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Kim Cattrall as Cleopatra (Photo: Stephen Vaughan)

Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall and seasoned actor Jeffery Kissoon lead an excellent ensemble cast in the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse production of William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.

The tragedy is re-worked and modernised through the direction of Janet Suzman, who herself was noted for giving past memorable performances as Cleopatra.

Cattrall, of course, gives the production a big billing due to her star status and is very captivating over the three hours and ten minutes running time. In the programme notes, Cattrall said she was inspired by Suzman to become an actress. In return, she gives the director an encouraging performance that is likely to develop with real appeal.

Cattrall’s Cleopatra – the Queen of Egypt who Mark Antony (Kissoon) lusts after – is sexy, teasing, commanding and funny. She is supported by her handmaidens Charmian (Aïcha Kossoko) and Iras (Gracy Goldman), or her ‘women’ as she calls them, who – at a click of her fingers – answer her every beck and call in her palace in Alexandria, even leading up to her suicide.

Kissoon gives a performance of note as Antony but is far from convincing as one of the most powerful rulers of the world. He moves awkwardly around the stage but his delivery of Shakespeare’s language is poetic.
Standing out from the supporting cast is Martin Hutson as Octavius Caesar, who is dressed in a pinstriped suit during the first act and military outfit during the second act. Hutson plays Antony’s fellow triumviri like a leading lawyer taking his stance at a court room bar, with every word carefully expressed.

Peter McKintosh’s set is also equally captivating and simple with a metal bridge splitting the action. For instance, silver lanterns are raised and lowered to create Cleopatra’s Egyptian palace while a good dose of smoke is used for the creation of battle scenes.

In summary, the production may not be to everyone’s liking but praise must be given to Cattrall for coming back to her place of birth to take on such a challenging role.

The above review was used for Whatsonstage.com

Daniel Kitson

Yorkshire-born Daniel Kitson is a funny looking chap who amuses you before he even starts to reminisce about his love of a home he once lived in.

Walking on to the open stage, dressed in trousers and shirt, he sits on a chair surrounded by suitcases ready to share to the audience his affinity to a three-storey flat in Crystal Palace, located at 66a Church Road.

His appearance has changed slightly from when he last visited the Everyman theatre. His bushy long beard has been reduced to stubble, but his distinguishable thick framed spectacles remain.

He speaks with a slight lisp but chooses every word with precision and his delivery is perfect, while his language is brilliantly rehearsed and a delight to listen to.

His solo performance essentially tells a love story – one about him and 66a Church Road – and the people he loves or has loved, who spent time with him in the flat.

Through his detailed descriptions we hear about his friends, Dave and John, the latter being his mate who he stayed with for nine months prior to moving into 66a Church Road. Kitson said ‘any common decency would be two weeks’, but he lived at his friends’ home for nine months. He had to move.

Kitson is lit up by a ceiling light as he explains his first day moving into 66a Church Road – as he is throughout – and occasionally stands to emphasise either his encounters with his cockney geezer landlord or descriptions of rooms within his home.

Kitson uses small models built within the suitcases to show how his flat looked which is a superb technique but it is slightly flawed as they are too small for those sitting at the back to see. However, when his story is broken up by a number of pre-recorded anecdotes one suitcase is lit up to show a model of his living room, another the front of his flat.

His short pre-recorded anecdotes further describe his memories of the flat and the people he shared it with, thus he recalls a time spent with his dad and mate listening to sports commentator John Motson, and another a time when making ham sandwiches for his mates and his torment over whether he should serve them with avocado or not.

Kitson’s performance is very polished. He packs so much into just over an hour, although he has you hooked on every word.

Eventually he tells us he has to leave the flat despite a last attempt to buy. But the flat has changed. Gone are the rotting sash windows he adored. In are the modern double glazed windows that open with handles. His relationship has ended and with this realisation he moves on.

The above has been used for Whatsonstage.com

A cast of eight Royal Court regulars make an appearance (photo: Dave Evans)

Fred Lawless delves deep into the stereotypes affiliated to Liverpool in his new comedy play A Fistful of Collars, mixing fashion with crime and scenarios that fall onto the brink of the absurd.

Set in a dry cleaners in Wavertree, two sisters Eileen (Eithne Browne) and Pat (Pauline Daniels), along with employees Leona (Lindzi Germain) and Billy (Lenny Wood), find themselves in a tricky situation once they take the decision to turn the business into a dress hire shop.

The plan all seems simple and straight forward but they can’t avoid the one single problem facing them. Landlord Curtis Jones (Jake Abraham) wants to increase the rent and uses his sexy assistant Sally (Suzanne Colins) to bother the cleaners for it.

The comedy is brought through the rubbery expressions of Wood as the thick yet not-as-stupid-as-you-think character Billy, and the fantastic Daniels whose comic timing is razor sharp.

The cleaners and Billy are soon the talk of the city and attract one particular customer who is very familiar, not only in Liverpool, but also for her love of fashion: Coleen Rooney.

The wife of football star Wayne does not, however, make an appearance in this play but is played by the young actress Charlotte Harrison making her professional debut, who spends a majority of her time on stage with a clothing bag placed over her head.

The cleaners accidentally kidnap Mrs Rooney, who has come back to collect her favourite Stella McCartney number now being repaired having been worn and nearly hired by Curtis’ assistant Sally. Collins as Sally certainly grabs the audience’s attention – particularly the male attendees – as she spends most of her time on stage in her underwear revealing every angle of her fabulous figure.

The cleaners have knocked Sally out with some gas spray in order to get the dress back to Coleen, but in the meantime they have also captured a Policeman (Alan Stock) sent by Coleen who finds the cleaners in possession of a gun and bag of cash belonging to Sally, who is tied up along with Coleen at the end of the first act.

Will Coleen return to Wayne and be reunited with her clothes? How will the cleaners avoid being prosecuted by the Police? Why has Sally got a gun and cash in her bag? Bob Eaton’s direction has the cast all battling for the spotlight as the answers to the above questions become revealed.

The action never moves from Mark Walters’ clever set which depicts the back of a dry cleaners shop with a steel-type frame keeping it together formed into the shape of a clothes hanger. Another clever technique used is a projection screen showing what is supposedly the back of woman’s dress which zips up and down for scene changes and between the ending of the first act and start of the second.

A catchy version of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ to the tune of ‘Coleen’ is thrown in to get the audience singing along, but Lawless can’t avoid the boring jokes associated to footballer Rooney relating to his facial features and incident with a prostitute. Nonetheless, they still get some laughs.

A Fistful of Collars ends in a rather predictable manner and entertains more so for its slapstick comedy rather than its plot substance.

The above review was used for Whatsonstage.com

Gray Hughes and Chris Carney play the parts of Daniel and Robert respectively

Writer Chris Leicester has decided to open his new play in the city he resides and is delivering North West theatregoers an excellent evening of entertainment.

As well as entertaining, Slasher Kincade provokes thought, makes you question the corporate world and – if you’ve had experience of the modern workplace – familiarises you with some of the scenarios being created.

Leicester’s new play, which he is also directing, has been written during the ongoing doom and gloom of a worldwide recession, where cuts have to be made for those business advances.

And the overriding issue being shown in Slasher Kincade is greed vs compassion. One person represents one and another person the other.

Three actors, two chairs, and effective use of lighting and sound is all that is used to tell the story. Kevin Brannagan represents greed as the fat, arrogant boss Kincade and is menacing whenever on stage even by just a simple stare.

Chris Carney represents more of a compassionate side as Robert and steps up to Kincade to challenge his decisions, even though he does so somewhat unsuccessfully. Stuck between the two is Daniel (Gray Hughes), an employee who lacks in self-confidence and is the complete opposite to the more self assured pair of Kincade and Robert.

The main storyline running concurrently throughout the play is the build-up to an important convention speech Daniel has to deliver in order to save Robert’s new business from collapsing.

We become the audience which Robert and Daniel practice with and whereas Carney brilliantly shows Robert’s confidence in speaking – making eye contact with every single one of us – Hughes successfully shows the torture his character Daniel suffers as he becomes haunted by sounds of laughing which take him back to childhood days he’d rather forget.

The pair also fall into fantasy pretending to be in a car rally race – to highlight team work at its best – and also envisage being on a battlefield, where using their own initiative is required the most.

In a desperate attempt to get Daniel to overcome his fears, Robert suffers an unfortunate injury. We are left clutching to the hope Daniel can finally pluck up the courage and deliver his speech.

Slasher Kincade is a play that is cut back to the bare minimum where imagination runs riot. A brilliant evening of live entertainment and theatre at its rawest best.

The play is appearing at The Forum Studio Theatre in Chester, before it returns to the region in the summer at the Liverpool Unity Theatre after a stint in London.

*The above review was used for Whatsonstage.com

Karen Gill and Alexander West (photo: David Munn)

An on-stage tribute was made to the legendary former Liverpool Football Club manager Bill Shankly to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his arrival to Anfield.

Accepting his newly awarded title of honorary citizen at the city’s BT Convention Centre was his grand-daughter Karen Gill.

Speaking on her grandfather’s behalf, she said: “It’s a great honour to except this title and I wish my granddad could be here to accept it himself. He would have loved and been thrilled about it. The family would like to give the award to the Liverpool Museum because we believe it was the people of Liverpool which made him the great man we all love and miss. Thank you from all the Shankly family.”

The presentation was held prior to Andrew Sherlock’s combined live theatre and video production, The Shankly Show.

Sherlock, who has written and directed the play, approached Cllr Mike Storey, Lord Mayor of Liverpool, with the idea. He added: “It has always rankled with Liverpool fans that we should have had at least two footballing knights, Sir Bill Shankly and Sir Bob Paisley, so on this special anniversary I asked the Lord Mayor if we could honour our own with a special award for Shankly – not just for what he did for LFC but for all football fans and for the life, passion and energy he brought to the city he made his home.”

The Shankly Show was commissioned last year as part of Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture celebrations.

Scottish actor Alexander West has revised the role of Shankly in the one-man show for two nights, performing in front of the great man’s family members and former Liverpool footballers, as well as the people of the city.

Ayrshire-born Bill Shankly was Liverpool manager from 1959 until 1974. He died seven years later.

To read my review of the production, visit Whatsonstage.com here

Dan Starkey and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Well, what can I say, Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of John Buchan’s comedy spy thriller The 39 Steps is a jolly good show.

It’s thoroughly charming from the moment Dugald Bruce-Lockhart introduces himself as the runaway – although entirely innocent – Richard Hannay, right until the close when the audience is covered in seasonal snow (it was artificial but seemed real).

As she has done in London’s West End, Maria Aitken has managed to direct an awfully slick, humorous and highly entertaining production based on an original script by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon.

But the performances of the talented cast of four were executed rather splendidly. Katherine Kingsley deserves an award for her ability at seducing the pants of any male to walk into a room, or in this instance, on the stage. Dressed in a figure hugging black number which emphases every aspect of her fabulous figure, as Hannay’s accomplice Pamela she’s sexy, vulnerable but also reluctant to the hero’s charms.

Kinglsey switches character and also plays the demanding yet fatal Annabella Schmidt and her performance as the Scottish wife of a farmer, Margaret, generates some sympathy from the watching audience.

The actress does not change roles as often as Richard Braine or Dan Starkey, however. These two fine actors play a plethora of parts and produce comical timing at its best. Starkey steels the show with his amazing ability at storing facts when playing Mr Memory and scenes where he’s a woman are as hilarious as they are believable. His timing with Braine is fantastic in the Flying Scotsman scene when the two play a number of roles from a newspaper seller, policeman, to train passengers.

Bruce-Lockhart as Hannay, with pencil moustache and dressed in tweed, manages to carry all the charisma and charm needed for the part but also keeps the plot ticking along nicely by updating the audience with all that is happening.

However, the use of props by all four members of cast is certainly a clever ploy by director Aitken. When Hannay and Pamela are caught by the supposedly under cover detectives (played by Braine and Starkey), there’s a really funny moment of chairs being quickly assembled to make up the vehicle and a steering wheel thrown to add the finishing touch.

But, without giving too much away, the great thing about The 39 Steps is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s just a rather splendid night of entertainment I’d say!

*The 39 Steps runs at the Liverpool Playhouse until Saturday 16 January 2010. The above review was used for Whatsonstage.com

The Salon

The Salon is on at Royal Court Liverpool (photo: Dave Evans)

On its return visit to the region Drew Quayle’s The Salon is making a longer appearance in Liverpool.

The Royal Court’s recognition as a venue for populist theatre made it a suitable choice to stage it second time round. The Salon’s adult tone on issues of sex and betrayal were a hit at the Theatre Royal in St Helens during the summer.

We’re first introduced to Carol, who’s holding fort at ‘Vicious Streaks’, a salon in the heart of Liverpool. Lynn Francis plays her as the kind-hearted type as she struggles to cope with the breakdown of her marriage.

Then there’s married hairdresser Shelia who’s happy to hop in and out of bed with any student heading into the Krazy House: a well-known nightclub in Liverpool city centre. Lynne Fitzgerald, as she did previously, plays the grotesque Shelia with admirable comic timing and humour.

Fitzgerald’s less feminine character is the complete opposite to Tia, who is named after her mum’s favourite alcoholic drink – Tia Maria. Former Brookside actress Suzanne Collins – who posses probably the best legs in the business – plays the young beauty therapist. With the figure and hair to match, Tia relies on looks rather than talent as she tries in vain to impress at her X Factor audition.

Quayle’s stereotyping doesn’t quite stop here. He includes a small time gangster in the muscled shape of Tony (Danny O’Brien) who works his way through the bed sheets of ALL the staff to get his way. But the biggest stereotype of the lot is Roy Brandon’s Neil, the owner of the salon who has been dumped by his boyfriend Paul (James Spofforth).

Brandon as the gay drama queen is funny in parts but a little tired and boring in others, especially during the drunk scene with the girls in his flat when he annoyingly chooses to shout out his lines.

Nicola Bolton, in a number of walk-on parts, makes up the cast and Spofforth also plays the dumb Stan, who’s a regular to the salon.

To summarise, The Salon, which is being directed by Bob Eaton, disappointedly lacks depth of plot and relies heavily on its coarse choice of gags.

However, Mark Walter’s two-level rotating set design deserves praise. It includes Neil’s flat above the salon and in one scene Tia’s beauty room swivels into view when Tia gives Tony a massage which borders on soft porn it’s that crude.

Unlike those written by Allt and Kirby, it’s too early to predict whether Quayle has a ‘hit comedy’ in Liverpool, but it’ll please some.

L-R Tom Brooke plays Mick and Jonathan Pryce as Davies (photo: Helen Warner)

L-R Tom Brooke plays Mick and Jonathan Pryce as Davies (photo: Helen Warner)

There aren’t many better ways to celebrate a landmark birthday than to invite an old friend back to perform in one of the most renowned plays written for the stage.

Liverpool’s Everyman is celebrating its 45th birthday and has reunited with Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce, formerly artistic director of the venue. The multi-award winning actor portrays the tramp Davies in a new production of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker.

The dark comedy about two brothers and a tramp has roots and parallels to Pinter’s own life when, during the late 1950s, he and his first wife, the actress Vivien Merchant, lived in a flat in Chiswick, west London, with their newborn son Daniel. Comparable to the story of The Caretaker, a tramp had been taken in by one of the tenants where they lived, whose brother was the landlord.

Many have suggested that the character Aston was based on the tenant – who did have mental problems – and, Pinter said himself, the younger brother who owned the house was a builder with his own van, like the younger brother Mick in the play.

We’re introduced first to the short-tempered Mick, who Tom Brooke presents menacingly well and can easily claim the limelight as much as Pryce. Dressed in jeans and a leather jacket, his expressions are brought mostly through his large, wide-open eyes and he slithers across stage like a snake waiting to bite.

In contrast, Peter McDonald as the suit-wearing handyman Aston displays an introverted and quiet nature to a point where you – like Davies – feel frustrated with him and just want to shake him.

Pryce gives a masterclass in acting and real understanding of Pinter’s language through Christopher Morahan’s direction. He plays Davies with a recognisable Welsh accent, despite his character’s background not being completely known, but executes Pinter’s truism of talking magnificently when Davies argues with Aston or when he’s scared of Mick.

Like director Morahan, designer Eileen Diss has had a long association to Pinter’s work and her set is simply a room, the attic flat of the property belonging to Mick. It’s unkempt and full of junk but a haven for Davies.

Pryce shows Davies’ desperation of wanting to please both brothers to the point of exploding, keeping you hooked on his every movement throughout the two hours. It’s just a shame that Pinter is no longer alive to see Pryce’s virtuoso performance and enjoy a fitting birthday celebration.

To find out more about this new production, click here

Stefan Butler plays Billy Casper in the production (photo: Robert Day)

Stefan Butler plays Billy Casper in the production (photo: Robert Day)

This year Kes celebrates 40 years of being on page, screen and stage and this new co-production by Liverpool Playhouse and The Touring Consortium continues to beat the heart of the story.

Barry Hines’ A Kestrel for a Knave has been adapted again for the stage by Lawrence Till, who uses the shortened title of Kes adopted for Ken Loach’s classic film version. Like the book and film, this new production – directed by the North Yorkshire-raised Nikolai Foster – captures a believable insight into what it was like growing up in the northern bleakness of Barnsley during the late 1960s.

Central character Billy Casper’s determination to escape the mundane reality of his life through a besotted devotion to training a kestrel chick is imaginatively interpreted. Matthew Wright’s set includes a swooping floor depicting an old, filthy rotten school gymnasium while a tall structure stage left is the entrance to Billy’s far-from-happy home.

Dimmed lighting is used throughout to emphasise the bleakness of Billy’s surroundings. Cross stage movement, including perfectly organised cast members parading old battered school desks during scene changes, also plays an important part in the storytelling, and Foster imaginatively creates a double image of Billy for the iconic scenes in which he’s running through the south Yorkshire fields training his kestrel friend.

Dressed in the same dull clothing, grey trousers and unkempt fading blue jacket, Oliver Watton has been choreographed by Drew Mconie to shadow alongside more static movement of Stefan Butler, who plays Billy, effectively bringing out aspects of freedom through body shape and language.

The vulnerability of Billy is brought out effectively in Butler’s performance, and the young actor is never off stage. He holds interest from the moment he begins talking about the eponymous bird. Those hoping to see a real kestrel on stage, however, will be disappointed. Foster has emphasised his desire to focus the story on a day in the life of Billy, and he stays true to his word.

Other notable performances come from Oliver Farnworth as Billy’s resentful, drunken, gambling half-brother Jud. He’s instantly dislikeable. David Crellin as the Manchester United supporting football coach brings issues of bullying glaringly to the forefront, while Mike Burnside as Mr Gryce is the headteacher from hell.

As tension builds, the climax of Billy’s heartbreak is met with a dead silence from the audience – a poignant climax to a powerful production.

The above has been used as a national review for Whatsonstage.com

To find out more details about ticket prices, click here

Willy Russell (photo: Dave Evans)

Willy Russell (photo: Dave Evans)

MULTI-TALENTED playwright Willy Russell has found time to start new hobbies amidst preparing for one of his biggest projects to date.

Whilst re-working a new musical version of his popular 1970s television programme Our Day Out, which opens in Royal Court Liverpool tomorrow night, he’s followed up on his passion for drawing and painting.

“I’m still at the novice student stage,” admits the Olivier-award winning dramatist. “I am able to find time now to do other things and drawing and painting is something I would never have done before.”

How Russell has found time to take up any new interests as he prepares for the launch of the new Our Day Out musical is quite an achievement, considering he began discussing the new project at the start of last year. “It was on, then off, then on, then off, and eventually on,” he adds.

For the past nine months he’s worked alongside director Bob Eaton, musical director Howard Gray and choreographer Beverley Norris-Edmunds on the large-scale production.

Russell said: “We needed to heavily workshop it to make it work. For a musical to evolve it takes months, more than the usual four-week rehearsal period, and we needed to try different ideas.”

Our Day Out – a funny and heartwarming story of a class of underprivileged Liverpool schoolchildren on a day trip to Wales – includes Liverpool-born actors Michael Starke, Andrew Schofield, Gillian Hardie, Warrington-born Holly Quin-Ankrah and Grease Is The Word finalist Bradley Clarkson, who grew up in Knebworth, amongst the cast.

Four young professionals and 27 schoolchildren were also successful at auditions, who all sing, dance and act in the show.

“Through the fantastic work of Beverley, I’ve been flawed by the dance sequences shown by the kids, who all have no fear at dancing,” Russell enthuses.

The 62-year-old playwright also has a touring production of his world-wide hit Blood Brothers visiting the Manchester Opera House in October.

And it was whilst working on Blood Brothers Russell was first asked if Our Day Out could be adapted into a musical.

He explains: “Our Day Out was first performed in 1983 at the Liverpool Everyman as a musical when I was working on Blood Brothers. Bob Eaton, at that point, was the director of the Everyman and wanted to do a musical in conjunction with the youth theatre as a workshop and they put together a great show.

“It wasn’t a big show, but it worked out ok, so, I got together with Bob and Glen Walford in Coventry a bit later, when Bob was the director of the Belgrade Theatre, but we didn’t take it as far as we could in Coventry.

“Despite having a great cast of young actors from the Coventry area, the local accent lost the authentic idiom of the play I suppose. I mentioned doing it again to Bob, who was now working at the Royal Court Liverpool, and now I’m thinking, ‘Why did I open my big mouth!’ It’s been a lot of hard work.”

Russell and Eaton have joined forces to write new songs into the new musical, using the plot of the original 1976 television programme, and have released three of the songs for the charity Liverpool Unites.

Musical director Howard Gray completed the musical arrangement on the songs, which include ‘I’m in Love With Sir’, ‘To The Zoo’ and ‘No One Can Take This Time Away’, and the CD is available to buy from the Royal Court Liverpool box office.

“The songs in Our Day Out – The Musical have all been forged from the language and culture of Liverpool and so it’s especially pleasing to know that some of those songs may now go on to support such a vital and important charity as Liverpool Unites,” said Russell.

Intentionally or not, Our Day Out will be opening when many young teenagers will have returned to school and Russell said during his own academic days he was far from being top of class.

He adds: “I’d always wanted to be a writer really; it was the only thing I wanted to do. Being a spectacular failure at school, I always thought you had to be academically good and had to gain qualifications in Oxfordshire, wear tweed, and smoke rather long cigarettes.”

Russell’s journey has seen him work in a bottle factory, as a hairdresser, and – ironically – he became a school teacher.

Since then, of course, he’s gone on to become one of the most recognised voices in literature and theatre.

Who knows, he might go on to become a recognisable figure in the art world, and who wouldn’t bet against him?

Our Day Out – The Musical will appear at the Royal Court Liverpool until Saturday 17 October 2009. Visit the Royal Court Liverpool website for details

Blood Brothers will appear at the Manchester Opera House from Monday, October 12 until Saturday 24 October 2009.