Category: Theatre

March 8th, 2016 by eastgrinsteadonline

Sammi O’Neill of Theatre South East interviews magician Alex McAleer

DO you watch TV magicians and wonder how on earth they astound their audiences? Do you wonder whether they employ stooges or simply use camera tricks?

When I was at the Impossible Show launch last year, I got very close to the ‘magic’ but as close as I was I still couldn’t see how the tricks were done. So when I Alex-McAleerwas invited to meet Alex McAleer, a man described as having ‘Uncanny powers of prediction’ I knew I had to take reinforcements –  and who better than the most sceptical people I know, my 13-year-old twins?

These are boys who constantly try to guess how things are done, and I was counting on three pairs of eyes being better than just mine.

We met Alex at the Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells where he’ll be performing in Champions of Magic on Saturday 26 March and we were able to ask him a few questions before he attempted to read the boys’ teenage minds.

There are four acts in the show. Edward Hilsum who amongst other things produces lots of doves from thin air, Fay Presto who does the close-up magic aided by big screens, and Alex the mentalist mind-reader.

Mind-blownCompleting the company are the double act Young and Strange who do the big illusions.

One of them gets inside a cardboard box which you can see all around and the other one sticks in lots of sharp sticks. Eventually it is so full of them that the audience assumes he is not in there any more until they see a hand sticking out and waving – it’s a great trick.

They also have a spectacular finale where they have a huge industrial fan onstage and one of them walks through the blades.

Obviously these ‘tricks’ are extremely well rehearsed, but are they dangerous, I asked Alex?

Once they were rehearsing for the show and some Health and Safety guys pitched up and told them that to comply with the insurance they had to declare how the trick was done. Young and Strange sent them a desktop fan and an action man and told them to work it out. I doubt if they ever did.

Alex then turned to my sons D & J.

Alex McAleer chose D to help him perform a mind-reading trick.

“He began by taking out a pack of cards and told me that one of the cards in the box was the wrong way round, and I was going to mind read him to find which card it was.

First he asked me whether the card was from a red or black suit, I guessed black, the next question was which of the black suits it was, I guessed spades.

He then asked me to picture in my mind but not to say out loud which number of spades the card was. I first thought of eight but he told me to think of a different number so I changed to six. I was then told to say out loud the card I had chosen, the six of spades. After opening the box he spread out the deck and picked out the card that was upside down. Amazingly, it was the six of spades.

Usually when you see these kinds of performances you think that it was set up and fake but this was completely new to me and all totally legitimate.  Alex was outstanding and gave us a great insight to what it is like to be a magician.”

And victim number two!

Alex asked J to think of a word, anything at all as long as it was under seven letters. It could be an object in the room, a name, a place etc.

“I chose the word ‘light’. I had to write the word down and put it in an envelope so that I couldn’t change my mind.

Alex then asked me to think of the a letter in the middle of the word, I thought of the letter g before thinking that was too obvious and I then thought of h before settling on i.

‘Ok’ says Alex, ‘you bounced about a bit there, you went from g to h to I’. I had read somewhere that mind reading is all about facial expressions so I set mine to a neutral expression. But as soon as he said that I was so shocked my face must have changed entirely.

He wrote down what he thought the word was and showed it to me. It was the right answer…”

We asked Alex if he could share how it was done.

I’m always very clear when I go on stage to explain that I don’t profess to be physic or supernatural, he said. I only talk to the living and certainly can’t speak to the dead.

I use various techniques, I watch body language and facial expressions, I use suggestion techniques, psychology and lots of other tricks. Also when we are on the stage, nerves and pressure can also come into play because it is a big show. There are lots of elements involved.

How do you convince audiences that what you are doing is not set up and who you choose is completely random?

In the show I have a toy chimpanzee which I call ‘Chimp-ion’ (of Magic) and he gets thrown out into the audience and whoever catches it is invited on stage.

I always ask people to write their choices down as well so that they are not accused of agreeing with me.

How did you decide you wanted to make ‘mind-reading’ your career? It is not the most conventional of choices.

When I was 15 I became interested in mind-reading and memory tricks. I read books about neumonics and muscle reading etc and when I started showing off to family and friends I found I was quite good at it. Then I just progressed and learnt more and more, it is a set of skills and techniques that I have developed over the years.

A guy on twitter asked me today if I could read his mind, but it can’t work like that. It’s the same as if you went up to Dynamo in the street and asked him to make an elephant disappear – he couldn’t there and then.

Have you ever got it wrong?

Never in Champions of Magic – but yes it has happened. Thankfully, it is very rare but when it does I have to use my charm and try to dig my way out of it.

Alex McAleer performs as part of Champions of Magic which will be at the  Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells on 26 March.

Buy tickets here

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March 5th, 2016 by eastgrinsteadonline

Review of ‘Allo ‘Allo at Chequer Mead by the Rising Stars Adult Theatre Company

A hugely successful TV series by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft, ‘Allo ‘Allo ran for seven seasons before being adapted for the stage version which was at Chequer Mead this week. And if you had enjoyed the TV series there were certainly no surprises in the show which depicts life in Cafe Rene during WWII in occupied France.

All the ingredients which made the series such a success were back – the ludicrously cliche-ridden depictions of the French, the Germans and the Italians: Michelle, the Resistance worker played by Samantha Luke, who ‘vill say zis only vunce”: and the portrait of The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies woven together in a melange of unashamed incorrection politique

But like familiar old friends it was fun to see them again and to listen out for the catchphrases which made us laugh 30 years ago, and had us laughing all over again last night.

The combination of high drama and low comedy translated well into a two-hour show.

Unlike the recent film version of Dad’s Army which felt stretched from its customary 30 minute slot for its 90 minutes on the big screen, there was enough “plot” in the sketches to bring the show together into a classic farce length piece.

And farce it definitely was.

Robin Shergold played Rene, the hapless cafe owner who lives in fear of being shot respectively by the Germans in general and the Gestapo in particular, his wife, and his twin mistresses should their menage a quatre ever be discovered.

Robin nailed world weary, war weary Rene, occasionally stopping the action with a click of his fingers as he talked the audience through the latest catastrophe to befall ‘im – and some deft physical comedy with a salami had one female member of the audience in absolute hysterics.

And as Edith, Rene’s wife, Hilary Reen was hilarious. In the misguided belief she is both a sexual siren and a chanteuse, Hilary’s tone-deaf singing was as ear-piercing as it was sidesplitting and earned her a huge round of applause.

There were lovely turns too from waitresses Alison Mc Donald and Amanda Fuller, as Yvette and Mimi, the unlikely lovestruck objects of Rene’s illicit affections. It was good to hear the old rolling-rrrrred cry of “Oh! Rrrrrrrene” whenever either of them got their hands on him – although we remained none the wiser about what the German actually did with the rhubarb when in flagrante.

Andy Wiggins had only to utter the classic words “Good Moaning” as Crabtree, the British officer impersonating a French policeman, to have the audience on his side: and David Burton appeared in numerous unlikely guises – including as Hitler himself – with the equally familiar, and funnier-every-time-he-said-it phrase “It is I, Leclerc…”

David Foster was Herr Flick, the Gestapo officer, and seemed equally at home in his long leather coat as in a rather more disturbing scene impersonating a one-legged usherette. While Kate Gledhill put in a lovely performance as his giggly love interest efficiently smitten with both his cold-hearted charms and his swastika underpants.

There is something in Richard Green’s bull-headed physique which made him a shoo-in for Colonel Kurt Von Strohm, and he had some lovely comedy moments about his decision to “vear a viglet” in order to take ten years off his appearance.

John Griffin’s Lieutenant Gruber was a camp as Noel and far more naughty as he exchanged misguided moments with Rene under the impression that not only was he, in the words of the original TV script, someone who had grown up in the town of Nancy, but an actual “Nancy boy”.

Bringing another politically incorrect stereotype to the stage was James Walsom as Captain Bertorelli, a man more concerned with the war of the sexes than anything more dangerous, despite his chestful of tin medals. And Des Henderson brought a swaggering menace to his role as General Von Schmelling, the only German in the comedy cast who actually had a whiff of any real danger about him.

The audience who came to the show knew what to expect, and got exactly what they wanted. It wasn’t big, but it was clever – and in a world where people are far too keen to claim victim status for being “offended” it was really rather liberating.

Well done!

Geraldine Durrant

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March 4th, 2016 by eastgrinsteadonline

SAMMI O’Neill of Theatre South East reviews the revival of Annie at the Assembly Halls in Tunbridge WellsTSE FB COVWHILE I was at the Assembly Hall Theatre Tunbridge Wells waiting for Annie the Musical to start, I realised that although I have seen numerous amateur performances, this was probably my first time professional production.

Based originally on a comic strip called Little Orphan Annie the musical is set during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

The eponymous 11-year-old heroine lives in a New York orphanage run by the tyrannical drunken Miss Hannigan who treats Annie and the other orphans like slaves as she drinks herself into a stupor.

Annie firmly believes that her parents are still alive and longs for them to reclaim her, and when she is chosen to spend Christmas with billionaire Mr Warbucks to improve his image, it doesn’t take long for her cheerful optimism to warm his heart.

Everything looks bright – until Miss Hannigan and her family try to scupper her chances of a happy ending.

ANNIE - Lesley Joseph as Miss Hannigan with Annie and Sandy. Photo credit Matt CrockettLesley Joseph (Birds of a Feather) is reprising the role of Miss Hannigan having first played it in the West End during the 90s, sharing the role on the tour with Craig Revel Horwood, Jodie Prenger & Elaine C Smith.

Lesley Joseph plays the gin-swillingvillain well enough but although it is her face and name on all the posters, it is the children who ultimately steal the show.

We saw Team Rockefeller, six brilliantly talented youngsters with Elise Blake playing the fiery-haired heroine. Elise played her with spirit,  was immediately likeable, and her renditions of Maybe and Tomorrow were lovely, pitch perfect and brought a lump to the throat.

Alex Bourne (Chicago, We Will Rock You) plays billionaire politician Mr Warbucks with Holly Dale Spencer as his personal assistant Grace Farrell. Their blossoming relationship with Annie and despair when things don’t go as planned, is beautifully captured but their own budding romance, which I have seen in previous versions, is played down in this production.

And if you are wondering about Annie’s canine friend Sandy yes, he does appear. In the form of a   gorgeous labradoodle called Amber, he was warmly received by the audience and tasked with the important role of helping with scene changes which he did admirably.

The memorable songs that run throughout Annie are given sparkling new life by Musical Director George Dyer‘s arrangements which, with Nick Winston‘s inspired choreography makes the ensemble numbers exciting and great fun to watch.

I particularly loved Hard Knock Life as it showcased the children very well.

In an amateur production the stage can be filled with 20 to 30 children belting out the songs but these seven children easily filled the large Assembly Hall with their voices whilst dancing in perfect time and using various props including beds, lights and metal buckets. It was a fantastic opening to the show.

ANNIE - The Company and Lesley Joseph as 'Miss Hannigan'. Photo credit Paul Coltas

Colin Richmond‘s set is simple but effective resembling a giant jigsaw, a design similar to the building blocks in another popular children’s musical Matilda.

By keeping the backdrop neutral, items of furniture wheeled on and off the stage are all that is needed to change the set from the squalor of the orphanage, to a busy street in NYC, to a luxury mansion.

Annie remains a great family musical and this production directed by Nickolai Foster is worth a punt. It is the perfect rags to riches story brimming with optimism and joy – so get down to The Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells before Saturday

Reviewer : Sammi O’Neill.

Photos (c) Matt Crockett & Paul Coltas.


☆☆☆ recommended.

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February 24th, 2016 by eastgrinsteadonline

Sammi O’Neill reviews Friends star Matthew Perry at London’s Playhouse Theatre

The-End-of-Longing-300x300MATTHEW Perry must have been under a ton of pressure before the opening of The End of Longing at the Playhouse Theatre.

The opening of every newly-written play is scary enough but Perry was going to be judged by his acting skills, his writing skills, his choice of subject matter and simply whether he was still just remembered for his role in one of the most celebrated TV comedy series of all time.

Luckily Perry’s playwriting debut is worthy of note. He claims to have written The End of Longing with the Friends generation in mind –  people who grew up with Friends in their 20s when their world was rosy.

Now 10 or 15 years down the track life isn’t quite so peachy and the cracks are showing.

Jack (Matthew Perry) is an alcoholic –  he likes drinking and doesn’t see any reason to give it up. He meets Stephanie (Jennifer Mudge) a high class hooker and they agree their relationship may just work if she doesn’t mention his drinking and he doesn’t mention her lucrative choice of career.

Their friends are just as dysfunctional.

Joseph (Lloyd Owen), describes himself as ‘stupid’, but he is loyal, kind and sees life in a very simplistic way. Stevie (Christina Cole) is neurotic, addicted to pills and cannot understand people who are not in therapy. She is also desperate to have a relationship  – as long as it is not with Joseph.

Every actor in the piece is well cast,  and when the four characters are introduced they are instantly likeable in what could have simply been written as a straightforward comedy.

But just as you begin to wonder where this genuinely warm and funny play is going, huge cracks in their relationships, and their faults, stand in the way of happiness.

To coin a cliché, it is a journey of self-discovery.

Directed by Lindsay Posner the scenes are short and snappy and keep the pace moving aided by Anna Fleischle’s stylish set which moves swiftly from a bar where they all meet to various other locations and then back again.

I was hoping to write this review without mentioning Chandler Bing but it is nigh on impossible.

You can see glimpses of the endearing side of Chandler underneath the multifaceted Jack, but Perry’s heart-felt writing understands Jack’s self-derogation and his soliloquy at the end was poignant and moving.

The End of Longing takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions. Don’t be fooled during the first half hour – this is not Friends, but it is a play for that generation, and its fans, who are now a lot older and wiser, will enjoy it immensely.

Personally I would have liked to see a grittier ending, but as it stands, I have no doubt that it will appeal to many.

My advice – gather together a bunch of Friends, grab a coffee ‘Central Perk’ style at one of the plethora of coffee shops near the Playhouse, then go and see this entertaining play.

Bravo Matthew! Certainly another string to your bow and you should be very proud indeed!

Sammi O’Neill

☆☆☆☆ 4 Highly recommended

The End of Longing is playing at the Playhouse Theatre in London, it is presently booking until 14 May 

Buy Tickets Here

Posted in News, Theatre

February 20th, 2016 by eastgrinsteadonline

imageIncredible Invaders | Review by Sammi O’Neill

EVEN my teenagers were excited at the prospect of going to Fairfield Halls in Croydon to watch one of the latest offerings from the Horrible Histories team.

It is easy to understand why…they are of a generation who have grown up with Terry Deary’s hilariously gruesome books and TV programmes about the macabre side of English History.

Currently touring nationwide with two shows, the energetic cast of four sing dance and educate us about all the bloodthirsty and gory bits of English history

The show we watched was called Incredible Invaders and it light-heartedly covers the numerous times Britain’s green and pleasant lands have been attacked by foreign invaders.

Evelyn Adams as Mavis the Celt provides the narrative as she guides us through some quite dramatic pieces of England’s past.

First the Romans save Mavis from being sacrificed by the Druids within her own Celtic village before teaching us quite extensively ‘what the Roman’s did for us’.

Once the Romans roamed back to Rome, England was invaded by the Saxons and Scots (and Picts!) consecutively.

Whereas in previous Horrible History shows the casts have relied on a huge variety of props and hats, here there is a huge computerised backdrop colourfully accentuating the story which the cast interact with and use to great effect with their perfect timing.

In the second act we were asked to wear 3D glasses and the screen came to life as the Vikings invaded. The audience dodged arrows, fireballs and a variety of animals and reptiles – even King Alfred’s burnt cakes came hurtling out at us.

The effect was astounding and the sounds of children gasping with mixed horror and delight could be heard across the auditorium.

There were clever nods to popular British TV programmes too. Grand designs, The Great British ‘Bust Up’, Come Dine With Me (Saxon Style) and my personal favourite Bob the Builder all made an appearance.

Towards the end there was a panto style sing-along too, and now I can categorically state that my family and I all now understand where English place names originate.

“Chester and Leicester are Roman,
Scarborough and Peterborough are Saxon,
Derby and Grimsby are Viking,
We know our way around!”

Horrible Histories is entertaining, educational and great fun as well. I have topped up my knowledge of all the Incredible Invaders – I just need to see their other show The Groovy Greeks and swot up on Greek Mythology now.

☆☆☆ Recommended for all young and old History Scholars.

Horrible Histories is on tour Nationwide, it features Evelyn Adams, Tom Moores, Holly Morgan, Elliot Fitzpatrick and Andrew Alton (Understudy) and is produced by The Birmingham Stage Company.

The show is coming to the Theatre Royal Brighton from 12 – 16 April. Box Office: 08448717627.

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February 4th, 2016 by eastgrinsteadonline
Sammi O’Neill reviews Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,  playing at the Hawth Crawley until Saturday.
IT’s hard to believe that Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is approaching its 50th birthday but as I saw it for it the gazillionth time at The Hawth this week I marvelled at its everlasting appeal.
What is it about Joseph that makes it so popular and adored by young and old? It is cheesy, the sets wobble and it certainly doesn’t have the pzazz some other touring shows have.
But it is fun and delivers unrivalled entertainment to audiences again and again.
Each tour is tweaked a little –  a slightly different set, costumes or dances – but the familiarity of Joseph is warming and never gets old.
Joseph is the son of Jacob and one of 12 brothers, but because Joseph is a tad annoying, his brothers sell him as a slave and he ends up in Egypt.
He goes into service, gets himself into a spot of bother with the boss’s wife, is imprisoned and once released blags his way to becoming top dog and best buddy with an Elvis-styled Pharaoh.
He ultimately comes out on top – and on the way gets to wear a wicked multi-coloured coat…
Yep – as a plot it’s a bit weird.
The first show by song-writing duo Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Joseph was ground-breaking – family-friendly, witty and colourful. The tunes are catchy and whether you know them word for word or you are enjoying them for the first time, I guarantee you’ll be going home humming at least one.
Since 2007 King of my Heart, a new ballad sung by the Elvis-style Pharaoh has been added and I am still not convinced about its value –  it does nothing except pad out an otherwise very short production.
During this too,r X-Factor winner Joe McElderry takes the title role of the hapless dreamer who makes good and he is a popular choice with appreciative fans.
McElderry does justice to the role –  his ‘boy next door’ look makes him very palatable, he sounds good and in particular his rendition of Close Every Door was very well received.
Lucy Kay –  another Simon Cowell discovery from Britain’s Got Talent – is more used to classical music than musical theatre but she hits all the right notes as The Narrator although she does need to relax into the role and have a little fun with it.
The supporting cast including all of Joseph’s family members keeps the fast pace of the show moving and the special Joseph choir, made up from local children, were suitably professional.
So yes, it was my gazillionth time and it did have its flaws – but who cares?
Joseph and the Amazing Techicolor Dreamboat is still one of the best feel-good shows around and everyone should Go Go Go Go and catch it at the Hawth before Saturday.
* Please note Joe McElderry will not be appearing at the Saturday performances.
* For more information about theatre locally, and more reviews see

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January 16th, 2016 by eastgrinsteadonline

SAMMI O’Neil previews the upcoming season of comedy at The Hawth 

THE Hawth has become a hot spot for comedy over the past few years, with big names a regular feature in the Crawley theatre’s programme, and up-and-coming comedians delighted to perform for audiences who really know their comedy.

The Spring Season sees a line-up of big names and new acts that you really must see but  book early – Romesh Ranganathan’s Irrational has already sold out as did Jimmy Carr, who returns for a second date later in the year.

On Saturday 13 February at 8pm comedian, firebrand, sometime DJ and all-time vibe magnet John Robins comes to The Hawth Studio with his all new show, Speakeasy. The festival favourite returns after critically acclaimed, sell-out shows in 2013 and 2014.

John is best known as one half of The Elis James and John Robins SOmid Djalili imagehow on XFM and has also appeared on Russell Howard’s Stand-Up Central (Comedy Central) and Alan Davis: As Yet Untitled (Dave).

Stuart Goldsmith is an Amused Moose Comedy Award 2015 nominee, multiple award-bridesmaid and host of the Comedian’s Comedian podcast, with over 3.5 million downloads.

He will be performing his show An Hour in The Hawth Studio on Tuesday 22 March at 7.45pm. Come along for ‘a showcase of quietly perfect standup’ (Edinburgh Festivals Magazine).

Omid Djalili (right) is an award-winning stand-up and an acclaimed actor.

Intelligent, sometimes provocative, always entertaining, his stand-up is an energetic and captivating comedy masterclass.

‘One of the most joyfully smart, stimulating and entertaining comedians this country has’ (The Telegraph), Omid heads to The Hawth on Friday 15 April, 8pm to get everyone’s weekend off to the best possible start. This show is suitable for ages 16+.

After years of drifting aimlessly and alone, Richard Herring (below left)is now settled down with a wife and a tiny baby. Is he finally happy now? Or does responsibility for the lives of others come with its own terrors?

In his twelfth solo stand up show Happy Now, Richard examines whether we are or  can ever hope to be truly content. Is there any system that will guarantee us eternal bliss or should we just emRichard Herringbrace the fact that life is a vale of tears and our only option is to laugh in its face?

Go along to The Hawth Studio on Saturday 23 April at 8pm to find out.

Julian Clary, national trinket, author, TV and radio star is coming to Crawley once again with new show, The Joy of Mincing.

It’s a celebration of 30 years as a camp comedian. There is so much to tell you – the ups and downs of his sordid love life, the true and heart-stopping account of how he saved Dame Joan Collins’ life, and don’t start him on the perils of his DIY electrical home enema kit. This is Julian at his filthy best. Live and unplugged. Come and witness a masterclass in camp comedy on Friday 6 May at 7.30pm.

Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award and Melbourne Barry Award-nominees Max and Ivan (BBC1’s ‘W1A’, Radio 4’s ‘Casebook of Max and Ivan’) come to The Hawth Studio on Friday 27 May at 7.45pm to tell an epic tale of a small town, on the day of its destruction. As the end approaches, there are choices to be made, so welcome to Sudley-on-Sea. Take a look around. You don’t have long. Seriously.

Booking Information

The Hawth Box Office

01293 553636

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November 30th, 2015 by eastgrinsteadonline

by Theatre South East’s Sammi O’Neill

WHEN I reviewed The Bodyguard in the West End last year, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the production, based on the 1992 film starring the late, great Whitney Houston, had enough theatrical merit to transfer to the stage.

I also predicted that the production would do well on tour as it had wide audience appeal.

The touring production opened at the Hawth Crawley last week and plays until the 5 December, starring X Factor winner and three times Brit nominee Alexandra Burke reprising her West End role as Rachel Marron.

Tickets have been selling like hot cakes and I was thrilled to seimgrese the Hawth bursting at the seams with excited theatre-goers.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how much the show has improved since the London production.

No corners have been cut with this top class touring production – in fact I would say that the performances, set, lighting techniques and overall sound have been much improved and enhanced, giving the enthusiastic Hawth audience a show they’ll remember for a very long time.

The story centres around singer Rachel Marron (Alexandra Burke) whose career is on the up and up.

Unfortunately she has attracted the attention of a dangerous stalker who is prepared to stop at nothing to scare and harm her. Frank Farmer (Stuart Reid) a former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard, is subsequently hired to protect not only her but her son as well.

While Rachel tries to keep a sort of normality in her life, Frank needs to overturn her entire security system as the threat increases. As their working relationship intensifies, Frank and Rachel fall for one another.

Whitney Houston’s back catalogue is integral to the production so it does help if you are not averse to her music. However, although Alexandra Burke doesn’t emulate Houston at all, she encompasses the role of Rachel Marron tangibly and believably, and she sings with much more character and personality.

And the songs just keep coming – I’m every woman, Greatest Love of All, Saving all my love and many more. But it is when you hear Burke sing ‘I will always love you’ you realise how much she has nailed the whole performance.

Stuart Reid plays the role of Frank Farmer very well,  haughty, aloof and ever the professional at first before slowly showing his human side.

However the real pairing to watch is between Burke and Melissa James who plays her sister and co-songwriter Nicki – their vocal harmonising was out of this world.

Everything about this show oozes professionalism.  The clever lighting design, sound, and perfect creative timing mean the audience are on a high one minute caused by the dynamic and powerful song and dance numbers, switching to high tension the next as Mike Derman’s character The Stalker appears sending chills down the spine. The whole production was a technical dream.

I heartily recommend this visually stunning, sensational production of The Bodyguard. It runs at the Hawth Crawley until 5 December and ticket sales are going extremely well.

So snap one up – you won’t be disappointed.


Posted in Entertainment and Arts, News, Theatre Tagged with: , ,

November 27th, 2015 by eastgrinsteadonline

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 11.01.53imageLONDON West End singing star, Martin Dickinson  – from We Will Rock You – will be on familiar territory when he joins the Chequer Mead panto cast this Christmas.

“We are thrilled to have Martin on board with us this year,” said Sussex-based panto producer Chris Gidney.

“We offered Martin a panto role many years ago but he has been so busy in major productions and TV`s Pop Star to Opera Star that he has not been available until now.

“We cast Martin quite late as he went straight from London`s West End into the huge UK touring version of The Sound of Music, so his availability was only confirmed a few weeks ago,” Chris explained.

“The amazing thing is that Snow White has a grand finale featuring the fantastic music of Queen, so it’s wonderful to have someone from the original London cast performing this at Chequer Mead.”

Other cast members include local actresses Katherine Mansi and Molly Tucker as well as award-winning ITV funnyman Drew Cameron.

“Recently voted as ITV`s best comedian, Drew has his audiences rolling in the aisles with laughter in theatres, comedy clubs and cruise ships,” said Chris.

“However his hilarious impressions and zany humour shine even brighter when he`s in panto so we are really thrilled to have him aboard as the madcap Muddles.”

  • Snow White will be at Chequer Mead from 20 to 30 December at a variety of times to suit everyone.

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November 22nd, 2015 by eastgrinsteadonline

Sammi O’Neill reviews La Soirée Spiegeltent at the Southbank until 17 January

La Soiree - Banner

LA Soirée is back for its sixth season in London Situated in the Speigeltent on the Southbank until after Christmas, it is delighting audiences once again with its mix of performers from all four corners of the globe.

Describing themselves as a large dysfunctional and ever-expanding global family the performers of La Soirée are a mixed bunch of acrobats, comedians, singers and contortionists who provide the base of the most spectacular night out.

Last week I took a visit to see La Soirée with a group of London Theatre Bloggers and had a great time. The show is a crazy mix between a variety show, cabaret and a circus and had something for each of us

Acts to watch out for in La SoiréeThe English Gents star in La Soiree. Image by Olivia Rutherford.jpg

Denis Lock and Hamish McCann are regular performers at La Soirée and were also seen on the Royal Variety Show in 2013 with their act The English Gents. They enter the tiny performance area donned in suits, and bowler hats and amaze the audience with their strength and skill as they lift and balance each other before revealing their muscular bods for us all to gawk at.

A very impressive act, in every way –  search English Gents on YouTube and then imagine their act close up – need I say more…

Right: The English Gents by Olivia Rutherford

The English Gents weren’t the only act using sheer strength – there were several acrobats on the bill that evening including Melanie Chy who makes a spectacular entrance on a motorbike before using the bike to perform an amazing balancing act.

Bret Pfister performs seemingly effortlessly on an aerial ring, and sexy swings above the audience whilst smoking a Cuban cigar. It was all extremely impressive.

Captain Frodo © Perou

Captain Frodo © Perou

Asher Treleaven was hilarious! He had the audience in stitches in both his routines, the first in a sexy diabolo juggling number and the second time simply reading a passage from a Mills and Boon novel. Simply reading? Oh no…try absolutely hilariously reading – so smutty, it made 50 shades of Grey seem innocent.

Probably the most anomalous act of the night was contortionist Captain Frodo.

He claims to be the son of a famous Norse magician. He is, as he explains, double jointed, and spent all of his first performance hilariously climbing through two tennis racquets popping his joints out of sockets to do so. It was definitely not for the squeamish.

But there were more – disco tunes were sung by the fabulous Miss Frisky and lots of entertainment was provided by leather clad, crowd surfing, Freddie Mercury fan Clarke McFarlane as Mario, Queen of the Circus – it was non-stop joy!

If the English Gents weren’t fabulous enough, probably my favourite two acts of this scintillating evening were Denis Lock and Hamish McCann performing their solo acts.

Hamish used his personal strength yet again as he performed a mesmerising and sensual dance around a lampost and Denis held the audience agog as he blew bubbles into beautiful shapes and structures – you could hear a pin drop as the enraptured audience gazed on in childlike wonder.

Every act during the evening had the audience spell bound. With La Soirée offering a different combination of acts each evening it is no wonder that people return again and again. I would certainly make a return visit to see what other delights they have.

Sexy, side-splittingly funny and spectacular, La Soirée was great fun and full of ‘variety’ in the truest sense of the word. If you have a group of people looking for something a little different to do this Christmas, look no further than the Speigeltent. Your group will be talking about it all year!

Reviewer : Sammi O’Neill.


Booking Information.

La Soirée will continue at the Spiegeltent until 17 January 2016.

Due to adult content La Soirée is not suitable for children.

Buy Tickets Here


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November 6th, 2015 by eastgrinsteadonline

Sammi O’Neil of Theatre South East reviews Priscilla Queen of the Desert. It’s at the Theatre Royal Brighton until tomorrow night, but will be at the Hawth next Spring – so book now if you don’t want to be disappointed.

PRISCILLA Queen of the Desert is a very successful, award winning Australian film by Stephen Elliot, about two homosexual drag queenswho embark with a transgender woman on a trip from Sydney to Alice Springs in a rickety old bus they name Priscilla.

The film was subsequently made into a stage musical which has had a very successful run in the West End (who could forget that iconic shoe outside the Palace Theatre) and is now spreading its joy to the rest of the country in a nationwide tour. I caught up with the show this week in Brighton.

A huge fan of the West End production, I was curious to see how they would be able to produce a touring production, but although staging compromises have been made it does not spoil the overall effect.

It is still flamboyant, as camp as Christmas, with a large cast,  literally 100s of costumes, wigs and shoes, and with the main character – Priscilla the bus –  taking centre stage.

And it has lost none of its magic – Priscilla is perfectly dazzling as ever!

Duncan James is a revelation and was born to play Tick the central character who is harbouring a secret. Unbeknown to his friends Tick has a wife and son in Alice Springs and is desperate to be a good father but worries what his son will think of his lifestyle and sexuality.

Duncan James plays the part to perfection – he looks grand in dresses made from Flipflops, sings like a diva and seems to be having a whale of a time, yet his relationship with his onstage son Benji is sensitively and beautifully portrayed.

A wonderful performance, a case of art imitating life perhaps as James hid his own sexuality for years. Thankfully now he is right at home and a joy to watch.

Joining Tick in Priscilla are the flamboyant and totally fabulous (in every sense of the word) Adam (Adam Bailey) who is out to have as much fun as possible and succeeds in thrilling the audience as he does so, and Bernadette (Simon Green) who longs to find love and hankers after the old days when she was younger and worshipped as part of the Cabaret act Les Girls.

The trio are very different:  each has their own personal journey to make and on the way they learn a lot about themselves and each other.

James, Bailey and Green are a tour de force and a perfect combination.

The music in Priscilla Queen of the Desert  comprises  70s and 80s dance floor classics and has you tapping your feet right from the opening number as hit  after hit delights the audience.

Boogie Wonderland, Hot Stuff, Go West, even MacArthur Park – the hits just keep coming.

Usually at this point I am grumbling that a musical should have original songs  but in this case I will make an exception as each number is presented with new life and a whole lotta sparkle.

And I left the Theatre Royal grinning from ear to ear.

It is easy to see the secret of Priscilla’s success – throw together big, bold and outrageous costumes, feel-good music, a few disco balls & sparkles, an injection of some humour, damn fine choreography, amazingly talented performers and a bus, and you are getting close to understanding why Priscilla Queen of the Desert remains one of the best feel-good shows of all time.

The best pick-me-up in town – heartily recommended.

Reviewer : Sammi O’Neill


Please note: Due to some of the content and language the age rating is 15+

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert continues at the Theatre Royal in Brighton until tomorrow Saturday (7 November) and then continues its tour to many other UK venues with Duncan James sharing the role of Tick with Jason Donovan.

It returns to the South East on the following dates:

Congress Theatre, Eastbourne 14 –19 March 2016,
Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury 21 – 26 March 2016,
The Hawth Theatre Crawley 18 – 23rd April 2016,

For more details visit

Posted in Entertainment and Arts, News, Theatre Tagged with: ,

October 17th, 2015 by eastgrinsteadonline

Document11The-cast-of-In-The-Heights.-Photo-Credit-Johan-PerssonLAST year the UK Premiere of In The Heights opened at the Southwark Playhouse and reaction was extraordinary.

The critics went wild and after a string of five star reviews you couldn’t get a ticket for love nor money. There were calls for a West End transfer but when nothing was announced I thought that I had lost the chance to see it.

But In The Heights is back!

It opened last week at the Kings Cross Theatre sharing the pop-up theatre space with the Railway Children production. The steam train is out of sight, the tracks covered up and the Edwardian Yorkshire Station is transformed into a vibrant neighbourhood in New York City called Washington Heights.

Featuring much of the original cast from Southwark Playhouse, In the Heights extended its run whilst only in previews and now instead of just four weeks it is running until 3 January 3.

So –  what is so special about this show?

It’s special because it is unique…I have certainly never seen anything like it before.

High energy, pulsating and sassy, it is an intoxicating cocktail of music and dance. The music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda are a combination of Hip Hop and Latino Salsa which seems like an unlikely combination but trust me, it works and with steamy hot choreography by Drew McOnie the production possesses an infectious beat which digs into your soul.

Set in a sweltering hot summer in Manhattan, the Puerto Rican/ Dominican community of Washington Heights all dream of a better future.

Usnavi worships the beautiful Vanessa from afar unable to ask her out. Nina has dropped out from University diSam-Mackay-as-Usnavi-and-the-cast-of-In-The-Heights.-Photo-Credit-Johan-Perssonsappointing her parents, the ladies at the beauty parlour gossip and dole out advice, and the matriarch Abeula watches over them all, happy feeding the birds and watching the stars.

None of the storylines is heavy as the emphasis of this show is firmly on the music however the characters really get under your skin. The opening – a very loud and raucous rap number –  had me wondering what I had got myself into, so I was surprised by the end how much I had become involved and I was twice moved to tears during the second act.

A huge mention has to go to Victoria Hamilton-Barritt playing the sassy beautician Daniela who has an opinion on everything.

Strutting about with attitude and a striking stage presence, I thought it was ingenious making her character pregnant as it accentuated her presence even more until I realised it was actually a real baby bump! That woman has energy!

The show has such a positive vibe I am sure that it will do very well at its new home at Kings Cross Theatre. It is a fabulous night’s entertainment and with tickets cheaper than usual West End prices it is also great value for money.

One word of warning though, it you are travelling back to the South East be prepared to take the last train home – with an 8pm start it can be quite a late night, but oh so worth it.

Sammi O’Neill

Photo Credits:  Johan Persson


Buy tickets for In the Heights here

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