Spring of 2014 when a Liverpool lad, by the name of Gary Edward Jones, came to perform a showcase at my local folk club. I was knocked out by his music and we became good friends.

Soon after we met, I told him how much he looked, and sounded, like Paul Simon.  It appears I wasn’t the first, and in fact, it had become something of an annoyance to Gary that people kept pointing out these similarities. He was and still is, a brilliant songwriter in his own right, so why would he be interested in going down the route of covering another artists songs?

Photo by Victor Pennington

The Cabinet Maker
Gary’s first album “The Cabinet Maker” is a testament to just how good this man is. The album launch at Liverpool’s magnificent St George’s Hall that November was hands down one of the most beautiful musical events I have had the honour of being present at. The album was met with a huge amount of critical acclaim and enjoyed 17 weeks in the upper reaches of the Radio Caroline charts.

But as pretty much any unsigned musician will tell you, such success may well spawn recognition, CD sales and a lot more gigs but rarely does it go far enough to be able to give up the day job.

The Journey Begins
Then in the latter part of 2016, Gary sent me this clip of him singing Kathy’s Song. Testing the water maybe, and whether he really wanted encouragement or not, encouragement he got, from me and from most of his close musical contemporaries.

Having succumbed to all the encouragement, Gary was not going to “just sing and play Paul Simon songs”, he spent hours every day living and breathing Paul Simon. Formerly a “thumb and one finger” Travis-picker, he studied the unique style of the man himself, perfecting every sound and nuance. If he was going to do this, he was going to do it properly.

Over the years, I have seen and heard hundreds of people covering those same songs. Most far better than my own early strumbling efforts, but none who could actually play them in exactly the same style as the songwriter himself.

Photo by Anthony Robling. 

The Epstein Concert
And because Gary’s voice has a similar dynamic range and tone, he made a conscious decision not to attempt to copy Paul Simon’s accent, phrasing and diction. He would just sing the songs naturally in his own voice. The result is amazing. I have found it very easy to close my eyes and convince myself I was actually listening to the man himself.

The success of a ‘tester’ gig in July 2017 in front of 100 people was the thruster rocket that spurred him on and led up to this week’s concerts at Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre. Sitting in the auditorium on the first night, listening to the faultless performance, watching the audience’s reaction and joining them, every single one of them, in the enthusiastic standing ovation at the end, I knew It was the end of the first part of his journey and the beginning of what will surely be a much bigger one.

Photo by Anthony Robling. 

Something About Simon is absolutely not a tribute act. It is so much more. It is a show combining the music with a narrative that takes the audience on a journey tracing Paul Simon’s footsteps, from his first visit to Britain, playing folk clubs for beers, through his return to his homeland and subsequent rise to fame.

It is no accident that Gary’s repertoire leans heavily on Simons’ early songs, as many of them were written in England, some on Merseyside’s very doorstep.

A nice touch was the way he weaved into the show, during a narrative on how songwriters get their inspiration, two of his own songs. “Oceans” and “Walk You Home” were written way before Gary began flirting with the Paul Simon Songbook. Yet the similarities in the writing style are very apparent.

If like me, you never got to see Paul Simon perform live, you really have got to look out for the “Something About Simon” tour that will inevitably follow.

Gary Edward Jones is an endearing performer, an immaculate guitarist, and a beautiful singer. And the only other person who sounds more like Paul Simon is Paul Simon himself.

Photos are respectively ©Chris Birchall, Victor Pennington, Mark McNulty and Anthony Robling

By |November 13th, 2018|0 Comments

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Maggie May – Review

♪♫♪ And she’ll never walk down Lime Street any more…♫♪♫

But she did. Right down Lime Street, around the corner, past what used to be the Penny Farthing and into the stage door of Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre.

Although that iconic song does not actually feature in the play, Maggie May the Musical is very much about that very same forlorn Irish lass who found herself lost and destitute in Liverpool halfway through the twentieth century.

Her story has been brought to life through the script of visionary writer and director Bob Eaton, and is told via a whole raft of wonderful original songs composed by his partner Sayan Kent.

In what has become a tradition at this lovely art deco theatre, the orchestra forsakes the seclusion and comfort of ‘the pit’, taking to the stage itself, with every single member of the eleven-strong cast harmonising and playing their instruments as they act out the play through the medium of song.

All credit to musical director Howard Gray and to the talented actors who performed seemingly effortlessly without the safety net of having a music score in front of them, whilst at the same time dancing and remembering their lines, positions and stage direction. They made an immensely difficult task look simple.

When the Royal Court was rebuilt in the 30s, it was given a revolving stage which eventually broke and was neglected for many years. Happily, this has now been restored and Maggie May is the first production to see this feature fully functional. The ability to segue from one scene to another without any apparent break in the action or the dialogue meant the play could proceed without any interruption to the boundless energy that emanated from that stage from curtain up to curtain call.

This brand new musical is as good as anything you might find in the ‘West End”, and the fact it is a story about Liverpool, performed in Liverpool, makes it that much more special. It has everything a musical should have and everything about it is wonderful. A bittersweet tale told with just the right amount of comedy. If it had been a challenge to musically interpret the highs and the lows, the joy and poignancy; then the writers, directors and the cast met the challenge and conquered it.

Maggie May the Musical gets a full five stars from me. It runs until November 10th. Don’t miss it.

By |October 19th, 2018|0 Comments

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Bouncing into the Present Day

When John Godber wrote Bouncers back in the eighties he created a script about real-life city night-club antics that would spend the next thirty years being adapted and tailored to the locale in which it was being performed.

It was a tried and tested recipe and each time it has been served up at The Royal Court, just the right amount of scouse sauce and seasoning has been added to satisfy the taste of this lovely theatre’s discerning audience.

This year’s production however, has been rewritten by Maurice Bessman and brought bang up to date by the brand new Boisterous Theatre Company.

Gone are the black suits and dickie-bows, replaced instead by the contemporary black shirts and hi-viz security ID badge holder armbands, instantly recognisable as the uniform of the modern day club/pub doorman.

The play revolves around four burly blokes on the door at a city centre night club, played by Mutty Burman, Joe Spear, Michael Horsley and Zain Salim, all newcomers to the Royal Court’s main stage.

In addition to playing the hard-nosed security crew, they switch variously, hilariously and believably, to portraying rowdy drunks, likely lads on the pull, posh oiks slumming it with the peasants, giggling scouse girls on a hen night, and a whole host of diverse characters they come across during the course of a night.

The way they switch in an instant from hard-knocks to archetype female hairdressers is so believable, you totally forget the fact they are still wearing the bouncers garb. They went effortlessly from camp to butch and back again, from scouser to cockney from chav to punk, and from sober to drunk …to comatose.

These four talented actors proved they also knew how to bust a move, with long episodes of high energy dancing throughout the show.

Bouncers runs at Liverpool’s Royal Court until September 15th. This is five star entertainment. You really don’t want to miss it!

By |September 6th, 2018|0 Comments

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Mam I’m ‘Ere. Yes… over ‘ere, at the Royal Court

Whilst everyone else was flocking to watch the recently released movie “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”, the more discerning amongst us were making our way to Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre to take in the fabulous stage play that is “Mam! I’m ‘Ere!”.

It may sound the same as the movie title but it has more colour, more fun, more laughs, more music and even more punctuation!!

The show has more than it’s Cher of talented actors, actresses, dancers and singers, so you are guaranteed to ABBA great time.

And with the summer we’ve been having, who needs the Greek island of Skopelos anyway, especially as the play is set on a caravan site in the Costa del North Wales.

Best Comedy Traditions
The sound-alike title is where the similarities end however, because “Mam! I’m ‘Ere!” is a stage musical in the best of Royal Court comedy traditions.

Written and directed by Stephen Fletcher, it tells the tale of Sally (played by Hayley Sheen) who, as a newborn, had been found abandoned on her father’s doorstep. She hatches a plan to discover the identity of her mother, by luring the three most likely, unsuspecting, candidates to her dad’s caravan park on the pretence of having won a free holiday.

It is the eve of her wedding to Si (played by Michael Fletcher) and she is certain that the truth will out when the three come face to face with her father Dave.

Dave is played by the comedy genius Andrew Schofield at his best – and teamed up as he was, with the brilliant Jake Abraham and Stephen Fletcher, was enough to guarantee comedy of the highest order.

One of my favourite scenes was when the three, dressed in the best of BeeGee tradition, demonstrated just how those high falsetto notes where achieved!

In fact, we were treated to some superb singing by the entire cast, and in particular from Hayley Sheen and Lindzi Germain, with music provided by the four-piece on-stage band. Then we had the brilliant comedy acting skills of Eithne Browne and Lynn Francis all conspiring to make this play the success it is.

The set was brilliant, much of it painted by cast member Michael Fletcher.

A special mention must go to the two Disco Divas, Mia Molloy and Rachael Wood, who sang and gyrated throughout. I swear they never stood still for a second.

“Mam! I’m ‘Ere!” is a fun, uplifting show that will have your feet tapping, and leave you with a dozen wonderful earworms to remind you of those disco days and boogie nights.

✪✪✪✪✪ FIVE STARS from the HairyPhotographer

It runs until the 11th of August. Don’t miss it!

By |July 21st, 2018|0 Comments

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