IF: Milton Keynes International Festival

IF: Milton Keynes International Festival announces its events

With live outdoor music, comedy and performance in Campbell Park’s open-air Amphitheatre new for 2021

Plus circus, dance, theatre, installations, family events and a digital programme

Saturday 10 to Friday 30 July

For 21 days from 10 to 30 July, IF: Milton Keynes International Festival 2021 returns to the City’s parks and green spaces, public squares and retail destinations including centre:mk with a longer Festival allowing audiences ample time and space to enjoy coming together again for events. This year’s programme reflects the extraordinary times we are living through with a mix of open-air live music, dance and performance, joyful and free family events, transformative site-specific installations, pop-up performances and a digital programme including concerts and interviews recorded live from The Stables, producers of the Festival. 

Monica Ferguson, Festival Director and CEO of The Stables said: “We have worked hard to shape a Festival that is safe for visitors, artists and all of our team. The installations provide space and time for reflection and it’s great to play our part in helping to revive live events for everyone to enjoy.

The safety of audiences, artists, volunteers and staff is at the forefront of The Festival’s planning. As well as following all government and industry guidelines, we are working closely with specialist safety advisors to ensure all event locations are Covid-safe and secure for everyone. Key measures include pre-booking tickets for some free performances and events.

Booking and further updates can be found on the Festival website: www.ifmiltonkeynes.org.”

TWO playing 14 at The Abbey Theatre, St Albans

  • “Two” by Jim Cartwright is being presented both live and online by the enterprising theatre company at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans from 1st-5th June.

Actress Jill Priest said this week:

Only a week to go until I get to perform on a real stage to a proper live audience (albeit socially-distanced)! Directed by Andy Mills, ‘Two’ by Jim Cartwright is an actor’s dream of a play, where the multi-talented Mark Dawson and I play fourteen characters between us. Set in a northern pub, it’s one of those glorious plays that has you laughing one minute, crying the next. Do come, either in person, or watch it streamed live to your sofa, from 1-5 June.

“A bickering husband and wife and the dozen regulars who pass through their pub are played by just two actors. Each scene skilfully combines pathos and humour – but when a little boy is left behind in the pub, the husband and wife’s dark tragedy is revealed…”

Booking : https://www.abbeytheatre.org.uk/whats-on/two/

“Two” presented both live and online by The Company of Ten at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans from 1st-5th June.


(Rehearsal pics)

Dreamgirls coming to MK!



Sonia Friedman Productions is delighted to announce that the first ever UK tour of hit musical Dreamgirls, which was due tostart in 2020, will now open at the Liverpool Empire Theatre this December before visiting Milton Keynes Theatre from January 25th to February 5th 2022.

 Featuring the classic songs ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’, ‘Listen’ and ‘One Night Only’, this sensational, multi-award winning production of Dreamgirls had its critically acclaimed West End Premiere in December 2016 at London’s Savoy Theatre, 35 years on from opening on Broadway.

 Meet The Dreams – Effie, Lorrell and Deena – three talented young singers in the turbulent 1960s, a revolutionary time in American music history. Join the three friends as they embark upon a musical rollercoaster ride through a world of fame, fortune and the ruthless realities of show business, testing their friendships to the very limit.

 As previously announced, Nicole Raquel Dennis will play the role of Effie White in the Dreamgirls UK tour at certain performances with further casting to be announced soon. Her London stage credits include Alana Beck in the original West End cast of Dear Evan Hansen (BBTA winner – Best Supporting Actress in a Musical), the original West End cast of Waitress (Adelphi Theatre), The Book Of Mormon (Prince of Wales Theatre) andDreamgirls (Savoy Theatre).

 This award winning production is Directed and Choreographed by Olivier® and Tony® Award winning Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Mean Girls, Disney’s Aladdin and Something Rotten!), with Set and Costume Design by Tim Hatley, Lighting Design by Hugh Vanstone, Sound Design by Richard Brooker, Hair Design by Josh Marquette and Music Supervision by Nick Finlow.

 With Book and Lyrics by Tom Eyen and Music by Henry Krieger, with Additional Material by Willie Reale, the original Broadway production of Dreamgirls was Directed by Michael Bennett who Co-Choreographed the show with Michael Peters. The production opened in 1981 and subsequently won six Tony®Awards with the original cast recording winning two Grammy®Awards for Best Musical Album and Best Vocal Performance for Jennifer Holliday’s ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.’

 The Original London Cast Recording of hit West End musical Dreamgirls is available via Sony Masterworks Broadway.

 The show’s opening is subject to the government allowing indoor performances to begin with sufficient notice, understanding what restrictions on social distancing and audience attendance caps are imposed, the public health status, and the availability of insurance cover either from the market or more likely from a government indemnity scheme.

More great news from Royal & Derngate!

Following the re-opening announcement from The Royal & Derngate the other day, we now have even more good news!

Ralph Fiennes in the world premiere stage adaptation of FOUR QUARTETS By T.S.Eliot

Directed by Ralph Fiennes

Designer Hildegard Bechtler 

Lighting Designer Tim Lutkin 

Sound Designer Christopher

 Ralph Fiennes will create a brand-new stage adaptation of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets this summer. Announced this week as Britain marks a year since regional theatres were forced to close, this world premiere production will welcome audiences back to live theatre when it re-opens the Theatre Royal Bath from 25 May – 5 June, and launches Royal & Derngate’s Made in Northampton season in the venue’s Royal auditorium from 8 – 12 June in a co-production between both venues. The production will then tour to the Oxford  Playhouse from 14 – 26 June and Cambridge Arts Theatre from 28 June – 10 July, with further regional touring dates to be announced.

Four Quartets is directed by Ralph Fiennes who will be joined by a remarkable creative team including Hildegard Bechtler (Designer) who won an Olivier Award for After the Dance at the National Theatre and received nominations for Top Hat and Oresteia; Tim Lutkin (Lighting), winner of an Olivier Award for Chimerica and Christopher Shutt (Sound), winner of a Tony Award for War Horse. The Assistant Director is Eva Sampson and the Movement Director is Fin Walker.

Four Quartets is presented by Royal & Derngate, Northampton and Theatre Royal Bath Productions.

News of Local Theatre’s re-opening!

This is such important and joyful news that I think I can do no better than simply quote in full the press release! To say I’m thrilled is an understatement!

An u
pdate from Royal & Derngate

From Jo Gordon, Chief Executive & James Dacre, Artistic Director

A year on from closing our doors, we are delighted to announce that we will be welcoming audiences back to live performances at Royal & Derngate from Monday 17 May, subject to Government guidelines remaining to plan. Meanwhile, we will continue to deliver a wide range of shows and activities online through the “Royal & Derngate At Home” section of our website.

Marking the beginning of our new annual partnership with the National Youth Theatre, we will reopen with our rescheduled co-productions of Animal Farm and Othello, presented in the Royal auditorium with socially-distanced seating.

Tomorrow we will also be announcing a major new Made in Northampton production to follow in the Royal.

In advance of these performances, from Tuesday 13 April we will be re-opening our in-person Box Office facilities, which will be in their new location in John Franklins bar, adjacent to the theatre on Guildhall Road. 

We had great feedback about our Covid safety measures from Northampton Filmhouse customers when we were able to reopen our cinema briefly in December, and so audiences can rest assured that we have all necessary precautions and procedures in place for their safety.

We also have contingency plans in place for our opening productions, should alterations to the roadmap mean that live performances cannot yet take place on those dates.

There is still much uncertainty in the touring show market, as promoters are juggling with rearranging tour dates across the country, so we do expect that there will be some further date changes to visiting Derngate productions scheduled in the summer. Please do bear with us – our Box Office team will contact tickets holders with any updates as soon as they can. We will also announce reopening dates for the Filmhouse as soon as we can.

Planning and preparations for our reopening have been made possible by support from the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund #hereforculture, via core funding from Arts Council England and Northampton Borough Council and through the extraordinary generosity of our audience’s donations to our Bring Us Back Together fundraising campaign.

We are hugely grateful to all our customers and colleagues for their support and patience over the last year. We can’t wait to see you back!

Jo and James

The King & I is Something Wonderful!

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I

Set in a glittering palace where everyone dresses in ravishing costumes, it’s the most visually splendid of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, and teems with a small army of the king’s children, wives and servants.

In the spectacular show‐within‐a‐show in the second half, the king commands Anna to stage a version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin to impress visiting diplomats with Siam’s project to modernise, this is a wonderful dazzling spectacle, courtesy of set designer Michael Yeargan, costume designer Catherine Zuber and choreographer Christopher Gattelli.  

Not only did this critically acclaimed Broadway hit have a record breaking season in New York, it comes to Milton Keynes Theatre from a sell-out run at the London Palladium. 
With almost more great songs than the King of Siam has wives (and he’s tied the knot many times over) Bartlett Sher’s interpretation of Rodgers’ & Hammerstein’s Tony Award-winning classic from the golden age of musicals is a triumphant revival. 
Set in Bangkok in the 1860s, Anna Leonowens, a widowed British schoolteacher, has been hired to educate the children of the King of Siam. 

Anna is sweet-natured but spirited and, though their relationship can be unconventional and tempestuous, it is not long before she wins the heart and mind of her employer. But, as a moderniser in an imperialistic world, he is struggling with his own principles and ideology. Performing as Anna, fresh from her West End success, is Annalene Beechey and reprising his critically acclaimed USA national tour performance as The King, Darren Lee.
The King and I features a company of more than 50 worldclass performers, including Ethan Le Phong and Paulina Yeung in the roles of the young lovers, with a full scale orchestra keeping them company by playing one of the finest scores ever written – including songs such as I Whistle a Happy Tune, Getting to Know You, Hello Young Lovers, Something Wonderful and Shall We Dance. 

The King & I is at The Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 7th March

Box Office: 0844 870 0887 online: www.atgtickets.co.uk/miltonkeynes 


If I said this was the finest show I’ve seen this year, you might say “but it’s only February!” so let me say that without a doubt this is most definitely in the top three of all the shows I’ve sen in the last twelve months! The cast list alone took my breath away with its full orchestra and the enjoyment 50 top performers can bring – and they most certainly did!

To sit and enjoy the orchestra, under the direction of Malcolm Forbes-Peckham, play the overture not only sets the mood, but assures us that we are in for something really special. As the curtain rises we see Anna (Annalene Beechey) arriving with her son to take up the post of governess to the children of the King of Siam. The boat is life size and glides into dock through the mist. What an opening!

The sets (designed by Michael Yearn) throughout the show are not only spectacular but exactly right for telling this story.

But its the casting without a doubt that made this such a wonderful theatrical event. Annalene Beechey is the perfect Anna, having played the role at the London Palladium. Anna has grit and determination and a considerable sense of humour and I get the strong impression that Annalene has too! She is onstage virtually throughout and each song she sings  makes the packed house warm to her just that bit more! This performance deserves  awards!

The King of Siam, played brilliantly by Darren Lee is the perfect foil for Anna. Darren has that knack of being the King that you truly believe in but there is always a twinkle in his eye making the very most of all the comedy.

Mentioning any member of cast seems unfair as they were without doubt a fine team, but “Something Wonderful” beautifully sung by Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thiang was a highlight for me – as was “We Kiss In A Shadow” sung by Ethan Lee Phong & Jessica Gomes-ng as Lun Tha & Tuptim

The songs we know, the story we know, in fact if I’m honest I was expecting a slightly dated production – how completely wrong I was!  If you can get tickets, I implore you to make sure you see this show before it is too late – you’ll thank me afterwards. If I did a star system (which I don’t) I wouldn’t have enough for this production! Congratulations to the entire and very large team!

Ernie Almond

Farce by John Cleese is a Banging success in Peterborough!

John Cleese (no, not appearing) makes his stage writing debut with a hilarious new adaptation of this classic comedy – a delicious blend of French Farce and Fawlty Towers.

When Leontine, (Tessa Peake-Jones) a respectable society lady, discovers that she’s been hoodwinked by her husband, Duchotel, (Tony Gardner) who’s always pretending to go hunting but really chasing after other ‘prey’, she vows to take revenge on the philanderer! But while Duchotel’s away, his lifelong friend Dr Moricet (Richard Earl) comes calling – and he’s on the hunt too. 

Will Leontine get caught in his sights, or instead set a trap of her own?

Secrets unravel as the devilish Duchotel finds himself snared in a door-slamming, trouser-dropping, balcony-climbing night of chaos set amidst the stylish apartments of Paris. The apartments are run by Madam Latour (Wendi Peters)

Bang Bang! is at The New Theatre, Peterborough until 29th February

Box Office: 01733 852992 or online: www.newtheatre-peterborough.com or bangbangtour.co.uk

Press Night thoughts…..

If you’re a fan of farce this is this is for you! John Cleese has adapted a story by Georges Feydeau and proved yet again that he is a master of outrageous comedy. He wisely decided to leave the play set in Paris which seems to make the plot all the more believable. Due to the combined skills of the author, the director and the very strong cast, we are taken in completely believing every ridiculous antic our “devoted” couples get up to!

Every now and then the “third wall” is broken for a character to make a comment as to how things are going. You might be forgiven for thinking this would break the mood, but it in fact adds to the general chaos happening in the lives of most of the cast!

The play, as you might expect, has many a nod towards Fawlty Towers, but then we might be disappointed if it didn’t! The hilarious script is performed absolutely straight by our talented cast, lead by Tessa Peake-Jones, Tony Gardner and Wendi Peters. Originally a three act this has been changed to a two act play by giving Madam Latour a song to sing (she’s fallen from grace due to an unfortunate incident with a lion tamer) during the set change. As you might (or might not) expect, the stage hands in their brown coats complete the set change in time and step with Madam Latour’s singing.

Get to see this if you can, its a hoot! You might see a man without his trousers…..but you’ve seen a lot worse!

Cast, script, set, direction, lighting etc all 10 out of 10! Don’t miss it!

Ernie Almond

Bang Bang! is at The New Theatre, Peterborough until 29th February

Box Office: 01733 852992 or online: www.newtheatre-peterborough.com or bangbangtour.co.uk

“Once” tears the place apart in Milton Keynes!

When a Dublin street busker is encouraged by a young Czech musician to give up the day job in his dad’s Hoover repair shop it turns out that it’s more than just her broken vacuum cleaner that is likely to get fixed. 


Based on the critically acclaimed 2007 Irish small budget movie, Once tells the story of two lost souls whose lives are changed over the course of five short days.  

 ‘Girl’ meets ‘Guy’ just as he is on the verge of giving up his dream of becoming a successful singer-songwriter. Worn down by the misery of a broken heart and an infuriating excess of self-pity, the arrival of ‘Girl’, with her boundless optimism, common sense and motivation, is exactly the kick up the backside ‘Guy’ needs to recharge his batteries and restore his faith in, not only the power of music but also the power of love. 

 Once premiered at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2011 before transferring to Broadway in 2012. There it won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical and the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album. Productions have since opened all over the world, including the West End production in 2013 which received the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music. 

Once has a Book by award-winning Irish playwright and screenwriter Enda Walsh, and Music & Lyrics by Academy Award winning Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová who, for Falling Slowly, won the Oscar for Best Original Song. 

 Daniel Healy and Emma Lucia return to the roles of ‘Guy’ and ‘Girl’ after receiving critical and audience acclaim in the production’s premiere last year at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich and Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch.  

Daniel is a singer-songwriter, musician and actor, who has co-written songs for multi-platinum artist Ronan Keating including the single Breathe, which topped the BBC Radio 2 Playlist. Theatre credits include Backbeat and Once, both in the West End.  

Emma Lucia made her professional debut as Marilyn and understudying Carole King in the UK Tour of Beautiful, before taking on the role of ‘Girl’ in Once. 


Once is directed by Peter Rowe with set and costume design by Libby Watson and musical supervision by Ben Goddard

Once is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 22nd February

Box Office: 0800 912 6971 or Online:   ATGTICKETS.COM/MiltonKeynes 

Ernie Almond was lucky enough to be invited to the Press night, here are his thoughts:

From the moment you walk into the auditorium at MK Theatre this week you WILL be in an Irish pub somewhere in Dublin. People are singing, dancing and playing all manner of instruments including (& especially) percussion on a wooden box. Before you know it and almost imperceptibly we are into the play proper with “Guy” (Daniel Healy) playing his guitar and singing. Its a love song and as he replaces his guitar into its case we learn that he’s giving up music. The reason for this is linked to affairs of the heart which turn out to be the backbone of this story. Along comes Czechoslovakian “Girl” (Emma Lucia) who sets out to save this poor soul – as much for the sake of his musical talent as the fact that there could be a romantic liason in the offing!

Beautifully performed by the entire cast – each one a character in their own right. I wish I had space here to describe every one of them. The music is not particularly “Irish” (apart from the pub scenes), just very effective romantic light rock. At one point the entire cast sing a cappella in such a beautiful rendition that it takes the audience a couple of seconds after it finishes to burst into applause.

If you want a frivolous, feelgood musical, wait until Mary Poppins comes round, but don’t miss Once which will intrigue you, amuse you, make you both happy and sad and most certainly make you think long after you leave the theatre.

Verdict: Not To Be Missed!

Once is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 22nd February

Box Office: 0800 912 6971 or Online:   ATGTICKETS.COM/MiltonKeynes 

Nothing Wishy-Washy about Aladdin at MK Theatre! has it all

Joe Pasquale, the star of stage, screen, reality TV and blissfully funny comedy, will lead the cast in the role of Aladdin’s hapless brother, Wishee Washee.
Joe is well-known and best-loved for being one of the hardest-working and top-selling live comedians in British comedy today. He’s been delighting audiences for more than 20 years with his live stand-up tours and infectious sense of fun.
Along the way he’s voiced characters for Hollywood movies, toured in several major theatrical productions including Mel Brooks’ The Producers, starred in the West End production of Spamalot (and brought the show to Milton Keynes) and has been crowned King of the Jungle in ITV’s I’m A Celebrity… Get Me out Of Here.
Joe has appeared at five Royal Variety Performances and toured the UK in a live stage incarnation of the classic sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em in the iconic role of Frank Spencer. MKT panto audiences won’t know what’s hit them!

Best-known for winning the BBC talent show Any Dream Will Do, Lee Mead plays our hero, Aladdin. Lee won the title role in the West End revival of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to rave reviews. Since then he has had lead roles in Wicked and Legally Blonde in the West End, released several solo albums and toured
e x t e n s i v e l y.
No stranger to pantomime, Lee has starred in six Qdos Entertainment pantomimes, including his star turn as Prince Charming in their critically acclaimed production of Cinderella at the London Palladium. Lee starred as Ben “Lofty” Chiltern in Casualty, being nominated for various national Best Newcomer television awards, a role he now reprises in the popular BBC spin-off series, Holby City.

There is nothing like a dame, as David Robbins, the fragrant Widow Twankey, well knows. David originally trained as a stage manager specialising in wardrobe and prop making and is also a trained puppeteer and director of the Dab Hand Puppet Company.
He has worked as an actor in the West End, at Chichester Festival Theatre and on tour.

Staged by Qdos Entertainment, the world’s biggest pantomime producer, and the company behind Milton Keynes Theatre’s annual pantomime since 2017, Aladdin will feature the MK hallmark of outstanding entertainment for theatregoers of all ages with laundry-loads of laughter, audience participation and festive magic.
Emma Sullivan, Theatre Director at Milton Keynes Theatre said: “We’re thrilled to welcome the return of Qdos Entertainment to Milton Keynes Theatre following the roaring success of Robin Hood last year. We’re looking forward to seeing you all at this year’s magical pantomime adventure, Aladdin!”

Aladdin will be at the Milton Keynes Theatre until 12th January, 2020.

Box Office: 0844 871 7652 or online:www.atgtickets.com /miltonkeynes

Aladdin has it all!

It was a great move bringing back leading Pantomime producers Qdos back to Milton Keynes. People were still talking about last year’s Robin Hood when this stunning production arrives! Aladdin is everything a pantomime should be  – and more!

From the moment the band strikes up and our excellent villain -who actually tells the audience off if they DON’T boo him – comes on, we are putty in the hands of this skilful cast.

Joe Pasquale and Lee Mead work so well together, Lee managing to keep a straight face through all the mayhem and ad-libs from funny (very funny) man Joe.

David Robbins, I’m told, spends most of the year designing and making his own costumes which I have to say are wonderfully wacky, very colourful and great fun. David is fast becoming one of the country’s top pantomime dames. Here we have an expert who knows exactly how to pitch the humour and most certainly knows that a pantomime dame is very different to a drag act!

Plenty of visual gags from Mr Pasquale that you won’t have seen in other pantomimes and some spectacular effects! Speaking of spectacular, the sets and costumes are exactly that from the 3D carved serpent proscenium arch onwards. For pantomime nuts like me, watch out for one of the best versions of the “If I Were Not…..” routines you’ll ever see!

Verdict: The best for ages. Book a coach, gather the whole street and then beg for some tickets.   I’m told that Best availability before Christmas: Friday 20th December at 7p Get there before it sells out! Congratulations to the whole team.

Ernie Almond.

Aladdin will be at the Milton Keynes Theatre until 12th January, 2020.

Box Office: 0844 871 7652 or online:www.atgtickets.com /miltonkeynes