30 years on Shirley Valentine wows audiences in Milton Keynes!


Willy Russell’s heart-warming comedy Shirley Valentine premiered in 1986 and took the world by storm. In celebration of its 30th Anniversary the first major revival of this national treasure is at Milton Keynes Theatre, from 27 March – 1 April. Shirley Valentine stars much loved actress Jodie Prenger in the title role.

Shirley is a Liverpool housewife. Her kids have left home and she makes chips and egg for her husband while talking to the wall. Where has her life disappeared to? Out of the blue, her best friend offers her a trip to Greece for 2 weeks and she secretly packs her bags. She heads for the sun and starts to see the world and herself very differently.

With a career spanning over four decades Willy Russell is undeniably one of the most successful playwrights of his generation. His plays, including Educating Rita, Blood Brothers, Our Day Out and Shirley Valentine.

Of the revival Willy Russell says;

It’s now thirty years since Shirley Valentine first walked onto the page, into my life and the lives of so many others. Shirley cooked her first meal of egg and chips on the stage of the Everyman Theatre Liverpool before then hoofing it down to London where along with the cooking and talking to the wall she started picking up the string of awards she’d win in the West End, on Broadway and in the film that earned both BAFTAs and Academy Award Nominations. Since those early days Shirley has had an incredibly rich and varied life, appearing in many tongues across the globe in countless productions and being performed by many great actresses. The one thing Shirley Valentine has not done of late is extensively tour the UK. There have been approaches and plans mooted but, somehow, it’s just never quite felt right and so I’ve resisted such efforts – until now! And what has made the difference? When producer Adam Spiegel introduced me to Jodie Prenger I knew in an instant that here was a formidable actress, one who possessed the grit and the warmth, the drive and the vulnerability, the energy and the heart to make Shirley Valentine really live again. How could any playwright resist that or deny the whole of the UK the chance to see Jodie bring Shirley to life?”

Jodie Prenger is perhaps best known for winning the role of Nancy in the West End production of Oliver! through the BBC television series I’d Do Anything. Most recently Jodie toured the UK in the classic musical Tell Me On A Sunday. She also played the title role in the national tour of the musical Calamity Jane and has starred in One Man, Two Guvnors both in the West End and on tour and as Lady of the Lake in Spamalot.

Glen Walford, director of the original production, will direct this major revival. Shirley Valentine is produced by Adam Spiegel Productions (Motown, The Last Tango, The Producers, Dance ‘Til Dawn, Midnight Tango, Love Me Tender, The Mousetrap on Tour).

Shirley Valentine is at Milton Keynes Theatre from 27th March until 1st April

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

This brillant masterpeice by Willy Russell is witty and not without pathos. It is hilarious at times but almost every line hits home with someone in the audience! This one-woman play is different to the film because all the other characters (and there are many) come alive through the actions and voice of Shirley as she converses with her best friend – her kitchen wall.

I imagine having to learn this peice would even daunt the Dame Judys and Dame Helens of this world, but Jodie Prenger pulls off a stunning performance. Engaging with the audience from the first few seconds, she twists and turns around the kitchen whilst relaying life with husband Joe as it seems to her.

Jodie Prenger has a wonderful natural comedy timing. I loved her use of the pause, often bringing an even bigger laugh. She is so perfect in this role that you would swear Willie Russell had written it for her! Congratulations too to director Glen Walford whose work made us believe we were really there in the kitchen with Shirley, just behind the wall she so often chats to.

But the night is Jodie Prenge’s,r who made us all love and have huge sympathy for this character. Jodie makes her just so funny, so believeable and so strong with the use of her various talents and Willie Russell’s lines. In fact Jodie is so good in this that I’ve now completely forgiven her for Calamity Jane! Do please try to get to see this, I promise you’ll thank me afterwards for forcing you!

Ernie Almond

Shirley Valentine is at Milton Keynes Theatre from 27th March until 1st April

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

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG at Milton Keynes Theatre

The Play That Goes Wrong, the West End’s Olivier Award winning box office hit, is at the Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 18th March.

Co-written by Mischief Theatre company members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, The Play That Goes Wrong is a highly physical comedy packed with finely-tuned farce and Buster Keaton inspired slapstick delivered with split-second timing and ambitious daring. The play introduces The ‘Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’ who are attempting to put on a 1920s’ murder mystery, but as the title suggests, everything that can go wrong… does, as the accident prone thespians battle on against all the odds to get to their final curtain call.

Photo: Helen Murray

The Play That Goes Wrong is set to receive its Broadway debut, with the original cast opening at the Lyceum Theatre in New York on 2 April 2017. It is a remarkable rags-to-riches story for a play, which started its life at a London fringe venue with only four paying members of the public at the first performance and has since played to an audience of over half a million.

Mischief Theatre was founded in 2008 by a group of graduates of The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) and began as an improvised comedy group. The company made its television debut last Christmas on BBC One, with a TV production of Peter Pan Goes Wrong filmed in front of a live studio audience, featuring guest star David Suchet as the narrator. The company is led by Artistic Director Henry Lewis and Company Director Jonathan Sayer.

The Play That Goes Wrong is at the Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 18th March.

Box Office: 0844 870 0887 or online: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

Photo: Helen Murray

I went along early in the week and I would be less than truthful if I said all ran smoothly. The few minor technical hitches were cleverly covered up by this stellar cast led by actor/director Trevor (played by Graeme Rooney). I.m sure that with the help of a few nail, a hammer and a roll of gaffer tape all will be well by the time you see this – and see it you must if only to witness the best corpse in the business played by Jason Callender.

Ernie Almond

The Play That Goes Wrong is at the Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 18th March.

Box Office: 0844 870 0887 or online: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

Two great shows coming to Royal & Derngate.

Customers are going to be spoiled for choice at Royal & Derngate at the end of March, with two great weeklong shows! In the Derngate auditorium  Sister Act – the sensational feel-good musical directed by Craig Revel Horwood and starring Alexandra Burke.

Based on the smash hit movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and Maggie Smith, Sister Act tells the hilarious story of Deloris Van Cartier (Played by Alexandre Burke), a disco diva whose life takes a surprising turn when she witnesses a murder. Under protective custody she is hidden in the one place she won’t be found – a convent!

Sister Act is at The Derngate, Northampton from 27th March until 1st April.

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


At the same time, the Classic Thriller Company will be in the Royal auditorium is a new stage thriller from the queen of psychological crime Ruth Rendell. Widely considered to be one of Rendell’s greatest works, A Judgement in Stone is loved for its brilliant rendering of character, plot and motive, and is undoubtedly Rendell at her thrilling best.

A Judgement in Stone is at The Royal, Northampton from 27th March until 1st April.

Box Office: 01604 624811 or online: www.royalandderngate.co.uk.




The Ghost Train steams into Hitchin

The Ghost Train by Arnold Ridley directed by David Lester is at The Queen Mother Theatre, Hitchin from 24th February until 4th March

A disparate group of travellers are stranded at a remote country railway station late on a stormy night with no hope of reaching their destination that day. The stationmaster tells a story about a strange death on the line and of a Ghost Train. They dismiss the story and prepare to spend the night, but then strange things happen … This is an exciting and suspenseful thriller making its first appearance at the QMT on a set designed to give the audience a real chill! Not to be missed. Regularly nominated by critics, as one of the scariest plays performed in the theatre, this is Bancroft Players 400th public production.

Ghost Train is at the Queen Mother Theatre, Hitchin from 24th February until 4th March

Box Office: 01462 455166 or online: www.queenmothertheatre.org.uk

Fredrico Fellini’s La Strada at MK Theare


Kenny Wax Ltd with Cambridge Arts Theatre & Bristol Old Vic present The Belgrade Theatre Coventry’s Production Federico Fellini’s LA STRADA

One of the true masterpieces of modern cinema, Federico Fellini’s 1957 Oscar-winning film, LA STRADA (The Road), will be brought to life on stage in a brand new adaptation directed by Olivier Award nominee Sally Cookson with music composed by Benji Bower.

A soul-searching story filled with beauty, sadness, humour and acute observation, La Strada tells the tragic and tender tale of wide-eyed Gelsomina who is sold by her impoverished mother to the brutish strongman Zampano, a travelling sideshow performer. Their journey through the Italian countryside leads them to a ragtag touring circus where they meet Il Matto the free-spirited tightrope walker, who tries to rekindle Gelsomina’s broken spirit.

Director Sally Cookson says:

Felini’s iconic film has always fascinated me and the thought of using it as a starting point to make a piece of theatre was one I couldn’t resist. A folk-tale like odyssey – this story sees three lost souls travelling ‘the road’ and searching in different ways to find meaning in their lives. Using physical story telling, music and movement, we will be attempting to find a theatricality to re imagine this story of human suffering, longing and redemption.”

Featuring live music and original songs, La Strada brings together a multi-skilled cast of performers and musicians. Audrey Brisson (Cirque de Soleil’s Quidam The Wild Bride and National Theatre’s The Elephantom) plays Gelsomina, Stuart Goodwin (Sally Cookson’s Sleeping Beauty; Kneehigh’s Tristan & Yseult) plays Zampano and Bart Soroczynski (Cirque de Loin’s The Fool & The Princess; ENO’s Benvenuto Cellini; RSC’s The Merry Wives of Windsor) plays Il Matto.

La Strada is directed by Sally Cookson who is an associate artist of Bristol Old Vic. Together with long-time creative collaborator, composer and musical director Benji Bower.

La Strada is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 25th February (matinees on Wed & Sat)

 Box Office: 0844 870 0887 or online: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

I saw the show on Monday evening and these were my thoughts…..

After quite a run of high profile musicals it is truly refreshing to see this new theatrical version of Fellini’s masterpiece La Strada. Directors Sally Cookson and Benji Bower are to be congratulated for dreaming up this very novel way of storytelling. For their bravery too because the entire show started with the story but no actual script until the actors first met at rehearsals! The whole wonderful experience has been honed at rehearsals and probably during the run by the cast and directors. The result is a compelling story that as they say during the action was told a thousand years ago and also told today. I promise you this is very different, clever, witty and you’d be foolish to miss it!

Ernie Almond

La Strada is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 25th February (matinees on Wed & Sat)

 Box Office: 0844 870 0887 or online: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

Matthew Bourne’s latest production at Milton Keynes

New Adventures are delighted to announce full casting for the World Premiere of Matthew Bourne’s production of THE RED SHOES, at the Milton Keynes Theatre from 14 – 18 February.

The Red Shoes

 “Victoria Page”, the girl who dreams of being a great dancer, immortalised on screen by Moira Shearer, will be created by New Adventures star, Ashley Shawmost recently seen across the UK and internationally as “Aurora” in Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty. Rising star and fellow “Aurora”, Cordelia Braithwaite, will also play the role, along with Sleeping Beauty favourite Katrina Lyndon in her principal role debut (at certain performances).

Sam Archer who created the title role of Edward Scissorhands in 2005 and who has starred in Cinderella, The Car Man and Play Without Words returns to the Company to play the iconic role of Svengali-like Impresario “Boris Lermentov”. Chris Trenfield will also play Lermentov, as well as musical genius, “Julian Kraster”; the man with whom Victoria Page falls in love. Sharing the role of Julian will be one of New Adventures most popular dancers, Dominic North, who was this year nominated for his second National Dance Award, along with rising star Andrew Monaghan who has already debuted leading roles in Swan Lake, The Car Man and Sleeping Beauty.

Completing the principal cast are the leading dancers of the Lermentov Company. Prima Ballerina, “Irina Boronskya” will be played by Michela Meazza, returning to New Adventures where she has danced and created many leading roles (including “Lady H” in Dorian Gray, “Joyce” in Edward Scissorhands and “The Stepmother” in Cinderella). She is joined by Company favourites Anjali Mehra, most recently seen as both “The Queen” and “The Girlfriend” in Swan Lake and Nicole Kabera, currently playing “Queen Eleanor” in Sleeping Beauty.

“Ivan Boleslawsky” the role made famous by Robert Helpmann will be created by one of New Adventures finest young dancers, Liam Mower (the original West End Billy Elliot but now taking on his seventh principal role with New Adventures). Also playing Ivan is popular company dancer, Danny Reubens, who scored a great personal success recently as “Jack” in Lord Of The Flies.

Company choreographer and ‘character dancer’ “Grischa Ljubov”, is created by veteran company dancer, Glenn Graham, who as well as playing “The Swan” in Swan Lake has recently been seen as “King Benedict” in Sleeping Beauty. Also playing the role of Grischa will be Leon Moran recently seen in Sleeping Beauty, The Car Man and as “Jim” in Edward Scissorhands.

A beloved fairy-tale and Academy Award-winning movie, THE RED SHOES has seduced audiences and inspired generations of dancers with its tale of obsession, possession and one girl’s dream to be the greatest dancer in the world. Victoria Page lives to dance but her ambitions become a battleground between the two men who inspire her passion.

Matthew Bourne’s magical new adaptation of the legendary Powell and Pressburger film reunites him with his regular collaborators and New Adventures Associate Artists and the team that brought you the world wide hit, Sleeping Beauty; Lez Brotherston (set and costumes), Paule Constable (lighting) and Paul Groothuis (sound).

This World Premiere is set to a new score arranged by Terry Davies using the mesmerizing music of golden-age Hollywood composer, Bernard Herrmann (most famous for his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and Martin Scorsese), whose work ranges from the witty and playfully robust to the achingly romantic and bittersweet.

An intoxicating drama where life imitates art with fateful consequences; THE RED SHOES will dazzle your senses and break your heart.

Matthew Bourne’s THE RED SHOES is at Milton Keynes Theatre from 14th – 18th February.

Box Office: 0844 870 0887 or online: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

I went along on Tuesday evening, these were my thoughts:

I have so far seen four of Matthew Bourne’s stunning creations and I would describe at least three of those productions  as masterpieces created by a genius. The Red Shoes is most certainly in that catagory!

Even actors have difficulty portraying a play within a play without overdoing the difference between the two, but to convey that in dance so perfectly is why they needed Matthew Bourne at the helm. There ‘s plenty of comedy both subtle and – in the case of Wilson & Kepple with no Betty(?) – not so. Some parts needed to be chilling and you could feel that chill-factor sweep across the audience.

As ever with this company it was such a team effort, Sam Archer, Ashley Shaw and Dominic North the three non members of the “Ballet Lermontov” took us through the story brilliantly. (I think Dominic must have his own dresing room by now at Milton Keynes Theatre!) Liam Mower‘s career just goes from strength to strength, I particularly loved the double act with Joe Walkling, fine dancing and great comedy!

All in all, if you’re a true ballet enthusiast or, like me, none too knowlegable about the genre, I can assure you of a fabulous night in the theatre with The Red Shoes. NOT TO BE MISSED!

Ernie Almond

Matthew Bourne’s THE RED SHOES is at Milton Keynes Theatre from 14th – 18th February.

Box Office: 0844 870 0887 or online: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

Tall comic needed for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

THESPIANS HELP! Lawrence in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has now backed out as he’s got work issues and we are left with the show in six weeks, rehearsing Tuesdays and Thursdays in Harpenden. We need a comic, tall (as Leading lady is tall), good with Germanic accent and a very quick learn!!😱. Lovely talented cast who need a funny, tall, elegant male lead. Please message me if you are interested and share anyway! Show dates 28/3 to 1/4. Thanks. Linda Dyne on Facebook.

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A Passionate Woman at the Royal & Derngate

Liza Goddard comes to Northampton’s Royal & Derngate in Key Mellor’s romantic comedy A Passionate Woman  from 7th-11th March

Stage and screen actress Liza Goddard, well-known for many TV roles including Bergerac, Yes Honestly and The Brothers, plays Betty, a passionate, doting Mum who finds it hard to accept that her son is leaving home to get married.

On the morning of her son’s wedding, Betty retreats to her attic where she relives her long-lost youth and the love affair she had in the 1960s. Surrounded by her memories and ghosts from her past, Betty finds herself torn between a husband she never loved, a son about to leave and the man with whom she shared a passionate affair.

Penned by Kay Mellor, whose credits include In the Club, Band of Gold and The Syndicate, the play is directed by Paul Milton, Creative Director of the Everyman Theatre Cheltenham, where the production opened embarking on a national tour.

Paul Milton says: “A Passionate Woman is a real feel-good play. It has a Shirley Valentine flavour to it: lots of romance, comedy and charm. It’s set in the present day, but has flashbacks to the 1960s. It’s the perfect play for a good night out!”

A Passionate Woman takes to Northampton’s Royal stage from Tuesday 7 to Saturday 11 March, with evening performances at 7.45pm (matinees at 2.30pm Wednesday, Thursday & Saturday)

Box Office: 01604 624811 or online: www.royalandderngate.com.

Rapunzel & the Tower of Doom at The Place in Bedford

I think The Theatre of Widdershins are probably the best puppet company in Great Britain – and they’re based locally!

They are bringing their show Repunzel and the Tower of Doom to The Place in Bedford on Tuesday 14th February at 2.30. The show is aimed at children of 4+yrs and I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Tangles? Split Ends? Frizzy? Flyaway? Its hard enough having a bad hair day but pity poor Rapunzel spending her life in a tower with a wicked old witch using her captives locks as a step ladder! What sort of damage is that going to do to your hair?

Theatre of Widdershins have taken this Grimm tale right back to its dark roots, teased out the tangles and styled it into a beautifully coiffured hair piece! This enchanting show promises plenty of body, volume and loads of highlights. Make an appointment to see the show today because youre worth it!!!

Rapunzel and the Tower of Doom is at The Place in Bedford on Tuesday 14th February at 2.30.

Book online from The Place website: www.theplacebedford.org.uk

Peter James’ Not Dead Enough at MK Theatre

Not Dead Enough at Milton Keynes Theatre until 4th February

Following the huge sell-out success of The Perfect Murder and Dead Simple, the thrilling work of multi-million selling author Peter James returns to the stage with the world premiere production of Not Dead Enough.

Starring Award-winning actor Shane Richie as DS Roy Grace and Laura Whitmore, one of the stars of 2016’s Strictly Come Dancing on BBC1.

On the night Brian Bishop murdered his wife, he was sixty miles away, asleep in bed. At least that’s what he claims. But as Detective Superintendent Roy Grace continues to deal with the mysterious disappearance of his own wife, he starts to dig a little deeper into the chilling murder case and it soon becomes clear that love can be a dangerous thing…

Olivier Award winner Ian Talbot directs Not Dead Enough – the third novel in Peter James‘ award winning Roy Grace series and the third play in his box office smash hit and critically acclaimed stage franchise. Peter has been acclaimed as ‘one of the most fiendishly clever crime fiction plotters’ (Daily Mail) and his brilliant novels have sold over 17 million copies worldwide. He is the 2016 recipient of crime writing’s highest honour, the Diamond Dagger.

Not Dead Enough at Milton Keynes Theatre until 4th February

Box Office: 0844 870 0887 or online: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

I went along halfway through the week and these were my thoughts:

After thoroughly enjoying The Perfect Murder and Dead Simple, both adapted for stage from the Peter James’ books, I announced on social media that I was looking forward to seeing Not Dead Enough at Milton Keynes Theatre this week. Someone messaged me back saying that this had been his favourite book and that it is a brilliant story.

Unfortunately, this adaptation from the book didn’t work quite so well onstage for me. It started well, but quickly became too easy to predict what was about to happen. Just too many obvious pointers that you could hear members of the audience whispering before the deed was done!

Having said that, Shane Richie’s performance as Detective Superintendent Roy Grace was exactly right and powerful enough to lift what was for me a fairly average performance. The set was good, split three ways between Grace’s office, the iterrogation room and the Morgue where some of the bodies had more life than one or two of the cast!

Perhaps I was in a mood that made me too hard to please, there is lots of tension, murders, bondage and intrigue so go along yourself and make your own mind up. The evening finished with the cast receiving a really enthusiastic and prolonged applause, well I can’t be right all the time!

Ernie Almond

Not Dead Enough at Milton Keynes Theatre until 4th February

Box Office: 0844 870 0887 or online: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes