Last night we went to see Cats at Woking's New Victoria Theatre. We'd never seen Cats before - despite it being in the West End for many years. We were familiar with much of the music, as well as the book of poems by TS Eliot.

The first thing about Cats is that the plot is thin. Paper thin - but knowing the plot won't spoil the show for anyone, so I'll lay it out here.

The Jellicle cats have an annual ball, at which various cats are introduced (such as The Rum Tum Tugger and SkimbleShanks the Railway Cat). At the ball, Old Deuteronomy picks a cat to ascend to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn. Grizabella, and old and decrepit cat is chosen.

(The Heaviside layer is an atmospheric layer of ionised gas, about 90-150km up, used in the musical to symbolise death)

The musical frankly isn't about the plot. It's about the spectacular that is Cats, and it's very enjoyable. I particularly liked Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat - it gave me a big grin, as my cat is named for this cat (by the RSPCA). I also enjoyed Rum Tum Tugger and The Magical Mr. Mistoffeles, both big showstoppers, though some of the flashing pyrotechnics in Mr. Mistoffeles were so bright that they were uncomfortable.

Rum Tum Tugger in particular went down well with the audience, with the characters tendency to say 'look at me, aren't I fantastic?' every time he appeared on stage, even if just in the background. That man could strut.

Some of the supporting cats were simply excellent, ooziing cattiness. There was one woman, a ginger and black striped cat on a white body who really let loose, and just captured the eye (she reminded me vaguely of a young Lulu, made up as a cat) - she just seemed to be really in the moment. She's (currently) shown on the second image on the introductory page from Lloyd Webber. On the other hand the actress playing the white cat, though very good, did appear to relax a little too much when not centre stage. A few times when she was away from the focus of the audience her face dropped and she just looked bored. I think she had a bit of a cold, which can't have helped.

For me, the only real disappointment is the famous 'Memory', it's not from TS Eliot (though Grizabella is a TS Eliot creation) - and to me it sticks out like a sore thumb - it somehow doesn't 'fit' with the rest of the show. It's the only thing giving the show structure though - otherwise it'd be just a series of cats being introduced - but I wouldn't have minded that too much.

It seems that I was in the minority on this, it got one of the biggest rounds of applause (superceded by Rum Tum Tugger and possibly Mistoffelees).

A Sleeping Beauty Tale

Last night we went to see The Northern Ballet's 'A Sleeping Beauty Tale', with music by Tchaikovsky. Obviously it was based upon the Sleeping Beauty fairytale. This is Tchaikovsky's ballet re-imagined as a story of the people of the red and blue planets. There are spacecraft (I kid you not) and at one point, laser guns.

I recognised several of the dancers from The Three Musketeers, but it didn't really have the same energy as that excellent production. The thing seemed to plod a little. There was an opening introductory speech, followed by several minutes of curtain down whilst they did things to scenery.

The main set seemed to be in a tunnel, the flats were cut circularly. The concentric rings tended to make me think 'Tha.. tha.. that... that's all, folks!', which I don't think was the intended effect.

The entrance of the main dancer was good, she was revealed to be inside a golden ball. The cover was removed to reveal a plastic sphere with her inside. I'm amazed she didn't cramp, it was a tiny ball! Her 'first steps' were well done too, quite comic, but she was soon pirouetting and leaping with everyone else.

The 'revamp' doesn't really work for me. Tchaikovsky? Spaceships? I'm not saying this as someone who's precious about the ballet, I'm not, I just didn't think it worked. There was one guy (from the 'red planet' who reminded me of a Babylon 5 Centauri.

Essentially, the ballet followed the same structure as the classic, but instead of a spinning wheel, the princess is stabbed by a red and put into a hibernation. In the meantime the planet is ransacked by reds. This continues until Aurora is roused.

The third act dragged on somewhat, it essentially consisted of the reds slaughtering the blues, a couple of blues looking for the beauty, the red-leader (make up your own Star Wars jokes) chasing them. There was a bit of dancing around and red-leader didn't make it (he didn't die by impacting the surface). The beauty (Aurora) and a blue got it together.

As is often the case with ballet, the curtain call went on for way too long.

After The Three Musketeers, there was a high bar to clear, and for me, this fell short.

One Man Star Wars

We've just returned from seeing One Man Star Wars Trilogy with Charles Ross (he also does the One Man Lord of the Rings, which he's currently not allowed to tour in the UK, presumably due to the musical). The warm up at the start of the show was a guy called Matthew Reed, he was amusing enough and raised a few chuckles. He wasn't laugh out loud funny though. His stint was about 20 minutes, and then a break of about 15 minutes (we'd only just settled in!)... and the main event.

We didn't know what to expect... Well, we did... we expected One Man Star Wars (the clue is in the title). What we didn't know was, frankly, if it'd be much cop. We were pleasantly surprised. He does each of the three films in the original trilogy (not the prequels) in 20 minutes each, with most of the major plot points present. There are even the opening lion's roar and the scrolling text (okay, you have to imagine the actual text).

I won't recount the details, as if you've seen the films, you know the plot. As we left I overheard one woman saying 'I didn't really know what was happening'. Unsurprising, you're not going to understand the parody without at least some familiarity with the thing being parodied!

His rendition is hilarious. C3P0 was very well done, and Luke was uniformly presented as whiny, which hit the nail on the head. Not every word uttered was directly from the film (Luke's last line of 'Jedi' was very amusing, as was Han's reaction to Leia's revelation at the end of 'Jedi').

Chewbacca's reaction at the medal ceremony at the end of 'A New Hope' was very funny, and echoed what I've thought each time I've seen that scene.

Yoda was very well observed, the physicality with Yoda's (imaginary) cane was spot on.

For me, the best parts were the appearance of some of the minor characters. The thug in the bar who abuses Luke ('He doesn't like you..... I don't like you either') was very well done. Admiral Ackbar was good too, and reminded me of Columbo.

The battle to blow up the Death Star, with the visual representation of the various ships was good - we could instantly distinguish an X-wing from a Y-wing from a Tie Fighter.

A good night out, but it's not one for those rare people who aren't familiar with the films. The show is touring in the UK until mid-July. For one night at each venue it will visit Kings Lynn, Canterbury, Bradford, Newcastle, Nottingham, Northampton, Cardiff, Leicester, Cheltenham, Lichfield, Salford, Reading, Poole, London (for 7 nights), Durham and Lincoln. It ends its tour in Lincoln on the 12th July.

Oh, one thing.... there are StormTroopers at the Theatre. If you want a photo, go early and bring a camera. I didn't have mine.

Other Reviews: Christina on Myspace, Daily Vodcast, The Loy and a Video Clip via Chris Drummer and a podcast interview from iscifi

The Producers

Last night we went to see The Producers (UK) (US tour) (The Stage info). This was an excellent show, and for sheer entertainment was one of the best things I've seen in a while.

The Leo Bloom character was Joe Pasquale, and Max Bialystock was Cory English (though to be honest I wouldn't have known if it were an understudy). Both were excellent. I was worried about Pasquale squeaking his way through the piece, but he can go deeper if he needs, so it worked well.

The pair worked well together, and had little nods to the audience when needed, for example, Bialystock through a large sheet of paper across the stage, which drifted and landed in the waste paper bin.... the audience cheered. He acknowledged it, looked amazed and asked 'shall we put the fourth wall back up?' before carrying on with the number - he pitched it exactly right.

The playwright was excellent, and his pigeons were choreographed very well.

The star turn had to be Russ Abbot, who was excellent. Honestly. Russ Abbot played the director of the play. His entrance was very well handled, spectacular one might say. He carried off his dress that looked like the Chrysler Building with applomb. He also has what is my favourite line in the piece, the one about 'the singing Hitlers over to the left, and the dancing Hitlers to the right, please'.

The major set-piece was the actual staging of 'Springtime for Hitler'. This they handled beautifully.

Goose-stepping chorus-girls? check. Smarmy looking guy dressed in black singing the lead? check. Big mirror over the stage for the dance routine? check.

I was wondering how they'd manage the 'signature' routine, would they have enough people? The answer was no, but it didn't matter - they got around it in such an elegant way (think of what the PoWs did to avoid the Germans picking up on an escape, i.e. having a dummy in place of a prisoner). Essentially each dancer stook in a contraption flanked by two dummies, they then controlled the legs of the two dummies allowing them to 'march' in formation. It worked, it really did.

The Producers is something that is worth seeing, we came out with big grins.

For those unfamiliar with 'The Producers', it should be mentioned that the show is about making a bad-taste show in order to try and produce a flop - so it's not about glorifying Hitler and his ilk. At one point the playwright complains 'you've made Hitler look stupid', to which the Russ Abbot character said 'he didn't need our help'.

Rambert Dance Company

Last night, Monica and I went to see The Rambert Dance Company at Woking. When I say the word, 'see' I used that advisably. Monica says it was good. I'm afraid to say that I fell asleep, it's been a long week.

I did see bits of it though, it was pretty, it was athletic, but it was all about the movement; There was no overriding narrative but there were narrative elements. For example, in Lady into Fox', we see members of the hunt at a party. The hostess turns into a fox. The husband is concerned by this, understandably. She's then hunted.

I think the three pieces we saw were 'Stand and Stare', 'Lady into Fox' and 'Constant Speed'.

Whilst I really enjoyed seeing the Northern Ballet and the Bolshoi, the Rambert didn't keep my attention - as evidenced by my snooziness. The audience did give it a big round of applause at the end - which woke me up.

I feel like such a philistine!

Slava's Snow Show

On saturday, we went to see Slava's Snow Show I really don't know what to make of it, slightly disturbing clowns with big hats and a mournful different clown, apparently changing height at will, and covering the audience with cotton sheeting. Giant balloons abounded (with a 'boo' everytime someone in the balcony lost the balloon over the edge, and a cheer when it reappeared) - and clowns clambered on seats. Wind machines brought a blizzard into the theatre.

This was the weirdest thing I'd seen on stage for some time.... strike that... it was simply the weirdest thing.

I did enjoy it though.

I think.

Words for the wise:

1) Avoid going out at intermission, we came back to find clowns climbing through the audience. You have to keep an eye on these clown people... shifty.

2) At the end, when the big giant balloons come out that's the end of the show (you'll know it when you see it, and then wonder how they stored the balls backstage ready to go on). They wait there until the audience leaves. The giant balloons come out and the audience just play whilst the clowns wait... and when I say giant balloons, I mean it.

3) Given the giant balloons and a few other things, you REALLY want to sit in the stalls for this, the balcony is no substitute.

Birmingham and Bath are still on the 2006 schedule in the UK, then it goes back to the US.

The Three Musketeers

Last night we saw David Nixon's production of 'Three Musketeers' at Woking. It was produced by the Northern Ballet Company on tour.

It was simply stunning. Given that it's a touring company we were expecting the sets to be lacklustre, but they were top notch too.

The dancing was wonderful, and the story had a bit of meat to it - difficult with only dance to tell the tale.

There were several visual jokes which worked a treat, smuggling the queen out from under the nose of Cardinal Richelieu's men was very good. The cross-dressing King of France was quite amusing (providing a motivation for the Queen to lose interest in him). The final scene was incredibly busy, boxes flying everywhere (the wooden kind, not the protective kind --- though the protectives might conceivably be wooden, I'll admit).

I knew what was going to happen with the necklace, and even then I didn't see it happen, it was very cleverly choreographed.

There was a lovely scene with Dartagnan tied to the queen's maid, two people dancing whilst roped together was a great thing to see....

The swordplay was also done well, real swashbuckling stuff. The great thing is that, unlike for the Bolshoi, we were very close to the stage - provincial theatres do that for you. This put us right up close to the action, at a lower price than the 'Auditorium' seats in Covent Garden, and with production values that were on a par.

From Woking, the Three Musketeers goes to Nottingham, Milton Keynes, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Norwich, Manchester and Belfast. (Tour Dates - will update with time). There are other productions being performed at different places (Sleeping Beauty and Christmas Carol). There is a date in Sadlers Wells (London) next summer whose production is to be confirmed.

I would advise people to give this one a try. Quotes from critics can be seen here.

The Play What I Wrote

Last night we went to see 'The Play What I Wrote' at Woking. Monica quite enjoyed it, but I left feeling somewhat disappointed. It simply didn't do justice to what was possibly the greatest British double act of the 20th century.

The show is about a comic double act, one of whom writes bad plays, and the other is the funnyman (sound familiar?)

The author wants to put on 'The Play What I Wrote', and the latter wants to do a Morecambe and Wise tribute act.

Via several machinations, some of which involved a third guy dressed as Darryl Hannah, they end up doing the Morecambe and Wise thing, followed by 'The Play' in Morecambe and Wise style.

The thing felt very patchy to me, there were some moments that produced a chuckle, but these were only when they were doing 'straight' Morecambe and Wise (wey-hay!) - one of the duo had Eric's tone of voice to a tee. Unfortunately, these moments seemed few and far between.

The guest star was Lisa Riley of Emmerdale fame, and her introduction was handled pretty well (Morecambe and Wise style, but not a direct lift). She was refered to as Lisa Stansfield, Conda-Lisa and so on.

They riffed on 'A you're adorable', they did the paper bag bit, and the sitting in the flat was referenced too.

I left wanting much more Morecambe and Wise, and much less 'fluff'. I'd have been happiest with 'Morecambe and Wise: The tribute'.

It has to be said that the majority of the audience seemed quite content. I think I was in the minority.

Personally, whilst it was perfectly watchable, I don't understand how it could be an Olivier award winner. By the time they sang 'Bring me Sunshine', I was very pleased, partially because I've a fondness for that song (Eric and Ernie didn't always use it, and I always feel a little cheated when it's not in the show when it's repeated on TV), but mostly I was pleased as it meant things were finishing!