Tag Archives: Arlene McNaught

Little Miss Sunshine

Arcola Theatre

Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine

Arcola Theatre

Reviewed – 1st April 2019



“Mehmet Ergen directs the show with a freshness and inventiveness that allows the versatile and talented cast to sparkle”


What a treat this is. Turning a successful film into a stage musical isn’t an easy task, but this production by Selladoor manages it wonderfully. The story is true to the original and if you are wondering how the small Arcola stage can accommodate a VW van, a motel, a hospital and a Beauty Pageant, go and see it purely for the ingenuity of David Woodhead’s design.

This is one of those evenings at the theatre that has the audience buzzing and leaving the theatre with huge smiles. Some will also have a tune in their head, as there are some truly memorable songs (William Finn) in the show. The cast are excellent; this is a real ensemble piece where everyone gets a chance to shine, even those with smaller roles, such as Imelda Warren-Green who personified the old adage that there is no such thing as a small part with hilarious performances as Linda and Miss California.

For those not familiar with the film (written by  Michael Arndt), the story is about the Hoover family; a rather dysfunctional tribe, who drive from New Mexico to California so that their daughter Olive can enter a children’s beauty pageant. Olive, played this evening by Sophie Hartley Booth was the heart and soul of the show. She was hilarious, sweet and utterly captivating. Her performance in the talent competition brought the house down. Three other children, Ellicia Simondwood, Yvie Bent and Elodie Salmon played the Mean Girls, both the voices in Olive’s head that tell her she isn’t good enough and the other competitors in the beauty pageant. And delightfully mean they were.

The rest of the family each have their problems. Paul Keating played Frank, the gay uncle who has unsuccessfully tried to kill himself, with a gentle sureness of hand. Gary Wilmot’s scandalous grandpa is living on the sofa. He loves to shock, yet has real warmth and Wilmot brought a gorgeous tongue in cheek style to the role. Sev Keoshgerian managed to be very funny, characterful and convincing as Dwayne, Olive’s brother, even during the majority of the show when he doesn’t say a word. The parents, Richard and Sheryl, played by Gabriel Vick and Laura Pitt-Pulford are broke and struggling. Gabriel is optimistic about his ‘ten point plan for success,’ and expecting a book deal that never comes, but despite all the setbacks and obstacles, the family are determined to get Olive to the pageant. Pitt-Pulford sang ‘Something Better Better Happen’ with such genuine emotion that it brought a tear to the eye, and Vick’s ‘What You Left Behind’ was powerful and touching. They felt like a real family, each individually falling apart but coming together in the face of their difficulties; pushing the van to get it started, determined to finish the journey.

The two other cast members are Ian Carlyle and Matthew McDonald, who both take on a couple of contrasting roles. Carlyle is outrageously loud as the wonderfully dreadful pageant host, and equally good as the man who stole Frank’s lover. McDonald also convinces, both as the ex-lover and as the long suffering technical guy at the pageant.

Mehmet Ergen directs the show with a freshness and inventiveness that allows the versatile and talented cast to sparkle. There is a stunning live band above the stage (Musical Director Arlene McNaught) that perform their hearts out for every number. The perfect package is completed with great sound (Olly Steel) and lighting (Richard Williamson) throughout and some excellent choreography (Anthony Whiteman).

If Little Miss Sunshine gets a West End transfer, and it deserves to get one, I will be happy to say that I saw it in this smaller, more intimate space. Do go, if you can. The whole thing is a joy.


Reviewed by Katre

Photography by Manuel Harlan


Little Miss Sunshine

Arcola Theatre until 11th May


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Parade | ★★★ | May 2018
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives | ★★★★★ | June 2018
The Rape of Lucretia | ★★★★ | July 2018
Elephant Steps | ★★★★ | August 2018
Greek | ★★★★ | August 2018
Forgotten | ★★★ | October 2018
Mrs Dalloway | ★★★★ | October 2018
A Hero of our Time | ★★★★★ | November 2018
Stop and Search | ★★ | January 2019
The Daughter-In-Law | ★★★★★ | January 2019


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com


Austen the Musical – 4 Stars


Austen the Musical

Bread & Roses Theatre

Reviewed – 16th January 2018


“Edith Kirkwood manages to embody both the warmth and ferocity of Jane with commanding presence”


Despite being one the greatest romance writers of all time Jane Austen didn’t have the most successful love life, and in this ninety minute musical Rob Winlow examines the highs and lows of her dating history.

Playing Miss Austen is Edith Kirkwood, who manages to embody both the warmth and ferocity of Jane with commanding presence. Thomas Hewitt demonstrated an impressive vocal talent in his many roles, and although his portrayal of Jane’s first love interest Tom Lefroy felt a little flat he more than made up for it in the characters that followed.

Jenni Lea-Jones was a real standout as Mrs Austen, her clipped and lovingly judgemental tone was very reminiscent of Mrs Bennet and her voice was as strong as her characterisation. Adam Grayson was very warm and likeable as Jane’s father and one could really sense the bond between the two.

A particularly enjoyable scene depicted Mr Austen receiving rejections for his daughter’s works from snobby publishers (played excellently by Hewitt and Lea-Jones). Apart from another scene where Jane is bombarded with story suggestions from the public, there isn’t a lot about the response to her works. It would have been nice to hear more about her professional accomplishments, interesting as her personal life was.

Timothy Trimingham Lee’s direction allows the cast to navigate around the small stage area well, in particular during an amusing scene in which Jane attempts to escape from the hilariously creepy Reverend Blackall (Hewitt) during a ball.

The pace does feel uneven at points, particularly during a long dialogue between Jane and Dr Preston (Hewitt), but overall the writing feels grounded in reality despite the musical elements. The score has some powerful moments, particularly when the cast’s vocals are layered together. The duet between Tom Lefroy and Jane blended the actors’ voices together beautifully.

Arlene McNaught plays both the role of musical director and Cassandra Austen, Jane’s sister. Given that so much of what we know about Jane comes from letters between the sisters it felt very fitting that she would be ever present at the back of the stage. McNaught plays the piano and observes events silently, only interacting with the cast when she comforts Jane after their father’s death.

Though the final song, sung by Mrs Austen moments after Jane has passed away, was touching I was surprised that the show ended there. Perhaps a song about Jane’s legacy and accomplishments would have created a more positive impact on the audience rather than the slightly sombre mood we were left with.

This show is a great experience for anyone who’s curious about Jane Austen’s life, made even more enjoyable by the musical numbers and spot-on characterisation.


Reviewed by Ella McCarron


Austen the Musical

Bread & Roses Theatre until 20th January



Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com