Tag Archives: Nikita Johal

The Ladybird Heard


Palace Theatre

The Ladybird Heard

Palace Theatre

Reviewed – 17th July 2021



“a pleasurable distraction during the dog days of summer”


It’s school holidays again, and despite the pandemic, it’s the time of year when parents look around for something to do with the kids. This year, producers Kenny Wax and Matthew Gregory have answered the parental call for help with What the Ladybird Heard. The sixty minute show, now showing at the Palace Theatre in London’s West End, is based on the best selling children’s book by Julia Donaldson (story) and Lydia Monks (pictures). It’s about the right length for the kindergartner and primary school set. Bringing this well loved character and her farmyard friends to the stage is a shrewd move on Wax and Gregory’s part. What the Ladybird Heard is perfect summer material to welcome the winter pantomime and Christmas audiences back into the theatre. The cast of four (with a last minute appearance of the ASM as a policeman) has an easy and skilled connection with the audience. It’s a pleasure to watch them show off their acting, dancing and musical abilities.

That said, if there is one weakness, it is the way the story has been dramatized. There are lots of engaging touches, including the set, designed by Bek Palmer, and based on Lydia Monks’ pictures from the book. The way in which the animals are created by the actors from bits and pieces scattered randomly around is fun to watch. The fourth member of the cast, farmhand Raymond (doubling as the dastardly burglar Lanky Len), appears to be an usher randomly recruited from the auditorium, much to the audience’s delight. The songs, composed by Jolly Good Tunes, are just that. And Howard Jacques has an abundance of nice lines in his lyrics. Nevertheless, What the Ladybird Heard is, at its heart, a story about stopping a crime. The Ladybird, with her farmyard helpers, has to stop the Farmer’s prizewinning cow from being stolen by a couple of thieves. It’s a dramatic situation, with the right amount of suspense for a satisfying denouément. But the plot takes a while to get going. There’s a lot of business about introducing the story, instead of just plunging straight in. It’s also unclear whether this is going to be a new story about the Ladybird, or just a rehash of the first story in the series. There is a strong feeling that there isn’t really enough material in the book to fill sixty minutes of stage time, even with all the singing, dancing and audience participation.

Ultimately, What the Ladybird Heard works because of its cast. Director Graham Hubbard makes the most of the talents of Roddy Lynch (Farmer), Nikita Johal (Lily/Ladybird), Matthew McPherson (Hefty Hugh) and James Mateo-Salt (Lanky Len), and the team does not disappoint. From building puppets to playing musical instruments, singing and dancing, the actors are up for any challenge, and that includes managing the audience. They are particularly adept at handling the show’s educational aspect, which is all about identifying the animals and pairing them up with the appropriate animal sound—crucial to the plot. The actors also work hard at helping the audience spot the ladybird, who is as thrifty in her appearances, as she is in her words.

If you are looking for a pleasurable distraction during the dog days of summer, take your kids (or someone else’s) to What the Ladybird Heard. The Palace Theatre staff are well organized for a visit to the theatre, and that includes the hardworking front of house team who are doing their best to manage social distancing and good hygiene practices, both inside and outside the theatre.


Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by David Monteith-Hodge 


The Ladybird Heard

Palace Theatre until 29th August then UK tour continues. Details whattheladybirdheardlive.co.uk


Recently reviewed by Dominica:
Public Domain | ★★★★ | Online | January 2021
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice | ★★★ | Online | February 2021
Adventurous | ★★½ | Online | March 2021
Tarantula | ★★★★ | Online | April 2021
Stags | ★★★★ | Network Theatre | May 2021
Overflow | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
L’Egisto | ★★★ | Cockpit Theatre | June 2021
Doctor Who Time Fracture | ★★★★ | Unit HQ | June 2021
In My Own Footsteps | ★★★★★ | Book Review | June 2021
Wild Card | ★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | June 2021
Luck be a Lady | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | June 2021
Starting Here, Starting Now | ★★★★★ | Waterloo East Theatre | July 2021


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Broken Wings – 3 Stars


Broken Wings

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Reviewed – 2nd August 2018


“there is sometimes a lack of variation to the musical numbers and as a result the show starts to suffer from trying to survive on a diet of power ballads”


“The Broken Wings”, Khalil Gibran’s poetic novel has inspired paintings and pop songs. It has been adapted into a film and now a musical – which is probably the most natural evolution for a novel rich in musical references and rhythmical text.

The tale follows Khalil Gibran, living in 1923 in New York, as he reflects on his life and his experiences in the Middle East as an eighteen-year-old who has returned to turn-of-the-century Beirut, after five years living in America, to complete his education and retrace his heritage. He falls in love with Selma Karamy, the daughter of a family friend. However, Selma is betrothed to another man; the nephew of the powerful Bishop whose eye is on the Karamy family fortune.

‘Broken Wings’ has sometimes been described as the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ of the Middle East, so it is fair to say that the young couple’s romance is doomed, as they fight to reconcile their love for one another in the face of the rules, traditions and expectations that their society lays on them.

Written by Nadim Naaman and Dana Al Fardan it is faithfully adapted from Khalil Gibran’s novel. Gibran’s views on love, marriage, children, joy, pain, death and loss are today all too familiar. They hang on the walls of homes and sit on bedside tables and are preached at weddings and funerals. Yet when it was first published in 1912 it was met with hostility in the eastern Mediterranean for its treatment of religious corruption, the rights of women and the pursuit of wealth over personal happiness. The musical successfully highlights the key social issues of the time, reminding us too that they are just as relevant today, over a century later.

Naaman guides us through the story with a speaking voice, rich and assured, while effortlessly sliding into song. His younger counterpart (Rob Houchen) shares the same quality but with an added purity that no doubt reflects the wide-eyed hope and stoicism of the teenage Gibran as the first waves of suffering lap around his ankles before the tide threatens to pull him under. Houchen is well matched by Nikita Johal’s Selma, whose versatility allows her to breathe tender notes before riding the crest of a crescendo with an ease that belies her slight physicality. The harmonies are strong, especially so when the full ensemble take to the stage.

Yet the real star is orchestrator and conductor, Joe Davison, who leads the nine strong band through the evening. A masterful musical director his baton is on the pulse throughout. The musical arrangements are haunting and quite beautiful. However, there is sometimes a lack of variation to the musical numbers and as a result the show starts to suffer from trying to survive on a diet of power ballads. The highlights, for me, occur when the melodic modes and influences of the East shine through. I was expecting more of this within the score.

This is a beautiful and well-crafted show; rich in atmosphere that is heightened further by Nic Farman’s sumptuous lighting. It is evocative and true to Gibran’s themes, yet like a postcard platitude that many of his words have become, it triggers the mind without really gripping the heart. Full of Eastern promise yet veiled by oversweet Western appropriation.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Marc Brenner


Broken Wings

Theatre Royal Haymarket until 4th August



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