The Famous Hip-Hop Dance Group Jabbawockeez Is Coming To Macau For The First Time Ever!!!

Considered one of the most influential dance group in the entire world, the Jabbawockeez are making their way to Macau for the first time ever at the MGM Theater this Saturday Night. As always the group is expected to bringing heightened energy to the stage with their most admired brilliant dance moves and their own brand of music.

The show entitles the group to begin their first round of residency shows and also starting the MGM’s entertainment lineup of the year. It is just amazing how the group has been brought all the way from their current residency at MGM Grand Las Vegas to do this show by the resort organizers.

This 65-minute MGM Style Entertainment presents, “Jabbawockeez – true to yourself” featuring a cluster of choreography, drama, and comedy. It is where these remarkable masked men will demonstrate their hip-hop talents by the means of the language universally acknowledged ‘Dance’, using the MGM Theater’s pioneering audio, visual and lighting technology giving audiences an up-close-and-personal live through.

Jabbawockeez is an American Hip-Hop Dance Group best known for their winning the first season of MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew in 2008. Ever since then they have been getting fame all over the world. the group stands apart due to their unique getup with white masks which also distract the audience from focusing on an individual and let them enjoy the whole group of dancers performing in front of them.

The audience loves them and their creativity, choreography, athleticism and intricate synchronization are much appreciated worldwide. Every member of the group brings out a unique and diverse skill and outlook to shape the original style that Jabbawockeez is known for.

The Jabbawockeez are pretty excited to be here at Macau and it was apparent from this statement below made by themselves:
They said they were so happy to be in Macau, also that they were very excited to provide the audience of Leading-edge MGM Theater with an out of this world, mesmerizing and multi-sensory experience.

Moreover, there is wonderful news for the people who love to dance, to provide some extra experience with Hip-Hop, the MGM has organized for a workshop open for any local dance crew who is interested in learning. Buy cheap Jabbawockeez tickets online from Tickets4Musical.com. The Workshop starts at 7 PM tonight at the resort operator’s Cotai property.

The workshop is a means of encouraging cultural exchanges, extend local dancers’ prospects, and boost local dance skills and choreography aptitude.
Jabbawockeez will continue their demonstration of dancing talents at the MGM Cotai, till 31st of March every Wednesday through Sunday.

Review: Best of 2012 Theatre

The end of the year and time to once again reflect on the year’s theatrical offerings and try to assemble a list of highlights. In many ways this was a year where sport interrupted the theatrical calendar with the Olympic and Paralympic Games eating into the theatre going and providing their own unique, and hard to top, drama.

In a year when Shakespeare seemed to be on every stage in the land and venues where fighting arts cuts and the draw of the Games, it’s been a tough year to summarise.

There’s been a lot of ‘good’ work but ‘great’ has been more elusive; is that down to the climate and producers playing safe or just one of those years?

In no particular order then, here is my list of the best theatrical offerings for 2012.

Without You – Anthony Rapp at Menier Chocolate Factory
Based on his best-selling memoir following the creation of the musical Rent and his own mother’s battle with Cancer, Rapp’s one man show could so easily become a morbid affair. Instead the sheer warmth of the performer and the brutal honesty in which he tells his story makes this an emotional, uplifting affair that has the audience in floods of tears but in as much a celebration of life as of loss.

Mudlarks – HighTide Festival Theatre
Occasionally you stumble across a debut work that is so well crafted that you just can’t wait to see future work from its writer. Vickie Donoghue’s Mudlarks looks at three desperate lads in a dead end Essex town across one fateful night. It’s a work that perfectly marries plot, language, staging and acting together in a work that packs in a real emotional punch.

Carousel – Opera North
It takes something special to take an old warhorse such as Carousel and make it seem fresh and Opera North’s reclaiming of the work as an operatic masterpiece does just that. Beautifully staged, exquisitely sung and never sounding finer, this was a Carousel you just wanted to ride.

The Crash of The Elysium – Punchdrunk – Ipswich
Part theatre, part theme park attraction, Punchdrunk’s interactive Dr Who experience requires total participation from its audience. We run, we hide and battle monsters in an hour long adventure. It easy to be cynical in such immersive works but Punchdrunk play the piece with such conviction that it’s totally believable and totally terrifying.

Swallows And Amazons – Children’s Touring Partnership Touring
It’s a tough challenge to create a work that touches both adults and children but Swallows and Amazons manages to keep all ages enchanted. Through its mix of music, drama and humour its hard not to be drawn into a more innocent age. When Swallow and Amazon sails out over the auditorium it’s a truly magic experience.

Floyd Collins – Southwark Playhouse
A musical based on the story of a man who dies trapped in a cave sounds an unlikely subject but set in Southwark Playhouse’s evocative vaults it’s a subject that grips utterly. The score may not be easy but the work it requires pays off with a mix of blues, rock and gospel infused numbers that drive a strong narrative.

Private Resistance – Eastern Angles
What if Germany had invaded the mainland during the Second World War? It’s a tantalising ‘what if’ and one that Eastern Angles explore perfectly. A look at the now mainly forgotten resistance movement, a group who were prepared to sacrifice anything to defend their country. A poignant tribute to them and all who strive to defend their country.

Love Story – Gallery Players, New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich
There may be some that query the inclusion of an ‘amateur’ production in this list but there’s nothing amateur about Gallery Players production of Love Story. Managing to scoop Broadway in obtaining the rights ahead of the USA, this faultless production rivalled the West End staging and still brings a tear to the eye at just the memory of it.

Silent – Hotbed Festival, Cambridge
It seems to have been the year for deeply personal productions and Pat Kinevane’s one man show about homelessness and substance abuse pulls no punches in its dark portrayal of the struggles Pat faced. It’s also packed full of dark humour and honesty though, instantly drawing you into the story.

Circa – Latitude Festival
There could easily be two Circa entries on this list. Their How Like An Angel came a very close contender, soaring through the gothic arches of Norwich Cathedral. Their self-titled showcase however just stole the crown with an impressive display of acrobatic skill that is almost too painful to watch.

Review: Aladdin – Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Aladdin seems to be the pantomime of choice this year, with magic lamps being rubbed up and down the country. It’s easy to see why; the spectacle and exotic settings providing a sumptuous backdrop to the onstage clownery.

The Orchard Theatre’s production, though, has added a new twist to the Eastern setting, mixing the Orient with EastEnders. With Albert Square’s Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) becoming evil Abanazar, the far East/East End fusion is complete.

Aladdin’s tale is a well-trod road, from classic tales through to Disney animation, and indeed the show uses some of Alan Menkin’s songs to underscore the action. It’s the classic boy meets girl, good versus evil tale that has plenty for the audience to cheer and boo along to.

David Burrows’ production manages to take this well-loved plot and give it a fresh twist, thanks to some ingenious staging and an on-form cast.

Steve McFadden sets the tone from the outset, his trademark gruff growl echoing out over the footlights. McFadden pitches Abanazar just the right side of malevolence, enough evil for the audience to rail against but still believable.

Luke Newton in the title role is perhaps less successful, in part due to the role being slightly underwritten. Yes, his Aladdin falls for the Princess, discovers the magic lamp, and is the good guy the audience roots for but his quest seems somewhat lost. Newton sings well and his duets with his Princess (Nicola Meehan) soar but we don’t ever really get to know this Aladdin.

Normally the Dame overshadows any panto and, while Barry Hester’s Widow Twanky is a gloriously Technicolor creation, here the comic top spotlight falls on Matt Slack’s Wishee Washee.

Slack’s performance glues the piece together, from genuine warm repartee with the audience, the classic one-liner and a real physical presence, it’s hard to take your eyes of his performance. Slack’s face is one of the most elastic in pantoland, constantly in motion and contorting into a range of expressive features. It’s an performance packed so full of energy that it’s tiring just to watch.

Equally impressive are the acrobatic skills of the Trio Serik, though only two performers were on stage on Press Night, their gravity defying aerial work eliciting gasps of awe from the audience.

In an age where cinemas are embracing 3D technology, it’s encouraging to see theatre move towards high-tech as well. Here effects company Amazing Interactive have created a stunning 3D Genie that soars out across the auditorium. This is technology fully integrated into a live action environment, effects are so well planned that audience members can frequently be seen ducking to avoid the menagerie of creatures that fly out of the screen to attack the audience. The pivotal Magic Carpet sequence also makes effective use of the 3D effects, providing a real sense of motion.

A good pantomime provides entertainment for all ages, and Aladdin ticks all the boxes with plenty of cross-generational humour. For a traditional panto with a modern twist, you couldn’t wish for anything more.

Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: Dial M For Murgatroyd – Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich

The whodunit is a theatrical staple. Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap has recently celebrated its 250,000th performance over 60 years in the West End but in Eastern Angles marvelous mad murder mystery the genre has been given an anarchic makeover.

The traditional ‘whodunit’ cry of ‘the butler did it’ doesn’t last long here as the menservants of Fitzall Hall tend to have an unfortunate habit of ending up murdered. Braintree, Barking and Wivenhoe all come to a sticky end in quick succession leading to the conclusion that a murderer may be on the prowl.

As is Eastern Angles festive custom, tongue remains firmly in cheek as Julian Harries and Pat Whymark’s script firmly lampoons the crime thriller. It’s all done in an affectionate way, though, with plenty of lovingly crafted references that fans of Poirot, Marple et al will revel in spotting.

When the body count threatens to rival that of Midsummer Murders, the Fitzalls decide to call in help. Queue the arrival of amateur sleuth, the deceptively masculine Miss Jane Murgatroyd and local police Inspector Jessop. Is the killer targeting butlers or is there another target? What happened to gun-toting Georgina’s monkey? What is Colonel Sir Clive Fitzall and his son, Fenton, doing in the cellar and can the family solve the problem before they run out of Essex named butlers?

Much fun is made of the small cast with some cleverly observed costume and character swapping allowing for some lightning-fast doubling. As ever with Eastern Angles clever use is made from the limited stage space, with simple props being used to ingenious effect.

There’s not a weak link in the company, all of who revel in their slightly bonkers creations. Patrick Marlowe’s butch Miss Murgatroyd, Samuel Martin’s camp as a row of tents Fenton, Deborah Hewitt’s ‘shoot it if it moves’ Georgina, and Emma Finlay’s insane Mad Meg all gloriously over the top characters. Harries himself completes a hat trick of writing, directing and performing the dual roles of Fitzall and the bumbling Inspector Jessop.

Co-Director Wymark’s music provides plenty of comic potential, whether it’s a comic ape chase scene or an accompaniment to a barnstorming wing walking routine, never let it be said that Easter Angles Christmas shows are not inventive.

It may look and feel different from your traditional festive offering but for laughs per line it would be hard to beat. Where else can you sit and suddenly find a giant monkey sitting on your knee? Judging by the enthusiastic audience response, one suspects the phone lines to the Dial M For Murgatroyd Box Office will be red hot.

Review: People – National Theatre, London

“People, People who need people”… Barbara Streisand’s famous song wasn’t the inspiration for Alan Bennett’s latest play for the National Theatre. In fact if Bennett’s theme is understood it’s more a case of people who don’t want people.

In a large, crumbling Georgian pile Lady Dorothy Stacpole is confined to one room, the leaking roof, broken boilers, and general air of decay way beyond her limited income to repair. It makes for a tragic image, the grande dame reduced to sleeping on the floor in front of a two bar electric heater.

There’s hope on the horizon, though, the National Trust could be interested in taking on the property but Dorothy’s not convinced at the thought of the Great British unwashed trudging through her ancestral home.
It all looks a promising premise for a play. Sadly Bennett seems to get distracted and, instead of concentrating on this plot, seems to offer director Nicholas Hytner a taster of several possible stories. Thrown into the pot are fragmentary sub plots concerning a mysterious organisation that purchases historic buildings for the exclusive use of their members, a superfluous bishop, a 1970s porn shoot farce, and a look at the social stigma of the gentry.

All of these plots in their own right could have made good plays but, by combining them into one piece the effect seems muddled. An idea is just established before it is abandoned for the next plot. Bennett’s trademark dark humour is present but it’s often swamped in the need to establish characters and backstory.
As the three central female characters, Frances de la Tour, Linda Bassett and Selina Cadell work well together, Bassett in particular moving as the ‘companion’ Iris. De la Tour works hard to give Dorothy some depth but there’s a feeling that the role needs more acid to balance the eccentricity.

Away from the central triptych remaining characters seem sketchier. Miles Jupp’s auctioneer turned developer and Nicholas le Prevost’s National Trust representative are perhaps the most formed but, even so, we really only get a glimpse into their motives. Peter Egan’s porn director Theodore, on the other hand, seems little more than a comic device without any real centre.

There is though, another major character here, that of Bob Crowley’s Georgian splendour of a set. Filling the Lyttleton stage, anyone who has wandered the rooms of a stately home tour will feel instantly at home, even if as here the room is in severe terminal decay.

There are moments to enjoy but like many stately home visits, Bennett’s People seems difficult to take in in its entirety on one viewing. Bennett’s skills as a writer are evident but less would have been definitely more.

Feature: Theatre UK Award predictions

While many theatre awards focus on London, the Theatre Management Association’s Theatre Awards UK, being held later this week, look further afield and covers the entire country. Perhaps the awards don’t quite hit the headlines in the way the Olivier Awards do but it’s an important area to celebrate and one we need to support.

There’s still some way to go to flag up the strength of regional theatre and these awards do include some ‘big hitters’ such as the RSC and Chichester Festival Theatre but they do go to prove that you don’t need to have opened in the ‘glittering’ West End to receive recognition (although one of the nominated shows, Sweeney Todd, did perhaps garner more attention for its London run than its regional premiere).

The logistics of nationwide awards are enough to make the eyes water – how do you manage judging given the sheer volume of work on offer – but it conversely perhaps marks a weakness in the current awards set up. Night in, night out, companies across the work are producing high quality work that deserves recognition. Does the fact that a member of the judging panel doesn’t make it to their show diminish their efforts?
Does the London focus of the national print critics (with a couple of notable exceptions) also paint a skewed picture of the importance of out of London theatre?

Does the fact that the awards dinner itself is held in London send the wrong message? In 2013 should the TMA really embrace its ‘Most Welcoming Theatre’ category and coax attendees to venture outside the M25 and attend the previous year’s winning venue? Does the TMA also need to think its criteria? Is it a level playing field if the might of the RSC can compete with a small regional venue?

As someone who will talk to anyone about the gap between London and national theatre coverage, such a celebration of nationwide theatre is a welcome step, though the awards barely cover the breadth of productions on offer on any given night across the country.

Judging for any awards is always hard to predict, and as mentioned above, given the geographical spread its difficult to have seen all nominations but on the list are several nominations that I’m delighted to support (and probably in the process give them the kiss of death!)

BEST PERFORMANCE IN A PLAY – Tim Pigott-Smith for KING LEAR at West Yorkshire Playhouse
In a year of Lear, it could have been easy to overdose on the ageing monarch, but West Yorkshire Playhouse’s production was not only visually arresting, it contained a central performance from Pigott-Smith of immense intensity and gravitas.

BEST MUSICAL PRODUCTION – The Go-Between
On the night I saw King Lear in the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s main house, their studio was showing a new musical, The Go-Between. Adapted from LP Hartley’s classic novel and composed by Lear’s composer Richard Taylor, I finally caught the show later in the tour in Northampton and was blown away by the sheer power of the piece. If there’s been a finer new British musical in recent years I would be very surprised. An intimate and complex interweaving of music and story to create a beautiful and moving evening.

BEST PERFORMANCE IN A MUSICAL – Daniel Evans, Company at Crucible, Sheffield
On a cold, stormy night in Sheffield, it takes a strong company to win over an unsettled audience after a lengthy technical delay. As soon as Daniel Evans and the rest of the Company ensemble stepped on stage though any issues vanished as Evans set the stage alight in Sondheim’s look at love and loneliness.

ACHIEVEMENT IN MARKETING – The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
When a venue closes for a redevelopment, sadly something is often lost in the new building. For Canterbury though the brand new Marlowe Theatre is a total delight. Though well designed and thought out, it take more than a building to make a theatre and the Marlowe’s press and marketing department are always a joy to work with.

MOST WELCOMING THEATRE – New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich
OK, possibly some local bias but as perhaps the venue I spend more time at than any other it’s time to sing the praises of this 400 seat powerhouse. Where other venues may play it safe, the NWT team are never afraid to take risks but always with the aim of encouraging and developing new audiences into their theatre. Oh and it serves some of the best jacket potatoes you could ever want!

PROMOTION OF DIVERSITY -Graeae Theatre Company
Anyone who watched the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games can have no doubt as to Graeae’s Artistic Director Jenny Sealey’s passion for raising awareness of diversity. Graeae are never afraid to challenge, provoke and even shock but it’s always done in a highly accessible, and more importantly, engaging manner.

BEST TOURING PRODUCTION – SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS – The Children’s Touring Partnership
OK, this one is voted for by the public so is perhaps wider open than most categories. Many people think Children’s theatre is a ‘dumbed down’ theatre. The opposite is true – to make a show that appeals to all ages is notoriously hard and younger theatre goers can be the harshest critics. The Children’s Touring Partnership tour of Swallows And Amazons worked its magic on all ages, enthralling and engaging all who saw.

The actual winners will be announced on Sunday 28th October in London. Let’s hope that all nominees receive acclaim for their achievements and that the 2013 awards will cover even more of the UK’s vibrant, and truly national theatre scene.

Photo: The Go Between Company

Review: Without You – Menier Chocolate Factory, London

Actors are often advised to draw on their own life experiences to shape their performances. When that life experience includes the death of two of your closest friends and the raw emotion of the death of your own mother to cancer you might expect an actor to shy away from digging too deep into their pain.
For Anthony Rapp though, his stage adaptation of his best-selling memoir Without You , not only explores these deeply personal events but engages his audience so well that we feel that we also know these departed people and morn their loss.

Rapp shapes the evening around the musical RENT, the show that was his breakthrough – even though he’d been performing professionally since the age of nine. From his tentative audition singing REM’s Losing My Religion we follow Rapp’s journey through RENT workshops and off Broadway run before the first tragedy strikes. On the eve of opening night, composer Jonathan Larson died unexpectedly. For a musical focusing on the impact of death it was a devastating time for the cast and crew, many close friends of Larson.

RENT of course went on to become a major Broadway hit and Rapp uses key musical numbers from the score to accompany his own life story.

By the time Rapp brings the audience to the subject of his mother’s battle with cancer and her eventual death he has us in the palm of his hand. As he steps into the spotlight to sing Without You, a song from RENT he sang at her funeral, the sound of muffled sobs fills the auditorium. As the song finishes and Rapp mouths a silent ‘thank you’ to his mother the emotion is almost too much to bear.

Before you get the impression though that this is a depressing evening think again. Rapp tempers the sadness with a genuine charm; he acknowledges that those he’s lost are real people with their own imperfections but that the grief at their loss is also a celebration of their life.

It’s a slick delivery that never falters, over a brief 80 minutes we share so much of Rapp’s life that it seems we have spent the evening sat with a friend. Simple staging, and effective lighting (Timothy Bird, Ellan Parry and Tim Mascall) help give the piece some texture but there’s a feeling that this is a show that would work equally well with Rapp sat on a bare stage surrounded by his audience.

Accompanied by an accomplished five piece on stage band, led by musical director Daniel A Weiss, the mood shifts from plaintive to rock as required but never swamps the performer.

Moving, uplifting and at times totally devastating, it’s a credit to Rapp that he can put himself through such an emotional journey each night. He seems genuinely touched by the reaction from his audience but his warmth and engaging style makes the audience feel like they are part of his family.

While a knowledge of RENT may help understand the context, this is such a deeply human, honest and personal story that there is something for everyone who has ever loved or lost to connect with. With such skill and warmth Mary must be looking down on her son with extreme pride.

A devastating example of the power of love. Stunning.

Review: Hard Places – Mercury Theatre Studio, Colchester

We think as national borders as a permanent feature, something immovable and solid. In reality though borders frequently shift as political factions come and go. What happens when one such border devides a community and a family?

Farhad Sorabjee’s Hard Places, receiving its UK premiere at the Colchester Mercury, looks at one such border. Although the story is officially not set in one particular location, Sorabjee was inspired by the Shouting Valley in the Golan Heights, a place where the Israeli border divides families. These families stand atop hill either side of the border, shouting to each other and carrying on as if the divide didn’t exist. Between them though is a deadly no-man’s land, covered by snipers and a mine field.

For Saira and Aziz, life one side of such a border is not complete without their mother, trapped on the other side of the wire. Each sibling though has their own motives for wanting their mother freed. For Saira there’s desperation to fill an emotional need, to be seen to do the right thing and reunite the family. For Aziz though there is a more political overtone, the sense that his mother can become a figurehead for some political movement.

As the practicalities of crossing the closed border hits home though, it seems there are secrets hidden by all three parties.

Sorabjee’s writing digs deep into the soul and it’s not always an easy ride. Patience and some work by the audience though are rewarded through a rich, textured look at the impact distance, however tantalisingly small can have on individuals. It’s a slow burn of a production that releases it secrets bit by bit, but this in turn builds the requisite tension in the piece.

There are beautifully observed portrayals from all three actors. Shernaz Patel’s intense yet moving daughter Saira, Nabil Stuart’s rage filled Aziz and Jasmina Daniel’s quiet, reflective mother. There’s a real sense of family cohesion despite the many differences and physical separation all suffer.

Chris White’s production, played against Paul Burgess’ simple, yet effective, set, teases out detail a stand at a time, never losing focus or momentum. Without wishing to give away any plot twists, in a way it seems the final scene is somewhat superfluous and the piece may probably be stronger ending 15 minutes earlier on a dramatic cliff-hanger. As it is the piece perhaps ends too neatly for such a tangled situation – sometimes it’s more powerful to leave things hanging unsaid.

It’s a small quibble with an otherwise powerful and moving piece that delves deep into the human spirit. Regardless of its location, the divisive nature of barbed wire, fences and deadly no-man’s land echoes in many communities across history, these Hard Places a blot on many countries history books.

Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: Starlight Express – Cliffs Pavilion, Southend On Sea

It can’t be often that a small child has a West End musical dedicated to them. It’s even rarer when that child ends up writing a new song for the show’s revival a couple of decades later.

When your surname, though, is Lloyd Webber such things shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. As Andrew’s 1984 railroad musical Starlight Express takes to the road again, son Alastair has penned a new pivotal love duet for the score.

Let’s rewind though – Starlight original opened as one of the 80s mega musicals, a show you came out of humming the set as well as the score. The Apollo Victoria was transformed by designer John Napier into a giant skate park with actors hurtling round the auditorium just inches away from the audience.

A touring production can’t, of course carry out a major rebuild of every venue it visits but this poses a problem for Starlight Express. Without the full-on spectacle the plot is woefully exposed and here the plot of the show is paper thin. An (unseen) child is staging races with his train set, as competing trains battle, literally in many cases, to become the world champion. What normally sustains interest is the spectacle, the sight of a cast performing daring routines on roller skates while belting out Lloyd Webbers rock/disco infused score. Without that spectacle it’s all a bit lacklustre. Twenty-eight years on and Napier has had to scale back his original designs to the bare minimum. It’s left to Nick Riching’s rock concert inspired lighting to lift the piece but without a set to light it often seems a bit barren.

On the confines of a traditional proscenium stage, the skating effects are limited to a couple of ramps and, even while those are well-executed, they seem somewhat cramped. Sightlines from the front stalls also detract, with the high stage rendering much of the skating footwork invisible.

There are clever technical touches though. Without the engineering in place to stage the required races, audiences are handed 3D safety goggle to watch filmed excerpts. It’s a well-staged workaround and shows some genuine thrills but it also serves to remind viewers of what could have been.

There are still moments to enjoy, however. Lloyd Webber’s score is arguably his most tongue-in-cheek, parodying a whole gamut of musical styles from rock to country. Richard Stilgoe’s lyrics provide another level of wry humour but, sadly, the weak diction from the ensemble and a poor sound mix renders much of those lyrics incomprehensible. Arlene Phillips’ direction is oddly static and, apart from a couple of large scale set pieces, never really takes off.

In the lead role of steam train Rusty, Kristofer Harding impresses. Harding’s rendition of the title track a highlight of the evening. Rusty’s love interest, Pearl, is also well sung by a sweet voiced Amanda Coutts, although their love duet by Lloyd Webber Jnr is perhaps a weak replacement for the original number, sounding more like a Eurovision entry than a strong piece of musical theatre.

Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: Haunting Julia – Mercury Theatre, Colchester

One doesn’t normally associate Alan Ayckbourn with horror. The prolific writer, normally more familiar with suburban comedy, has though turned his hand to a chilling thriller. First performed in 1994 and revived in Lichfield and London in 2011, Haunting Julia now stretches its spectral legs on a first ever national tour.

While the territory may be unusual for Ayckbourn, those familiar with his work will find plenty of resonance. The monologues that delve deep into the characters psyche, the plot twists and even the wry humour are all here. While the writing may seem familiar, the plot however is a departure from his norm.

A musical prodigy dies tragically young and 12 years after her death her father has converted her student digs into a museum to her memory. As with all good museums the centre has an interactive audio guide but when disembodied voices start to be heard on the soundtrack it seems that young Julia may not have completely left the scene.

As her father, former boyfriend and a local physic gather in her former room, the possible motive for Julia’s death begin to unravel. Was it suicide or murder or did the pressure of being hailed ‘Little Miss Mozart’ become too much to live with?

We never really get the answers. There’s a feeling here that there is more left unsaid than explained and despite its age there is a feeling that in some way it is an unfinished piece. An exploration of a possible darker departure from his normal cannon but a journey that is never fully completed.

Andrew Hall’s production has great fun in building up the tension, causing the audience a few necessary jumps along the way, but seems somewhat lethargic. Ayckbourn’s exposition to deliver the requisite backstories slows down pace and robs the piece of the chill it needs.

Richard O’Callaghan reprises his role from the 2011 production; his mortuary attendant turned psychic the key to revealing Julia’s troubled past. O’Callaghan’s vocal delivery though can only be described as eccentric and, while it perhaps parodies many celebrity physics, it adds an unnecessary comedic edge to the character that dilutes the darkness. O’Callaghan is joined by two new cast members for the tour and it’s not a wholly successful casting.

Joe McFadden’s Andy, Julia’s former boyfriend, seems suitably spooked by the possibility of the musician’s presence, but again Ayckbourn’s tendency to launch into lengthy exposition makes it hard to fully understand the character.

Duncan Preston seems unsure where to pitch Julia’s devoted, even obsessive, father Joe. Preston veers from emotion to emotion wildly and it’s hard to emotional connect with this man who has lost his daughter, and on some level marketing product. Preston’s portrayal seems overblown in a script where a more subtle, darker edge would pay dividends.

There’s real potential here, and the staging does provide a few scares but overall it all seems somewhat unsatisfactory. We are left with far too many questions about Julia’s death and her relationship with her family and friends and while the bumps and bangs may elicit a few squeals, the whole piece needs to be much darker in tone. Ghost stories are notoriously difficult to pull off on stage and here it’s a case of a minor tremor rather than a full spectral spectacular.

Originally written for The Public Reviews