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Jesus Christ Superstar

12-16 November 2019

Lyrics by Tim Rice with Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jesus Christ Superstar was their first musical produced for the professional stage over 40 years ago. A dark rock opera seen through the eyes of Judas Iscariot. Five Towns Theatre unrelentingly show after show, bring quality musical drama to the stage, the presentation, look and feel are of a professional standard. From the first notes of the incredibly tight ten piece band leaving the P.A. system I had a familiar warm feeling of expectation of the show to come. Andrew Turner as Judas was outstanding, the vocal dexterity shone from his opening number, fabulous light and shade and powerful presence. A great performance all round. The obvious tensions between himself and Jesus were physically portrayed with real passion. Nathan Adams as Jesus, should be fronting an arena touring rock band, what an amazing vocal range this young man has, hitting notes effortlessly with power and precision, yet also a tender fragility in moments that came across so well. The emotive Last Supper, the capture, torture, examination, Crucifixion scenes were so brilliantly staged, all the while he meekly and almost regally stayed calmly in character, enduring all. Excellent. Miriam Mould as Mary again really good performance, thoughtful and beautifully sung numbers, definitely need to see and hear more from her in the future. Pilate, Jordan Harrison a commanding performance, masterly, tongue in cheek, compassionate, he had fun in this role and it showed. Likewise the rest of the named characters, Caiaphas, Katie Leath; Annas, Molly Joynson; Herod, Sam Harrison; Simon, Ben Birkett; Peter, Lewis Harrison; always engaged, enjoying performing, giving their collective best efforts for the show throughout. As did the whole of the fifty odd cast members many playing multiple roles, the singing and in particular the harmonies were so well drilled and sung it belies the tender ages some of these performers actually are. Directors Keith Ragdale and Abby Evans, know their cast members so well, they get so much out of them. Having the actors integrating and working around the band, the great use of levels added a real dynamic to scenes, beautifully lit, excellent sound throughout, oozing quality. As ever Keith also had his Musical Director hat on – I must compliment each and everyone of the ten piece band, they did seem a little quiet at the start for me, that said I heard every instrument crystal clear, their collective efforts, not just in the execution or the interpretation, it was the subtle nuances and tones of each instrument which added a sparkle to the overall sound, brilliant score from 1998 I believe Keith told me, Loved it. Choreographer Ed Costello, created great flourishes of movement, be that en-mass or in small groups the visuals were well crafted throughout the production, costumes also worked well throughout, denoting different groups of performers. Five Towns has delivered a Hell of a show, powerful, passionate and visually dynamic.

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18-22 June 2019

The show was written by Tim Rice with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber it covers the last seventeen years of Eva Peron's life, starting at sixteen and her first taste of opportunity to better her standing in life, using men to reach ever higher circles in Argentinian society in the 1930's and 40's until her death from cancer in 1952 at the age of thirty three. Five Towns Theatre closed their last show Peter Pan at The Rep in Stoke on Saturday 25th of May 2019, to open with Evita some twenty four days later is truly remarkable, they keep doing this and might I add to a very high standard, no short cuts. There are many cross over players between the two groups who had roles in both. Amazing dedication. I will state for the record I'm not a fan of Lloyd Webber Musicals. That said regardless of originator it is the production, music, sound, lighting and cast performances that I'm appraising. Kia Matthews as Eva, had the unenviable task of filling the shoes of one of the Iconic Musical Female lead roles which she did admirably, the light and shade in her voice was lovely, she carried herself almost regally at times, her costumes and in particular her wigs were outstanding. Jordan Harrison as the shrewd and ruthless Peron, soon realises what a political asset he has in Eva, there was a real tenderness at times in their relationship which they both played well, nice interplay with the duets as well. Andrew Turner as Che (Guevara), the narrator of the show, interjected himself in and out of the action really well, a very well controlled wide ranged singing voice, gave us some lovely duets with Eva, setting the tone of a lot of the scenes with his facial expressions alone in some cases before a word was said. Molly Joynson as Mistress to Peron, her lovely soprano voice shone in Another Suitcase in Another Hall and showed its strength as it powered out at the end of A New Argentina. Ben Birkett as Magaldi, again brings a control and presence to his role, the eventual disdain from Eva as they meet again years later, about him still doing his same old act and his swift cutting reply as to her doing the same, was a window into the complexity of past relationships, especially with the knowledge of hindsight. The whole, very busy and quick changing ensemble, were a credit to the show, slick, enthusiastic, exuberant and vibrant when required, equally so, dour and sombre as required. Five Towns always seem to do good crowds on stage. Excellent work ethic throughout, all there for one another and the team. They danced with a passion and zeal capturing the heat of Buenos Aries in this turbulent time in its history, good lively choreography and movement throughout by Ed Costello, The Art of the Possible, worked very well visually as did the big full cast dance numbers. Lighting, costumes superb, props and scenery were very slickly presented and changed. The ten piece band under the Musical Directorship of Keith Ragdale really hit the spot for me, a total endorsement of the much improved sound at the Rep, every subtle musical nuance, every instrument came across superbly mixed at a perfect level to hear everything said or sang over the music, the band almost had as many changes of instrument as the cast had costume changes. Producers/Directors/Choreographer Keith Ragdale, Edward Costello and Abby Evans are a close team and it shows, they work well together to bring top class shows to the audience.

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Peter Pan

22-25 May 2019

Based on the games he would play with his brothers around the Pirates of Treasure Island and the Indians in The Last Of The Mohicans, James Matthew Barrie eventually began to write a script for the play Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. This eventually became the book Peter and Wendy, which became an instant best seller and hasn't been out of print since. Five Towns Theatre Youth are very much a nurturing company, finding and developing new and seemingly ever younger talented performers, channelling their abilities and potential in the right direction. A case in point are the two young leads in this production, both performing at levels far in excess of their tender years. Isaac Marmont as Peter Pan, charismatic, big hearted, almost devil may care with the hint of fierceness the character emanates looking after the Lost Boys and having to escape the evil clutches of Captain Hook, his impending voice breaking was handled very well throughout. Bibi Simpson as Wendy Darling equally impressive, her trained voice was outstanding for someone of her age, fabulous. Her consummate stage awareness prior to the flying scene to uncross wires was handled easily and unceremoniously. As I said, both performing beyond their ages. I look forward to seeing their future productions Jordan Harrison wearing two hats so to speak as Mr Darling and Captain Hook, bristled with evil as the latter, a fine foil against Peter and Wendy. Corey English and Stanley Gowler as John and Michael Darling respectively performed confidently. Likewise with Cailyn Clark as Tinkerbell, her actions conveying her intentions well. Lisa Stewart brought a real caring warmth to her role as Mrs Darling. The big supporting cast as Pirates and Indians worked their collective stripey socks and feathers off, lovely singing and good movement. Producers/Directors/Choreographers Keith Ragdale and Edward Costello ably assisted by Abby Evans and Chloe Harrison brought us a really fine show with some magical moments, the flying scene over the London roof tops was pure stage magic, well done. Musical Director Keith Ragdale obviously worked on the singing, the whole cast sang well, the duets between Peter and Wendy were spine tingling. As usual the quality of the musicianship was of the highest standard. Sound had a few issues with mic levels, the band mix to my ears required less brass and slightly more drums, that said I realise this is totally subjective of course. Lighting, costumes, were really vibrant and colourful, props and scenery worked very well indeed. Being extremely picky, as you would expect Maid Liza, Eleanor Adler, should have had her hair up in a cap and a feather duster rather than a modern anti-static one, a very minor point I know. The show catered toward the younger audience with a cutesy crocodile and with elements of pantomime at times in the second half, which went down really well.

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Sweeney Todd

20-24 November 2018

Based on the book by Hugh Wheeler, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has its own very particular challenges to bring it successfully to the stage. Five Towns Theatre continue their seemingly relentless desire to achieve the very best of performances from their cast. It seems no matter what the show, they push the envelope to produce some of the best results that local amateur theatre can achieve. The remorselessly driven Sweeney Todd, Oliver Bennett, had a real darkness to him, I enjoyed his portrayal very much, some of the quieter vocals didn't quite cut through the backing earlier on where we were sat in the auditorium but his full voice certainly did he was spot on. Abby Evans as Mrs Lovett, an absolute peach of a role for her, very well observed characterisations, manipulative, conniving, charming, comic, duplicitous. Excellent. From the tortured Dani Drakeley as the Beggar Woman, in some ways as equally lost as Sweeney, a fragile tortured mind, who knows what debasement she endured in her past to reach her lowly position in life, her outbursts and character lucidity switches we really very good. Keiran Picken as trusting besotted Anthony Hope, played well against antagonistic Jude Leath-Yates as the slimy Beadle, both well cast. Callum James as Tobias Ragg featured well in some of the memorable scenes, I particularly liked his crowd surf in Act1, again very watchable performance indeed. James Hart as Adolofo Pirelli had a chancer's menace to him. Likewise with Christian Stewart as Jonas Fogg, both enjoying being big fish in their respective ponds until dealings with Sweeney's revenge took there toll. I'm very glad to see Producers/Directors Keith Ragdale and Edward Costello heard my pleas from their last production the excellent Phantom of the Opera and gave us more opportunities to see Ben Birkett and Molly Joynson on stage, here as Judge Turpin and as Johanna. Consummate, passionate performances from both performers, superb strong voices, carrying the gravitas and helplessness of each role to a tee. Straight from the opening number the cast gave us a crowded London, it felt right. They were all very well rehearsed, they hit their spots, never looked out of place or cluttered in anyway. This is a big cast, around sixty on the Reps stage, a very big hand to all of them, they stayed in character, whatever it was, sang the amazing harmonies with an easy conviction and ability, borne of being well rehearsed. All involved grew stronger and stronger as the show progressed. The Fogg's Asylum scene in particular was outstanding - very, very impressive indeed. Music, as if Keith wasn't busy enough he also Musically Directed the show, the musicianship was absolutely sublime. Sound and lighting, scenery, every aspect had been squeezed to the maximum. Attention to detail was only slightly let down to me by some of the footwear, a minor point but a distraction, although I am being extremely picky, as I am sure you would wish me to be. Once again Five Towns has delivered a top notch production, showing a committed shared work ethic from everyone involved both on and off the stage.

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The Phantom of the Opera

20-23 June 2018

Five Towns Theatre don't seem to have any concept of stopping on how high to raise the bar, or indeed sitting on their laurels, show by show they keep producing performances of the highest quality and professionalism, whichever of their groups, be it their full group or Youth groups. Based on the novel 'Le Fantome de L'Opera by Gaston Leroux. The young leads, Ben Birkett as The Phantom and Molly Joynson as Christine Daae, were utterly outstanding, their vocal performances alone were truly exceptional, there conveyance of their characters in this classic Lloyd Webber show sublime. I hope we'll be seeing much more of these two in the future. All of the principal characters were excellent, the focus and intensity required on some of the seven part vocal pieces was a real credit to all of them, great characterization, some fantastic vocal and comedic performances belighing their tender ages. Produced and Directed by Keith Ragdale and Ed Costello, the pair also covering Musical Direction and Choreography, again seemingly with ease, ( by that I mean an amazing commitment from them both, the amount of time, effort and attention to detail in all aspects of their prodcution process is staggering) to bring yet another classic show to their audience, FIVE weeks. That's FIVE!! weeks since their last Full cast show The Wizard of Oz. Music, Sound and lighting, scenery, every aspect had been optimised. Little details can make such a difference, touches like the old style brass shell lighting fans for the front of the stage, the glorious grandness of the theatre arch, all drew you into this world, the corps de ballet, Masquerade, all cemented a vigerous and exciting all round performance by the youthful cast. The work ethic from everyone on the stage was both commendable and superb. Very impressive show indeed.

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The Wizard of Oz

8-12 May 2018

This is an almost impossibly HUGE show, firstly hats off to everyone involved in bringing this production to the stage at the Rep, the lighting plot alone was scary. I was reliably informed that this was worked on well into the early hours of Monday morning. It was time well spent, as the lighting was visually stunning, absolutely sublime at times. A massive credit to the Production Team Keith Ragdale and Ed Costello and all of their back stage staff all of whom are to be congratulated for taking on such a challenging production. The scene changes came thick and fast, as did the classic songs from the movie, very ably backed by the orchestra under Musical Director Keith Ragdale's direction. Dorothy played by Katy Ernest really echoed the role made famous by Judy Garland in the film of the same name, she also had a lovely co-star, Bella as Toto, it was almost a tie in the cuteness scale between Toto and the Munchkins. Her partners for the journey on the impressive yellow brick, Scarecrow, Sam Harrison; Tinman, Mike Blakemore and Lion, Oliver Bennett all gave great performances helping to reinforce very fond memories of these wonderful tunes. Katy was very well aided in her portrayal of Dorothy by the rest of the lead characters, most of which played two roles; all performed well. Mrs Gulch/Wicked Witch, the broomtastic Abby Evans was also on the top of her game. In the early scenes there were some diction issues which seemed to sort themselves out possibly this was first night nerves from the young cast. There were some great production numbers, Munchkin Land and The Emerald City for example. The Jitterbug standing out in particular in The Haunted Forest scene, which was very well presented and captured the fantasy aspect of this story. As if bringing OZ to the stage wasn't challenging enough, Ed Costello also had to fight the sound mixing desk, which developed a fault on the radio mic main volume slider, which kept turning itself off, I was very impressed how he managed to pull it off without awareness from the audience, he did this whilst simultaneously operating the lighting desk. Great sound, a really well balanced mix. Costumes were absolutely spot on. Vibrant and colourful. Great sets. This was a very challenging undertaking, despite a few technical hiccoughs they really pulled it off well.

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21-25 November 2017

We are truly blessed in this city of ours, the quality of our local theatre productions seems to be getting higher and higher. Oliver is another great example with an array of ages from five to sixty eight encompassing the group, this gave a real depth of strength to the show. The two young male leads Oliver, Alex Faulkner; and the Artful Dodger himself, Tristan Hood; bring a wonderful mix of innocence and street smarts, perfectly portrayed. Two of the best young performers I have seen for a long time, a great potential for the future of theatrical culture in our city. The production team have worked extremely hard with their cast to make the show a visual and aural treat for their audiences. Sound and Lighting were both superb, conjuring multi-layered atmospheric ambience throughout the show. Outstanding. Directed by Keith Ragdale, together with co-Director James Dawe, demonstrated great visual awareness using stage craft so effectively during the course of the show, to bring the audience an truly excellent show. Keith also handled the task of Musical Director, leading the superbly talented orchestra with great panache, Ed Costello, Producer and Choreographer was excellent, the cast movement and shaping throughout was just great to watch. Everyone was engaged in giving a good performance which was infectious. Creator Lionel Bart's musical Oliver, must surely have some of the best known show songs in the Theatrical world and all were delivered with great enthusiasm, majestic conviction and pathos. Some stand out numbers for me personally were, Food Glorious Food; Consider Yourself; Oom-pah-pah; As Long As He Needs Me; Reviewing the Situation. All of the principals were excellent, great characterization, the very essence of Bart's Dickensian world brought to life. I must highlight several for their performances which were outstanding. In order of appearance, James Dawe, Mr Bumble; Lucy Birkin opposite him as Widow Comely, this was an inspired pairing, comically played just right. Richard Masters' Fagin, I salute you sir. Abby 'Nancy' Evans, simply charismatic, beautifully portrayed and what a voice. The hard work and enjoyment from everyone on the stage was a joy to see. Feel Good Entertainment. Oliver - Glorious Food for the soul

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Little Shop of Horrors

20/24 June 2017

On the hottest night of the year, I was privileged to attend the first night of the hottest show in town. The comedy rock musical - being staged by Five Towns Theatre - features a light dose of horror in the shape of a carnivorous plant. It is adapted by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman from a 1960 sci-fi black comedy. They have added a rock 'n' roll score including great ensemble pieces and the very hummable Suddenly Seymour. Geeky Seymour, played brilliantly by James Hart, find fame, fortune and love with the help of a very strange plant. But when the plant starts to speak (and sing), he finds himself obliged to provide it with human blood to keep it alive. With a fabulous revolving set designed by Steve Reaney, and exciting choreography from producer Ed Costello, the audience was treated to a first-class performance. Danii Millward was beautifully ditzy as Audrey, and the four narrating singers, Abby Evans, Kloee Tomkinson, Katy Ernest and Hollie Burnett, had excellent voices. But Tim Cooper, in his first role with Five Towns, stole the show as the ill-tempered, rock-and-rolling plant. It was delightful to see so many young players giving their all and directors Keith Ragdale and James Dawe can be very proud. Little Shop of Horrors is on until Saturday. Call 01782 321666 for tickets. Judy Herbert

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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

24-27 May 2017

Five Towns Theatre have been producing outstanding amateur musical theatre since 2002. Every year they produce a number of shows, and this year the younger members of the group have taken to the stage to present their first of three shows of the year – Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Joseph, the UK’s longest running musical, is the retelling of the biblical story of Joseph and the coat of many colours from the Book of Genesis. Featuring unforgettable songs such as Any Dream Will Do, Go Go Go Joseph and Close Every Door, this upbeat family-friendly musical from this remarkable group of largely under 17s, is an absolute treat. As this year marks their 15th birthday, Five Towns Theatre really are starting the celebrations with a bang. With an impressive cast of thirty young people, eighteen children that form the Joseph choir and a co-directing team of James Dawe and Keith Ragdale, this group has all the hallmarks of a professional theatre company. Jenny Perry is charmingly endearing as the Narrator, and her voice is so beautiful and controlled for someone who is only fifteen years old. As the Narrator the show is carried on her shoulders, and she does an excellent job of guiding the audience through the storyline. Ben Birkett takes the lead role of Joseph and does a fantastic job. He has a strong, powerful voice that particularly shines in Close Every Door, and the development of his character is clear to see throughout. Jude Leath-Yates leads the band of brothers seeking to be rid of their popular brother Joseph. His characterisation as Rueben is perfect; he has a fantastic singing voice and his comic timing really sparkles in Those Canaan Days. He also doubles up as the Pharaoh, and his ability to flip from one character to the other is a joy to watch. Joseph’s eleven brothers were hilarious, with a variety of age ranges each worked together as a chorus to provide both hilarious and sombre moments. The rest of the ensemble and the Joseph choir had perfect poise on stage and provided beautiful harmonies and energetic dance numbers choreographed by Ed Costello. What is extraordinary for an amateur theatre show is the level of tech used in the production. The exquisitely minimal yet dramatic set (which I won’t spoil for everyone) and the impressive lighting – by Keith Ragdale – added that extra layer to the performance making it an absolute spectacle for the audience to enjoy. What really is impressive is that the entire production is performed by a group of under-eighteen year olds. Their confidence and command of the stage is superb, and you feel completely at ease watching them thoroughly enjoy themselves throughout the show. With an Academy opening in summer and Little Shop of Horrors just around the corner, Five Towns Theatre continues to go from strength to strength. Their community spirit, showcasing of young talent and impressive standard of work is a credit to them and the good work they do. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat plays at The Repertory Theatre in Stoke on Trent until Saturday 27th May.

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Into the Woods

22-26 November 2016

Journeying into my childhood, before heading to the theatre, i recall all of my favourite childrens tales and how much i preferred them in their original tellings. Tonight i was treated to a show that reverts back to those darker tales, but incorporates its own twists. 'Into the woods' is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. The musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault fairy tales, exploring the consequences of the characters' wishes and quests. The musical is tied together by a story involving a childless baker and his wife and their quest to begin a family (the original beginning of The Grimm Brothers' tale 'Rapunzel'), their interaction with a witch who has placed a curse on them, and their interaction with other storybook characters during their journey. In 2014 Disney debuted a film adaptation, starring Meryl Streep and James Corden. Five Towns theatre have produced a well polished version of this 'marmite' musical - you either like it or you don't. The set is simple but fills a large space and looks outstanding, especially when the show begins and it is lit accordingly. Director's Keith Ragdale and James Dawe make great use of the empty spaces and levels to the set, and it is never distracting when company members enter the stage. The show is choreographed by Ed Costello and the company do him proud as they moved fluidly around the stage. The company is large and it would be difficult to name them all but particular mention should go to Andy Turner and Danii Millward (Baker and his wife) who give very strong, 'real' performances - Danii showing particular strength in the shows final, emotional moments. Also Lucy Birkin as 'The Witch' shows powerful stage presence with her entertaining portrayal and strong (sometimes too strong) vocal ability. They are supported by the talents of Natasha Dawe, Sohail Al-Mahri, Hollie Burnett and James Hart, amongst many others who all give strong performances that help bring the shows famous fairytale characters to life. Sound was sometimes an issue but it was forgiven; this is Sondheim after all so a lot of people singing at the same time makes individual lines hard to hear. Given this is one of my least favourite Sondheim shows it was a thoroughly enjoyably night presented by Five Towns Theatre. 'Into the Woods' is on at Stoke Rep Theatre until Sat 26th Nov.

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