Leanne Parker-Tyree - Official Reviewer
The Good Enough Mums Club
The Good Enough Mums Club - The Lowry, Salford - Thursday 30th November 2023
THE GOOD ENOUGH MUMS CLUB IS A THOROUGHLY HEARTWARMING, FUNNY, AND AN HONEST ACCOUNT OF THE RELENTLESSNESS OF MOTHERHOOD
The Good Enough Mums Club is a wonderfully relatable, emotional, and realistic insight into life as a Mum, told through the story of five very different, but somehow similar women who share one thing in common, their roles as a Mum. The staging is simple, designed to appear as a space within a Community Centre where the group meets, with a clever sidepiece, which acts as ‘Esme’s’ home. I am a Mum myself, and my plus one for the evening (also a Mum), took our seats in the auditorium alongside an audience made up of probably 95% women. It struck me immediately how connected this audience were to each other and to the performers this evening – which is the irony of Motherhood - there are billions of us, several hundred in one space even and yet, this production captures the loneliness and isolation that we can feel as individuals, while simultaneously celebrating the sacred and special role of other Mums who walk this road and take this journey with us.
The five women from various walks of life, who meet at a mother and toddler group each week for two hours of sanity, space and sister-in-motherhood are front and centre throughout the production. The intimacy of the staging and warmth of these fantastic actresses, invites the audience into their group to the level that you feel almost as though you’re there with them in the room. The clever characterisation is so relatable. Essentially these woman have very little in common, but as often happens when women come together in ante-natal groups and later, in Mum and Baby/Toddler groups, although they're thrown together with people they essentially have nothing in common with other than the fact that they all have small humans to raise, and survive while doing so, soon they form friendships and bonds which draw them together until their lives and stories are inextricable from one another. This is a play which is first and foremost about solidarity and the importance of having those networks of support to hold you up and keep you level as you navigate your way through Motherhood.
Five incredible performers make this production utterly compelling. Michelle, mum of twin boys is played by Rebecca Bernice Amissah (A Strange Loop UK première, Guys and Dolls). Michelle brings to life the struggles and challenges of being a Black Woman raising Black Sons in the current social landscape, with all the complexities surrounding Race and equality as she shares with the group an all-to-familiar experience while using Public Transport, where her worth and success as a Mum is criticised and judged with the classic line linked to ‘Where you come from this might be acceptable’.
Bea is the ‘Posh Mum’, and responsible for the group’s existence. Her initially irritating, competitive and ‘Housewives of Hale’ persona is soon exposed as something of a ‘smoke and mirrors’ façade. The reality is, she is lonely, with her husband clearly very much absent from the family home and lives. Played by Jo Kirkland (The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Dear Evan Hansen), Bea’s vulnerability, lack of self confidence and deep sense of loneliness really comes through and the way her fellow Mums embrace her, despite their vast differences, is really heartwarming.
Sophie is a Mum who is quirky, lively, and instantly lovable. Played by Amy Ross (Wicked, Heathers, Kinky Boots), this Mum is hiding a heartbreaking secret that, when revealed, elicited a palpable and collective outpouring of grief, emotion and love from the audience.
Jade Samuels plays Chantel (founding member of 'Jumprov', the UK's first all Black & Brown Improv group & a founder of MAWA, the UK's first all Black all Female Shakespeare company), a Mum is a bit of a rough diamond, one you’d always want on your team!
Belinda Wollaston (Judy Garland in the West End world premiere of JUDY!, Jekyll & Hyde) plays Esme, who we first see struggling to leave the house to join the group. Clearly all is not alright and we witness her descent into postpartum psychosis, which is portrayed with sensitivity, unsurprisingly given the writers own experiences with this awful, poorly understood and horrendously isolating condition. At the closing of the first Act, the desperate, terrifying, and brutal reality of her situation is left hanging in the air as we see Esme break in front of us, breaking us a little in return.
This cast is exquisite. They are brilliant, enthusiastic, and bursting with clearly genuine affection for the production, each other, the subject matter and above all, being Mums. The plot, including some fantastic songs and brilliant one-liners is a thoroughly heartwarming, funny, and deeply honest account of the reality of the relentlessness of Motherhood – it’s highest, most joyous highs and it’s gut-wrenching, soul-destroying lows. All of it is captured perfectly and does justice to the hundreds and hundreds of stories that are woven together in this production. I laughed until I cried and then cried on top of that, several times during the evening. The emotional journey is a little snapshot of the emotional journey of daily Motherhood, a lovely touch which took me by surprise but somehow made me feel less alone and a little bit less critical of myself. We end the evening with the message that where Motherhood is concerned, perfection is impossible, but you are good enough - and that’s good enough.
WE SCORE THE GOOD ENOUGH MUMS CLUB...
Watch our "In Conversation with Rebecca Bernice Amissah " discussing the show
Around the World in 80 Days
Around The World In 80 Days - The Octagon, Bolton - Tuesday 21st November 2023
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS DELIVERS IN A BIG WAY - BIG FUN. BIG SMILES. BIG PERSONALITY!
Take your seats, store your tray tables in their upright positions and buckle up for a thrilling adventure as you are about to be whisked ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ through a kaleidoscope of music, lights, dancing and singing. Based on the novel by Jules Verne (which I will quietly admit, I have never read), this is a fabulous, fun, family oriented musical adaptation by Kate Ferguson and Susannah Pearse in which Phileas Fogg becomes Lady Phileas Fogg, played packed full of personality and gumption by Polly Lister - One Man, Two Guvnors and Hound of the Baskervilles, Octagon Theatre Bolton, The Wizard of Oz, The Worst Witch).
Directed by Olivier Award Nominee Kash Arshad, this super fun adaptation of the classic tale sees Phileas, a wealthy widow accepting an outrageous bet to prove that the English can do it better than the Americans and travel around the world in just 80 days (the American’s did it in 90!). The bet, waged by the husband of her good friend, Lady Eliza Sullivan (Emma Fenney - A Christmas Carol, Antic Disposition, A Midsummer Night’s Dream Live Online Production, Octagon Theatre Bolton and Guildford Shakespeare Company) is one which she, being somewhat discontent with life, having lost her husband and her son and having the heart of adventure beating loudly within her, accepts! Thus, with her fortune on the line, not to mention a point to prove to the smug, snide and condescending Sir Sullivan, off she sets from London, taking us along with her for the thrilling and wild dash across the globe.
Travelling through fascinating and exotic lands, Phileas and friends get into all sorts of adventures. They jump from boats to trains, trek across Europe to Asia, celebrate Diwali in India and soar through the Americas battling storms and gangsters. Will they make it back to London in time for Christmas or will the bet be lost?
Sir John Sullivan (Rob Jackson - Peter Pan, Octagon Theatre Bolton, Brief Encounter, Octagon Theatre Bolton, Stephen Joseph Theatre and Theatre by the Lake) is the instigator of the whole journey and it turns out he is not a very nice or kind fella. Failing in his business and to sell newspapers, he makes the outrageous bet with Lady Phileas, incredulous that a woman has dared to suggest that she could succeed. He, being conniving and just a bit mean, attempts to throw all kinds of obstacles in her path including the lovable, fantastic Khatri, played brilliantly by Darren Kuppan - Let the Right One In, Royal Exchange Theatre, The Jungle Book, Grosvenor Open Air Theatre and Chester Storyhouse, Spooks, Coronation Street, Emmerdale); whose sole job is to delay Philias and prevent her success – something which he fails miserably to do because actually, he is just such a nice guy!
Along the way they meet the plucky Balloonist Felicity Fanshaw (Charlotte Linighan - The Booth Show and Spinach, The Edge Theatre), who comes to their aid in a beautifully staged Hot Air Balloon ride at the top of Act one and into the start of Act two. Throughout the epic journey, Phileas is accompanied by her faithful Butler Passepartout (Kai Spellman - Billie The Kid, Kyriacos & Company and Dominion Theatre, Ali and Dahlia, Pleasance Theatre), who is comical, enthusiastic and utterly adorable but who is also, not entirely as he seems as we later discover!
This extremely clever and versatile cast also play various ensemble roles throughout the evening, switching with ease and professionalism between their various role at an astounding pace. No sooner has a cast member left the stage at one point, they seem to appear out of nowhere from somewhere entirely different. It’s so clever and adds to the enjoyment of this rip-roaring journey we take with them. Completing the cast is Olivia Chandler who will be the company swing, marking her professional debut.
The staging of this production is imaginative, creative, and extraordinarily good. You expect a lot from a show which promises to take you around the World in 80 days, and despite being in the Bolton Octagon, you do genuinely forget that bit and feel that you have been transported, via a ridiculous number of modes of transport I might add, across the globe. So, on this promise, it certainly does deliver.
The music and lyrics, created by Susannah Pearse is completely original and brand new. Pearse is a member of Mercury Musical Developments and a graduate of New York University’s Musical Theatre Writing Programme, and this is not her first collaboration with Kate Ferguson, having previously worked together on Pride and Prejudice (The Forgotten Bennet sister) and Sherlock Holmes (The Early Years). The tunes are enjoyably catchy and the lyrics are quick, witty and convey a lot.
Make no mistake – this may be a small cast performing on a small scale, but this production delivers in a big way. Big fun. Big smiles. Big personality. You can feel the tangible enjoyment of the cast, who are clearly having great fun on the stage and taking us along for the ride. The versatility of the cast, the creative use of space and the light-hearted but clever and amusing script, music and songs are a credit to the entire family production from the inception to final performance and gives us, the audience, two hours of solid entertainment and feel-good fun.
WE SCORE AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS...
Around The World In 80 Days is on at The Octagon Bolton until Saturday 6th January.
Watch our video "In Conversation with Polly Lister", who plays the main character, Lady Phileas Fogg.
To discover more about The Octagon, watch our video "In Conversation with Lotte Wakeham", the artistic director at the venue.
English National Ballet - Akram Khan's Giselle
English National Ballet - Akram Khan's Giselle - Palace Theatre, Manchester - Thursday 19th October 2023
ENGLISH NATIONAL BALLET - AKRAM KHAN'S GISELLE IS UTTERLY CAPTIVATING, ENERGETIC AND EMOTIONALLY CHARGED!
Akram Khan’s ‘Giselle’ is utterly captivating, extraordinary even, but probably not for the reasons you’d expect from a production of this classic and timeless dance performance! I’m pretty much a novice when it comes to Ballet and confess, I have only ever seen one traditional performance of another classic, ‘Swan Lake’, about 10 years ago. So, I wasn’t sure what to expect as my equally novice plus-one and I sat down this evening. I can assure you that what we got was beyond anything I could have anticipated. Billed as one of the greatest romantic ballets of all time, I, like most people, was loosely aware of the two-stage plot. In the first half, the young and beautiful peasant girl Giselle has her heart captured by Albrecht, a nobleman engaged to one of his own kind, who disguises himself as a village boy to win Giselle’s affections before he is outed by his love rival Hilarion, a gamekeeper who is also in love with Giselle. The deception of her beloved sends Giselle into a spiral of wild grief culminating in her dancing herself to death as her weak heart shatters. In the second half, Giselle is awakened from death by Queen Myrtha who leads the Wilis (the ghosts of maidens betrayed by their lovers) and forces any man they meet regardless of who he is, to dance until exhaustion kills them as an act of vengeance. Giselle’s love transcends vengeance, however, and she forgives Albrecht, an act which saves his life and frees her from an eternity of revenge and hatred with the Wilis, thus proving that real love can conquer all. I knew what was about to unfold before me - or at least, I assumed I did. But this production is not that? ‘Giselle’. More accurately, this atmospheric, visceral, astounding ‘Giselle’ defies all assumptions and expectations associated with its previous incarnations.
Reimagined by Akram Khan, with an updated score by Vincenzo Lamagna which moulds elements of the familiar Adolphe Adam score into a pulsating, powerful, at times soft and melodic and at times relentlessly sinister new musical entity and a stark but stunningly effective visual design by Tim Yip, supported by Mark Henderson’s simple but incredibly effective lighting vision, this performance was tragic, emotional, and utterly extraordinary. The score to this performance is incredible, performed to perfection by the live orchestra. This truly was, for me, an unforgettable introduction to the world of Ballet reimagined and a haunting, breathtaking, heartbreakingly beautiful introduction to this classic performance piece which has undergone a serious dystopian metamorphosis into something just a little bit beyond special. Akram Khan’s ‘Giselle’ does not feel or behave even remotely like its original incarnation. This is a different entity entirely – in more ways than one. It takes you, ready or not, on an emotive, raw, cerebral journey which left me feeling a pit-of-the-stomach anger at times, discomfortingly uneasy at others, and tearfully moved in moments. At its devastatingly poignant conclusion, there is a sense of having journeyed through something brilliant, but traumatic, artistic but uncomfortable, vicious, but somehow tender.
The cast list does change from date to date, and this is available ahead of schedule via the website. Giselle performed this evening by Erina Takahashi (Training; Kushiro Ballet Academy, English National Ballet School. Repertoire; Lead roles in Manon, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Romeo & Juliet, Giselle) is presented as one of the ‘Outcasts’, a group of migrant workers who is now without work following the closure of the garment factory in which they previously found employment. In Khan’s ‘Giselle’, we open to the sight of an imposing wall against which men and women are lined up. The music is immediately uncomfortable. You feel immediately on edge. The wall is astounding. If Ballet did 'Game of Thrones', this wall would be at the centre of it! Throughout the performance, the wall somehow establishes itself almost as a character in and of itself, standing as a metaphor for class inequality, injustice and societal divide. We see Albrecht, portrayed by James Streeter (Training; English National Ballet School. Repertoire; Tybalt in Derek Deane’s Romeo & Juliet, Rothbart in Swan Lake, Akram Khan’s ‘Dust’) a member of the ‘Landlords’ but disguised as an Outcast, looking for Giselle, with the implied status of their relationship as being well established, contrary to the classic piece in which we see the romance unfold.
Albrecht is noticed by Hilarion, portrayed by Ken Saruhashi (Training; Harumi Shimoda Ballet School, English National Ballet School. Repertoire; Ali and Lankendem in Le Corsaire, Prince Siegfried in Derek Deane’s Swan Lake, Albrecht in Mary Skeaping’s Giselle, Nephew/Prince in Eagling’s Nutcracker, Mercutio in Nureyev’s Romeo & Juliet) who is angered by his presence. This presentation of Hilarion is a very different character to the original one in 1841. He is described as a ‘shape-changing fixer’ who mimics and trades with the Landlords for profit and appears angry at Albrecht for everything he represents rather than just for his rivalry for Giselle’s heart. As the wall turns, Albrecht is a desperate man, clearly attempting to avoid what he clearly knows to be behind the wall – the truth of who he is. As the wall reveals the ‘Landlords’, including Albrecht’s fiancée Bathilde, you could be forgiven for thinking you'd stepped into a stage version of 'The Hunger Games'. The costumes are eccentric, dramatic, and extremely clever. The contrast with the ‘Outcasts’ couldn’t be starker, solidifying our suspicions that the wall really is a metaphor for divides, and setting the stage for the inevitable meeting of Giselle and Bathilde, lighting the fuse towards the inevitable ending to Act One, the tragic demise of our heroine Giselle, broken by loves deepest betrayal, who dances into madness, twisting and turning until her heart breaks. Again, there is a divergence from the classic tale as rather than dying in Albrecht’s arms, this ‘Giselle’ is encircled by the other ‘Outcasts’, with her lifeless body revealed in Hilarion’s arms as the ‘Landlords’ retreat across the wall, taking Albrecht with them. The ending of Act One is relentlessly and wildly turbulent. If feels as if not only Giselle has been driven mad with grief but rather, that her pain has seeped into everything on and around the stage, human, aural and otherwise, as we see even the wall itself, turning on its axis until the curtain falls. You leave Act One feeling all the feels and then some. It is not a ‘good’ feeling. Rather it is one of stunned appreciation for what you have just witnessed.
It’s important to say here, that despite the brilliance of the performance, someone without knowledge of the original story may find themselves deeply confused by the many missing plot developments which seem to have been stripped from this reimagined version of the piece, despite being relatively important to the cohesiveness of the story we are journeying through. Significant events from the story are entirely absent, and this makes for a confusing and at times unfathomable performance which seems almost completely unattached to any meaningful narrative. This does not abate in the second Act and is the one and only point of criticism.
If the first Act was depressing, difficult to watch and somewhat bleak, the second catapults us, often it feels, against our will, such is the discomfort created by the brilliant staging and horrifying visual and aural atmosphere, into the wrecked, abandoned ‘ghost’ factory which is now in habited by the Wilis (originally the ghostly spirits of maidens betrayed by their lovers but recharacterized somewhat in Khan’s version into the ghosts of factory workers who seek revenge for the wrongs done to them in life). Lead by their ferocious Queen Myrtha – brilliantly performed by Emma Hawes (Training; BalletMet Dance Academy, Columbus Ohio, Canada’s National Ballet School. Repertoire; ENB First Soloist, Principal 2022, Lead Principal 2023, Manon and Lescaut’s Mistress in Manon, Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, Cinderella in Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella, Raymonda in Tamara Rojo’s Raymonda, Gulnare in Le Corsaire and Clara/Sugar Plum Fairy in Wayne Eagling’s Nutcracker.). Hawes is terrifying, unnerving but utterly compelling and you cannot take your eyes off her. What takes place in Act Two is brutal. It is violent. It is also a beautiful reminder of the power of love and forgiveness.
Takahashi and Streeter are exceptional, at times moving with a fluidity that merges them into one being, seamlessly and hauntingly moving across the stage space with grace and anguished beauty. Saruhashi gives an equally impressive performance full of energy, emotion, and skill. The corps de ballet is every bit as exquisite in their performance. They swell and undulate as one at times, and at others, break apart into smaller groups, dancing with vigour and passion in a multitude of directions and expressions, creating a living, breathing performance which is remarkable to observe. Visually, this is a stunning, complex, dystopian update of this classic story. Packed full of impressive, energetic, modern choreography, astonishing visual designs, magnetic musical landscapes, deliciously effective, ethereal lighting, and a powerhouse of performances which keep you immersed throughout this production is emotionally charged, illustrating a simple but important message – while not every wrong can be righted, deep, honest love can break all boundaries and forgiveness can bring true freedom.
WE SCORE GISELLE...
Jesus Christ Superstar
Jesus Christ Superstar - Palace Theatre, Manchester - Wednesday 13th September 2023
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR IS A CONTEMPORARY AND EDGY MUSICAL WELL WORTH EXPERIENCING!
I can’t lie, I was excited for this one! Jesus Christ Superstar is one musical production that I have never seen before. As a 14-year-old schoolgirl who had just opted to do drama at GCSE, I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in a workshop at my school with some professional musical theatre artists, who showcased some of the main musical numbers from this production for us, up on our lowly, creaking school stage. Thus, my love of musical theatre began. This was back in 1993 and let me tell you, dear reader, 30 years may have passed since that event, but tonight, finally, I got to take my seat and see the whole thing unfold in front of me and overall, I have to say, it did not disappoint.
Featuring lyrics and music by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber respectively, this production is a revival of this 1970’s classic musical heavyweight. I did wonder whether the musical stylings might have lost some of their edge, or show their age, given the almost four and a half decades that have passed since it was composed. Within the opening portion of the show, the apostles ask; “What’s the buzz, tell me what’s-a-happening“ and this reviewer can confirm that the ‘buzz’ is an electric evening ahead and ‘what’s-a-happening’ is a musical masterpiece, reinvented to deliver a frantic, contemporary, exciting revamp of this classic production, full of rock opera refrains, choreographic brilliance, and performed by an energetic, enthusiastic cast who give their all in a thrilling, high voltage performance from start to end.
As the overture began, with the all too familiar solo guitar reverberating around the theatre from high up within the stage rig itself, the hairs on my arms rose. Massive props must go out to the live band; Felix Strickland, Ryan Webber, Gordon Davidson, Laura Llewellyn Jones, Gavin Tate-Lovery, David Csizmadia and Venessa Domonique who were small in number, but mighty in their powerhouse of a performance throughout. While this musical may have originally been debuted on stage in 1971, this touring production, with its slick, artistic choreography carefully crafted to thrilling effect by Olivier Award-winning Drew McOnie is most certainly a ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ for our time.
Based on the gospels accounts of the passion of Christ, the week leading to the Crucifixion of Jesus, this incarnation of the production catapults us relentlessly into the psychology of Jesus and other key characters, with huge swathes of the plot focused on the role of Judas, played by Shem Omari James (Dreamgirls - UK Tour, Vanara - Hackney Empire, The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Songs For a New World - London Palladium). Ian McIntosh (Olivier Award nominee for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his portrayal of Barry Mann in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Aldwych Theatre), Galileo Figaro in We Will Rock You (London Coliseum); Deco Cuffe in The Commitments (UK & Ireland Tour); Galileo Figaro in We Will Rock You (20th Anniversary UK & Ireland Tour); Young Ben Stone in Follies (National Theatre); Sid Worley in An Officer and A Gentleman (UK and Ireland Tour); Bud in Angels, Punks and Raging Queens (The Criterion); Ray/Alternate Deco Cuffe in The Commitments (Palace Theatre); Hair – The European Arena Tour) brings an emotional rawness to his portrayal of Jesus that throughout the show expertly switches between making us, the audience feel like we are intruding on the intimacy of the characters inner feelings one moment and pulling us in to share in the expansive hysteria surrounding his idol status the next. The relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene (played with soul and feeling by Hannah Richardson (Theatre includes: Cathleen & swing in Sting’s The Last Ship (USA Tour); TV Appearances include: Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Late Late Show with James Corden) is explored in the early stages of this production as we see Judas warning Jesus to avoid Mary, because she is a prostitute, with Jesus firmly reminding Judas that those who are not without sin should not judge.
The ensemble cast is simply superb, at times extraordinary. The set itself is equally exciting and is simplistic, moody and gloriously utilised by the cast to its full advantage – from the rusty industrial girders which complement the contemporary ambiance and feel of this production, to the lighting which is used to perfect effect, the standout moment of which is the final beam of light, illuminating the crucifixion as the story quietly reaches its climax, at odds with the frantic pace and building energy which has whizzed us through the rest of the show. And herein lies my only disappointment. My partner-in-crime for this evening’s performance was someone who doesn’t really know the story in depth, and certainly did not know this musical. Somewhere between the turbulent pace of the choreography and the relentless musicality, in the first half especially, the story seemed somehow overshadowed, and at points, unfathomable; lost in maelstrom of everything else which, for me who knows the story and the musical and can therefore piece it all together was fine, but for those like my companion who didn’t have access to that information, may arrive at the interval somewhat confused and bewildered!
Make no mistake, this is a heavy production, with an almost visceral sense of emotional overwhelm at times, excellently crafted by the edgy choreography, the rock-God excesses of many of the numbers and the ceaseless energy of the cast. When it all threatens to become a little too heavy, we are presented with the light-hearted comedy of the combination of the deep, rumbling voice of Caiaphas (Jad Hapchi; Credits include: Jesus Christ Superstar (Frinton Summer Theatre), Dirty Dancing (Secret Cinema), Disney in Concert; As a vocalist, Jad has also been a backing singer for Andrea Bocelli and Hiba Tawaji) and Annas (Matt Bateman: Credits - Fredrik Egerman in A Little Night Music, Bernie Buchsbaum in Little Me, Stan in Don Juan in Soho and Featured Vocalist for Friday Night is Music Night, Billy/Eugene Fodor in Crazy for You). The pinnacle of this injection of humour, is most certainly the relatively short, but comedic appearance of Julian Clary (TV Credits: Sticky Moments. More TV followed, including Terry and Julian, All Rise for Julian Clary, Prickly Heat, It’s Only TV But I Like It, Strictly Come Dancing, Have I Got News For You, Who Do You Think You Are?, QI, Celebrity Big Brother, Your Face Sounds Familiar, Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, Give a Pet a Home, Nature Nuts and Passions. Theatre credits: Leigh Bowery in Boy George’s Taboo (West End and UK tour), the Emcee in Rufus Norris’s Olivier Award-winning production of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret (West End) and Le Grand Mort (Trafalgar Studios), Norman in The Dresser (National Tour), Bleak Expectations (West End) as King Herod who erupts onto the stage, his excessive gold cape billowing out behind him, delivering a high-camp performance which the audience lapped up with glee.
One stand-out performance for me was Ryan O’Donnell’s (Theatre includes: Mandela - The Young Vic; The Book Thief - Octagon Theatre; Tina the Musical - Aldwych Theatre; Sunny Afternoon - Harold Pinter Theatre; Quadrophenia the Musical - UK Tour; Television includes: The Crown Season 4 - Netflix; The Serpent - BBC One) Pilate. Initially moody, sardonic, and oozing disdain, we are treated to a metamorphosis of Pilate, seeing the change in the character unfold, to almost anguish and humility in response to the mob’s increasingly violent bloodlust for Jesus to be crucified, again, superbly portrayed via the uncomfortable, jerky convulsions of the choreography brought to life by the ensemble cast.
This is a contemporary, edgy, artistic update to an original piece of musical theatre history which is well worth experiencing. It sounds amazing. It looks incredible. It also makes use of copious amounts of shimmering glitter throughout. Really, what’s not to love?!
WE SCORE JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR...
Untitled F*ck M*ss S**gon Play
Untitled F*ck M*ss S**gon Play - Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester - Friday 30th June 2023
UNTITLED F*CK M*SS S**GON IS A PLAY FOR OUR TIME - IT'S SIMPLY PHENOMENAL
I had very little idea of what to expect when I sat down to watch the World premiere of ‘Untitled F*CK Miss Saigon’ on a decidedly grey and miserable Friday evening in Manchester. I reasoned that there must be something special about the play; after all, it was the inaugural winner of the international ‘Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting’ in 2019. But it turns out that ‘special’ really was the wrong word. I could not have imagined that just under two hours later, I would emerge thoroughly emotionally wrung out, having travelled the full gamut of the emotional landscape, but in a way that felt electrifying. What I just witnessed was something beyond ‘good theatre’, or even ‘special’ – this was an intense example of the transformative power of theatre and of writing. This was simply phenomenal.
Writer Kimber Lee (Plays include ‘Tokyo Fish Story’, ’Different words for the same thing’, ‘Brownsville Tray – B-Side for tray’. Accolades include Lark Playwright’s Workshop Fellow, Dramatists Guild Fellow, member of Ma-Yi Writers Lab, recipient of the Ruby Prize, PoNY Fellowship, Hartford Stage New Voices Fellowship) is a New York-based playwright who has channelled her feelings of frustration and rage at the insidious and pervasive misrepresentation which has resulted in the stereotyped caricatures of East and South Eastern Asian women, into a call to action to change the narrative of such stereotypes and to widen the narrow space awarded to Asian American stories in the cultural world in general. Lee describes her play as being about a woman trying to find her way out of a maze or trap and this is played out in front of the audience in such a powerful way that you can readily feel the anguish and desperation build to an intense crescendo as the play reaches its finality. Lee unleashes the full force of her anger in this piece, which offers a bold confrontation of the portrayal of Asian inferiority, as well as the patriarchy. The result is brilliant.
Despite having no actual interval (the running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes – something which I was not sure I was going to be on board with, but which actually doesn’t feel too long at all because the pace and energy of the piece just makes it work so well) this play is almost a play of two halves – the first focusing on the telling and re-telling of the popular (and painful) representations of Asian culture and women that are so familiar to us all and the second where we are transported back into 2023 to see whether the character of Kim can smash apart the cycle and break free from its inevitability.
The first ‘half’ is brilliantly narrated by Rochelle Rose (‘The Witcher’, ‘Death in Paradise’, ‘Boxing Day’, ‘Rockets and Blue Lights’, ‘Salt’, ‘The Ridiculous Darkness’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘The Winter’s Tale’) who later switches to the role of Brenda. Rose is vibrant, hilarious, deadpan, and utterly mesmerising in her storytelling, capturing the audience with wit, sarcasm, dry humour and an insanely engaging vocal tone and pace. She leads us through a sequence of familiar, popular, cultural representations, all of which, in this context, are excruciatingly recognisable characters from well-known dramatic pieces across the decades. The result, while uncomfortable, is equally hilarious and it must be said, the seamless switching between discomfort and humour is handled spectacularly well. Lourdes Faberas (‘Richard II’, ‘La Boheme’, ‘One Day, Twenty Years’, ‘No time to Die’, ‘The Sandman’, ‘Good Omens’) presents the character of Rosie, and later CIO CIO. The lead character of Kim is presented by British Actor and Laurence Olivier Award Winner Mei Mac (‘My Neighbour Totoro’, ‘Princess Mononoke’, ‘Call the Midwife’) and her portrayal is incredible. She moves fluidly, effortlessly, passionately through the various incarnations of her character with a skill and presence that is incredible and deeply engaging, even when also deeply painful. In the ‘second half’ of the play she gives a speech which brought the theatre to a level of collective silence in a scene which felt like a visceral, raw, confronting punch to the guts. Powerful is not a word that does adequate justice to her performance throughout the evening.
The character of Clark, the typical all-American Soldier we are so familiar with in such stories and hilariously described as one who clearly engages in various fitness activities such as Cardio and High-Intensity Interval Training and is likened at one point to Magic Mike is played to perfection by Tom Weston-Jones (‘Copper’, ‘Spooks’, ‘Warrior’). His random and clearly incorrect use of words in dialogue with the various characters of Vietnam, Korea and the South Pacific are both cringingly embarrassing and full of laugh-out-loud funny. The play itself references his complete lack of awareness for the language and culture of the people he is conversing with in a way which hits a little too close to home at times, but rightfully and humorously so. Jennifer Kirby (‘Teddy’, ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Henry V’, ‘Call the Midwife’) plays Evelyn, (Clark’s wife) in the first half of the story, and Richards (Afi’s Fiancé) in the second half of the story. She is a delightful addition to an extremely strong casts ensemble, adding a little humour and sweetness to Evelyn, and some fierce but (in the context of the scene) completely tone-deaf feminism to the character of Richards later. Jeff D’Sangalong (‘The Ocean at the end of the Lane’), plays the dual roles of Goro and Afi.
We are taken breathlessly, hilariously, powerfully and, at times, devastatingly through the inter-weaving stories of the characters who are brought to life by this incredible cast. The central narrative is a very real, very clear, very relevant expression of the times in which we live and those which we and, more importantly, others have lived through. The representations of the supposed lived experiences of the character of Kim (amongst others to a far lesser extent) is the rage that fuelled Kimber Lee to write this extraordinary piece and the world is certainly a better place for her having done so. Her words pull no punches. Her rage is poured into every single line and boy does it hit hard at times.
This energetic production is superbly directed by Roy Alexander Weise (The Mountaintop) for the Royal Exchange Theatre as part of Manchester International Festival. The creative vision for this piece is brought to life in a performance which is profound, clever, and impactful. This play is beyond powerful, the writing is beyond brilliant, and the themes are beyond important. This is a play for our time, as confronting as it is empowering, as hilarious as it is devastatingly painful. The individual performances are exceptional, and the overall impression is phenomenal.
WE SCORE UNTITLED F*CK M*SS S**GON PLAY...
Dinosaur World Live
Dinosaur World Live! at The Lowry, Salford - Thursday 16th February 2023
DINOSAUR WORLD LIVE IS THE PERFECT FAMILY SHOW FOR ALL YOU DINO LOVERS!
Warning, there are spoilers in this article...
On an unassuming Thursday afternoon, next to a grey, cold Salford Quayside, two brave and intrepid adventurers made their way into uncharted territories; me, a 43-year-old mum, and my dinosaur loving, just turned three-year-old son. The Lyric Theatre may be a million miles away from Islar Nubar (the one and only Jurassic Park), but the palpable anticipation in the air was no less contagious or thrilling had we been on that little helicopter, flying over the island of dinosaurs itself.
We took our seats ready to be transported 65 million years into the past and without a hint of shame, I’ll admit that I was at least as excited, if not more so, than pretty much every child in the room (and more excited than any middle-aged mum should reasonably be!) because…DINOSAURS!!!
The lights go down and the exuberant chatter of a theatre full of excited little people is suddenly interrupted by the entrance of our host, Miranda (Selin Baglcioglu: Marie Antoinette/Helen of Troy, Misfits) who tells the story of her family being caught on a boat in a storm and happening upon a mysterious island inhabited by dinosaurs. She is positively perky, charming, and bubbly. She also mysteriously draws our attention to a dinosaur egg, sitting innocently at the side of the stage, urging the children to shout her name if the not-so-little egg starts a-moving. They gleefully agree.
One by one, Miranda enthusiastically introduces us to the dinosaurs that share her island, providing us with nuggets of information and facts about each one. We meet several small, unruly and lovable dinos, such as the feisty Microraptor ‘Orlando’; the stubborn vegetarian Segnosaurus, ‘Juliet’ and the adorable baby Triceratops, ‘Beatrice’ who is napping until tickled awake by a delighted child plucked from the audience. There is amazement from all in the audience (adults included) as ‘Brutus’, a full-sized Triceratops emerges to the stage to keep a watchful eye on little baby ‘Beatrice’. With each introduction, a child is picked from the audience to go up and meet, feed, stroke or tickle each dinosaur by Miranda, who bounds down into the audience to select from her many, many willing volunteers. The joy and astonishment on the faces of the children was just lovely – a memory they will keep for a long time to come.
The dinosaurs have been brilliantly and thoughtfully designed by Max Humphries (creative productions include: Cirque du Soleil, Green Ginger, Pickled Image, Bristol Old Vic, Royal Opera House) and the beautiful and engaging puppetry, which was choreographed by Puppet Director Laura Cubitt (creative works include: Beyond the Deepening Shadow – The Tower of London, A Monster Calls – The Old Vic, War Horse – NT Berlin, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time – NT West End), is brought to life with fun, versatility, and delight by a team of puppeteers including Rhea Locker-Marsh (The Hit, Rocket Girl, The Lost Leigh Goose, Boris and Sergey’s One Man Extravaganza), Sharon Sze (Animal Farm UK Tour, Inside Man, As Dusk Falls), William Uden (The Gingerbread Man, Jurassic World, Jurassic Earth Live, Emily Rising, Michael Morpurgo’s Mimi and the Mountain Dragon), Nicholas Halliwell Under the Frozen Moon, A Ladder to the Stars, Meet Fred, The Hit) and Ross Lennon (Dinosaur World Live). The puppeteers manage to make the magic of moving, breathing dinosaurs come to life in front of the audience and for the full 50 minutes, disbelief is suspended.
Let’s face it though, no matter how fantastical the dinosaur show and tell might be so far, there is only one thought on everyone’s mind – will we meet a T-Rex?! Miranda pops up again to share the devastating news that the Tyrannosaurus Rex won’t be making an appearance. The disappointment is immediate. Thankfully, it’s a ploy and without warning there is a familiar, thrilling, almighty sound that reverbs around the theatre. ‘ROOOOOOOOAAAAAAARRRRR’!!!!! He’s HERE. And by ‘he’, I mean the one, the only, the utterly magnificent (and, just to warn you, apparently terrifying to my three-year-old and several other, younger audience members!) ‘Titus’ - the T-Rex. Appearing from a super impressive amount of smoke effects and thunderous sound effects, every child (and quite a few of the adults!) are silenced. Stunned. Eyes wider than wide at the impressive sight before them. And then, inevitably, the screams, the squeals, the parents (me included) momentarily rethinking their decision to bring their tiny humans into this confined space absolutely booming with the extremely loud noise of a giant T-Rex, now stomping across the stage and eyeing up the ‘all you can eat’ lunch buffet that the audience presents to him. Thankfully. ‘Titus’ doesn’t appear to be hungry and is there strictly in the capacity of guardian to adorable baby T-Rex ‘Tamora’. Just to be on the safe side, Miranda leaps into the audience, shouting that we all need to roar as loudly as we can to keep Titus back. The audience obliges and after several deafening minutes, Titus stomps away to the cheers and delight of all involved.
As the Dinosaur World show and tell comes to an end, the dinosaur egg, which has wiggled and shook several times during the show, is taken away as the disappointed audience are told that it doesn’t look like it’s hatching today. Never fear though, egg makes a swift reappearance and this time, it’s cracking! The children are besides themselves as a tiny little Giraffatitan pops it’s adorable little head out of the egg, followed by Mama ‘Gertrude’. A surprisingly touching moment between mother and baby follows as the show comes to a close.
The 50-minute showtime is just about manageable for the littlest audience members and there is a post-show ‘meet and greet’ with an opportunity for a closer look at the baby T-Rex and baby Triceratops which is predictably mobbed, but charmingly delightful. Dinosaur World Live will leave young and old feeling like they’ve witnessed something a little bit special. Dinosaur fans will be especially captivated and will no doubt tell everyone they meet about the day they came face to face with these magnificent creatures from a time long, long ago. My three-year old has ‘roared’ at everyone he’s met since we left the theatre and refuses to take off his dino onesie. The dinosaurs remain in Salford until the 18th February before stomping across the UK and Ireland so get yourself and your little ones booked before tickets become extinct!
WE SCORE DINOSAUR WORLD LIVE...