Sunset Boulevard at Birmingham Hippodrome

Sunset Boulevard is a classic. The Tony-award winning musical from Andrew Lloyd Webber has been on the circuit for twenty-five years and remains one of the greatest and most beloved productions. The UK touring production, starring Ria Jones and Danny Mac, landed at the Birmingham Hippodrome last night, bringing glamour and golden age Hollywood with it.

Sunset Boulevard

The staging is ingenious, with clever use of projection to send flickering black and white film across the stage, and a large screen which splits to reveal Paramount Studios, a 50s diner, or the crumbling mansion of Norma Desmond. The staircase in Desmond’s home is used to full advantage, with three interlocking pieces that can be split and revolved to  create new locations. Hollywood is ever present, with homages to techniques of the era, most notably in Joe Gillas‘s flight from debt collectors. His car is a revolving set piece, spun by a stage hand, surrounded by lights and cameras, while a screen behind the vehicle shows the road flashing by. Clever and effective.

Sunset Boulevard UK tour

For those unfamiliar with the show, the musical is based on the film of the same name. Struggling script writer, Joe Gillas, crosses paths with silent movie star Norma Desmond. Pushed out of stardom by the arrival of talking pictures, Desmond has become obsessed with her return to the silver screen and draws in Gillas to help her create the script that will be her grand comeback. She becomes obsessed with Gillas, and he becomes entrapped by the faded star and her world of luxury.

Danny Mac

Norma Desmond and Joe Gillas

Danny Mac was a real surprise. The Hollyoaks  and Strictly Come Dancing alumni could easily have been eclipsed by the huge onstage personality of Norma Desmond, but Mac‘s turn as Joe Gillas was accomplished and skilled. Gillas is not always a terribly likeable character, but Mac was able to make you sympathise with him throughout. His voice is strong, and his rendition of Sunset Boulevard, which takes a big voice to deliver successfully, is wonderful. His chemistry with both his leading ladies, Ria Jones and  Molly Lynch, is palpable. I only wish we could have seen more of his dancing, as his tango with Jones  was a true pleasure to watch.

Sunset Boulevard Birmingham Hippodrome

Max Von Meyerling

Molly Lynch as Betty Schaefer is a delight to watch, with her innocence providing a wonderful foil to the increasingly deluded and manipulative DesmondAdam Pearce‘s beautiful voice shines in a mix of deep bass and astonishing tenor, as Max Von Meyerling. His performance is a wonderful mix of sinister butler, devoted servant and occasional comedic relief in his interactions with Gillas. The whole cast are energetic and drive the story forward with gusto.

Norma Desmond

Stealing the entire show, naturally, though is Norma DesmondRia Jones understudied, and filled in for, Glenn Close at the London Coliseum and it is easy to see why she earned standing ovations every night. Desmond is an over-the-top character and it would be easy to tip into farcical, but Jones delivers a  Desmond who is genuinely tragic, gloriously mad, and often frightening in her obsessive mission to prevent Gillas from ever leaving her. Her performance is an expert study on the great divas, and she often reminded me of icons including Dame Shirley BasseyLiza Minelli, and of course, Glenn CloseRia Jones‘s voice is truly remarkable, and her songs were met with a moment of stunned silence before thunderous applause. She is a triumph.

All in all, this is a remarkable piece of theatre, and a must see for fans of Lloyd Webber scores. The UK tour is at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 18 November, and the tour continues until the end of April. Dates and tickets can be found here.

We paid in full for our tickets. Nobody knew I was a blogger. All opinions and words are my own. Images are production stills from Sunset Boulevard

No Fit State Circus: Bianco

Bianco

Image courtesy of No Fit State Circus

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to catch No Fit State Circus’ last night in their home Big Top before they set off on tour, and saw Bianco. I saw Bianco last summer but the show has been revamped and relaunched for 2015. The show is still directed by Firenza Guidi, but has some new performers, new acts and new design.

Last time I saw Bianco, I was utterly mesmerised. This time was no different.

No Fit State Circus

Image courtesy of No Fit State Circus

The show, which No Fit State describe as ‘an immersive promenade experience’, has the performers above and all round a standing audience. Half the time, you don’t know where to look, as there’s so much spectacular action happening. All the performers are insanely talented, and I often found myself stunned by the incredible things they mix in as throwaway moments – flips and dance moves thrown in as they move the rigging, or travel to a different part of the tent. Small moments, that take immense skill. There are no words to do justice to how wonderful Bianco is – you just have to see it for yourself.

No Fit State present Bianco

Image courtesy of No Fit State Circus

For me, the stand-out performances were some of the most physically impressive. The final act of the first half is a young guy performing on aerial silks. He was perfect. There is no other term for it. Every movement was precise and graceful, and clearly took some incredible strength and control to execute. Spectacular to watch.

In the second act, I was hypnotised by a couple performing a trapeze act. The trust involved as she was supported by his feet, or he held her up by the neck, and they moved around each other from stunt to stunt…it was quite something to watch. So often with No Fit State, the audience watch without applause, stunned into silence by the incredible feats they’re witnessing.

Bianco

Image courtesy of No Fit State Circus

I think the thing I love best about Bianco, and No Fit State Circus in general, is the sense of fun. Bianco is filled with a sense of mischief, and the performers often seem to almost be playing, showing off for each other and generally having an incredibly good time. The grins plastered all over their faces are genuine, and more than once I spotted a performer waiting to go on having a little dance to the live band or hollering in approval at whoever was currently doing their act.

I’ve decided I’m going to run away and join the circus. I’d like to do aerial silks please. Or trapeze.

Bianco is currently touring, and will be stopping off next in Antwerp. You can read more about Bianco, and No Fit State, here. Keep your eyes peeled for their return to the UK, and GO AND SEE THEM.

Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands

Matthew Bourne's Edward Scissorhands Last week, M and I went with a friend of mine to The Hippodrome to see Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands. The show, by Bourne’s company New Adventures, is a ballet adaption of Tim Burton’s movie of the same name. The production first toured in 2005 and was a smash hit, selling out all over the world. In 2014, Bourne went back to his adaption, and revitalised it ‘for a new generation of dance lovers and theatre goers.’

As a venue, The Hippodrome is great. Friendly, efficient staff, comfy seats and a decent view wherever you sit. It did seem to be about a thousand degrees in there though, and we were all wildly dehydrated by the time we came out.

Despite the over-heating, the ballet is incredible. It is immediately recognisable as the film you know and love, with the saturated colours in the sets, the costumes and the awkward movements of Edward himself. The plot is much the same, if slightly simplified for the stage. The costumes are beautiful, and immediately tell you what you need to know about who is who with the characters. Danny Elfman’s score fits beautifully and creates precisely the right feel for each moment.

The lead roles of Edward and Kim are shared between two dancers for this season, but I think we saw it with Dominic North (who was nominated for Best Male Dancer at the National Dance Awards for this role in the 2009 production) and Ashley Shaw (hard to tell with wigs, and the website is pretty unhelpful with it’s information on who danced who). Either way, both were incredible. Dancing with scissors for hands can’t be easy, but the movement was stunning. There was something birdlike in the nervous, hesitant moves of Edward, and it was clear that North was comfortable using the scissors in his dancing. I wondered at first how the duets would work with the scissors skewering poor Shaw. I should have known Bourne would have a trick up his sleeve. The first duet, in the first half, is as expected. A dream sequence, with Edward with hands. Beautifully danced, very pretty, seemed like a clever workaround.

And then came the second half. The first half, aside from the duet, is very modern in style, with mixes of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll dancing for the teenagers and a contemporary ballet feel. The second half is more classical ballet. When Edward and Kim dance together, we get straight up classic ballet. And it was stunning.

The iconic scene with the ice sculpture was one of the most beautiful pieces of dancing I’ve ever watched. Edward danced with the scissors on this time, but there were no lifts at all. A duet without the fallback of a dramatic lift is hard to make look impressive, but oh, did it! Kim and Edward moved absolutely in sync, with ‘snow’ fluttering around them. Mesmerising. The very last duet blew it out of the water. Scissors intact, they pulled off some very impressive lifts. Watching it as a dancer, I could see the changes that had been made to allow them to do this safely. Edward held Kim much more loosely than you would usually see, and in slightly different holds. This puts most of the hard work to get the lift to happen onto Ashley Shaw, who must have abs of steel. It looked effortless and breath-taking.

The whole company were immensely impressive, bringing all the dark humour of the film into their dancing, and managing to make clear character impressions even when dancing the same steps as the rest of the company. The second half was particularly impressive, even converting skeptical M into a fan. Apparently, it’s just modern dance he doesn’t like. Classical ballet? More of that!

New Adventures are touring Edward Scissorhands until mid March. You can see the rest of the dates here. Whether you’re a ballet fan, or just a fan of the film, please go. You’ll have your mind blown.

I’ll leave the last word to the original Edward Scissorhands, Johnny Depp, “Bravo! I teetered on the verge of tears throughout.”