Theatre reviews: The Elves and the Shoemaker, Blind and Henry IV

Northern Ballet's Elves and The Shoemaker
Northern Ballet's Elves and The Shoemaker
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The Elves and the Shoemaker, Stanley and Audrey Burton, by Alison Bellamy ****

A magical winter treat is in store for those lucky enough to see The Elves and The Shoemaker, by Northern Ballet. It struck me what a truly fabulous combination ballet dancing and this delightful Grimm’s fairytale make, with such an uplifting traditional story translated by choreographer Daniel de Andrade.

My girls aged 6 and 4 loved the performance and have been inspired and talking non-stop about magic fairy dust and what the naughty elves Tap and Stitch did on stage.

No longer is going to “the ballet” a grown-up, drawn out, stuffy experience but a fun-filled, accessible, cultural feast, made possible by Northern Ballet moving headfirst into welcoming and encouraging children of all ages, at its special shows and workshops, with cheap tickets too. The wonderful Northern Ballet dancers brought to life a timeless story of struggle and kindness against all odds.

The world premiere of the show, especially for children, but suitable for any age, at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre at Northern Ballet headquarters in Leeds, until November 1, is sold out, but will go on to tour nationally in the spring to 16 venues.

Blind, Theatre in the Mill, Bradford, by Nick Ahad ****

In recent weeks I have been fortunate enough to see a couple of one-woman shows that tackle the difficulties of trying to grow up female in a continuingly male-dominated world.

Blind gets added to the list of the ones that are tackling this tricky task with a power that makes them utterly compelling. Grace Savage is, if not unique, very, very rare in that she is a brilliant stage performer, an endearingly vulnerable onstage presence and a world class beatboxer.

Opening the show, Savage, using shadow puppetry and vaudevillian skills, tells us the story of how she was born to a circus performer mother – except of course she wasn’t.

In many ways, Savage was clearly a typical teenager, the thing that made her stand out was an obsession with beatboxing. In Blind she uses this entirely fascinating skill to great effect, but what raises the show above being just a gimmick is Savage’s sharing of pieces of her soul. A delightful conversation is played out on tape with Savage’s real mother and it speaks to the awkward teenager in all of us.

The show is a little loose, a little unstructured, but it really doesn’t matter when you have a performer this compelling getting a chance to share her voice uninterrupted.

• Leeds Carriageworks, November 14 and 15.

Henry IV, The Alhambra, Bradford, by Nick Ahad *****

Anyone who considers the history plays of Shakespeare difficult, really does need to see these entirely accessible productions that are positively bursting with life.

Seriously, I considered calling schools in the region myself to plead with them to take any teenagers studying English to these productions. RSC artistic director Gregory Doran has created two plays that fizz and pop along. There is a moment after Part I is halfway done, when the enormous efficiency on stage hits you – nothing here is wasted. Those who were in the packed Alhambra this week will know that they have witnessed something extraordinary from Antony Sher. He is incredible as the corpulent, life-loving Falstaff. His relationship with young Prince Hal is so beautifully drawn that your heart breaks when his friend disowns him, even though you know what is coming. The stagecraft on show, from all departments, is breathtaking. It is a joy to have the RSC in town.

• To November 1.