Take your pick: close harmonies, civic pride or variety at its very best
Theatre Royal, Plymouth, until tomorrow
New Jersey Nights didn't start terribly well for me. I prefer my set in place when a show starts, not moved on to the stage in front of the audience for no reason at all.
Then there was the cliched dance routines and the hammy stage business – ooh, look at me... I'm sweeping the floor/pretending to drink/ smoking a pretend cigarette.
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This show is a tribute to the many hits of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, with four singers, a backing band and six dancers.
Rather than Oh What A Night, I was remembering that Silence is Golden.
Still, as Frankie Valli would have it, Big Girls Don't Cry and I began to rather warm to the relentless enthusiasm of the performers.
We had some chatting with the audience and a potted biography of the hitmakers, but this was essentially a performance of Frankie Valli hits – others included Rag Doll, Be My Baby, Da Do Ron Ron, Sherry, Walk Like a Man and later hits like Who Loves You? and Grease.
One review for the show stated "if you love Frankie Valli, you'll love this". True, you will. With its close harmonies and cheery attitude, it's a great show for fans, but success is entirely due to the music, not this show.
Exeter Northcott until tomorrow then touring
Mobile phones, texting and rap bring this innovative re-working of Charles Dickens' classic tale into modern times. Challenging in the extreme, Theatre Alibi's gifted storytellers grab Daniel Jamieson's script to play out the story of Nell and her grandfather with spirit. Effortlessly moving in and out of character, the ensemble finds the light and shade, pathos and humour in this modern take on the tale.
Designer Trina Bramman creates a curious vintage record store, distressed paintwork hung about with record sleeves, with shelves of dusty LPs. An eclectic music choice ranging from Bach to Bowie underlines sharp projected film, moving action through London street and country village as Nell and Granpa escape.
Director Nikki Sved inspires her actors to inhabit roles with veracity. Sarah Kameela Impey, credible as 15-year-old Nell desperately tries to keep her world together. She is good, feisty and unafraid. In contrast, Derek Frood's loan-shark Quilp is a villain of the first order. There is menace and cruelty in this camel-coated sexual predator.
Christian Flint is commendable as Nell's weak-willed Granpa while Cerianne Roberts is hard-hearted crooked lawyer Sally Brass. Richard Holt plays Nell's heroic friend Kit with Malcolm Hamilton adding welcome humour to this dark tale as good-natured wide-boy rapper Dick E Swiveller. Jordan Whyte completes an accomplished cast that shares narration.
Cramming Dickens' lengthy yet vibrant tale into two hours is a huge task. Theatre Alibi fulfils its brief with skill, bringing the play to a vivid and dramatic ending that leaves an indelible memory.
Drum Theatre, Plymouth
Plymouth artist Beryl Cook captured a secret side to the city she loved – cheeky sailors and plump, short-skirted sweethearts, the pubs on the Barbican and the nightclubs on Union Street. A loud, brash and exciting world. There is an honesty and a passion in her paintings, which is reflected in the people who inhabit the city.
As one character says early on in this community play, there was a time when Plymouth really stood for something... "I'm not sure what."
Director Nick Stimson had the non-professional People's Company research their subject thoroughly before embarking on this play.
He begins in the city's art gallery, which is preparing for an exhibition of Beryl Cook's work. Three very different characters are sheltering from the rain when they are inadvertently locked in for the night.
Looking at one of Beryl's paintings, they realise they each have a connection with it. The painting comes to life to reveal their stories.
Again, the People's Company create work that is exciting, engaging and unpretentious.
A massive achievement... a proper job, me luvver.
Babbacombe Theatre, in season
There's magic in the air at Babbacombe where this year's show, a heady mix of song, dance and illusion is variety at its very best.
With a starry ensemble, it's a slick, smart, fast-paced show guaranteed to get full houses throughout the season.
Producer and director Colin Matthews brings together an experienced ensemble of multi-skilled performers in a programme of family fun. Headliner Phil Lowen, tall and relaxed and with an immediate warmth, is a superb comedy impressionist, recounting some tall stories, while amazing audiences with his ability to perform the splits in a comedy routine with the lads entitled What All The Nice Girls Love.
Also on the bill is glamorously costumed Danze Magique, junior cast Trix enjoy their moment in If Only Toys Could Speak. Highlighting the show's magical theme, master of illusion Daniel Dean astounds with The Ultimate Levitation.
Vocalist Keedie performs her hit I Believe My Heart and delights audiences in the romantic Whiter Than White performed together with the hugely popular singer Paul Cobley and with Stephanie Blackler, another versatile and impressive all-round performer.
Completing a well-balanced ensemble is diminutive Dean Winters whose cheeky personality and quick comedy patter are endearing. His Scottish medley and tribute to Lloyd Webber, delivered in irrepressible style, has the audience in stitches.