Tag Archives: Adam Haigh



Union Theatre



Union Theatre

Reviewed – 13th February 2019



“we can almost smell the absinthe wafting through the high kicks, cartwheels and splits”


This year, in the fourth of the Union Theatre’s ‘Essential Classics’ seasons, director Phil Willmott has turned to the theme of ‘Enemies of the People’, highlighting the process by which a ruling elite can attempt to silence not just opposition but also more benign threats that come in the shape of a ‘free spirit’. History has often taught us that the privileged class does not always know what is best for the common good; an argument that comes to the fore in the new musical, “Can-Can!”.

Not to be confused with Cole Porter’s fifties musical of the same name, also set in 1890s Paris, “Can-Can!” takes us into the heart of La Belle Époque, when Paris, formally scandalised by its artistic community, began to celebrate these former outcasts. Willmott’s production, directed by Phil Setren, is brazen and brave, capturing the very exuberance of the period. A real kaleidoscope of a show, it wears its influences openly. Taking as its starting point Jacques Offenbach’s ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’, which introduced the Can-Can dance to the world, it fuses operetta with music hall and transplants it into a plot loosely based on Arthurs Wing Pinero’s ‘Trelawny of the Wells’. Onto this already rich backdrop are added the real-life cabaret characters from the Moulin Rouge (in particular Jane Avril and ‘La Goulue’) made famous by Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings (the artist himself is also painted into the scenario).

The concept is fascinating, and inspired decisions are made. But like the assortment of source material, the show itself is a bit of a mixed bag. It takes until the second act to find its true tempo. For a musical comedy the timing sometimes slips and misses the pulse, while the rhythm of the dialogue suffers from palpitations. But the choreography does not miss a beat. Adam Haigh’s routines are simply stunning, thrillingly performed by the all-dancing cast whose energy threatens to burn a hole in Justin Williams’ and Jonny Rust’s evocative rotating set. Further aided by Penn O’Gara’s authentically flamboyant costumes, we can almost smell the absinthe wafting through the high kicks, cartwheels and splits.

The script, however, occasionally threatens to douse the fuse that is leading to the explosive finale. But luckily the spark manages to stay alight thanks to a story that bears all the hall marks of a well-structured, crowd-pleasing yarn. Jane Avril (the subtly operatic Kathy Peacock) gives up the stage when she decides to marry her well-healed sweetheart, Christian Bontoux (Damjan Mrackovich) only to find life unbearably dull, trapped in her fiancé’s austere household that detests her unrestrained personality. Escaping back to the theatre, she breaks her own heart as well as that of her beloved, who has also defied his tyrannical father in order to pursue the troubadour life.

If the action occasionally lags it is soon buoyed along by some stand out moments: the dream-like ballet sequence between Peacock and Mrackovich; or the final scenes of reconciliation during which Phil Willmott’s authoritarian character finally secures the audience’s sympathy. Secrets are revealed in some heartfelt revelations to the famous Cabaret Queen ‘La Goulue’ (a marvellously camped up performance from PK Taylor) that give us a surprising back story.

Despite a few splutterings on the way, “Can-Can!” ends with a bang and reminds us of the true intention of the piece. Which ultimately is to entertain. That it succeeds is confirmed by the exuberant hand-clapping from the audience along to the closing number.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Scott Rylander



Union Theatre until 9th March


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Carmen 1808 | ★★★★★ | February 2018
The Cherry Orchard | ★★★★ | March 2018
Twang!! | ★★★★ | April 2018
H.R.Haitch | ★★★★ | May 2018
It’s Only Life | ★★★★ | June 2018
Around the World in Eighty Days | ★★★ | August 2018
Midnight | ★★★★★ | September 2018
Brass | ★★★★ | November 2018
Striking 12 | ★★★★ | December 2018
An Enemy of the People | ★★ | January 2019


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The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – 4 Stars


The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Drayton Arms

Reviewed – 31st May 2018


“The cast were superb, with the quality of sound leaving a lasting impression after the show was through”


The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, is a musical mouthful to explain to your friends, but it delivers the plot of this 2005 Broadway musical succinctly and accurately. The story follows the fortunes of six students in their local final of the all-American tradition of the Spelling Bee, each with a good shot at winning and with their own story to tell of how they got there.

What sets this musical apart is its use of audience participation, inviting four audience members up onto stage in Act One to also take part as finalists. Watching each audience member attempt to spell with varying levels of willingness and success was very entertaining, and the novelty and improvised nature in the early rounds stove off any doldrum due to the repetitive nature of the Spelling Bee, keeping it entertaining for longer than would have been possible without it.

The songs giving insight to each character’s life, rather than necessarily moving the plot along, become more tiresome in the second half when the contest becomes a simple whittling down to find the winner. I found the building blocks of the show including plot, music and lyrics to be unimaginative, and was surprised to learn that the original Broadway production earnt a Tony award for Best Book of a Musical. However, the piece was produced and performed with such enjoyment that I couldn’t help but enjoy it myself.

The cast were superb, with the quality of sound leaving a lasting impression after the show was through. Elizabeth Chadwick as the Bee’s facilitator, Rona Lisa Peretti, has a stunningly crystal clear voice, and masterfully guides the action with it. The actors portrayals are also acutely funny, with Michael Watson-Gray as Douglas Panch, the slightly unstable school Vice Principal using each of the required spelling words in wickedly funny sentences. TJ Lloyd as William Barfee and Jeannie May as Marcy Park also had great humour in students who were confidently unphased by the event others were so eager about.

Set design by Victoria Francis is impressive, turning the small studio space of the Drayton Arms Theatre into a miniature school gym with letters littered across the stage, stickered on the floor walls and chairs of the gym. Similarly the choreography by Adam Haigh did well to liven up the action within such tight constraints.

With the components given, this show could have been a drag. But with such joy, care and attention applied by all involved, it instead brightened up my evening.


Reviewed by Amber Woodward

Photography by Alex Harvey-Brown


The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Drayton Arms until 16th June


Previously reviewed at this venue
Are There Female Gorillas? | ★★★★ | April 2018


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