“a joyous piece of children’s theatre – and is sure to bring a smile to old and new fans alike”
For any family with junior school age children, Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates books have become a familiar and popular addition to our bookshelves. Liz has now written and illustrated fifteen books in the series, and when I mentioned to my ten year old son that Tom Gates was to be ‘Live on Stage’, he was very excited to see how that would work. Director, Neal Foster and Author, Liz Pichon agreed that rather than base the show on one of her many books, they would create a brand new story, and so in a first for the Birmingham Stage Company, they worked together to do just that.
The story starts in the classroom: Tom has got three sad faces on the class achievement chart. If he gets four, he will not be allowed to go on the class outing to the local biscuit factory. At home, his grandparents (the Fossils) have decided to renew their wedding vows, and preparations are in full swing.
Jackie Trousdale’s set is mainly comprised of six drop down screens that have Liz’s very stylised doodles projected onto them. These go up and down as the scenes change with amazing effect. Doors and windows appear and disappear in the blink of an eye, and the rain cloud that follows sister, Delia around constantly is very amusing. My favourite scenes involved Dad (Daniel Harkin), driving Tom and his friends around town in his borrowed hot dog van, all down to a clever projected illustration and some impeccably choreographed acting.
The cast work extremely well together, many playing multiple roles to deliver a fun and cohesive script. Matthew Chase proficiently leads the cast as the titular Tom, his signature hairstyle is lifted straight from Liz’s illustrations and is a nice touch. Justin Davies and Ashley Cousins as school friends, Norman and Marcus, really capture their characters – we all knew similar people at school! Amy Hargreaves shines through as sugary classmate Amy and the emotionally charged big sister, Delia.
Some of the funniest scenes involved Ashley Cousins as Granny and Matthew Gordon as Grandad. Grandad teaching Tom to play the spoons and a wedding arch made of Zimmer frames were among the highlights. Look out for the special wedding carriage, it’s very funny and brilliantly designed.
The whole piece is woven with original music by Liz’s husband, Mark Flannery, with lyrics written by Liz herself. The songs are catchy and witty, and bring more fun to the proceedings. Tom Gates – Live on Stage is a joyous piece of children’s theatre – and is sure to bring a smile to old and new fans alike.
Reviewed by Emma Gradwell
Photography by Mark Douet
Richmond Theatre until 24th March then UK Tour continues
“wonderfully witty, packed with mischievous gags that appeal right across the generations”
Built in 1873 as an answer to South London’s Crystal Palace, Alexandra Palace burnt to the ground just sixteen days after its opening. Two years later it was reconstructed as a kind of pleasure dome, with palm court, circus, concert hall with its own park land and railway station. Hidden at its heart was the spectacular theatre, that rivalled many in the West End with its size and ambition. Welcoming stars like Dame Ellen Terry, Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin.
A home for opera, dance, ballet, music hall, theatre and pantomime it entertained thousands in its heyday but eventually struggled to compete and, for eighty years, has been closed to the public, a hidden gem perched high above the city. Until now. Following a multi-million-pound refurbishment, the abandoned theatre is unveiled in all its former glory. The auditorium, resembling a forgotten and crumbling Roman temple, is vast but feels intimate at the same time. Reflecting its former use, the programming embraces a variety of stand-up comedy, classical recitals, jazz music; but the first big stage show is “Horrible Histories: Horrible Christmas”.
Birmingham Stage Company has been bringing Horrible Histories to life on the stage for ten horrible years now, and this latest version, in association with Derby Theatre, retains the anarchic mayhem that has become their trademark, while still managing to impart a little bit of knowledge onto its young and older, though not necessarily wiser, audience.
When Christmas comes under threat from a vengeful Santa imposter out to ruin Christmas, it is up to one young boy to save the day. A tight-knit troupe of eight actors take us on a whirlwind trip through Christmases past and present. Watson, the intrepid young hero, played with wide-eyed gusto by Tom Cawte, joins forces with ‘Shirley’ Holmes (Erika Poole) in a race to save Christmas. Speeding back through the centuries on Holmes’ time-travelling scooter, they join forces with Charles Dickens, King Charles, Henry VIII, St Nicholas (the bishop of Myra, in Turkey) and Oliver Cromwell, among others. Completely absurd yet informative, it perfectly mixes humour into its incisive, laconic low-down on the background of Christmas Day.
Terry Deary’s script (adapted from his own original publications) is wonderfully witty, packed with mischievous gags that appeal right across the generations. Never patronising, nor descending into superfluous slapstick, it satisfies the senses of the kids in all of us. Ally Pally’s auditorium is quite cavernous, but the talented multi-rolling cast create a warm glow that easily reaches the upper balconies.
Chris Gunter as Sydney Clause, the Grinch-like antagonist, and Ashley Bowden as his shambling side-kick, Rudolph, are a cracking comedy duo. Gunter’s sinister caricature of the ‘Bad Santa’ has shades of Tim Burton, with as many dimensions too; so that ultimately his performance transcends mere ‘panto’ and, like the show itself, is ultimately quite moving. In the meantime, Neal Foster, leads us through the Yuletide backstory shifting with ease between many characters with impressive versatility.
By giving us a potted history of Christmas the cast dig to the core of what Christmas should really be about. This horribly hilarious show is a real celebration of Christmas.