Diversity slays ’em at MKT!

They say if you arrive at the theatre in the wrong mood you will not enjoy the show no matter what! So I have to be honest and say that yes, I was one of the doubters. How could a dance troupe – even Diversity – be the stars of a pantomime? Pantomime is traditional fayre, with traditional routines and gags – not up Ashley Banjo‘s street at all!

I couldn’t have been more wrong! Not just Ashley but all the boys & girls joined in many of the comedy routines with gusto. “If I Were Not In Pantomime” being one that stood out that both I and Simon Trott (Pete Firmin) will remember for a very long time. Me because I laughed a lot and Simon because he’s having to spend the entire Christmas season being smacked in the face with a frying pan several times nightly! What a way to earn a living!

Daniel Boys was a particularly slimy Fleshcreep, the giant’s henchman and he kicked off the show with his own evil dancers perfectly. In fact Fleshcreep kept up the level of boos he recieved right to the end. Good baddy stuff!

The sets and costumes were proper panto glam and glitter. The giant actually appears and isn’t just projected onto the set, we see Jack cheating by flying a working helecopter to the top of the beanstalk, flying right out over the stalls in the process!  The script was sharp and witty, the songs fitted in perfectly and Jack and all his (Diversity) brothers’ routines are energetic, hugely skilfull and with the humour we’ve come to expect from this gang.

Pete Firmin as Simon was most likeable. He won the audience over within seconds and they loved him and his tricks. Such a good pro that I got the feeling that if anything untoward happened he would just carry on entertaining us until it was fixed – no problem!

I have a thing about Pantomime dames, I’m convinced that they should be the wrong side of forty (age & waist) and not be a female impersonator. Even the late great Danny La Rue  made sure he had Alan Hayes with him to fly the flag of proper panto dames. The dame in Jack & The Beanstalk at Milton Keynes is perfect! Dame Trott was played brilliantly by Jack Land Noble, a true expert! From a family steeped in show business, Jack knows exactly what he’s doing and the audience realise this very quickly and relax knowing all is well. His costumes are of course ridiculous but at the same time just right.

The good fairy character, in this production Mother Nature (Gina Murray) was much in evidence and unusually for this character had several songs which were all a delight. Similarly the beautiful Princess Jill (Laura Evans) with yet more dancers as her entourage made the perfect partner for Jack – even though he was head shoulders and chest above her, or so it seemed!

The songs, special effects, dance routines and standard Panto gags all just helped the story along and we – thats us led by our hero Jack won the day in the end and the Giant came crashing down!

Make no bones about it, this is the finest, most spectacular pantomime even Milton Keynes Theatre has had for a while as the rapturous, standing ovation proved! I’ve seen quite a few so far this year and without a doubt this one stands a mile out in front of the others!

Get a ticket – if you can!

Jack & The Beanstalk runs at the Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 8th January

Box Office: 0844 8717615 or online: www.atgtickets/miltonkeynes


Lost Boys found alive & well at The Chrysalis Theatre!

Peter Pan at The Chrysalis Theatre, Milton Keynes


It’s good that Milton Keynes has a choice of panto’s this year since 1702 Productions have brought Peter Pan to the Chrysalis Theatre for this Christmas season. It’s been made purposely more affordable for families to come and enjoy this romp through (or close to) JM Barrie’s wonderful story of the boy who never grows up. Seasonal pantomime gags are added to a script written by Steven Gordon-Wilson which uses songs well known to the young audience from shows as far apart as Annie and Hairspray.

Lucy-Rose Rollason in the title role brings plenty of gusto to the part. She is from a thoroughly theatrical family (her brother Tommy J is currently in panto just down the road in nearby Dunstable). She flew across the stage as expected and managed to look comfortable in the process!

Leading the comedy was ventriloquist Steve Hewlett with his sidekick Arthur Lager as Mr Smee & Grandad Smee respectively. With or without the puppet, Steve’s experience and considerable comedic talent helped keep up the pace of the show.

Captain Hook was played by that EggHead CJ de Mooi. He was rather more snide than evil, though had there been a little more volume on his mic I think he would have sounded more powerful and the youngsters would be properly scared! He quite obviously revelled in playing this famous baddie and even managed to keep the audience glued through a song that almost went on as far as the third star on the right. (Maybe the director’s axe could descend cutting a few verses from some of the songs to bring the show down to 2hours including interval)

I think 1702 Productions have made a real find in Luke Byford as Mrs Smee. I’ve always believed that a panto dame needs to be at least 45-50 years old and slightly rotund but I’m pleased to report that young Luke proved me wrong entirely! He was funny, loads of energy, grabbed every opportunity to react to audience members and was always good fun and in character. He reminded me at times of Old Mother Riley and I can see him back next year as Widow Twanky or Dame Trott!

Children’s entertainer Kev Stevens as Starky could have been given more to do, I’m sure another trick or two here and there would’ve pleased the young members of the audience. Although they did wheel on the BooBox (whatever that is) but didn’t seem to actually get round to showing us what that was all about.

Other cast members included the children of course Wendy (Cara Bo), John (Alyssa Denehan) & Michael (Harvey Smith). Tiger Lily was played with some panache by local performer Lillia Grace who, on the night we were there, coped very well with her scenes downstage in the dark!

Eveey Ruth and her dog Pasha (playing the crew’s dog Fish) and the outrageous Jono Andrews did well considering they were rarely involved with the plot.

The older dancers from Rollason Stage School performed beautifully – as did the younger dancers, if only they’d appeared to be enjoying themselves. I think a couple more performances and they’ll know where they should be on each entrance.

Old favourite Mr Blobby makes several appearances, knocks the set and half the cast over and says “Blobby, Blobby Blobby” a lot! ….What more can I say?

The night we went to see the show was about the 4th performance and unfortunately for the cast and crew it suffered a few technical problems with lighting (or lack of it) and sound ( or lack of it), but I’m sure that will be sorted by now. So if you’re looking for a fun evening full of panto gags and that Peter Pan magic that won’t cost you the earth, then Peter Pan at the Chrysalis Theatre in MK is your best bet!

Peter Pan is at The Chrysalis Theatre, Milton Keynes until 2nd January

ticket link: www.peterpanmk.co.uk

Magic Goes Wrong at MKT

Raising the bar with their dare-devil stunts, jaw-dropping feats and irresistible comedy genius, Mischief’s Magic Goes Wrong comes directly from the West End to Milton Keynes this week.
Created with magic legends Penn & Teller, Magic Goes Wrong is Mischief’s biggest and most daring comedy catastrophe to date. Magic Goes Wrong follows a hapless gang of magicians as they stage an evening of grand illusion to raise cash for charity. As the magic turns to mayhem, accidents spiral out of control and so does their fundraising target!
Magic Goes Wrong will be playing at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 23 October.
I think there must be something wrong with me.
Magic that Goes Wrong had all the makings of a very enjoyable night at the theatre. Lots of expensive illusions, a mind reader that couldn’t and Blade – a danger man who did himself more injury than a one-legged high-wire act!
My first problem (which didn’t seem to affect anyone else in the audience) was that once you realise that the main premise is so simple – the fact that each trick goes wrong is no surprise and hardly funny.
I found that I wasn’t being convinced that we had a band of amateur magicians that couldn’t quite do it. Like it’s predecessor The Play That Goes Wrong, I saw a series of carefully set up and carefully rehearsed mistakes. I wondered at one point if some of the cast members were just not experienced enough to carry it off. They were doing all the right moves but not quite getting the laughs.
Don’t get me wrong, as far as I could see the rest of the audience loved it – especially those given to “Whooping” at every opportunity!
Therefore it must’ve been just me that found it a bit flat with perfectly good comedy situations that didn’t quite strike home.
Ernie Almond

 Magic Goes Wrong will be playing at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 23 October.

 Box Office: 0844 871 7615 Online : ATGTICKETS.COM/MiltonKeynes

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella


Saw the show this week in the Gillian Lynne Theatre, Drury Lane. After purchasing the New London Theatre halfway through the Run of Cats, Andrew later decided to rename it after the show’s wonderful Choreographer Dame Gillian Lynne. During the recent pandemic he seized the chance to to completely refurbish, especially the air conditioning and the seating. It now boasts a 100% fresh air ventilation system and of course a good view of the stage from every one of it’s comfortable new seats. The theatre has an enormous revolve which you’ll find out about when you get to see Cinderella!

So, what about the show? With book by Emerald Fennell, lyrics by David Zippel and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber it has a pretty good start.

It is very clever, but very different, which you realise about four minutes into the opening chorus. It is amusing that as the show starts the audience slowly catch on from the lyrics of the opening number by the ensemble, to the fact that our Cinderella might not be the text book blonde and beautiful fairytale princess!

There are apparently two princes, Sebastian – played to perfection on the night we went by understudy Michael Hamway I think (because there was no note in the programme or announcement). We are informed that Prince Charming is away, presumed lost at war. The Queen ( Rebecca Trehearn) and the Stepmother (Victoria Hamilton-Barritt) have some wonderful comedy moments both together and with their fledglings. Cinderella’s Step Sisters are two blonde numpties that look as though they’re direct from TOWIE. Great fun and well played by Georgina Castle and Laura Baldwin.

We first meet Cinderella in all her Doc Martined glory as she is discovered adding graffiti to a statue. I think the casting of Carrie Hope-Fletcher for this part was inspired!

There’s a lot of interesting new music in the show and during Cinderella’s soliloquy the audience were spellbound.

By the way, don’t fret about Prince Charming (Caleb Roberts) – he does arrive eventually – and when he does all I will tell you is that you’ll remember his entrance and song for a very long time!

The standing ovation at the end of the show was proof it it were needed that Lord Lloyd-Webber has yet another hit on his hands….

Cinderella is at the Gillian Lynne Theatre, Drury Lane until at least May 2022.


Ernie Almond.

Waitress, huge success at Milton Keynes Theatre

Meet Jenna, a waitress and expert pie-maker who dreams of some happiness in her life. When a hot new doctor arrives in town, life gets complicated. With the support of her workmates Becky and Dawn, Jenna overcomes the challenges she faces and finds that laughter, love and friendship can provide the perfect recipe for happiness.

Starring Lucie Jones who reprises the role of ‘Jenna’ having recently played the part in the West End production of the show at the Adelphi Theatre. Lucie first came to prominence in 2009 when she reached the finals of ITV’s The X Factor. Since then, her many West End theatre credits include ‘Cosette’ in Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre, ‘Victoria’ in American Psycho at the Almeida and ‘Maureen’ in RENT at The Other Palace.

Having played ‘Jessie Grant’ in ITV’s Emmerdale for two years, Sandra Marvin joined the West End production of Waitress to play ‘Becky’. Her many other West End theatre credits include most recently ‘Mrs Fezziwig/Mrs Mops’ in A Christmas Carol at the Dominion Theatre, City of Angels and Committee at the Donmar Warehouse, ‘Miss Motormouth Maybelle’ in Hairspray at the Shaftesbury Theatre, ‘Queenie’ in Show Boat at the New London Theatre. Sandra also sings the title track on the Grammy Award winning soundtrack for the George Clooney film, Gravity.

Evelyn Hoskins most recently played the role of ‘Dawn’ in Waitress in the West End at the Adelphi Theatre. Her other theatre credits include the title role in Carrie at Southwark Playhouse, Spring Awakening at the Lyric Hammersmith and in the West End, The Boy Who Fell Into A Book at the Stephen Joseph Theatre and The Secret Garden at Birmingham Rep.

Matt Willis is probably best known as a member of the double Brit Award winning band Busted, who have released four No1 UK singles, two platinum albums and sold over four million albums in the UK. No stranger to the musical theatre stage, his West End credits include ‘Fiyero’ in Wicked at the Apollo Victoria, ‘Nick Hurley’ in Flashdance at the Shaftesbury Theatre and most
recently ‘Bob Cratchit’ in A Christmas Carol at the Dominion Theatre.
WAITRESS is based on the 2007 movie written by Adrienne Shelly. Music and lyrics are written by GRAMMY award-winning, singer-songwriter sensation Sara Bareilles, wIth a book by Jessie Nelson, direction by Tony-award winner Diane Paulus and choreography by Lorin Latarro, Waitress has garnered multiple awards and nominations in both America and the UK, receiving acclaim from both audiences and critics alike.
WAITRESS opened on Broadway on 24th April 2016 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where it ran until 5th January 2020. Waitress celebrated its official opening night at the Adelphi Theatre in London’s West End on 7 March 2019.

Waitress is at The Milton Keynes Theatre until Sat 9 Oct (2:30pm & 7:30pm)

Box Office: 0844 871 7615 Online : ATGTICKETS.COM/MiltonKeynes



Some people like musical comedy, others like romance or drama or pathos or all four. Well you’re in luck because the best new musical for ages, Waitress has the lot!

Singing, or a particularly dramatic piece of acting, yes – but I’ve never witnessed applause just for a bit of business before and in this show it happens often! 

The Director (Diane Paulus) and Choreographer (Lorin Latarro) must have not only worked very closely together – and they must both have an eye for detail! We saw props being handed out and put away as part of a dance routine, very neat! The set changes happen smoothly and seem to carry the audience from one situation to another seemlessly!


its very difficult to pick out a member of the cast that deserves special mention, because they all do. Lucie Jones, as Jenna was a revelation! She took us all through Jenna’s trials and tribulations beautifully with plenty of humour and when there was a need, brought the packed audience to tears.

Matt Willis as Dr Pomatter proves that after the success of Busted he is still guaranteed very good living in musical theatre. The duets between Matt & Lucie were a joy – especially the potential hit “You Matter To Me”

Sandra Marvin (Becky), Evelyn Hoskins (Dawn) and George Crawford (Ogie) added a huge amount both in the comedy and musically and were all so perfectly cast!
The whole ensemble deserve a mention, I could go on for pages – but the best idea is to go to MK Theatre and enjoy one of the best nights in the theatre you’ll have this year!

Ernie Almond.

Waitress is at The Milton Keynes Theatre until Sat 9 Oct (2:30pm & 7:30pm)

Box Office: 0844 871 7615 Online : ATGTICKETS.COM/MiltonKeynes

Bedknobs & Broomsticks World Premier

Enter a world of magic and fantasy with Disney’s classic movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
With the original songs by the legendary Sherman Brothers (Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), including Portobello Road, The Age Of Not Believing, The Beautiful Briny, Bedknobs and Broomsticks will be brought to life by award-winning theatre-makers Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison.
Dianne Pilkington will lead the cast as Miss Eglantine Price, the mysterious lady that the three orphaned Rawlins children are evacuated from wartime London to live with. Dianne’s West End credits include Les Miserables, Wicked, Mamma Mia and Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.
Charles Brunton will play Emelius Browne. Charles starred in the iconic role of Miss Trunchbull in Matilda both in the West End and on Broadway. Other credits include Love Never Dies, Chess and Scrooge.
Dianne Pilkington says of the brand-new production “It is fun, it is full of magic and it takes you on a different journey from the adventure we’ve been on for the last year and a half. It is what the world needs right now.”
When the three orphaned Rawlins children are reluctantly evacuated from wartime London to live with the mysterious Eglantine Price, they have no idea what adventures lie ahead. Upon discovering Eglantine to be a trainee witch, they join forces to search for a secret spell that will defeat the enemy once and for all. Armed with an enchanted bedknob, a bewitched broomstick and a magical flying bed, they encounter surprising new friendships on their journey from Portobello Road to the depths of the beautiful briny sea.

This magical musical starts its UK Tour this weekend….it’s time to start believing!

BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS Is at Milton Keynes Theatre from Wed 15 – Sun 19 Sep 2021 at 2:30pm & 7:30pm
Box Office: 0844 871 7615 Online: ATGTICKETS.COM/MiltonKeynes
I went along to a performance on Thursday 16th., the packed audience loved it!
Young fans of this story will find this production really magical – even though Emelius Browne is a pretty poor conjuror! This is a fun show of pure fantasy with puppetry, lively music and plenty of comedy. Just as I found the show dipping a little, on bounded Charles Brunson and perked the whole thing up again. It takes a while to get used to clouds with legs and I thought the battle scene near the end unconvincing – but then I admit to being past the first flush of youth! I must say that Rob Madge is the finest singing fish in the business!
Ernie Almond.
BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS Is at Milton Keynes Theatre from Wed 15 – Sun 19 Sep 2021 at 2:30pm & 7:30pm
Box Office: 0844 871 7615 Online: ATGTICKETS.COM/MiltonKeynes

Two chances to see popular School of Rock!

School of Rock – The Musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smash hit, Olivier Award-winning West End show is heading to Northampton and Milton Keynes!

Jake Sharp is getting the band back together as it is confirmed that he will lead the cast as Dewey Finn having previously performed the role in the West End. Alex Tomkins will perform in the role at certain performances. They arejoined by Rebecca Lock as Rosalie Mullins, Matthew Rowland as Ned Schneebly and Nadia Violet Johnson as Patty Di Marco. The remaining adult cast comprise Ryan Bearpark, James Bisp, Joanna O’Hare, Samuel Haughton, Tom Hext, Harveen Mann, Richard Morse, AnnellOdartey, Amy Oxley, Helena Pipe, Michaela Powell, Richard Vorster and Craig Watson.


 One of three incredibly talented teams of twelve children willperform live alongside Dewey each night and are currently getting ready to stick it to the man when the bell rings for the new school term in September.

Based on the hilarious hit movie, this new musical follows Dewey Finn, a failed, wannabe rock star who decides to earn a few extra bucks by posing as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school. There he turns a class of straight-A students into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band – sensationally performed live by the production’s young actors every night with roof-raising energy! While teaching these pint-sized prodigies what it means to truly rock, Dewey falls for the school’s beautiful, but uptight headmistress, helping her rediscover the wild child within.

School of Rock – The Musical will be coming to:

Derngate Theatre, Northampton on Mon 1 – Sat 6 November. Box Office: 01604 624811 or online: www.royalandderngate.co.uk


Milton Keynes Theatre on Tue 8 – Sat 12 February. Box Office: 0844 871 7652 or online:  www.atgtickets.com/venues/milton-keynes-theatre

Educating Rita comes to Royal & Derngate

Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson star in Willy Russell’s classic comedy Educating Rita when it comes to Northampton’s Royal & Derngate from Monday 26 to Saturday 31 July.

Educating Rita by Willy Russell 2020
Director Max Roberts
Designer Patrick Connellan
Lighting Designer Drummond Orr
Stephen Tompkinson as Frank
Jessica Johnson as Rita
©Nobby Clark

Educating Rita tells the story of married hairdresser Rita, who enrols on an Open University course to expand her horizons, and her encounters withuniversity tutor Frank. Frank is a frustrated poet, brilliant academic and dedicated drinker, who is less than enthusiastic about teaching Rita. However, Frank soon finds that his passion for literature is reignited by Rita, whose technical ability for the subject is limited by her lack of education, but whose enthusiasm Frank finds refreshing. The two soon realise how much they have to learn from each other.

 This hilarious and heart-warming comedy won the Olivier Award when it was produced in London’s West End by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and was adapted into the multi-award-winning film starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine.

Educating Rita tells the story of married hairdresser Rita, who enrols on an Open University course to expand her horizons, and her encounters withuniversity tutor Frank. Frank is a frustrated poet, brilliant academic and dedicated drinker, who is less than enthusiastic about teaching Rita. However, Frank soon finds that his passion for literature is reignited by Rita, whose technical ability for the subject is limited by her lack of education, but whose enthusiasm Frank finds refreshing. The two soon realise how much they have to learn from each other.

 This hilarious and heart-warming comedy won the Olivier Award when it was produced in London’s West End by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and was adapted into the multi-award-winning film starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine.

 Willy Russell’s other writing credits include the Olivier Award-winning musical Blood Brothers, and the hugely successful Shirley Valentine.

 Producer David Pugh said: “Rita is the most extraordinary character – she wanted to change and learn so much and that’s everything we’re all going through at the moment, to adapt to the world as it is now. What we know is that Educating Rita gives you a great night out at the theatre and that’s the best any of us can hope for.

Stephen Tompkinson’s television credits include five series of DCI Banks, four series of Trollied, seven series of Wild at Heart, six series of Drop the Dead Donkey and three series of Ballykissangel, and his films include Brassed Off.  

Educating Rita can be seen on the Derngate stage from Monday 26 to Saturday 31 July at 7.30pm with matinees at 2.30pm on Thursday and Saturday. Tickets – priced from £15* – can be booked by calling:

Box Office on 01604 624811 or online at www.royalandderngate.co.uk.

* A charge of £3.50 applies for all transactions of £20 and over. Does not apply to Groups, Members or Disabled Patrons, and is per-transaction, not per-ticket.

Bat Out of Hell – The Musical coming to MK

Bat Out Of Hell – The Musical wowed critics and public alike when it played limited seasons at Manchester Opera House, London Coliseum and London’s Dominion Theatre from 2017 to 2019. The musical also ran successfully in Canada, Germany and at New York’s City Centre in 2019.

Bat Out Of Hell – The Musical
won the Radio 2 Audience Award for Best Musical at the Evening Standard Awards and was nominated for 8 WhatsOnStage Awards, including Best New Musical.

Producer Michael Cohl said “ People will once again be able to dance and sing along to these great Steinman songs. This musical was Jim Steinman’s life-long dream and he was incredibly proud of the love the show received from critics and audiences alike. This tour will be in memory of Jim.”

Bat Out Of Hell became one of the best-selling albums in history, selling over 50 million copies worldwide.  16 years later, Steinman scored again with Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell, which contained the massive hit I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).

For the stage musical, Jim Steinman incorporated iconic songs from the Bat Out Of Hell albums, including You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth, Bat Out Of Hell, I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) and Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, as well as two previously unreleased songs, What Part of My Body Hurts the Most and Not Allowed to Love.
In Bat Out Of Hell – The Musical, the electrifying rock songs of Mr Steinman propel an epic story of rebellious youth and passion as Strat, the immortal leader of The Lost, has fallen in love with Raven, the beautiful daughter of the tyrannical ruler Falco.

The UK & Ireland Tour of Bat Out Of Hell – The Musical is at Milton Keynes Theatre from 14th to 25th June 2022.


General bookings: 0844 871 7615 or Online: ATGTICKETS.COM/MiltonKeynes