Thursday, 13 February 2014
Louise Groves, Hawthorne Theatre Reviewer
I collected my excited niece Phoebe, clutching her favourite teddy, this morning and off we went to the Hawthorne Theatre at Campus West in Welwyn Garden City. Phoebe is two, and having been to her first pantomime at Christmas seems to have already been bitten by the theatre bug. She had expectations of being able to sing-a-long and join in, like she had done so at the panto, so I hoped she wouldn’t be disappointed.
Campus West is such an easy venue in terms of location, it’s in the town centre but just every so slightly away from the shops, so parking never seems to be a problem in the large car park. Phoebe was excited to see other little ones clutching teddies walking into the theatre, and we eagerly followed them. After a promise of sweeties, naturally we had to stop off at Humphrey’s Coffee Shop. I got too distracted by the pick ‘n’ mix and filled a regular sized cup, priced at a reasonable £2. Phoebe’s eyes lit up, and I giggled at the thought of the sugar loaded little minx I would later be returning to her mummy. That’s half the fun of bring auntie isn’t it?! I did discover when paying though that they do also sell single packets of sweets such as fruitella’s, maltesers etc, so you can spend less if you avoid the pick ‘n’ mix and get home without your children bouncing off the walls!
Stopping to pick up a booster seat for Pheebs on the way into the theatre we were ready to get settled into our seats, and naturally tuck into those sweets! The curtains were up, and the stage was set up like a child’s bedroom. Bright colours & plenty of teddies captured Phoebe’s attention before the show started. Lights down, and it’s show time!
Lily our storyteller for the next 50 minutes, was dressed in her PJ’s and was ready for bed, but not before she told her teddies a story or two. With the help of the children in the audience, and a little magic, she put her voice into the magic storybook, and was able to act out the stories. All the little ones in the theatre (and most of the big people – me included!) joined in with the abracadabra’s, the waving of teddy bears in the air, and the magic spell casting. I was amazed at how well little Phoebe picked up the words and copied, at two she is just too smart, she loved it.
Using simple costumes, puppets, and a guy who looked less than enthused to be part of the show, Lily acted out the story of Little Red Riding Hood, complete with a rapping wolf.
Story number two was The Ugly Duckling. Lots more cute puppets were used to tell the story, as well as Lily playing mummy duck. Mummy Duck sang a song to her eggs asking when they were going to hatch, and to be honest I though it was too old for the audience, baring in mind the show is aimed at 4-7 year olds. Ok, so Pheebs I know is only two, but I was looking around and other children were growing restless, they were not engaged with songs that they couldn’t participate in, or didn’t know. Asking the eggs if they weren’t hatching because of something she might have eaten, is not really something little ones would have any understanding of, and it seemed like this, and the rapping wolf from Little Red Riding Hood were added for the parents. Maybe they were but I would be more happy if my little one was excited and engaged in the show, rather than have a moment in it for me, whilst they lost interest. Fortunately singing Old MacDonald drew the children’s attention again, and everyone joined in, especially with the ‘Quack Quacks’.
The children seemed to love all the audience participation throughout the show. At just 50 minutes long it kept them entertained and there were only odd moments of restlessness. All in all it was a cute show, and a nice way to spend an hour with Phoebe. She loved it, and asked if we could go again tomorrow. It’s wonderful to watch the excitement on her face when she joins in with the actions and sings along. So yes Miss Phoebe, if it was on again tomorrow I’d take you again.
Tracey Hamilton, Hawthorne Theatre Reviewer
Had the pleasure of seeing Ultimate Elton and the Rocket Band last night at Hawthorne-Theatre Hawthorne-Theatre and what a fantastic show it was.
The band was introduced on stage by Stuart Epps who had worked with the real Elton, he stated 'quite simply the best Elton tribute you will see or hear anywhere' and he was not wrong.
'Elton' then came on stage in a pink suit and silver sparkly shoes with an umbrella!
The choice of songs spanned 40 years of albums from ballads such as candle in the wind to the upbeat I'm still standing and crocodile rock which got the audience on their feet and clapping along .
The show was in 2 halves with a break in between and was worth every penny, there was plenty of introductions to the songs and banter with the audience.
The Rocket Band were fab and also deserve great recognition .
Please do try to see this tribute act as they are certainly one of the best I have seen and would be great if they would return to Hawthorne Theatre again!
TK Choo, Hawthorne Theatre Reviewer
A blast. Saw the Ultimate Elton & The Rocket Band tonight. Unsure initially as this is our first ever tribute band show.Our fears are unfounded as they were very good and entertaining. They warmed up after the second song - Rocket Man ending with the audience dancing to Elton hits like Crocodile Rock, I'm Still Standing, Pinball Wizard and many more. The Elton doppelganger is impressive with his voice and mannerism. Great band too. Worth a visit.
Wednesday, 8 January 2014
Jasmine Alice, Hawthorne Theatre Reviewer
Tonight I witnessed a fun, friendly and very vibrant pantomime. Written, directed and even starring the super talented Guy Masterson, Beauty and the Beast was a real hit amongst an audience of all ages. With a cleverly selected cast, the stage lit up with character (no spotlights needed) and from start to finish was a very entertaining event!
Serena Manteghi, Samuel Donnelly and James Marlowe played the fabulously energetic Belle, Beast and Little Willy. Manteghi brought the fundamental sweet, likeable persona of Belle, displaying a natural acting ability and a wholesome but whimsical charm.
The Beast however was probably my favourite, as Donnelly executed a brilliantly complex character of depth whilst embodying the animalistic qualities of a frightening, misunderstood creature.
Helping to keep the light-hearted and youthful mood tonight was the endearing role of Little Willy. With a powerful voice and a bubbly personality, Marlowe played the ‘fool-in-love’ that no panto should be without!
The witty script kept the children, grandparents and all those in between thoroughly amused throughout the performance, and the audience participation was appropriately placed and particularly engaging.. oh yes it was! With some traditional jokes and some fresh, funny material by Mr Masterson, as an audience we were gripped.
I have to say though, the most humorous part for me was the Dame’s impromptu (and accidental but hilarious) stumble into the audience, conveniently dressed as a row of town-houses.. which certainly went down like a ton of bricks… literally!
I mean, talk about raising the roof.. or bringing the house down….(I’m here all night folks!) But even with that little mis-hap, Masterson certainly didn’t struggle to get back on track and we were never even semi-detached! (Last house joke, I promise.)
On a serious note however, the Dame showed commendable professionalism. After all, ‘The Show Must Go On’ …Oops… Wrong Panto!!
After the front row had recovered, and we had all stopped roaring with laughter, the comedic ‘all singing, all dancing’ show continued to make us chuckle and tap our toes with the delightfully catchy musical numbers. Including a wide variety of music, from classic tunes to chart-toppers, the soundtrack contained only the catchiest of songs, each being hairbrush-worthy and even had my little neice of two singing along!
The beautifully intricate set had me captivated and was just another component which added to a great show brought to us by The Hawthorne. Although missing the traditional panto horse, there were definitely no long faces! Can’t wait for next year’s Pantomime already!
Renee Rogers, Hawthorne Theatre Reviewer
Be Our Guest!
As you may have guessed last night I saw the pantomime ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Oh no you didn’t….oh yes I did!! (No apologies for the bad panto joke folks!)
Using this opportunity to introduce my ‘nearly’ two year old to live theatre I was excited and also a little apprehensive. An unabridged version of Hamlet may be risky at her age but a Pantomime I was sure we could handle.
Making our way through the main entrance, already I could hear the chatter of excited children filling the foyer. The obligatory led toys were on sale and I couldn’t resist getting a spinning windmill for my little one (me!) The ushers led us through to our seats and I was relieved to be near the end on an aisle incase I needed a quick getaway if my handbag full of lollies didn’t suffice!
As the show went up, with a makeshift cast (I’m not giving the game away) the children lit up and the energy was electric. The opening song was ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’ by The Black Eyed Peas and instantly Lola was on her feet dancing away.
The cast was assigned perfectly, from the nice but dim father, the soft, gentle natured Belle, the love-struck friend and the OTT and rather fabulously dressed Dame (I wish I could rock a giant Christmas Tree with baubles to rival Pat Butcher.) The Beast was a stand out character that did well to bring a darker side to the proceedings, but the constant call of ‘Cat, Cat, Cat’ by my daughter may not have been the desired effect.
The script was witty and raucous and this allowed the audience to feel at ease when participating….although I not sure they needed putting at ease…Welwyn Garden City what a fun and loud crowd you are!
The two and a half hours flew by and Lola was on her feet for 80% of the time, dancing, cheering, and booing, with a sad call of Uh Oh when the Beasts heart was breaking.
Overall a truly spirited performance with a perfect mix of love, laugher and long johns!
Adrienne Perry, Hawthorne Theatre Reviewer
Slushies slurping neon light sabres in hand and twinkling flashing wands. We Take our seats in the Hawthorne theatre and await for the magic to begin. Filled with anticipation the crowd is buzzing with excited children any moment now the excitement will begin.....but there's a problem.......'oh no there isnt'.......oh yes there is the 'cast' are stuck on the m1 the show is going to be delayed if it can go on at all. Gasps from the crowd disappointment abound in the childrens faces.... Then a voice from the side of the auditorium 'I can do it' it a member of the front of house team she said she could sing and had been to enough rehearsals. Two more stewards offer their services along with a 'reviewer' from the Welwyn hatfield times and they break into a rendition of 'a whole new world' and Guy Masterson is transformed into Dame Dolly la Douche and there the romp begins and it doesn't stop. It races along and at approx 2 1/2 hours with the interval it is a long show but never once does it feel that way.
plays belle and is as enchanting as the story and her voice is tender
and tranquil and to her credit delivered a perfect pantomime princess.
One of her highlight for me was when she sang 'on my own' from les mis
to the beast as he lay dying of a broken heart it was a captivating
performance and may have caused my eyes to leak. That's the beauty of
panto one minuet your laughing and shouting 'he's behind you' the next
your moved to tears in a tender moment of love.
who is the' Welwyn hatfield times' reviewer is whipped from the audience
and plays Belles dad he kept whipping out a 'script' (keeping with the
gag that he was a last minute replacement) this wasn't over done and was
James Marlowe played willie the unlucky in love
son of Dame Dolly la douche. I enjoyed his performance and how he tried
in vain to make Belle fall in love with him but this is beauty and the
beast and we all know shes going to fall in love with the beast so we
feel sorry for him from the start.
The beast played by Samuel
Donnell was was skilful in his portrayal of the beast. His stoop kept
solid throughout his scenes and he ambled across the stage in a beast
like manner his reveal to humanity at the end resulted with a great
cheer from the audience. At one point Belle kisses the beast and a boy
from the audience shouts out 'urrgh'.He like many others were drawn in
and we forgot ourselves but that's the beauty of panto. All conventions
of the theatre are to be ignored heckling is encouraged and even
demanded. We the audience are the final cast member and without our
participation it cannot work.
I have to say however the star
of the show for me was Guy Masterson the writer/director who plays Dame
Dotty la Douche the traditional panto dame and boy he did not
disappoint. From the moment his false boobs were put on infront of the
audience to his amazing finale dress he dazzled , fascinated, amazed and
astonished us. I laughed until my cheeks hurt. Overacting 'Oh yes he
did!!' and just enough to make us love her. She carried the show
narrating when time needed to move faster and there were an amazing 7
costume changes including my favourites the Christmas tree dress and the
house dress Superb!!
Lets not forget the supporting cast
the dancers from the shooting stars academy. They were super and gave
very polished performances.
This pantomime was as good as
any ive seen if not better the draw for some pantos is the big famous
names they have on their bill - ok so we didn't have that but did we
care we didn't even notice. The cast were strong and all performances
excellent there wasn't a weak link at all. It had everything you needed
for a perfect panto. Oodles of audience participation and I didn't want
it to end. All I can say is bring on 2014 because if sleeping beauty is
as good as this then you wont want to miss it !!!!
Steven Dolby, Hawthorne Theatre Reviewer
The lower Luton Road led me to a magical world at the Hawthorne Theatre, Welwyn Garden City, Herts. My teenage daughter and I arrived early and were struck by the warm welcome at the front of house - special mention must be made of the cheerful and helpful Box Office staff and the hard working and patient staff at Humphreys Coffee Shop.
Loved the beginning of the performance, with the Writer, Director and Co-Producer, Guy Masterson, first hearing the news that due to a problem on the motorway, the cast could not make it to the performance. There were some concerned faces in the audience. Not to worry, Theatre staff in the building helping the audience (and having seen the rehearsals) volunteer to take the parts of their unavoidably delayed colleagues - Hurrah!
A wonderfully sung, choreagraphed and beautifully staged production commences. It would be wrong of me to highlight any single performance - any of whom would have graced a West End Stage. An all star performance, no D list "clebs" here - "Where's my career?......" "Behind You!" was matched by the simply joyous singing and snappy, cross cutting dialogue (that reminded me of the best zany comedies of 30's like "Helzapoppin" or the Marx Brothers) and a sound level within the auditorium that allowed you to savour every word.
A marvellous production and I would also point out the excellent scenery, both for its artwork and for the seamless scene changes and inventive use of the video screens to show the rose losing its petals.
No greater praise can be given than to point out how impressed my teenage daughter was with the production. We were very concerned when "Dame Dotty" took a fall on the stage - the concern was audible, such was the rapport developed with the audience.
I understand that the 2014 production will be "Sleeping Beauty" - I won't sleep until I have a ticket.
A fantastic, marvellous production. Thank you.
Jane Wing, Hawthorne Theatre Reviewer
Don't we all just love the great British tradition of the Panto at Christmas? Oh no we don't, oh yes we do.......! Well I certainly do and last night I took my daughter to see Beauty and the Beast at The Hawthorne Theatre, WGC.
This is a home - grown production, written and directed ( and also starring) Guy Masterson who we saw earlier this year in 'The Odd Couple' on this same stage.
It all began with a mock 'disaster' - Guy standing up to apologise as the cast were stuck on the motorway and wouldn't make it in time for the show - what could be done? Handily, some members of the 'crew' just happened to be available as stand-ins so lo and behold - the show could go on!! A bit cheesy? Well yes, but that's what Panto is all about isn't it?
Guy played Dame Dotty La Douche - and it was very clear he was enjoying himself! That's one of the things I like best about Panto, the actors can let themselves go and really have a laugh with the adults in the audience - it makes you feel like you're really 'in' on the joke, that you're an integral part of the show and not just an outsider watching. And we, the audience, certainly had a big part to play in this show! Right from the beginning the actors worked really hard to get the, somewhat reluctant, audience to loosen up and join in. And we did join in, mostly, although I fear there may have been a few too many responses required for us to remember them all!
Belle was played very gracefully by Serena Manteghi. She sang beautifully and played the audience well with just the right amount of coyness and cheekiness to make her a very appealing character. The Beast was brilliant, played by Samuel Donnelly, fierce and gruff but with just a hint of vulnerability (and a few winks to the audience) and I was very pleased by the reaction he got when finally appearing as the the handsome Prince, and I think he rather enjoyed it too!
James Marlowe made quite an endearing 'Willie', handling the children who came up on stage during the 'community singsong' number well. Johnny Tait was introduced as the Welwyn Hatifeild Times reviewer - who had to be persuaded to join the cast, and he certainly played the 'uncomfortable amateur' convincingly throughout! I liked his Cockney, pathetic father character - but couldn't imagine why Belle would be so desperate to get home to him!
My six year old daughter particularly enjoyed the musical numbers, especially the Katy Perry and Jesse J songs, her favourite ones of the moment! She didn't recognise 'Material Girl' or 'Michelle' and thought that they were odd choices!! I, however, certainly did recognise the less recent pop songs and liked the gentle lyric adaptations that were used to link the songs to the story.
Dancers were provided by the Shooting Stars Academy and they did a grand job!
The sets and costumes were lavish and interesting, particularly those of the Dame. And my daughter said her favourite moment of all was the finale where the 'glittery' costumes were very eye catching!
Jon Brown, Hawthorne Theatre Reviewer
It had been quite a while since I saw a traditional pantomime, so I was very much looking forward to seeing this classic story performed on the local stage, and especially at Christmas time. I was not to be disappointed.
It was wonderful to see a virtually full house and as we all awaited curtain up, there was a buzz of excitement all around. A clever twist started proceedings as a man in casual wear took to the stage. It appeared he was a member of the back stage team. Two fellow colleagues followed him, wearing their bright green Hawthorne Theatre tops.
After a fun and energetic welcome, we discovered that all three were actually cast members and they were soon joined by a forth principal character that originally was pointed out as the newspaper show reviewer! Johnny Tait, reluctantly at first, took to the stage. The man in casual wear at the very start actually turned out to be Guy Masterson, the writer, director, co-producer of the show, and……the wonderful Dame – Dotty La Douche!
From the official start, we were entertained with fun, comedy, plenty of jokes, lots’ of feel good songs, and most of all an abundance of audience participation. Weaved into all the entertainment was of course the classic story of Belle and her encounter with the Beast. I thought everything was pitched at the correct level and balance; between the off-the-cuff fun and slapstick action, and the telling of this romantic fantasy spectacle.
All the performances were spot on; led by Dame Dotty La Douche, played brilliantly by Guy Masterson, who apparently has never played a Dame before! He looked like a seasoned pro! Guy maintained a great energy and charisma throughout and his performance never dropped in tempo or energy, thus keeping the audience and especially the children focused and always drawn in to the action. This is vital in pantomime of course. The actors stepping out character to chaotically discuss any awkward moments with the stage manager was a regular occurrence and which was very funny.
Serena Manteghi gave a pleasant and charming performance as Belle, showing a nice mix of sweet innocence and bold courage. Serena attacked her songs well, with one or two in particular being excellent renditions of recent pop classics. James Marlowe as Willie was funny, awkward appearing in character and gave a performance that certainly made us, the audience, really feel for him, with us giving many a cry of “Come on Willie, you can do it” and “We love you Willie!”
Samuel Donnelly as the Beast was commanding and confident, and thankfully not too scary! His mask and attire was impressive and he certainly had a presence when creeping about behind the gullible Belle. Johnny Tait as Papa was funny throughout and gave us plenty of London cockney humour, which was received with much laughter.
These central performances were accompanied throughout the show by the dancers from locally based Shooting Stars Academy of Performing Arts. All the dancers were bright, cheerful and kept up an energy and vibrancy with each routine; excellently interlinking with the named characters with a real sense of fun. They all worked really hard, and it was clear they were having a great time.
The scene and set changes were quick and effective throughout, and I was especially impressed with the technical aspect of the production, most notably the slickness of the many technical lighting and sound cues.
So to conclude…this show was wonderfully delivered and really cannot be faulted. It had all the ingredients of a classic pantomime, and the fun and pace did not drop at all. It was interesting reading the impressive biography of Guy Masterson in the souvenir programme. His considerable experience as an actor and director was definitely evident from all we saw on stage. I was to go on to read that it was Guy’s first experience of ‘Panto’. Remarkable! It was also pleasing to hear that Guy will be returning in 2014 to bring another classic, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, to the stage of the Hawthorne Theatre! Hooray!
Happy New Year to you all!
Monday, 18 November 2013
Jon Brown, Hawthorne Theatre Reviewer
Being a big fan of both Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens, I was looking forward to seeing a festive mixture of both on stage for the first time. It was a clever and exciting proposition by writer John Longenbaugh.
Performed by Baroque Theatre Company, we see through the eyes of Dr. Watson; Holmes’ trusty companion, the famous detective sleuth’s infusion with the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge on the eve of Christmas. After failed attempts by Dr. Watson to cheer up Holmes into celebrating the holiday season, the unrepentant, ill-tempered detective is forced to analyse the facts and solve the most important mystery of his life – past, present and future.
The story focused heavily on atmosphere, spirits and sudden changes in time, tempo and mood. The set was simple; two working doors upstage were used to good effect to bring characters in and out of rooms. Two straightforward room settings were at either side of the main space, leaving a large area to play out the majority of the action. Ideally I would like to have seen a more substantial set as I did feel it was a little bare in places. I just wanted to be drawn into the story more, and I felt the set required a little more attention to detail.
In the lead role, Simon Michael Morgan bought an energy and assurance to his performance. He cracked out his dialogue with the required delivery, pace and confidence. As Dr. Watson, Paul Andrew Goldsmith was a suited side-kick to Holmes, looking every bit like the loyal friend and both he and Simon were the real drivers behind the wheel of this challenging piece of the theatre.
The commitment and team ethic displayed by the ensemble cast was impressive throughout. Everyone contributed something different in bringing this story to life. Unfortunately the execution of dialogue by Russell J. Turner and Terrance Vincent was at times muffled and unheard and a few lines were lost too, thus dropping the pace, focus and energy. Jill Davy as Mrs Hudson was funny throughout and she worked hard at keeping the action flowing. Helen Fullerton, Libby Waite and Claire Bibby threw themselves into a variety of roles, with a strong confidence.
Sadly, I felt the cast were let down a little by other factors. The coordination of the lighting cues, sound cues and music was weak at times, and this style of theatre needs sharp timing, and a total unison with all its technical cues. The sound levels required more attention too. I am all in favour of underscored music as this can really add to the atmosphere and mood. However some pieces of music were simply too loud and played for too long, and this bought a distraction to the action and again some of the dialogue was not heard.
Adam Morley’s direction was bold and expansive, but I was thrown by some of it, which resulted in some confusion. I actually wondered if certain moves were absolutely necessary. I did enjoy the intention to use the whole playing space and this worked very well. There were a few moments when some of the characters were either watching another scene or conversation, or had stepped out of that scene completely but remained on stage. In these situations, I thought they could have been better positioned, thus bringing a stronger focus to the main action.
I mean it when I say that it was a hardworking and courageous attempt by the director, players and crew. To bring together this classic Dickens story and Doyle’s famous sleuth to the stage is no easy feat, but a hugely ambitious one. With a few adjustments and changes, it would indeed be an even better and stronger spectacle.
Happy Christmas to you all!