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Tag: family entertainment

Raymond Briggs THE SNOWMAN Stage Show Review

Raymond Briggs THE SNOWMAN Stage Show Review

Fewer things are as magical as having children at Christmas time. It’s a time of awe and wonder, giving and sharing, and reliving family traditions. One such tradition for my family, as I’m sure it is for many others, is curling up on the sofa in our pyjamas on Christmas eve, and waiting The Snowman animation together. It’s what I did as a child, what I do now with my children, and hope it’s what they do with their children in the future, with fon memories of their own.

The Snowman, written by Raymond Briggs in 1978, was first broadcast as an animation in 1982, and has been a huge success ever since. And so, it seems, has the stage version of the show. Admittedly, I wasn’t aware of the production, perhaps with living in the north, and the show only being staged in London. However the production has been at Sadlers Wells for just over 20 years now, and continues to – ahem – *snowball* in popularity.

As you walk into Sadlers Wells Peacock Theatre, the magic is already visible. The stage setting is chunky and caricature like in style, as if the trees have been lifted right off the pages of the book. The lights are dimly lit, with blue hues to show off the projected ‘snowflakes’ that are whirling round the stage, giving the whole stage a snow globe effect. The programmes are hugely interactive for little people,with games, puzzle and colouring in sections, as well one great background information for the adults.

The music begins and the magic truly starts. The familiar melodies and tunes by Howard Blake transport you to another world, and we peer into the life of the boy and his mother and father on Christmas eve. Much like the animation, there are no words or narrative. The whole story is told by the music wonderfully expressive dancing. The dancing is fairly contemporary in style, to help with the individual concepts, like how the boy uses big, exagerated leg movements as he trudges though the snow, or the choir lulling side to side as they sing carols.

The Snowman has been on stage since the boy first created it, and suddenly jumps to life, much to the amazement of the audience! For those that are old enough to remember, his movements are remenicent of Mr Soft from the Trebor Softmint advert! This much amuses the children in the audience, with their shreiks and laughter echoing around the auditorium. They are totally captivated by him!

All the scenes are exactly as they are in the animation, with the addition of some creative characters, limbo dancing fruit, a music box ballerina en pointe, a toy soldier, and forest animals. Not forgetting Jack frost, who evokes a pantomime feel to the whole thing – the children loving to boo and hiss at his naughty antics! These characters have been written into the story seamlessly, blending so well with the original characters, that you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d always been a part of the story.

The production has a generous dousing of magic throughout, but by far the most captivating is the flying scene. As soon as the first few bars of “walking in the air” are played, the auditorium goes quiet, as you watch the Snowman and the boy take to the air, in what has to be the most nostalgic piece of theatre I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.

The Snowman and women dance considerably well given their rounded nature, with plenty of jumps and lifts. Althought how they don’t melt whilst undertaking these tasks under the stage lighting is amazing! I interviewed the ‘Fred Astaire’ snowman in a Q&A article which you can read here http://danceniche.com/2018/11/30/qa-with-cameron-ball-cast-member-of-the-snowman-stage-production/

Another welcome character is the big man himself, Father Christmas. The children’s faces all lighting up whenever he is on stage. I wonder how he finds the time in his busy work schedule to perform everyday, and put his spritliness down to all the sherry he must be drinking! Watching him piroette and leap about the stage makes it quite clear how he is able to indulge in all the mince pies he will soon be eating!

The final sprinkling of magic is after the finale and when the cast have all disappeared. I do not want to spoil the surprise for you, so i’ll say this…..it is well worth staying in the auditorium after the finale, as the production brings a little of the outside, inside, with ‘dusting’ of joy and a ‘flurry’ of excitement for all.

The Snowman is currently being shown at Sadlers Wells Peacock Theatre until 6th January. More information on dates and times can be found in their website https://www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/2018/the-snowman/

All in all, The Snowman stage shows manages to capture the essence of the animation and takes something that is so ingrained in the public’s hearts and minds, and do it justice whilst offering new highlights to keep it fresh and exciting. It’s a must see production for the whole family, and something that will bring you back year upon year, creating a new Christmas tradition that all will treasure for years to come.

*special thanks goes to Sadlers Wells Peacock Theatre and photographer Tristram Kenton*

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Q&A with Cameron Ball Cast Member of The Snowman Stage Production

Q&A with Cameron Ball Cast Member of The Snowman Stage Production

There are a number of things that have become quintessential to a typical Bristish Christmas, pigs in blankets, bad festive jumpers, and The Snowman animation on the tv on Christmas Eve.
Since it’s tv debut in 1982, the story of The Snowman, written by Ramond Briggs published in 1978, has become a huge part of many people’s Christmas tradition. And so, it seems, has the stage production!

Originally staged by the Manchester Contact Theatre back in 1986, it now resides at sadlers Wells Theatre, and has been performed there every year since 1999.
Cameron Ball, one of the cast members, answered some of our questions on what it’s like being part of something so special and what makes it’s so magical.
DN. The original story of Snowman is 40 years old and animated version almost 35. How does it feel to be part of what has become a national treasure?

CB. This is my fifth year performing in The Snowman, both in the title role and more recently in other roles. I feel very fortunate to be part of what is such a highlight of the Christmas season for many families. The story is timeless and always captures the imagination of the children who watch both the cartoon and stage version (now in its 21st year). I’m sure it will be around for another 35 years! Many of the cast and crew return to the show over the years as it’s such a unique production to be part of. This is my fifth time with the show – and it feels like coming back to a family! The show schedule is quite intense so you quickly form bonds with the cast and crew.

DN. Did you watch it as a child?

CB. I’m originally from Australia so the story and cartoon wasn’t a huge part of my childhood, but you quickly realise how much of an institution it is here. Now I make sure I don’t miss it every Christmas!

DN. How does the music make you feel?

CB. Howard Blake’s music is a joy to dance to. There is such a variety of styles and keeps things very interesting. The score is truly made for dance – it feels at once fresh and yet familiar, which is the genius of it I think. Of course, ‘Walking in the Air’ is a classic – there’s always a surge of adrenaline when it plays as you know the story is reaching a climactic moment!
DN. There are no words in this production, the whole story is told through movement. How does that change the way you dance in this production compared to others?

CB. As the cartoon and stage production use no spoken word, it has true international appeal. It means some characterisation needs to be bigger, and the mime and physical theatre is employed throughout. It’s a testament to Bill Alexander’s original direction, and the fabulous team that restage the show each year, that the story is told so vividly even without the spoken word.

DN. What is your dance background?

CB. I trained extensively in ballet, and in musical theatre. The ballet training has been very useful for The Snowman as Robert North’s choreography is rooted in ballet.

My career has mainly been in musical theatre both in the West End and internationally, as well as performing in various dance productions at The Royal Opera House, Royal Albert Hall, Sadler’s Wells and others.

DN. How did you prepare for the audition?

CB. The audition is a mix of ballet, contemporary dance and pas de deux work. Robert North’s style is quite particular so you have to be able to pick this up quickly. I familiarised myself with the story and the character, but the joy (or curse?) of auditioning is you never truly know what to expect! I always go to auditions with a positive attitude and an open mind, as every experience is different.

DN. How long are you in rehearsals before staging the show?

CB. The rehearsal schedule is tight – around three weeks. There is a lot to rehearse as we have three boys who share the role, who each need a fair amount of time, and there are major technical wonders like flying to perfect! The show is a well-oiled machine though – the team pull together and make sure everything is ready for the first performance.
DN. How much work goes into the special effects such as the flying scenes and the snow?

CB. I’m not giving any of the magic away, but let’s just say there are a whole team of people backstage ensuring the flying goes smoothly as it’s no small task! When The Snowman and the boy first take flight, there are always gasps of wonderment from the audience which is really exciting.The snow is a combination of lighting effects and real falling white powder. If you’re lucky you might get snowed on in the audience too!

DN. What reaction do you get from the younger members of audience?

CB. The show is a fantastic introduction to theatre as it encourages our younger audiences to experience a wide range of emotional responses: joy, sadness, suspense, humour, and a bit of magic. The way the story is told is very visual, and it moves along at a rapid pace, so it holds the attention of the children watching. The presence of familiar characters like woodland animals, a feisty cat, toy soldiers and ballerinas, and maybe even a visit from Santa Claus and his reindeer, means there is something for every child.

DN. Finally, what is on your list from Father Christmas this year?

CB. The good thing about performing in The Snowman is you can eat whatever you like over the festive season and stay in decent shape. I’m mostly looking forward to family time over the season, and some of my favourite sweet treats from my home land of Australia would be very welcome!

The Snowman is currently showing at sadlers Wells Theatre until 6th January. You can find dates and ticket information on their website https://www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/2018/the-snowman/
Watch out for my review article of the production next week for an in depth view of the production and opinions from the youngest reviewers at Dance Niche, my children!
*Special thanks goes to Saddlers Wells, Cameron Ball for answering our questions and photographers Simon Kelski for the headshot and Tristram Kenton for production shot*
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Review – La Fille Mal Gardeé | Birmingham Royal Ballet

Review – La Fille Mal Gardeé | Birmingham Royal Ballet

On approach to The Lowry Theatre Salford Quays, the exterior neon blue lights make it hard to miss. The bright colours continue inside with a modern, almost industrial feel. So it’s fitting that a non traditional ballet production such as Birmingham Royal ballet’s La Fille Mal Gardeé (or La Fille for short) would be showing there.

If you’re not familiar with the story, here are the cliff notes. La Fille Mal Gardeé roughly translates as ‘the wayward daughter’ and is set amongst the rolling hills of the countryside. A rule breaking daughter and overly controlling mother are at the centre of the story, including a handsome lover and a particulalry awkward suiter.44331935275_7f78d0ead4_k

Lise, the daughter is played by Miki Mizutani, the most dainty, music box perfect ballerina I’ve had the pleasure of watching. Her breezy, carefree demeanour was endearing, but boy can she pout when she doesn’t get her own way! There were a couple of hair raising moments with entangled ribbons and pointe shoes, but Miki had the quick thinking skills to breeze through them too, picking the choreography back up almost seamlessly – sign of a true pro! Her highlight for me, was a balance in attitude en pointe, whilst holding a bunch of ribbons above her head, and being turned on the spot by the dancers at the opposite ends of the ribbons!44331934325_4c646a21f2_k

Lise’s mother, Widow Simone, keeps an eagle eye on her daughter to prevent her getting up to mischief. Played by the larger than life Rory Mackay. With his genius comedic timing and over the top facial expressions, he easily makes the widow one of the most well loved characters in the story. Despite sporting some major padding and numerous layers of peticoats, he managed to execute a perfectly timed clog dance, which even that wasn’t without some comedy highlights!44331936345_e5b8c6da72_k

Alain is the son of a prosperous vineyard owner, played by Kit Holder, and whom the Widow has chosen to marry her daughter off to. At first, the proposed nuptials between him and Lise, makes you resent him a little, however being teased by the villagers and having his hopes of finding a beautiful bride dashed, you certainly warm to him. The way Kit plays Alain is a cross somewhere between Worsel Gummage and Franck Spencer, and his ability to dance without an inch of style or technique despite his high calibre training and skill, is an art in itself, and he easily steals the funniest character crown!44331937085_afdabb5c5c_k

The star of the show however comes as somewhat as a surprise, one which I’m not going to spoil for you. You’ll have to watch the production for yourself to find out, just get ready for the ‘awwwww’ factor!

No story is complete without a hunky love interest, and Lachlan Monahan fits this role like a glove. He plays Calas, a young farmer in love with Lise. His busrts of energy and athletic jumps during the allegro defy gravity, his tour en l’air and pirouettes a la seconde are sturdy and precise! Not to forget the way he partners Miki with a nurturing quality and genuine affection.30303623857_0347facea1_k

La Fille Mal Gardeé is a ballet that has it all – intricate choreography, pas de deux, comedy, folk dance, a maypole and more comedy. Did I mention it has comedy in it?! There are so many tongue in cheek, slap stick moments, it’s reminiscent of a classic pantomime, complete with its own widow! In fact, it should be reclassified from a ballet, to ‘pa-llet’ or ‘ball-to’ maybe even ‘balle-tomime’ – you get the picture.30303624647_e226e69ae9_k

The uplifting music and joyful colours of the cotumes really cement La Fille as a ballet for all, young or old, first time watching a ballet or seasoned pro. Birmingham Royal Ballet have a programme called First Steps, specially tailored to better suit the needs of children, however La Fille is such a gleeful delight, I’d have no issues taking my 2 young daughters to see this version. It would serve as a perfect way to introduce children to a full length production.44331936005_f014b018f6_k

Birmingham Royal Ballet are currently performing La Fille Mal Gardeé at The Lowry Manchester until 27th October 2018, where they move on to Salder’s Wells Theatre 1st-3rd Nov and finally The Grand Opera House Belfast 7-9th Nov. Tickets and more information on dates and locations can be found here https://www.brb.org.uk/whats-on/event/la-fille-mal-gardee

La Fille Mal Gardeé is certainly not one to be missed, my cheeks are still aching from smiling the whole way through, and if laughter is good for the soul, then watching la Fille should be prescribed as therapy!

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ENB’s ‘My First Ballet – Swan Lake’ Review

ENB’s ‘My First Ballet – Swan Lake’ Review

The English National Ballet have created their ‘My First Ballet’programme, retelling classic ballet stories with more of a U rating, (let’s face it, the world of ballet is often gory and tragic) suitable for little eyes, but still as much artistry and original scores to satisfy any ballet enthusiast. With help from a narrator and a shortened running time, they bring ballet productions to the masses, inspiring the next generation of art lovers.

The Swan Lake production starts with a friendly and theatrical narrator, Louise Calf, on stage, setting the scene and detailing the backstory. She is enthusiastic and expressive, perfect for captivating little minds and getting them to engage, yet quietly sits at the front of the stage and observes the following scenes, as not to become a distraction.

The dancers themselves are all members of ENB’s ballet school. It gives them valuable performance experience, as well as a taster of what it’s like to tour with a production and dance those iconic roles that are the pinnacle of every professional ballet dancer’s career. However, don’t let the fact that the cast are still students put you off. The English National Ballet School is a prestigious education system for only the very best emerging artistes of the future.Although, Swan Lake is regarded as one of the most demanding productions, not least because the characters Odette/Odile are traditionally played by the same dancer, here they are individual roles. However, even the legendary 32 fouettés (series of difficult, consecutive turns en pointe) have been included in this production. On this particular showing, I only counted 29, whether I miscounted whilst being in awe, or the dancer felt something was amiss and didn’t complete the whole series, that in itself is no mean feat, and they were executed perfectly!

The production has been cleverly reworked by Lou Cope, with choreography by Antonio Castilla and musical arrangements by Gavin Sutherland. There is a great emphasis on ballet mime, with is echoed through the narration, further helping to bring the story to life for the younger ones. The music scores have been shortened to keep production time down yet still include the most beloved melodies, and the choreography still contains some of the classic repertoire whilst injecting moments of humour and simplicity. No diving to her death for Odette here. The story now goes that Odile cannot go on with the trickery of the evil Rothbart’s plan, so she reveals her true identity at the ball, scuppering Rothbart’s efforts, and sides with Prince Siegfried and Odette, helping them to overcome the sorcerer and follow the path of true love, whilst Rothbart himself is released from the clutches of the dark side, to live harmoniously, and everyone, in true Disney style, lives happily ever after.

I’d also like to mention the wonderful programme that has been put together, again with little ones in mind. It contains beautiful illustrations by Mark Ruffle, the storyline written down with photos and picture symbols depicting the plot, some classic ballet moves and mimes to spot and even pages to colour in. And of course who can resist production merchandise at the end?!

From start to finish, My First Ballet Swan Lake is a complete sensory experience. It’s a wonderful way to introduce a younger audience to the world of ballet and the arts, perfect for their first to the theatre, and no doubt will encourage them to want to see more productions, as well as perhaps inspiring them into becoming the ballet stars of the future.

The tour is showing at The Opera House Manchester until Sunday 29th, with last minute tickets still available via this link http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/my-first-ballet-swan-lake/opera-house-manchester/or call the box office on 0844 871 3018. They then continue on to;

The Grand Theatre, Blackpool 5th & 6th May

http://www.blackpoolgrand.co.uk/event/my-first-ballet-swan-lake/

New Victoria Theatre, Woking 12th & 13th May

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/my-first-ballet-swan-lake/new-victoria-theatre/

Princess Theatre, Torquay 19th & 20th May

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/my-first-ballet-swan-lake/princess-theatre-torquay/

All information can also be found on ENB’s website www.ballet.org/myfirstballet

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