|Date||29th January 2022|
|Society||Star time Variety|
|Venue||Cornbow Hall, Halesowen|
|Type of Production||Pantomime|
|Director||Lisa Whitehouse and Holly Mills|
|Musical Director||Chris Handley|
|Written By||Holly Mills|
Author: Dave Brown
OMG. I remember seeing Startime Variety for the first time, it was two years ago with their production of Rapunzel (30/1/20). I never forgot the feeling of being surrounded by a company who had a true love for amateur dramatics. Effortlessly I discovered a strong supportive network and a history of hard-working past and present cast and crew members, who went above and beyond to produce shows. This company left me with a lasting impression of a strong, supportive, nurturing team of friends and family, so when I received an invitation for Startime Variety’s production of Hercules, I was eagerly looking forward to it without a doubt.
Thank you to Mandy Aldridge for the warm welcome and hospitality on this Saturday matinee.
Massive congratulations to the production team behind the show, including key members of the cast who helped bring the show to life. Lisa Whitehouse confidently co-produced with writer Holly Mills, (her fourth written show for Startime Variety, Rapunzel being one of them). Holly continues to show great promise with her writing with originality and inventiveness. Holly also performed in Hercules as part of the chorus.
A mention to the “last minute hero” John Griffiths who stepped in as Stage Manager, amazing backstage crew and a talented Musical Director Chris Handley who was also the voice of Zeus. Chris led a wonderful live band with a special mention here to Georgia Lumley on the saxophone.
Tina Lilly showed her versatility as a choreographer with dance routines which at times were mesmerizing, ethereal and quirky, especially complimented with the excellent distorted music in some scenes. Chris Handley again mixing and providing the “funky underground dance tracks”. All of the dancers and chorus completed the cast with a wonderful performance from each and everyone. There were lots of smiles and this was great to see.
Overall, the tone and energy of the first act was delivered very confidently, with a really strong start and the pace was perfect. It had great introductions to characters and fantastic jokes. Act two was a bit wobbly in parts but it soon picked up again with the pace and once the actors found their feet again.
There were some wonderful reinvented Greek mythical characters and some talented actors who brought them to life. It was also refreshing to see many new members who I believe had not performed on stage before and they took on many principal roles. Lewis Everall (Hercules) had moments of subtle charm and was a likeable lead and worked well with Gemma Shaw (Demi) who was a natural performer and had a great presence with a lovely voice. As well as performing in the show, Gemma was also in charge of the props to which she made many herself alongside costumes for the chorus and dancers. Her general support to the production team was very well regarded and in producer Lisa’s kind words, “nothing would have got done without her”.
Laura Davis who played a Psychic called Ty and Demi’s “bestie” showed some great delivery and careful awareness to her surroundings, with a playful and confident side to her abilities as an actor. Laura also provided much support behind the scenes.
Taylor Asquith (Philippa Tetes) was very playful and funny with his portrayal of a fitness fanatic based on the Greek character of Philoctetes and he made a strong impression with his exuberant costumes and personality, there was also great team work with Leia Harvey (Achilles). I was happy to see Leia on stage again, she stood out in Rapunzel (2020) and there was not a moment where I did not believe Leia’s performance which came across very natural and fun.
Now, Kieran King (Hermes) owned the stage every time he skipped onto it. He looked like he enjoyed this cheeky part very much. He also provided the audience with an insight into his improvisational skills to which I would have liked to have seen a lot more of, but the chance did not present itself.
The Ghouls, Liz Bennett (Anxious Anne) and Matthew Robinson (Ouch) were just brilliant together and caused just about the right amount of chaos but I also liked how they showed their vulnerable side. Hannah Grove (The Gatekeeper) who was also a dancer in the show, delivered a very quirky and lovely performance and her comic timing was spot on.
Ryan Wall who played Hades, was perfectly cast. He had the audience every step of the way. My personal favourite line was Hade’s disgruntled reaction when he caught Persephone, played by Beth Raithby, watching Earth on the monitor (tablet) and then his sheer disappointment because she was watching Earth without him! His line “You know Winter is my favourite season” was just genius. Both Hades and Persephone worked very well together. Beth had great instinct and great stage presence and did not falter.
After the show, I was asked to present some NODA Long Service Awards and it was a great pleasure to go backstage to present members with their badges. Lisa Whitehouse (co-producer) provided me with some lovely words about the members receiving their NODA badge to which I have worked some into this review with permission. Lisa informed me that the following are the gold standard of people who have kept Startime Variety going over the last few years and they are considered crucial to the company.
Members who achieved their 10-year Long Service Award were; Gemma Shaw, Laura Davis, Holly Mills and Kay Churchill. Kay would have been part of the chorus today but unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances some last-minute changes were made. Kay is a regular member of the ensemble for Startime Variety and has taken on several principal roles over the years. Kay has recently taken on the role as Chair on the committee and has ensured the safety of junior members making sure licences and chaperones are in place.
Finally, a 50-year Long Service Badge was due to go to one of the original and long-standing key members of the company and ensemble; Jeanette Greenway. Jeanette also would have been part of the chorus today but again unforeseen circumstances meant that she could not attend. Jeanette has proudly performed with Startime Variety over the years and has also performed with other companies in District 8- The Black Country, including Quarry Bank Musical Theatre Society (Q.B.M.T.S), Cradley Heath Amateur Operatic Society (C.H.A.O.S) and The Tab Operatic Society.
Thank you once again for your kind invitation to see this wonderful show. Hercules by Startime Variety was a fun, entertaining, well written, well produced and well-acted Pantomime. It was well received by the audience and after a two year break a much-needed adventure.