No Importance? Far from it.

Due to personal circumstances it has taken me a while to get around to this post, however that is not because I have been avoiding writing it, far from it.  Saturday, May 18th was a good day. Better even than I had thought it would be. I realised I needed to get my act together if I was going to manage to make it to Salisbury Playhouse to see ‘A Man of No Importance’ – it began its run on April 25th and May 18th was the final day but I am so glad I decided to go. I have to be honest, although I had read the advertising about this production and I knew that Fra Fee was in it (my main incentive for going apart from the Playhouse only being 30 minutes from home) but I had never heard the music and I didn’t really know what I was going to see. What I got was in fact a moving and powerful show – far deeper and more hard hitting than I had realised.

Mark Meadows played Alfie, a bus conductor in Dublin in the 1960’s. Alfie was a huge figure within the community, through meeting many people and reciting poetry on his bus rounds and also through the local (somewhat amateur and rather poor) drama group. He is the central character to this story and I absolutely couldn’t fault Meadow’s portrayal. Despite the surrounding community Alfie is lonely and trapped within himself – I had figured out why early on but Meadows made the character so real and I could absolutely feel his anguish. The story continues the community theme with the regular bus passsengers all being in the local drama club and all being rather shocked by the years choice of play – ‘Salome’ – seen as vulgar and blasphemous.

I loved how each character had a story, each one their own beliefs and many with something ‘to hide’. This made the story all the more poignant, that despite their beliefs, a lot of them were in some way ‘sinners’. Because of the Catholic rules, extra marital affairs, same sex relationships and children outside of marriage are all frowned upon hugely. A Man of No Importance covers these issues, all still relevant today in a touching and very real way. It also looks at how humans are fickle beings and the minute something seen as untoward occurs they will readily turn against friends and in some cases even family.

The reality of this is a sad fact and I think this production really hits home. Laura Pitt Pulford played the lovely Adele, an umarried newcomer to the community who everyone welcomes readily but who carries with her a secret. Alfie Byrne, the centrepiece of the community, a regular and popular chap until he comes out. Robbie (played by Fra Fee), the object of Alfie’s unrequited affections, who is having an affair with the married Mrs Patrick (Esther Biddle). Each person deals with their situation in different ways and it is not until the end of the play when the friends of these individuals realise that they are not as innocent as they would like to think either and how despite their secret lives, these friends are still the same people as they always were.

Beatings, being shunned, disowned and sent away were all things faced by people, and in some areas to some extent still are. A Man of No Importance covers them all and really does highlight this. Something I particularly liked was the way Oscar Wilde was used as an alter ego for Alfie in his battle with himself about his sexuality. It tied in beautifully with the love of theatre, ‘art’ as Alfie often refers to it, and his desire to be in a relationship and be loved just as heterosexual people were allowed to be. I also thought that the prejudiced folk showed their disgust well, Alfie’s sister Lily (Angela Bain) was well cast as she tried to come to terms with Alfie’s lifestyle and Mrs Grace (Mia Soteriou) added a lovely touch of humour to proceedings. It was also fun to see ‘rehearsals’ of the play within this musical as they were very realistic and full of the usual dramatic characters often seen in societies!

As seems to be a theme to the recent Irish shows I’ve been to, the cast are also the instrumentalists but the array of instruments they each play is incredible. Fra Fee alone played tin whistle, flute, piano and accordion (something which he apparently learnt to do in 8 weeks!) but they all provided the music for the entire production, regularly alternating instruments – I have to say I thought they were all amazing the way they just chopped and changed, each without any music to follow and all absolutely note perfect! The music itself was of a traditional Irish nature and was extremely pleasant, the songs helping to tell the story and sometimes adding an element of humour. The music was quite gentle but perfectly suited to the subjects within the show, with a lot of moving lyrics and beautifully told stories. I really enjoy these actor/muso productions, I think they bring another level to performances and I’m in awe (and rather jealous) of how talented all these people are!

I found myself riveted and really quite fond of the various characters – a good sign that the acting and storytelling was top class. I was lucky enough to go on the same day as some other theatre folk (Killian Donnelly, George Blagden and Niall Sheehy to be precise) but it was very interesting speaking to them about it afterwards. It seems that A Man of No Importance is popular in Ireland with Killian and Niall both having seen it previously (and admitting they would love to do it if it wasn’t for having to provide the music as well). They both agreed that this was a fantastic production – I had nothing to compare it to and thoroughly enjoyed it, but they both sang the praises of everyone involved and everything about it – high praise indeed!

As ever, I love expanding my library of plays and musicals so it was great to be able to see this, but I do feel honoured to have been witness to this rather special piece of theatre. If it is put on again I would definitely recommend that people go to see it as the impact is huge. It is a shame this was a short run but I will be keeping an eye out for it in future – it is just a shame that the cast of another production will be different as these guys were brilliant. A Man of No Importance? Perhaps. A Musical of No Importance? Absolutely not.

 

Keep dreaming,

Naomi xx

 

 

 

Killian Donnelly answers…

I am unsure how to begin today’s post other than with the utmost gratitude. I cannot express how much it means to me that I am able to write this today and I am completely overwhelmingly grateful to Killian Donnelly for his time.

As you all know I adore the theatre and everything in it so when Killian agreed to answer some questions for me I jumped at the chance. I am sure most of you reading this know exactly who Killian is, but for those who don’t he is an Irish actor currently appearing as Tony in Billy Elliot. With previous roles including Enjolras and Raoul, he also appears as Combeferre in the recent Les Miserables movie. He is a joy to watch as well as having one of the best sense of humours around and I hope you all enjoy reading this interview as much as I have enjoyed putting it together.

N: Your career began in Ireland where you were in a number of different productions, but did you always want to be on the stage?

K: I never wanted to be an actor. I’d always liked to sing etc but focused on becoming a primary teacher. Acting just took over. I grew up performing in amateur shows back home and from that my passion for performing just grew.

N: Your West End debut was in Les Miserables. Was this a show you particularly fancied or was it a case of auditioning for all sorts?

K: I’d never seen Les Mis but friends had encouraged me to get an audition. I lack the ‘get up and go’ so I’m very thankful for my friends’ encouragement.

N: You played a multitude of characters within Les Mis. Do you have a favourite and why?

K: Javert because he’s simply an incredible, complex character to play. Also the drunk in ‘Master of the House’!

N: You have quite a history with Les Mis – you were part of the 25 year celebrations at the O2 as well as being in the recent movie. Tell us about the O2, it must have been a pretty special occasion. Did you have to audition?

K: The O2 was incredible. I played the student Courfeyrac and I remember my first entrance during Paris; walking on that stage and saying to myself “you’ll remember this forever”. I was playing Enjolras in town at the time so they knew what I could do.

N: Since then you have played Raoul in Phantom of the Opera and are currently appearing as Tony in Billy Elliot. Which role has been your favourite and why? 

K: Well each role is very different. You always try to better yourself. Tick it off and move on. I don’t have a favourite but since I saw ‘Billy’ six years ago I’d always wanted to play Tony.

N: Do you have a favourite show? Is there something you particularly fancy performing in some day?

K: No. Just keep going for whatever comes along.

N: Who or what are your influences and inspirations?

K: My Dad.

N: Do you ever get nervous? If so, how do you overcome the nerves?

K: I do get nervous but that’s a good thing. The day I’m not nervous about an audition or show I’ll give up. I guess I use the nerves – adrenaline – and before I know it it’s [the show/audition] over.

 N: Would you ever take part in any of the TV musical star searches (e.g Superstar)? 

K: No. Too nervous. I take my hat off to those who do…well the good ones. The mad ones are just mad!

N: What is the most embarrassing thing to have happened to you onstage?

K: Toilet tissue was once stuck to my shoe when I was Raoul. I did a whole scene with it there. Also, during a pantomime I swung out on stage for a sword fight, but forgot my sword.

N: How did your role in the Les Mis movie come about? Did you have to audition?

K: Yes, everyone auditioned. I was in a room with all the legends for about 35 minutes singing everything from the students numbers to ‘Master of the House’.

N: In your opinion, do you prefer the stage version or the film version and why? (I am a cop out and love both, though I am not sure anything will ever top live theatre).

K: I think the film explains the story clearer but the stage show is timeless. It’s so epic.

N: Do you have any funny stories or anecdotes from filming?

K: Well we always worked hard and very long hours, so whenever there was down time we’d joke. Myself and Alistair [Brammer] would somehow end up laughing. There’s no real anecdotes, it was just an incredible experience.

N: Would you like to move more towards film/TV?

K: As an actor I just want to do what comes along. I definitely would love to do more film and TV but I prefer theatre.

N: Did you cry when you watched the movie?

K: I cried at the end because I was so proud to be involved. I sat beside Fra [Fee] and we hugged and cried to each other like proper men.

Still from the Les Mis 2012 film.

Still from the Les Mis 2012 film.

And a final few:

Describe yourself in 3 words: Aggressive, Boring, Small. (?? If you say so Killian!)

What one item couldn’t you live without?: Cup of tea.

Would you ever consider joining a touring production? Yes.

What is your favourite costume to date? Blue pants (Billy Elliot).

Are any of the characters you’ve played anything like yourself? Yes. I tend to find I burst into song at random points during my day, whether I’m paying a bill or ordering a Chinese. Also they’re all male!

What would be your last meal if you had to choose? Large Big Mac meal and nine nuggets. With Coke. 

Would you consider recording an album as many others are doing? Probably someday.

Do you have any advice for people wanting to do your job? Never give up. Me in a West End show is proof that anyone can do it.

 

Once again, an ENORMOUS THANK YOU to Killian for answering my questions and giving me a good laugh in the process (the blue pants are definitely something to behold if you haven’t seen them). I believe he has every right to be proud of the Les Miserables film as it is stunning, but that said I think he should be proud of everything he has achieved. He’s a credit to the West End. And I have to agree that a cuppa is the one thing I too could not live without!

 

I hope you have all enjoyed this little insight into Killian Donnelly, it’s been my absolute pleasure. 🙂

Keep Dreaming (some of them come true!)

Naomi xx

Meeting Killian at Billy Elliot, April 2013

Meeting Killian at Billy Elliot, April 2013

Apologies to anyone who may own the copyright on the LM movie still. Happy to credit for use but it is not my picture.

 

A Bit of Everything

It’s been a busy couple of weeks and due to some of that being reviews of shows for The Public Reviews I have not been able to fully blog but find below my reviews of Boogie Nights and Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Boogie Nights was entertaining though struck me as perhaps being a little on the amateur side. It was good fun however. Chico (along with Gareth Gates and Andy Abraham – all TV talent show runners up) was in it and he has always irritated me intensely – I though perhaps he had changed, matured possibly, but alas he hadn’t. That aside though, when reviewing I can’t let my personal feelings towards an actor get in the way so I took him as he was and credit where credit is due, he can definitely dance.

It was an enjoyable evening and I probably would see it again – it was fun but it wasn’t necessarily the quality of many of the other productions I have seen. The music though is utter disco cheese – YMCA, D-I-S-C-O, Michael Jackson and Barry White so you cant fail to sing along! You can find my review in its original form here: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/boogie-nights-wyvern-theatre-swindon

I was also lucky enough to review Priscilla Queen of the Desert at Bristol Hippodrome. This was fantastic. I loved it. I can see that there is a type of audience member who would not enjoy this due to the fact it is insanely camp and slightly rude but it was hilarious, colourful and absolutely made me smile from beginning to end. I wouldn’t hesitate to go to see this again. My friend and I agreed it would be the perfect show for a hen night and we also were both in need of a pick me up and this production did that, without doubt.

If you get the chance to see this I would recommend it. I know that Jason Donovan leaves soon (to be replaced by Noel Sullivan) so I can’t comment on this replacement but I did feel that Donovan – who I have seen in several roles including that of Sweeney Todd – was not as strong vocally as he has been. That said, he made a super gay man and drag queen! All the leads were very strong though and really worked. I can honestly say I don’t think I have ever seen a show as flamboyant before. Do go and catch it if you can – still touring now. My original review can be seen here: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/priscilla-queen-of-the-desert-bristol-hippodrome

I have also been to see a couple of other productions. One was a(nother) cabaret and one was an amateur production of Oklahoma!. The cabaret, named ‘Dames N Dudes’ was held at the Hippodrome Casino in London by the fabulous John Partridge. Partridge is perhaps best known for his role as Eastenders’ Christian but he has also had a successful West End career in his own right. It was clear from this cabaret that the guy is a performer. A friend described him as reminding her of the Duracell Bunny and I can’t help feeling that this was a most appropriate observation. He never stopped bouncing, dancing or gyrating. His performance was super confident and his voice was superb.

I did not know entirely what to expect when tickets were booked for this but I was definitely not disappointed. There were no ‘showstoppers’ in the sense of big musical numbers, however he performed hits from a number of other artists such as Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand. I loved his rendition of ‘My Funny Valentine’ and his ‘Feelin’ Good’ previously by Nina Simone. You can watch him perform this here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKQQTrYC1Ww Apologies that the picture quality isn’t great, my phone kept trying to focus on other things! Sound quality will definitely give you some idea of this guy’s talent though!

Along with Partridge were some backing dancers (his ‘ponies’) who danced as if their lives depended on it – with Partridge joining in at regular intervals – his cracking band who played brilliantly all evening and Hayley Sanderson of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ who actually reminded me (in the nicest possible way) of Sabrina Aloueche and who backed him all the way. She also performed a couple of songs herself, one being a slightly alternative version of Del Shannon’s hit ‘Runaway’. Another surprise guest and real treat however, turned out to be Saffron of ‘Republica’ fame. Starting with ‘Ready To Go’, the audience went wild. This was a real blast from my past and I LOVED it. She was ace, and when she also performed ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ I just wanted to get to my feet and start bopping along! It was an added bonus having a chat to her about their recent tour and new single. Here is a clip of ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJmW6Of-WUE

In all another great night and the seemingly truly humble Partridge made a point of thanking everyone for turning out and appeared surprised that we had all turned out just to see him. I must say, if he does another cabaret then he need not be surprised when it sells out again as he was most entertaining with energy levels beyond normal ranges! I wanted to see A Chorus Line anyway, but now I really need to try to get there before he leaves – if Dames N Dudes is anything to go by then I cannot wait to watch him perform in that.

And finally for now, to Oklahoma!. I find it hard in a way to take myself away from the professional productions to make allowances for amateur shows but in fairness, this local show was actually pretty good. I am most familiar with this show having performed in two other versions of this musical with amateur societies, once as Ado Annie. I was impressed with the quality of the singing (I am a little biased as playing Curly was my brother) and all round cast performances. The girl playing Gertie Cummins had been called in at literally the last minute when the original one fell and sprained her ankle so could no longer perform. You would never have known, she was confident and word perfect (as far as I could tell). Laurey (played by Naomi McMurray) is always good in the leading roles with a lovely voice and the chemistry between her and Curly was plain to see. Sam Stevens as Curly was extremely strong. As my brother I would be honest if I thought he was terrible, but annoyingly he’s really good. It frustrates me as I would love to be on the West End but don’t have the voice. Sam, however, is every bit good enough but for some reason does not seem to want to do it professionally. I cannot tell you what this does to me!

I do not feel I can slate this show due to it actually being pretty good but I would have liked a little more clarity in his speech from Ali Hakim, and possibly a little more of a set, though they were able to use the minimal set to maximum benefit by including a lot of dance. Kansas City was confidently delivered and danced by Will Parker, who’s chemistry with Ado Annie and their comedy lines both came across very well. The Farmer and The Cowman is always good fun and this was no exception, they even included the full ‘ballet’ routine in this production. I find this a little long and uncomfortable but they made a valiant effort. In all this was watchable and fun and everyone tried hard to make this a good show.

I won’t bore you with any more details about the amateur shows I have seen so I will leave this here for today. I have another couple of things coming up so I will of course blog those. Thank you to all who read these and also for all of the lovely comments about my posts. I have had a few (some VERY unexpected) people come up to me and say they really enjoy what I write and this absolutely means everything to me. I’m determined to make this a success so comments are always welcome.

If anyone has any suggestions for something they would like me to write about, how I can improve things or any other comments then I would love to hear them. I’m determined to make this one of the best blogs out there for theatrical things so feedback is very useful.

Thanks again everyone, watch this space for some more posts.
Keep Dreaming,
Naomi xx

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