Julie Wilson - Official Reviewer
Beautiful - The Carole King Musical
Beautiful - The Carole King Musical - Palace Theatre, Manchester - Tuesday 11th October 2022
BEAUTIFUL IS A MUST-SEE PRODUCTION, ALLOWING US TO REMINISCE AND BECOME CAPTIVATED BY CAROLE KING'S HUGE SUCCESS STORY!
You can’t mention Carole King without mentioning her phenomenally successful album Tapestry - one of the all-time greats. It provides hit after epic hit and was performed in concert all over the world, including New York’s Carnegie Hall, where tonight’s musical starts us off. Beautiful is an exciting jukebox musical which tells the story of the eponymous Carole King’s great success in the music industry during the 60s and 70s. Featuring a vast array of chart hits from ‘The Locomotion’ to ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ and the infamous ‘Natural Woman’, this musical not only followed King’s growth as a person, but also demonstrated her development as an artist.
We follow King’s story from her being a talented singer songwriter teenager as she meets music mogul Don Kirshner (played beautifully – no pun intended – by Garry Robson). We watch as she falls in love and marries Gerry Goffin and they become an unstoppable song writing team. We are introduced to the friends she makes along the way of her remarkable journey, including best friends and rival song writing duo Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. There is a brilliant scene that even shows how the two couples were pitted against each other to come up with the next big hit, given a deadline, enormous pressure, and still they all came out smiling and the world much richer for the song it produced. We are drawn into King’s world, her extraordinary talent, kindness, and determination, and are reminded and surprised to find just how many songs she wrote, and how she often generously gave them away to other artists. It is a lovely, tale of triumph. Beautiful is smart in the way it uses the music on offer to it, taking artistic license to match it up with King’s circumstances, and make it seem like the song was specifically written for that moment in her life. For instance, ‘Some Kind Of Wonderful’ depicts the segment of the story where King is pregnant and ‘Will you still love me tomorrow?’ mirrors King’s insecurities about Goffin’s loyalty.
Carole King, played by Molly Grace Culter was particularly strong, showcasing her unique singing voice and impressive acting ability. Cutler was able to emotively capture her turbulent relationship with Gerry Goffin, played by Tom Milner, who was equally as brilliant at portraying his troubled yet driven character. Casting actors who are also musicians made for a very interesting watch as they moved seamlessly from dialogue to song. This was evident with Seren Sandham-Davies as Cynthia as we watched her belt out melodies on the trumpet. Jos Slovick brought wonderful humour to the production as Barry, and the development of his characters trait of hypochondria invited many jokes and laughs. The production was complemented by a large ensemble who played the likes of The Drifters and The Righteous Brothers, bringing both the King – Goffin and Weil - Mann music to life and transporting us back to the 60s and 70s. Special mention should go to Dan de Cruz, whose expert on-stage musical direction, gave the performers the cohesiveness of an orchestra whilst still keeping the performance light and free.
Whilst the stage set was fairly minimalist, the orange circular lights mimicking records and the ‘beautiful’ sign with neon lights created an eye capturing backdrop for the opening and closing scenes. This was all framed by a mosaic arch, housing the writing and recording studios. Add in spectacular costumes from Edd Lindley and the vibe is complete. Who doesn’t love a full on glitter jacket, fur trimmed dresses and spectacular suits with flares wider than the smiles of the audience? And if that isn’t enough – throw in some roller skates, sing, perform, and prove that this cast can do it all!
Not only did King storm the music industry with her talent but she did it on her own terms, and it is unbelievable to see the turbulence this strength caused in a dog-eat-dog music industry. It makes you love and respect King on a much deeper level. This musical is a must-see production, allowing the audience to reminisce about well-known hits, sung brilliantly by the company, and become captivated by King’s huge success story. As many juke box musicals, it finishes with a concert style ending, brilliantly inviting the audience to join in, sing their hearts out and leave the theatre high on the joy that King’s impressive back catalogue provides. There are ups and downs along the path of any fantastic songwriter, and whilst a musical is unable to capture all of them due to obvious time restraints, they still project the message that she had a lot of life to write about and produce timeless songs that will live on in our hearts forever.
WE SCORE BEAUTIFUL – THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL ...
Sheila's Island - The Lowry, Salford - Tuesday 29th March 2022
Went to see a performance of Sheila’s Island by Tim Firth at the intimate and busy Quays Theatre in the Lowry last night. Liz Cooke set design did a great job of bring the misery, wet and cold of the ‘outdoors – indoors. A minimalist set and backdrop worked well in creating a real sense of the isolation of the girls stranded on the island – great job!
The characterization, although partly expected, worked well as a group. Sheila, played by Judy Flynn, accomplished as the dependable, unflappable, logically thinking member of the group trying to hold them together amidst increasing anxiety and disaster. Fay, expertly played by Sara Crowe, the distant, fragile team member burdened by past troubles, always lurking just beneath the surface of the group’s conversation. Most of the giggles and unrestrained laughter at times from the audience was saved for Julie, played by Rina Fatania, who was the stand-out performer in her role as the batty, confused and hilariously ‘belt and braces’ prepared back-packer. The ‘Aladdins-Cave’ rucksack that repeatedly produced camping equipment but forgot the ‘essentials’ and her ‘back-to-front’ retelling of the ‘duck-bill’ joke were memorable.
All the one-liners were saved for Denise, played by Abigail Thaw, and whilst delivered flawlessly with impeccable timing, maybe there were just too many of them in too many lines.
Overall, an enjoyable night out with a lot of giggles and an ever-changing storyline which kept you engaged with the characters and kept you in anticipation of the next disaster to befall them on the island.
The stiletto-holed, soggy, floating Pepperoni slice has put me off Pizza for life!
WE SCORE SHEILA'S ISLAND - 8/10
Animal Farm - The Lowry, Salford - Friday 25th March 2022
‘Animal Farm’ the classic by George Orwell. Having studied this as part of my GCSE many moons ago I was intrigued on how this would be brought to life on stage as a physical piece of theatre. Director (Robert Icke) certainly did not disappoint combining the harsh realities of communism and several dark moments with some well-timed comic characters. These brought to life by the extremely talented puppetry designer Toby Olié and Bunny Christie’s simplistic dark empty stage set, cleverly depicting the dark message portrayed through the play.
Olié’s puppet cast life sized and unbelievably life like brought this full animal cast to life. The great puppeteering cast brought such intricate movements of the puppets from the feathered chickens, the mannerisms of the cat to the powerful, proud six-foot Boxer.
Several times I almost forgot that these great animals were being manipulated by humans viewing them as live talking animals. The characters Napoleon, Snowball and Squealer were particularly strong not only with their powerful aggressive faces but also as their corrupt leadership leads them back to how it began . This is highlighted by the intense, dark music by Tom Gibbons with the ending line “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’ which symbolizes the harsh realities of Russia’s dictatorship after the ‘revolution’.
The performance was able to keep the viewers engaged by condensing the 1945 political fable into a 90-minute showing through the use of a digital screen detailing key points as the scenes moved from one to the next. Battle scenes were intense and at times frightening forgetting the puppet nature of the characters on stage. It is clear there is an emotional and depressing feeling associated with images of puppets being killed on stage, leaving the audience ‘gasping’ during the ‘breaking of necks’, ‘tearing of limbs’ and graphic ‘executions’ again demonstrating the excellent skill of puppeteer Toby Olié and stage direction of Robert Icke.
The play certainly brought back my days of study however, its dark nature made it perhaps a good viewing for those older even though it was seen through the eyes of puppets. Nevertheless, a fantastic and well performed piece of physical theatre.
The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - The Lowry, Salford - Thursday 9th October 2021
The classic children’s novel by CS Lewis ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ was certainly brought to life on stage by Michael Fentiman. I can unreservedly say, this was a truly amazing show with quality shining through all the elements, choreography, stage setting, vocals and acting. Not to forget the extremely talented actor-musicians playing throughout this quick paced set.
The story follows Lucy (Karise Yansen) as she discovers a magical land through a wardrobe in their new home as evacuees of the war. Followed by her three siblings Peter (Ammar Duffus), Susan (Robyn Sinclair), and Edmund (Shaka Kalokoh) a magical world awaits them on the other side alongside new friendships Mr Tumnus (Jez Unwin) a friendly faun and the powerful lion Aslan (Chris Jared). However, the children soon realise this remote land has a rather cold welcome controlled by the White Witch (played by the talented Samantha Womack) and her evil companions.
The children although older than I imagined in this great production play the sibling roles fantastically and I was lost in Edmund’s fantastically choreographed ‘Turkish delight’ nightmare. The relationship between Lucy (Karise Yansen) and Mr Tummus (Jez Unwin) is beautifully portrayed and Tummus is a delightful character who warms the audience with his sincerity.
Samantha Womak as the White Witch is played with all the chilling evilness it deserves, her icy stare combined with her costume designs make this Witch one not to mess with. She is fantastic at playing this evil character.
Aslan played by both puppet and actor (Chris Jared) was jaw dropping as they appeared on stage, I was mesmerised by the huge Lion almost forgetting at times he was a puppet. Chris Jared’s presence on stage was not to be missed he played the brave heart-warming character with ease and beauty adorned by his superb character costume of dreadlocks and animal furs.
The comedy relief comes in the form of the delightful duo Mr and Mrs Beaver, Sam Buttery plays the military bumbling beaver with superb comic timing.
Tom Paris’ set and Fentimen’s direction bring this well-loved children’s novel to a new level bringing not only spell bounding and magical scenes to life but allowing us as adult’s to see the underlying themes alongside the fast scene changes, fluorescent dancing and nightmarish ghouls.
The production is magical, not only by the incredible visuals and the fantastic direction but it throws us all back to our childhood for a couple of hours to be lost in a truly remarkable magical land. A truly enchanting Christmas production not to be missed.
&Juliet - Opera House, Manchester - Tuesday 1st October 2019
Wow, what a musical! A twist in the infamous Shakespearean tragedy...what if Juliet didn’t die? The story takes us to Paris with Juliet on the road to self-discovery and romance accompanied by her nurse and best friends. The musical embodies strong empowering women and examines gender within our modern society all alongside fun and fantastic music. Right from the start I was immediately captivated by the strong vocals, choreography and stage set…all perfectly accompanied by famous hits from the talented songwriter Max Martin. The story begins with Shakespeare played by ‘Oliver Tompsett’ and the very witty and talented ‘Cassidy Janson’ as his wife Anne Hathaway, the chemistry and comic timing meant this duo perfectly complimented each other. Not only did Cassidy convey herself as an impressive actress but she is also an extremely professional vocal talent. Juliet played by ‘Miriam Teak-Lee’ conveyed a head strong character not only through her stage presence but also by huge power vocals, which were faultless. Britney’s classic ‘Baby one more time’ was mellowed allowing Miriam to expose her emotion. This contrasted with the extremely powerful of Katie Perry’s ‘Roar’ as she triuphamed as a strong woman. The audience were left in awe of her Juliet’s best friend May played by ‘Arun Blair-Mangat’ is played with such vulnerability and I felt real emotion when he sang Britney’s ‘I’m not a girl, Not yet a woman’. The musical also featured the comedy duet Lance, “David Badella’ and Nurse, ‘Melanie La Barrie’ provoking great laughter as they sang ‘Teenage dream’ and ‘Breakfree’. The love interest Francoise was played brilliantly with such fragility by Tim Mahendren and his version of ‘I kissed a girl’ was sang beautifully. Of course Romeo the goofy heartthrob who makes a reappearance to get the girl of his dreams played by Jordan Luke Gage is a favourite of the audience. Another great vocal talent. I could not end without mentioning the ‘Boy band’ in their performance of ‘Everybody’ by the Backstreet boys… it was a show stopper and had me clapping and tapping my feet at the same time as crying with laughter. Everything about this musical blew me away, from the costume design to choreography, set design, music and really outstanding talent. This is not a show to be missed…one I would quite happily watch again and again!
Rotterdam - Opera House, Manchester - Thursday 13th June 2019
Rotterdam tells the tale of two lovers caught in difficult times in each other’s lives, both with life-changing decisions to make. The elusive telling of this very current, gripping tale was backed up by perfectly timed comedy and true raw emotion which enthralled us as an audience entirely. With understudies in three of the four main roles at this certain performance, one would have expected the performance to be of less chemistry between actors, however the three, Rebecca Banatvala, Stella Taylor and Paul Heath all executed their roles with great success. Banatvala’s Alice was emotionally unsure played with perfect comedic timing, which was complimented by Heath’s Josh, whom appealed to the audience greatly with his strutting around the stage and comedy around every corner. Stella Taylor’s Lelani was a joy to watch, her verve was strongly apparent through her portrayal as the party-going Dutch girl. The focal point of the performance was Lucy Jane Parkinson as Fiona or Adrian as Parkinson becomes later known. Fiona/Adrian was perfectly executed, with the audience understanding their hardship in their endeavours followed with perfect comedic timing. Overall, Donnacadh O’Briain’s witty staging went strongly in hand with Jon Brittain’s masterpiece of a script. It was a joy to watch.
England v Senegal World Cup Screening
The House On Cold Hill - Opera House, Manchester - Tuesday 14th May 2019
Ollie Harcourt played by the talented Joe McFadden and his family Caro (Rita Simons) and Jade (Persephone Swales-Dawson) move to a run-down mansion unoccupied for years…or has it been? The family pledge to make it their ‘forever home’. Although the production is set in the archetypal ‘haunted house’, it was able to incorporate a modern day twist with its’ technology such as wifi, facetime and of course ‘Alexa’, adding a certain horror to the modern day society! The cast McFadden who plays Ollie convincingly captured the ironically excited husband looking to start a new life to his panic stricken portrayal fearing his family are in danger. McFadden also adds timely humour just to lighten the mood before the next scare. Simons plays the modern day wife firmly believing in what she sees and works brilliantly alongside McFadden and daughter Jade played by Swales-Dawson. Swales-Dawson conveys the typically moody teenager, frustrated with this new life as she constantly facetimes. Charlie Clements (Chris) as the technology geek plays the role brilliantly with his quirky mannerisms and at times we are left wondering as to whose side he may be on! Tricia Deighton as Anne also adds some comedy and humour as the ‘hippy’ medium to this thriller. Alongside this, the stage set although only showing a small part of the mansion is cleverly set with lighting which helps illuminate the creepy going ons in places you least expect. The thriller leaves you with the ‘who did it?’ scenario right to the end and left me wondering about using my own ‘Alexa’ gadget at home….. but the ending did not disappoint, even if going home in the dark took the toll on me!!
The Girl On The Train - The Lowry, Salford Quays, Manchester - Tuesday 2nd April 2019
Having read the novel by Paula Hawkins and watched the film with the famous Emily Blunt I was intrigued as to how this thriller could be brought to the stage. However, from the opening, although a simple set the excellent use of lighting (Knowles) to create the moving train image along with the clever use of sound (Ben and Max Ringham) really brought this novel to life.
Samantha Womack (Rachel Watson) longs to live the life of the ‘perfect’ couple she watches from the train window on her daily commute, a complete contrast to Watson’s; whose life has been turned upside down by her ex-husband and his new wife and baby. When Rachel finds out the woman she has been watching Kirsty Oswald (Megan Hipwell) has disappeared, she then becomes wrapped up in the thriller not only as a witness but as a suspect...digging herself deeper into what turns out to be a murder.
Womack played Rachel, the fragile and heartbroken alcoholic with such ease. She made it easy to feel real emotion and sympathy for her whilst simultaneously seeing her dark and psychotic side. She delivered each line whether it be heartfelt emotion or light comedy with fantastic timing.
Adam Jackson-Smith as ‘Tom Watson’ played the superficially caring and charming ex-husband with undertones of his smug and insincerity as the eventual cheating husband and murderer.
Oliver Farnworth (Scott Hipwell) gave a strong performance, portraying both the vulnerable victim and the aggressive suspect.
John Dougall as ‘DI Gaskell’ was convincing, adding a touch of comedy for light relief to this intense thriller.
Kirsty Oswald’s (Megan Hipwell) tearful monologue towards the end of the play revealing her ‘dead baby’ was powerful leaving the audience feeling deep emotion and sympathy for this fragile character. The clever use of Hipwell’s dress fading from red to black added to the dramatic death scene of this vulnerable character.
A must for those who enjoy a thriller which will keep you gripped until the final scene. This intensity is amplified by the impressive lighting and sound (Jack Knowles and Ben & Max Ringham) which made the audience jump in their seats as the ending was revealed.