Our reviews...
 
 
 

Evita - 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.

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.

Sweeney Todd - 20-24 Nov 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.

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.

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.

Oliver! - 21-25 Nov 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

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

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.

Into the Woods - 22-26 Nov 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.

The Wedding Singer - 3-7 May 2016

Over the past few years it has become quite usual for popular films to be turned into stage musicals as is the case with The Wedding Singer, the latest production from Five Towns Theatre Company.

And I am pleased to say the standard of ensemble work in The Wedding Singer is very high - the choreography is innovative and each member knows the words and movements to perfection.  It must represent many hours of hard work to achieve such a standard and they are to be congratulated. 

Breifly, the plot revolves around the ups and downs of the love life of Robbie Hart (Rhys Gregory) the wedding singer of the title. 

Rhys is excellent and from the moment he bounds on stage at the opening he brings energy to the show and gives a strong vocal rendition of all his many songs.  He acts the role well using comedy and pathos to give life to his character.

He is equally matched in both dramtic and vocal talent by Abby Evans who plays Julia Sullivan, the love of his life.  

They are very ably supported by other members of the cast, namely Sohail Al-Mahri as Sammy, Jude Leath-Yates as George, Teague Davis as Glen Guglia, Kloee Tomkinson as Linda, Katie Leath as Rosie Hart and Natasha Dawe as Holly, who, with the company, gave am exuberant version of Saturday Night in the City, which ends the first act. 

Five Towns Theatre is essentially a youth company and one of the great joys of it's productions is seeing so many young people on stage who are obviously enjoying themselves. 

The cast are well supported (not overwhelmed I am pleased to say) by an orchestra that, although hidden from view, nevertheless plays an important role in the success of the performance.

The sets and scenery are fairly minimal, but adequate, and the scene changes, although numerous, are swift and efficient, never delaying the continuity of the show. 

Lighting and sound are also effective and make their contribution to an excellent evening of entertainment. 

If amateur theatre is to survive it needs young people - and the young people of Five Towns Theatre deserve your support. 

The Wedding Singer is at Stoke Repertory Theatre until May 7.  If you haven't already booked your tickets, I would urge you to do so. 

Jean Pointon

Ghost the Musical - 17-21 Nov 2015

Last night at the Stoke Repertory Theatre a packed house saw the opening performance of the Five Towns Theatre Group production of “Ghost, the musical.

As its title suggests the musical is based on the 1990 romantic film drama of the same name. The show with book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin and music and lyrics by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard premiered at the Manchester Opera House in March 2011.

Ghost the Musical is a difficult show to present – it has a ghost for its main character, it involves two cross body transformations, and a fatal car crash as well as numerous changes of scene. So my congratulations to Five Towns for having the vision and courage to take on this monster.

They make an excellent job of it. The scene changes are executed slickly and the minimal sets are sufficient to adequately convey the various locations. The car crash and body transformations are handled with a degree of ingenuity that makes them very credible.

There is not a great deal of work for the ensemble but their numbers were very well choreographed and slickly executed by even the youngest members of the company. I particularly liked the opening sequence.

There are four main characters in the show – Sam Wheat and Molly Jenson, the lovers parted by his untimely death, Carl Bruner, Sam’s treacherous friend and Oda Mae Brown the medium who acts as the 
channel to connect Molly and Sam after his death.

All four principals were strong both dramatically and vocally. Andrew Turner and Natasha Dawe were convincing lovers and we felt the pain of their separation. Lucy Birkin as the medium made the most of her role and provided some comic relief while Teague Davis as Carl was a smooth and smiling villain.

All the principals and indeed the whole company would have benefited from a little less volume from the Orchestra. Although it is a modern musical and volume is an essential element it is vital that where the story line, and in this show particularly, the emotional connection between the two lovers is carried in the song words the audience must be able to hear them.

Notwithstanding my last comment the show is one that the Five Towns Theatre Group can be proud of and one which I hope will get the support it deserves.

Jean Pointon

Godspell - 2-6 Jun 2015

Go, Go, Godspell!
Conceived and originally directed by John-Michael Teblan as an ensemble piece with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Godspell was first seen on Broadway in 1971, with the London production opening in the following year and featuring David Essex, Jeremy Irons, Julie Covington and Marti Webb. Through wonderful songs like Day by Day, By My Side and the spine-tingling opener, Prepare Ye, along with a mixture of drama, pantomime and vaudeville, the story of Jesus’ adult life is told from his baptism by John to his death on the cross. But, as well as telling the story from the Gospels, it is also a joyous celebration of the family of Mankind, a rock opera suitable for spectators of all ages.
Five Towns Theatre, under the excellent direction of Keith Ragdale, has produced a version of the show of which it can be proud. Despite the youngest cast member being only 6 years old, the company maintained a breath-taking pace and steadfast concentration throughout, with some lovely harmonious singing and well-choreographed dance numbers, led by Dance Captain Annie Knobbs, who performed both ballet and tap with elegance. The principals sang their solo pieces well, with Jude Leath-Yates playing Jesus, Nathan Adams as John/Judas, Abby Evans as Robin and Rhys Gregory as Jeffrey doing a particularly good job.
Staging, costumes and lighting were effective and the band, also led by Keith Ragdale, played well but unobtrusively, allowing all the voices to be heard clearly. Mr Ragdale had also brought out the humour of the piece in the re-telling of a variety of parables and bible stories and achieved a dramatic change of mood for the final scenes concerning Jesus’ death. My favourite scene was the silent Macarena performed as part of the parable of the prodigal son!
I urge you to go and see this lively, uplifting show, which is at Stoke Repertory Theatre this week, 2nd to 6th June.

Review by Judy Herbert

Scrooge the Musical - 25-29 Nov 2014

This was not a musical I had seen before, but of course the story was all too familiar. We would follow the transformation of one of Charles Dickens’ most famous characters Ebenezer Scrooge, from cold-hearted miser to the life and soul of Christmas.

The opening number introduced us to the large and impressive company who kicked of proceedings, singing a medley of traditional Christmas songs with enthusiasm and precision. The sound and colour then smoothly melted away to reveal the suitably dark and dingy offices of Scrooge’s money lending empire. It is here we get our first real sight of the man himself, and it must be said what a fantastic job James Dawe did of playing a man much older in years than himself. His physicality and spoken dialogue was impressive enough, but his ability to hold this character whilst singing a range of songs across the show was a real triumph.

There were a number of young performers in this production and each must be congratulated for their performance, Tiny Tim (Leigh-Thomas Aubrey) did a great job on pulling the heart-strings and Carys Brett was both a lovely singer and an engaging young actor.

Eventually of course we were introduced to the four ghosts, each did a good job of playing their characters and telling the story, however some of the technical effects surrounding the ghosts were problematic, although glitches like this are not uncommon on opening night. It might have been
beneficial to have more consistency around the appearances and vanishings of the various spirits to help demonstrate the progression of the night-time sequence more clearly.

The highlight of show was the Christmas party at Mr Fezziwig’s factory. The whole company really hit their marks for rousing number ‘December the Twenty-Fifth’ with powerful singing and sharp choreography. This song then gave way to the tender and beautiful ‘Happiness’, this song was sung perfectly by Scrooge, his well-cast younger self (Rhys Gregory) and his first and only love Isabel (Lydia Adams), and really captured the essence of Dickens’ original story.

This left us with the final scenes, which were of course a series of uplifting numbers with the re-born Scrooge spreading his merry cheer, and righting the several wrongs, the biggest Turkey in the shop was indeed bigger than the boy who had to carry it! The musical brought a focus on the value of friends and family at this time of year, and with a large cast of performers young and old giving it their all during the finale, it really did feel like this year’s festive season was underway.

Leo Capernaros

Grease - 27-31 May 2014

"This Grease is the one that you want to see"

GREASE – Stoke Rep

If you want cheering up after the dismal weather we have been having then you need to book a seat at Stoke Rep where Five Towns Theatre is presenting Grease. This rock ‘n’ roll musical was delivered with panache and gusto by its talented and energetic young cast.
Backed by a tight, rocking seven-piece band, under the direction of Keith Ragdale, and dynamic choreography by Ed Costello, the production zinged along.

All the principals were well cast and delivered the songs with aplomb when it was their turn in the spotlight. The chorus of nearly 30 supported the principals with verve and enthusiasm in the full-scale production numbers. So often choruses look uninterested, but not this one; everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The singing by the whole cast was clear, confident and projected with exuberance, to a very appreciative first night audience of all ages. The dialogue was a little hesitant on occasions and some laugh lines were lost and not delivered with the same confidence, although Rhys Gregory as Roger played to the audience beautifully as did Joel Tyer as the nerdy Eugene.

Lydia Adams as Sandy and Natasha Wearing as Rizzo handled their roles with understanding and conviction.

Dan Jackson as Danny grew into the part and led the ensemble with suitable swagger. All the other principals made valuable contributions to the smooth flow of the action and the slick pace of the production. The set consisted of four staircases which were used to good effect.

The costumes added to the overall 50’s style, creating a sense of time and place. The car was used with imagination and provided a variety of levels for the action. Everyone involved with this production deserves congratulations. It was a fine example of disciplined hard work which paid off handsomely because it communicated to the audience.

Grease continues every night this week at 7.30pm with a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. For tickets call 01782 321666

John Sillitoe

Footloose - 5-9 Nov 2013

THIS musical – based on the 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon – is an all-singing, all-dancing story of Chicago boy, Ren, who helps to revitalise a small farming town.

On moving there he finds a community still in mourning following the deaths of four teenagers several years earlier.

It is also a town where dancing and fun is banned by local law. Ren, played here by Jacob Worth, sets out to help the youngsters win over the town council and change the rules.

The young cast from the Five Towns Theatre Group did themselves proud, singing and dancing extremely well.

Choreography was effective and suited both dancers and non-dancers.

Worth, as Ren, was excellent, as were sidekicks Rhys Gregory and Chelsea Brownsword.

Five Towns is developing a great group of young actors.

They also danced and sang well and were very entertaining.

Zoe Twigg, Shannon Whetnall and Abby Evans formed a sort of 'Three Degrees' trio who guided us through the action.

However, a better balancing of sound would help the audience to be able to hear their words more clearly.

Oliver Davies, Krystyna Hammil and Vicki Kimpton, although young, took the part of parents.

They each interpreted these roles very sympathetically.

Musical theatre companies have to cut costs these days, so I have some sympathy with the minimal set used here.

However, it was rather too minimal and underdressed for me. Certainly, in the second half more was used and it made such a difference.

Footloose runs until Saturday at Stoke Rep, including a matinee on its final day (2.30pm).

Bad Girls the Musical - 28 May-1 Jun 2013

BAD Girls – The Musical is based on the original core characters from the first three series of Bad Girls on TV. It is set in the fictional HMP Larkhall with music and some very witty lyrics by Kath Gotts.

It's the story of friction between the fractions of new and old. The new idealistic Wing Governor Helen Stewart played by Shannon Whetnall and her battles with the entrenched old guard of Prison Officer Jim Fenner (Paul Deakin) who is salaciously smarmy together with his equally sly workshy sidekick Sylvia Hollamby (Wendy Breeze), who in reality are both in need of a custodial sentence themselves for bending the system for their own benefit.

For the fans of the series all the regular characters are there, including Shell Dockley, played menacingly well by Hannah Storey and her runner Denny Blood, Jess Akehurst, old-timer Noreen Biggs, Mike Blakemore, The Two Julies, Rachel Gregory and Kira Matthews who both pulled a few heartstrings and shall we say 'shapes', together with the King-of-Gangland's missus, Yvonne 'only visiting' Atkins, (Abby Evans), in their 'All Banged Up' number. Ladies!

Fine direction both of the cast and of the well rehearsed band, both disciplines were excellently handled by Keith Ragdale. A very capable cast, with some stand out vocals.

Effective and slick scene changes covered by moving back projections kept the show flowing smoothly throughout. For me if anything the show itself wasn't up to the fine cast assembled, I'm not sure of its target audience, other than die hard fans of the TV series. It didn't quite know what it wanted to be, drama, comedy, Vaudeville or controversial.

It runs until Saturday.

13 the Musical - 23-27 April 2013

Nearly 30 youngster showcase ther energtic singing and dancing in this coming-of-age tale of a Jewish boy.

Evan Goldman is transported from New York to Indiana, just as he is coming to his bar mitzvah.

He discovers love, deceit, friendship and coolness backed by a rock score played by a tight band under the direction of Keith Ragdale.

The cast respond to the score with energetic dancing and singing.

As the lead, James Price, is on stage much of the time and he does not disappoint. 

His is a confident, believable and mature performance holds the production together. 

Dominic Birch as Archie adds comic timing to his special needs character and shows that he is an adept performer at delivering a song. 

The female leads, Molly Joynson, Hannah Walton and Chelsea Brownsword also have their moments in the production. 

Jude Leath-Yates, Michael Blakemore and Rhys Gregory, as Evan's antagonists, also have their moment and demonstrate good ensemble playing.  The rest of the cast ably back up the leads with gusto and brio. 

The musical is relatively new, but a welcome addition as it is an excellent vehicle for youngsters to showcase their talents. 

This company certainly do that. 

The show runs nightly at 7.30pm, until Saturday with a matinee in Saturday at 2.30.  Tickets can be obtained from 01782 760311 or online at www.fivetownstheatre.org.uk

John Sillitoe

Boogie Nights - 13-17 Nov 2012

DISCO fever came to town at The Rep Theatre with the opening night of Boogie Nights.

The latest production by the Five Towns Theatre is set in the 1970s Liverpool club scene.

It tells the story of 'average Joe', Roddy, played by Steve Thornhill, whose dreams of singing stardom are brought crashing to the ground when his roving eye lands him in the mud.

Disheartened by his fame failings, Roddy takes his frustration out on long-suffering father Eamon and childhood sweetheart Debs.

It takes one fateful night, and the death of the King, for Roddy to appreciate that although some dreams may be ill-fated others are for the taking.

Thornhill's Roddy is the classic maddening yet endearing Jack-the-lad, while Hannah Storey as girlfriend Deb counters with the right balance of naivety and strong will.

Comedic relief came in standard sidekick form through lovebirds Trish and Tony – Debs and Roddy's best friends. Mathew O'Connor's brilliantly timed delivery as Tony was laugh-out-loud fun, as was his character's relationship with Shannon Whetnall's grounded but ditzy Trish.

Whetnall also shone with some great vocals, especially when paired with Storey and the leading men for a rendition of the Elton John classic, Don't Go Breaking My Heart.

Barry Simpson, as Eamon, also hit all the right notes, capturing real soul in a somewhat fleeting version of Elvis Presley's Always On My Mind.

The energy of the company was uplifting and unfailing, and the ensemble numbers really gave chorus members the chance to take centre stage, including Vicki Kimpton, as Lorraine, pictured.

If you want a good time and a singalong you can't go wrong with this show.

Boogie Nights is at Stoke Repertory Theatre until Saturday. Call the box office on 01782 321666 to book tickets.

Guys and Dolls - 27-31 Mar 2012

BLENDING comedic turns with heartfelt romance is no easy feat.

Yet members of Five Towns Theatre have triumphed in their production of much-loved musical Guys And Dolls.

Experienced performers take to the stage alongside a raft of budding young thespians to deliver a truly feel-good production for musical fans.

The story centres around high-rolling gambler Sky Masterson and his pursuit of missionary worker Sarah Brown, alongside glamorous nightclub singer Miss Adelaide, who longs to finally convince her long-term fiancé, Nathan Detroit, to put a ring on her finger.

Opening night saw Five Towns Theatre celebrate its 10th anniversary. And the production team and performers can well enjoy this milestone, as in this show the audience is successfully transported from the streets to the Hot Box Club before being whisked to Havana.

The glamour of the era is embodied by Zoe Twigg, who makes Miss Adelaide both a damsel to be pitied and celebrated.

Her seamless comedy turns are a backdrop to a heartfelt performance which resonate in her numbers, including Take Back Your Mink and Adelaide's Lament.

The interaction between the four lead roles maintains the pace and chemistry, as James Dawe (Sky Masterson), gives tremendous renditions of Luck Be A Lady and pushes some love into this fun production. His turn is aided by fellow gangster Nathan Detroit, (Stephen Degg), with his expertly delivered comic quips. Fellow gangster Big Jule, is played superbly by Scott Schofield, as a brooding character whose unpredictability is there for all to see. Sky's onstage romance with Sarah Brown, played by Millie Belcher, is a lovely storyline, and Millie copes well with a number of challenging solo numbers. Alongside them, Adelaide and Nathan's ongoing saga is played out with beautiful comic timing, as Adelaide is not only left downtrodden, but with a cold which leaves her sneezing throughout.

While nobody likes a sniffle, the audience certainly caught the bug for this production.

Guys And Dolls runs until Saturday, March 31. For tickets and further information, call 01782 321666

Dave Knapper

Little Shop of Horrors - 13-17 Sep 2011

LITTLE Shop of Horrors is the latest musical to be staged by Five Towns Theatre, a local amateur theatre company about to celebrate its 10th birthday.

Over the past few years they have built up a reputation for staging top quality productions and this one continues that trend.

The music, written by Alan Menken, was performed by a live band who could be seen at the back of the stage, although they gradually disappeared as Audrey II grew bigger.

The cast all had excellent voices, especially Zoe Twigg and Richard Bailey, who played the main characters. The chemistry between them was excellent.

James Dawe, who plays the plant Audrey II, is only seen in person for the curtain call but his two solo numbers are brilliant. He also does a fantastic job at making Audrey II seem a real living creature, no small feat when you consider the plant is big enough to devour most of the main characters.

Little Shop of Horrors is a show that is often performed by amateur groups, it has some really catchy music mixed in with an unusual storyline, but not many can pull it off as well as Five Towns.

This show provides evidence of the real talent Stoke-on-Trent can provide.

Little Shop of Horrors is at the Stoke-on-Trent Rep until Saturday. Call 01782 321666.

Daniel Keen

The Wedding Singer - 2-6 Nov 2010

The Wedding Singer Stoke-on-Trent Repertory Theatre

IF you are in search of the perfect antidote to these dark, dreary evenings then look no further than the latest loud and colourful offering from the Five Towns Theatre company.

Fans of the hit Adam Sandler comedy of the same name certainly won't be disappointed with this hilarious stage musical version of the 1997 rom-com.

Director Keith Ragdale has assembled a talented young cast of actors, singers, musicians and dancers for this bright and energetic homage to 1980s naffness.

The musical tells the story of unlucky-in-love wedding singer Robbie Hart, who falls for engaged waitress Julia Sullivan after being jilted at the altar by his own fiancée.

The comic dialogue is handled very well, and deservedly gets some big laughs from the audience throughout.

Stephen Degg puts in an exceptional performance as Robbie, not only singing and playing the guitar superbly, but also demonstrating excellent comic timing and flawlessly nailing the tricky American accent.

His rendition of Robbie's somewhat desolate ditty, Somebody Kill Me, is one of the funniest moments of the show.

Natasha Trinder, as the love-struck Julia, is also excellent, and her emotional duets with Stephen are extremely good.

Fellow cast members Zoe Twigg, Emily Andrews, Ben Schofield and Andrew Wellings also deliver some highly entertaining performances.

And the young ensemble cast deserves praise for carrying off some complex and well choreographed routines.

The Wedding Singer runs until Saturday, with nightly performances at 7.30pm, as well as 2.30pm Saturday matinee.

For tickets, contact the box office on 01782 321666.

Iain Robinson

Footloose - 4-9 Jan 2010

WITH Sisqo's appearance on Celebrity Big Brother threatening to bring back the thong, would Five Towns Theatre's production of Footloose herald the mullet's return to Stoke-on-Trent? While a cursory glance round Hanley on a Friday night may indicate the "business up front, party out back" look never left the Potteries, I'm happy to report it won't be gracing the Stoke Rep's stage this week.

Instead, an exuberant young cast, sporting the leggings and crimped locks of the current '80s revival in place of the spandex and gratuitous backcombing of the decade itself, ensure this stage version of the 1984 film that catapulted Kevin Bacon to fame is no Eighties throwback.

In their hands, the story is a more timeless confrontation between freedom – i.e. the right for the town's teenagers to bop til they drop – and repression, at the hands of the local preacher, who is so hostile to hoedowns he outlaws dancing. What could be trite is made sense of by a young, fresh ensemble, whose end-of-term energy as classmates and knowing take on party-pooping parents proves no-one can do teenage angst better than teenagers.

Particularly impressive is Joshua Mosiuk, as twinkle-toed city boy Ren McCormack, Filippa Di Stefano, as rebellious preacher's daughter Ariel, and iron-fisted preacher Oliver Davies, who does well to elicit sympathy in his role as chief party-pooper.

But they have strong support from girlie Greek chorus Kathryn Davies, Natasha Trinder and Natalie Webb, Kristian Walker as jealous boyfriend Chuck, as well as an almost scene-stealing performance from Jason Whitehurst, as über bumpkin, Willard.

Add to this a company that delivers toe-tapping tunes like Let's Hear It For The Boy and Kenny Loggins's iconic title track with enough zing and passion to make Wham look like Foster and Allen, and you have a production that definitely brings home the Kevin Bacon.

Five Towns Theatre's production of Footloose runs until Saturday. To book tickets, call the box office on 01782 321666.

Clare Hargreaves

Scrooge the Musical - 6-10 Jan 2009

THE tree may be shredded, the chocolates eaten and the credit well and truly crunched but there is still some festive spirit around this week.

 

It's to be found at the Stoke-on-Trent Repertory Theatre where Five Towns Theatre are presenting the musical Scrooge.

A young cast bring back to life Dickens's bah humbug tale of a greedy merchant banker, a story which suddenly seems to have striking resonance in fiscally-challenged 2009.

Ebenezer Scrooge doesn't do Christmas, and he only begrudgingly gives his long-suffering employee Bob Cratchit the day off.

But this is going to be one Christmas he can't ignore when the spirit of his long-dead business partner Jacob Marley pays him a visit, followed by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, which force him to reassess his miserably miserly life.

Scrooge is deftly played by 22-year-old Graham Hope, convincing throughout as an old man facing up to his inner demons.

It is a vocally-challenging part, well delivered with humour, pathos and even dance. His duet with his younger self, played by Darren Smith, is a genuinely touching moment.

There is another tear-jerker when young Ebenezer sings with Isabel, played by Elizabeth Crawford, who he loved and then lost. Elizabeth is one of several of the cast who has more singing talent than most X Factor contestants put together, Daniel Booth as Bob Cratchit being another.

In fact all the 50 youngsters taking part have been well trained in singing, dancing and acting.

Everyone acted while on stage, no-one stood there at the back looking like a spare part.

The choral singing included many harmonies and the choreography added both a joie-de-vivre and, in the case of the phantoms, an ethereal quality. Heather Chesters was an animated yet graceful toy-shop ballerina doll who came to life.

The special effects of the ghosts appearing and disappearing were professionally executed, as was the scenery which set the stage well.

Befitting of a musical, it all ended happily, with Scrooge making his own New Year's resolution to "begin again."

All in all, The Five Towns Theatre company demonstrate what a great pool of young dramatic talent there is in this city, and give the start of the year a feel-good factor, and for that we should say, in the words of the show's most famous song: "Thank you very, very, very much".

Scrooge is on nightly at Stoke-on-Trent Repertory Theatre, Leek Road, Stoke until Saturday at 7.30pm, with a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. Call 01782 321666.

Jackie Gregory

Godspell - 18-21 Jun 2008

Godspell is a diffcult musical for anyone to undertake so when Five Towns Theatre Company chose its youth section to present the work at the Mitchell Memorial Theatre this week, disaster could easily have been on the cards. 

Five Towns is renowned for its impressive youth productions but it has to be said that last night surpassed all expectations.

The diction, so vital in this musical, was precise, the singing extremely mature and the acting second to none meaning that this particular Godspell (despite some slight sound problems in the second half) was something to really shout about.

The beauty of Godspell, however, is that less is more, meaning that while the stage was dressed to impress only a limited number of props were used - and it worked.

Taking us through a series of parables taken from the Gospel of Matthew and a modern set of song that included Day By Day, Learn Your Lessons Well and We Beseech Thee, Godspell calls for a small principal cast and company. 

Leading the way as Jesus was Graham Hope who, as many will be aware from his past performances, always aims high and delivers. His Voice, like most of the main cast members, was strong and accurate and he did well to present such a demanding role so successfully.

Alice Bailey, Sarah Banks, Oliver Heath, Daniel Booth, Tom Anderson, Lindsay Kearns, Darren Smith, Georgina Challinor and Jade Washington also deserve great praise in their accompanying roles.

High School Musical - 20-23 June 2007

If the premise of Disney's High School Musical seems familiar, then that's because it is.  It's loosely based on film classic Grease and directly adapted from a Disney channel production of the same name. 

The story centres on the faultering relationship between teenage sweethearts Troy Bolton (Gareth Ridge) and Gabiella Montez (Elizabeth Crawrford) as they negotiate the perillous social complexities of an American high school.

And, as one might expect of a show that pays such dutiful homeage to its famous predecessor, clich??s and stereotypes are rolled out in abundance.  From brainless sports jocks to uptight, bookish girls and, of course, the obligatory happy ending, not suprisingly the plot itself doesn't withstand much scrutiny.  What matters here, as with Grease, is music and presentation.

Crutial to the success of that film was the shear exuberance of the musical numbers, a joyfulness certainly captured by the young cast members at the Mitchell Memorial Theatre last night.  After a slightly nervous start, the troupe of extras, dancers and singers tackled some ambitious routines with infectious enthusiasm, gathering appreciative hand claps from an audience only too happy to join in with the fun. 

The slower tempo duets and solos showcased the vocal talents of the four leads, with 15-year-old Elizabeth Crawford giving a particularly impressive and mature singing turn, her voice blending well with that of Gareth Ridge. 

That said, some made the most of dialogue that was sharp in places with Laura Curwen gamely playing for laughs as drama teacher Ms. Darbus. 

Now in its fifth year, the Five Towns Theatre Company fought hard to win the rights to stage this show and is the first company in the Midlands area to do so.  Capitalising on the phenominal success of the recent Disney film was an intelligent move and one that demanded a proffessional approach in the translation from screen to stage - this was more than realised in the set design, staging and choreography.

Yes, the story of High School Musical is familiar, but it was presented in a convincing and enjoyable manner.  What is more - with such high production values and imaginative direction the Five Towns Theatre is definitely one to watch. 

Disco Inferno - 22-25 Nov 2006

Flares, platforms and an all-important disco ball brought the 1970s to life at the Mitchell Memorial Theatre last night. Disco Inferno is the ninth production presented by the Five Towns Theatre and took to the stage for the first of five shows.

The Musical, set in 1976, starts when leading male, Jack, is about to celebrate his 21st birthday. Working late as a glass collector at the Disco Inferno nightclub he meets Lady Mamalade - the Devil's right hand lady. 

Mistakenly, he is persuaded to trade his soul for the chance to fulfil his wildest fantasies. His dreams start to come true as he makes it as a singer but he starts to lose his girlfriend, Jane, along the way. Whether or not he loses her completely is left for you to go and find out for yourselves, and you really must go. 

All the classic hits, such as Hot Stuff, Celebration and Boogie Nights were there and got the audience grooving, particularly at the end. In fact, the show was made perfect for families with one-liners for both the older and younger generations to appreciate.

It was clear to see that a lot of work had gone into organising the 24-strong line-up, especially as the play had been threatened by various injuries to no less than five cast members during the rehearsal stages.

Gareth Ridge played the lead role well and credit was also due for Mark Rhead, playing the goofy Tom, and youngster Aaron Jeffcoate, playing Terry D. The leading ladies all did excellent solo pieces but were dround out by the band in some parts of act one.

Disco Inferno is at the Mitchell Memorial Theatre until Saturday. 

Smike - 14-17 June 2006

One of the more engaging reality shows on our screens of late took the sassy members of the class of 2005 and transported them back to the days when O-Levels meant something and mis-behaviour meant a clip around the ear. 

This week 21 young people are going even further back in time.  Five towns Theatre's latest production, Smike, shows what happens when a group of disaffected youngsters get a taste of life in the not so tender hands of the Dickensian school master Mr. Squeers. 

This energetic local production opens to a home video while a loan child stands silhouetted and silent to one side.  On screen the scenes of happy childhood give way to newspaper headlines telling how the boy lost his parents.  Suddenly we tap into a theme as chilling now as in Dickensian London - what happens to a child without a family?  Smike is a well staged musical based around the tale of Nicholas Nickleby, as an inspirational new english teacher wins the hearts and minds of his pupils by producing a musical version of their set text. 

Don't let our recent Eurovision entry fill you with dread at the thought of pint sized performers in school uniforms.  This is a thoughtfully staged and extremely well rehearsed musical.  

Mark Rhead clearly relished the role of Mr. Squeers, delivering his lines with vilianous charm that earned him a few well placed jeers.  Little Rob Marshall as his son, Wackford, had tap dancing, acting and vocal talents wrapped up in a diminutive frame that looked as if it could so serious damage to a sooty chimney.

Other performers were equally impressive - I liked Abigail Holts ebullient comedy in her role as Mrs. Squeers.  

Performance are at 7.30pm nightly, with a matinee at 2.30pm on Saturday, June 17. 

for tickets call 01782 321666

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Five Towns Theatre

5 Chandlers Way

Stoke on Trent

Staffordshire

ST3 6QU

Office: 01782 912986

Box Office: 01782 321666

enquiries@fivetownstheatre.org.uk

Registered Charity No. 1132729

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