Lizzie Johnston - Official Reviewer
The Book of Will
The Book Of Will - The Octagon, Bolton - Thursday 18th May 2023
THE BOOK OF WILL IS FAST-PACED, WITTY AND IN TRUE SHAKESPEARE STYLE, HAS ELEMENTS OF LOVE AND TRAGEDY!
Everyone knows a little bit of Shakespeare, whether it’s from your school days or watching a love story like Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare’s plays have lived on far beyond his years and have inspired multiple cult classics.
The Book of Will at Bolton Octagon is a European premiere production of acclaimed playwright Lauren Gunderson's play, in co-production with Octagon Theatre, Queen's Theatre Hornchurch & Shakespeare North Playhouse.
This hilarious love letter to theatre follows The King’s Men, the acting company which Shakespeare belonged to, as they get the band back together following Shakespeare’s death. Their aim is gather the scattered masterpieces and save his words before they’re lost in history, especially after a pirated Hamlet rip-off hits a stage near the Globe Theatre. To save Will’s works for the ages, they hatch a near-impossible plan to collect his words on paper, setting them off on a bonkers race against time through London. Their hearts are on the line and those they love are counting on them, and it’s all so they can leave a legacy that will last forever.
Starting at the pub, this challenge is set from the off, with some members more keen than others. The fast-paced and witty play has elements of comedy, tragedy and love - exactly like the book of Shakespeare. With bits of truth in there, the production marks the 400th anniversary of the First Folio, which rescued Shakespeare’s plays for posterity.
The set is simple, clean and gives a good old London pub vibe - think wooden tables and benches, stained glass windows and a few tankards dotted around. The cast moved the tables to create different locations, from the pub to the printers and right up to Stratford-upon-Avon to Anne Hathaway's home. The costumes are exactly what you’d expect from a Shakespearian, period play - ruffles and voluminous shorts.
Every character had their own personal favourite, which of course led to banter and cleverly written lines of comedic relief throughout the play. The group is led by duo John Heminges, played by Russell Richardson (Hindle Wakes, A View From The Bridge, Romeo and Juliet), and Henry Condell, played by Bill Ward (Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie), as their close friendship lead them through this epic twist of combining Will’s work. The cast is excellent and superb, with strong performances from everyone. Each character showed passion and also had a hint of Shakespearian acting within their performance, making it so wonderfully relevant to the storyline.
I particularly loved how they referenced so many of his plays, it really highlighted how many different genres Shakespeare touched on. Not only this, they do it in such a fast-paced, fun and energetic way that it really doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of the odd one. It also comments on the common argument of knowing what Shakespeare actually wrote - with so many versions and copyright rules not exactly clear back in those days, protecting his actual words does have significance.
The Book of Will is a complete celebration of Will’s work, with so many plays named that I’d never even heard of. The pride in his friends and the hard work of publishing his complete collection is a heart-warming gesture to someone they clearly admired. The play touched on all the emotions and leaves you feeling uplifted as this celebration of friendship is a success.
WE SCORE THE BOOK OF WILL...
Watch our "In Conversation with Carrie Quinlan" video discussing the production.
No Pay? No Way!
No Pay? No Way at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester - Wednesday 17th May 2023
NO PAY? NO WAY! IS A CRAZY AND CHAOTIC GENIUS PRODUCTION!
No Pay? No Way! is a political comedy that spotlights the reality of our global economy. Originally an Italian language farce from 1974, the English version debuted at the Sydney Opera House in 2020 and became a smash-hit. Written by Dario Fo and Franca Rame, it has been adapted by Marieke Hardy with direction from Bryony Shanahan and the Royal Exchange is the play’s UK premiere.
The story follows two women who join a rebellion at a supermarket, after seeing that prices had doubled. The involuntary riot is like supermarket sweep on steroids, with women filling their trollies with anything they can grab. But with this rebellion comes an entanglement of secrets, as stealing food goes against their husband’s beliefs and knowing of it would damage their pride. Antonia and Margherita have to become masterminds of lies by thinking on the spot of how to hide the food mountain and keep the secret away from both their husbands, and not forgetting the police. When the police come knocking, the only thing they can do is shove the food up their coats, leading to pregnancy speculations.
The cast of five is small yet mighty with each actor delivering a brilliant performance. Played by Samantha Power (Wuthering Heights, Zack, Accrington Pals), Antonia is the mastermind behind all of this, and with her husband Giovanni believing everything she says, things get wackier and hysterical. Her partner in crime, Margherita, is played by Katherine Pearce (Island Town, Low Level Panic, Husbands and Sons) and the pair together set the tone of the play perfectly. Simply put, they are a perfect comedy duo - you’ve got the one making the decisions and the other who has no choice but to follow along.
No Pay? No Way! has everything you’d want in a comedy - sharply focused, unexpected twist and all with some slapstick on the side. The cast reaches the right level of over-acting, making everything big and dramatic to add to the comedy value. You can tell from their body language exactly how they’re feeling and what they're thinking, whether it’s confusion or plotting the next twisted tale.
As soon as you take your seat, you know this is going to be a fun play just from the set alone. Colourful and a bit wacky with a swirly slide at one side. They used orange pipes to map out the room plan of Antonia and Giovanni’s flat with a large pipe acting as a front door and the slide as the back. The costumes were just as colourful, a mixture of pastels and neon, this could have been something of a children’s programme and suited the play brilliantly.
The set added to the comedy, which you can expect with a good slide entrance. The way the cast moved around and hopped over the pipes or were searching for hiding places was inventive and an easy hit with the audience.
Despite the chaos and comedy, No Pay? No Way! shines a light on some of the UK’s most urgent issues, exposing the reality of rising inflation and falling wages. With this being a reality many are facing, the cast do a great job of getting this across, that just because it has heightened emotions and uses politics as a punchline doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
The play is sharp, witty and fantastically funny. It’s a crazy and chaotic genius production that will have you belly-laughing at their perfectly timed one liners or the exaggerated slapstick. Don’t hesitate to go, it’s stupidly funny and relevant so you’re guaranteed to have a laugh.
WE SCORE NO PAY? NO WAY! ...
Sucker Punch - The Lowry, Salford - Tuesday 2nd May 2023
SUCKER PUNCH IS A HARD HITTING AND PUNCHY KNOCKOUT OF A PLAY THAT DELIVERS A FIERCE AND HEARTFELT MESSAGE
Sucker Punch is a period piece by British dramatist Roy Williams which first hit the stage in 2010. It went on to become nominated for Best New Play at both the Evening Standard and Olivier Awards, so we knew we'd see some quality theatre. This performance is a Theatre Nation Partnerships production, produced by Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and is making its regional debut at The Lowry Theatre.
Hits from the 80s were playing as we entered the theatre and a couple of the characters were already on stage, setting up for training by skipping and putting on boxing gloves. There was no harsh start, it just flowed straight into the action.
The story begins with two best mates, Leon and Troy, who have been made to work as cleaners in a boxing gym instead of calling the police after a break in. As two young black teenagers, the duo have spent their youth figuring out their place in the world and wanting to have the same opportunities as their white peers. With the boxing ring in their reach, they step in to play about which leads to the owner, Charlie, noticing the potential boxing champion in one of the boys, Leon.
The set is exactly what you’d expect a 1980s boxing club to look like. A boxing ring takes centre stage, it’s where most of the action takes place with Leon rarely leaving the ring. On a mezzanine at the back is Charlie’s office and lockers, a sliding door and punching bags complete the club. The costumes were exactly what you’d expect to pick up from a thrift shop, authentic 80s wear topped off with colourful shell jackets.
Sucker Punch focuses on the pressures of young black people in the 80s and the stigma they were up against. The struggles for Leon all stem from this, with his close circle leaving him as they think he’s turning to the other side, as Charlie is white, yet Charlie discriminates and calls him whenever they disagree and argue.
Shem Hamilton’s Leon is both strong and fragile, easily influenced as he doesn’t want to let people down. His strength comes from his love of boxing and wanting to be successful, but it’s other people’s opinions that really get to him. Hamilton takes Leon through the ups and downs of success, from having his close friend Troy with him constantly to losing everyone around him, except for trainer and manager Charlie.
Charlie is another character with several layers, who’s had problems for years. Liam Smith adds depth to the character and an understanding of built up trauma and how this causes his anger to flare up in a switch, yet his performance is understated and visibly shows the tension he feels. Troy, played by Christian Alifoe, is an intense and proud portrayal of the character’s roots. Once Leon’s best friend, he leaves him to fight away from the ring, getting into trouble with the police and standing up for his community. When the two friends are reunited in the ultimate battle, it is a brutal display of how the politics and stigma of the 80s pulled apart these strong bonds.
The play isn’t an intense drama as it is filled with light comedic moments, with banter flowing between characters that you’d expect to see between teenagers in a playground. There were chuckles and laughter coming from the audience throughout these lighter parts. This balanced out the deep and tense dialogue that hit hard, showing the true effect of Thatcher’s era on black communities.
The play will have you in a headlock as it takes you on an exciting journey following a boxing superstar.
WE SCORE SUCKER PUNCH...
Quality Street - The Octagon, Bolton - Wednesday 26th April 2023
QUALITY STREET IS FULL OF DELICIOUS BITE-SIZED PIECES, WITH MULTIPLE FLAVOURS ALL WRAPPED UP IN A COLOURFUL AND JOYOUS PRODUCTION
Did you know that family-favourite Quality Street chocolates were named after a play? Nope? Neither did I! But the Bolton Octagon are offering up a tasty helping of the infamous name with a Regency rom-com. When you hear the name ‘Quality Street’ you instantly think of little delicious delights wrapped up in the brightest, most colourful wrappers, so I went along to the theatre expecting the play to be just that.
The play is brought to the Octagon by Northern Broadsides in a co-production with New Vic Theatre. The story itself is nothing out of the ordinary, it’s a classic witty romantic storyline where two people long to be together. It follows sweet and quiet Phoebe as her old flame, Valentine, returns from war leaving her anxious to see him after ten years apart. During Valentine’s departure, Phoebe has become older and less glamorous than she once was, which leads to a disappointed reaction from her previous crush. She is spurred into action, donning a flirtatious alter-ego, as her niece Livvy, with plans to rekindle their romance. We see how this longing for love has led to Phoebe juggling both personas and how she is threatened by a scandal.
Full of Northern wit and joyous gems, the play is easy-going, simple-watching entertaining evening out. There’s nothing dark and twisty or a backstory which causes a threat to the characters, everything is what you get on the surface. I enjoy theatre shows like this, especially during the week, as they offer a break from the everyday world without having to think about who is who, or who is hiding what - you can simply turn up, relax and enjoy.
The set was basic with a few pieces of living room furniture placed around the sides which could change into a school classroom and of course, the anticipated ball. We see the living room furniture decorated with white and blue knitted blankets and covers, this is all taken away once Valentine leaves for the war leaving the dark and old wood furniture on display. This helped to see the transition through time and how much the characters have aged, it was particularly reflective of the sad and depressed Phoebe who was once a cheerful and bright soul.
The costumes are what you expect for a Regency-era play, long dresses in dull colours against smart, red army uniforms clearing displaying rank and class. I loved the costumes for the ball in Act 2, they really emphasised the change in Phoebe's character and her willingness to become her alter ego. Not only that, the dresses were like flowing Quality Street wrappers! They glistened and shined against the lights and there was one perfectly matched to every colour of the chocolates too.
The strong cast of eight is led by Paula Lane (Coronation Street, Call The Midwife, Father Brown) as Phoebe. Lane’s performance is intricate and excellent, making clear comparisons between Phoebe and her alter ego Miss Livvy. She switches from the dull and tired teacher to the extravagant and outrageous girl effortlessly with over-the-top, dramatic movements added for comedic effect.
Lane’s change of characterisation is a stark contrast to Phoebe’s sister, Susan, played by Louisa-May Parker (Coronation Street, Hollyoaks, Sitcom Stories) who is a constant, calming presence throughout. There is no change in Susan's character as the time passes by, making her a comfort for Phoebe and a great sister to rely on.
Love interest, Captain Valentine Brown is just as comedic and sweet as Phoebe. Portrayed by Aron Julius (Death In Paradise, As You Like It, A Christmas Carol), Valentine is a perfect match for heroine Phoebe. Although they aren’t aware, the love between them has lasted all through the years apart and Valentine is not tempted by Miss Livvy’s flirtatious nature. For all the comedic, hopeful romantic moments between the pair, we still see the deep love they have for each other and the frustration this has led to as they are unaware of the mutual feelings.
The rest of the cast switch between characters, from Regency romantics to Quality Street factory workers. This was a brilliant idea to have retired factory workers act as narrators as they immediately broke the fourth wall by speaking to and including the audience - they even offered up the off chocolate.
If you like Netflix hits Bridgerton and The Crown, this is the play for you. It’s full of delicious bite-sized pieces, with multiple flavours all wrapped up in a colourful and joyous production. As for the relevance to the chocolates themselves - still no idea!
WE SCORE QUALITY STREET...
Animal - Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester - Wednesday 15th March 2023
ANIMAL IS EYE-OPENING, HEART-WRENCHING, HILARIOUS AND EDUCATIONAL, KEEPING THE AUDIENCE ENTERTAINED THROUGHOUT!
Animal is a new play produced by Hope Mill Theatre and Park Theatre which won Hope Mill Theatre’s inaugural Through The Mill Prize and was shortlisted in the top five for the Papatango Prize out of more than 1,500 entries. Its subject could be seen as tantalising yet the play isn't intended to be an agritprop, it demands no more than empathy and attention and delivers an entertaining production.
Animal follows the character David as we get to see how sex can be a challenge. He’s gay, disabled, profoundly horny, and relies on round-the-clock care. He can’t eat, drink or shower by himself, let alone rest. Totally inexperienced, he embarks on a sexual and romantic odyssey, armed with a fierce brain and impressive nudes (which someone else has to take). With a lifetime of knock-backs, David has to manage the thrills and uncertainty of random hook-ups without getting too attached and risk hurting his feelings.
As soon as you enter the theatre, you’re inside David’s apartment. The set was cleverly designed to have sliding doors which revealed a hallway and kitchen or club and outdoor terrace, making it easy to transition between scenes. The teal velvet sofa was quickly adapted to a bed to make a quick switch from living room to bedroom, and the walls would have projections of messages and dating apps to match what David was seeing on his phone screen.
Christopher John-Slater (The Dumping Ground, Sorry, We Missed You, All of Us) embarks on a journey of sexual awakening as David goes from frustrated, to horny and ultimately to hopeful as he swipes through and meets several Grindr dates. His performance of David was captivating with laugh-out-loud highs and heartbreaking lows. His comedic timing was excellent as he had the audience belly laughing with one-liners and his curiosity and open-mindedness about sex.
David isn’t an angel or a victim and John-Slater’s vulnerable performance shows how frustrating and infuriating it is to have to rely on other people for everything. He is complex and flawed, and the needs and the relationships from his impairments are a worthwhile source of drama and comedy. Yet, the humour within the play doesn’t come from the expense of David’s disability, it comes from naivety, excitement and curiosity of this sexual odyssey.
David’s inner circle of friends and carers have a real bond with him, since they spend so much time together. Jill, played by Amy Loughton (Crackers, Romeo & Juliet, Henry V & The Tempest) is David’s full-time carer who lives in his flat with him. She finds herself a boyfriend, played by Harry Singh (But I’m a cheerleader the musical, West End Does: Magic of Animation 2, One Young World Opening Ceremony), which gives her a new focus in life and leads to a bit of jealousy from David. Singh doubles up as David’s best friend Mani, an eccentric and loveable gay best friend who lives life to the fullest. Derek is David’s other carer, played by Matt Ayleigh (Timons of Athens, The Boy on the Swing, Love for Love), and is an out-of-work actor, trying to squeeze in auditions around shifts. They are all supportive of David’s wants and concerned when they need to be, showing up when he is at his most vulnerable and helping without the need to be asked. Yet, all of them have their own desires and frustrations, which can sometimes clash with David, leading to odd tense situations, often broken by an excellent comedic one-liner.
Animal is a play like I’ve never seen before, and one I’d like to see more of. It was eye-opening and heart wrenching as we got an insight into how disabilities can take away so much independence and ultimately impact their private time. The play is a telling of a much needed important story, originated by Josh Hepple, an activist, equality trainer and writer who has cerebral palsy, and written for the stage by Jon Bradfield (Another F***ing Christmas Carol, He Shoots! He Scores!, A Hard Rain).
This new, modern and different play is a comedy full of uplifting and eye-opening moments. Whether it’s the relationships between friends, frustrations over simple tasks in life or the sex, it’ll keep you entertained throughout.
WE SCORE ANIMAL...
Ladies' Day - Octagon Theatre, Bolton - Thursday 9th March 2023
LADIES' DAY IS A FUN NIGHT OUT AT THE THEATRE SO GRAB YOUR BEST FASCINATOR AND HEAD TO THE OCTAGON!
From the off, Ladies’ Day sounds like the kind of play you’d go to for a girl’s night out and immediately upon entering the theatre, you are transported back to 2005 with only hits from the early noughties playing all night. You can expect a bit of Robbie Williams, S Club 7 and Sugababes to get you in the mood for a ladies night. There were groups of women with their fascinators on, ready to embrace this unique trip to the races.
The play follows four women who swap their typical working day at a fish factory for front row at the races. The races being the Royal Ascot which relocated in 2005 to York for the season. Work mates, Pearl, Jan, Shelley and Linda seize the chance to swap their daily routine of tea breaks and cantine chats for a day of glitz and glamour. With their fancy hats on and fizz in hand, the girls get placing their bets ahead of a day full of high expectations.
The set itself is quite simplistic, beginning with fish factory counters and weighing scales then turning into the open outdoors at the racecourse with a couple of plastic chairs and green circuit painted on the ground. The costumes were bright and colourful, reflective of the uplifting and comedic mood of the play. Bright white factory coats with yellow marigolds transform into pink, yellow, blue and green dresses.
The life-affirming comedy written by Amanda Whittington is an uplifting co-production with Staffordshire’s New Vic Theatre. Ladies’ Day is exactly what you’d expect it to be just from the title alone. It’s got all the fanciness of the races paired with the realities of normal working class life as it digs into female friendships. It’s a great play to kick off the Spring season (despite the cold, snowy weather!) and will have you leaving with a spring in your step and a smile on your face.
When the theatre is set up in the round, the performers have to be aware that they are being watched from every angle. Each performer was fully embodied by their character with mannerisms to match their attitudes and style. The transition from factory to racecourse really showed this off as the girls threw off their coats to reveal fabulous frocks, all to the tune of ‘Is This The Way To Amarillo’. It was a brilliant start to the story and really got you hyped up for their race day.
Each of the four ladies fits into a certain stereotype found within friendship groups, making it relatable and adding the comedy value. Jan is the sensible one, played by Tanya-Loretta Dee (Sirens, Mercury Theatre, Family Album, Stephen Joseph Theatre), whose life revolves around her teenage daughter and consequently has lost her self-identity. From turning up with a fully packed picnic to being wasted on champagne, Dee’s Jan goes on a journey of self-discovery.
Dee’s portrayal of the sensible Jan is the great opposite for Annie Kirkman’s (The Hound of the Baskervilles, East Riding Theatre, Beryl, Arcola) Shelley who is loud, confident and pretty chaotic. Kirkman’s physical comedy was excellent, not once did she dip in energy as she continued on her quest to find the celebrities and mingle with the elite. Pearl is the matriarch of the bunch, played by Kate Wood (Brassed Off, Derby Theatre, The Full Monty, David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers), and it’s her retirement celebrations that have brought the ladies to Ascot. Wood plays Pearl as sensible and kind, yet there’s a big secret she’s hiding which brings out a whole new side to the character.
The quiet one is Linda, played by Jo Patmore (As You Like It, Northern Broadsides and New Vic, Frost Hollow Hall, East Riding Theatre), who is very reserved and secretive. Linda’s main aim for the day is to find Tony Christie, whilst sporting a fan club badge of course! Patmore’s portrayal of Linda digs deeper than her quiet persona, revealing how she’s being taken advantage of because she cares, and throughout the play we see her build up the strength to stand her own ground.
Gareth Cassidy (Marvellous, New Vic, @sohoplace) is the only male in the show and plays six different characters throughout the play. His characterisation was fantastic with different accents and mannerisms to clearly identify the different roles, from a posh and obnoxious commentator to a shy and quiet fish factory boss.
Ladies’ Day is a hilarious and heart-warming story of female friendship. It’s the kind of show where you can go and relax, have a glass of wine and have a good laugh. It’s an easy one to follow and just plain fun! So grab your best fascinator and head to the Octagon.
WE SCORE LADIES' DAY...
Photo credits - Andrew Billington
Birmingham Royal Ballet - Swan Lake
Birmingham Royal Ballet's Swan Lake - The Lowry - Thursday 2nd March 2023
BIRMINGHAM ROYAL BALLET'S SWAN LAKE IS ELEGANT, SPELLBINDING AND PERFECT FOR ALL AGES!
Swan Lake is arguably one of the most popular and well-loved ballets around with its magical story of the transforming swan and popular choreography becoming references throughout pop culture. I’ve been a fan of this ballet ever since I was first mesmerised by the 2003 animation Barbie of Swan Lake, with Odette instantly becoming my favourite doll. My love for this film led to a girls trip to the theatre to watch the ballet, my first one, many years ago and the music (and tutus!) has been etched into my brian ever since. So, I was super excited to go to see the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production and re-experience the magic.
An eclectic mix of audience piled into the theatre with people of all ages buzzing to see the magic of the ballet. From old to young, to dance troops and family groups, it’s a theatre show that attracts anyone. It’s a classical form of entertainment and there’s an aura of excitement around the idea of going to the ballet, people tend to use it as a chance to get dressed up a bit fancier and it feels like a proper treat of a theatre outing.
The story of Swan Lake is one of romance, jealousy and hope. It follows Prince Siegfried who falls in love with Princess Odette after seeing her transform from a graceful swan into a beautiful woman. He learns of the spell cast upon her by evil sorcerer Baron von Rothbart which keeps her in swan form from dawn to dusk. The Price is utterly smitten and plans to break the spell, but Rothbart has other plans. At the Prince’s ball, Rothbart tricks the Prince into believing his daughter Odile is the real Odette, with the Prince none the wiser, he declares his love for her. Back at the lake, the Prince explains his mistake to Odette who tells him the spell cannot be broken after he has declared his love for someone else. Despite this, the two decide to live in a world of eternal love together.
The story is split into four acts and the fantastic choreography by Lev Ivanov, Marius Petipa and Peter Wright, alongside the staging and costumes make it easy to follow and understand. It’s a simple story of finding true love paired with the elegance of Tchaikovsky’s famous score. The four acts allow for multiple intervals, allowing the opportunity for breaks, although the whole production is captivating and the time flies by.
Principal dancer, Momoko Hirata’s Odette was utterly stunning. She truly stood out as the star. Every part of her moved with such grace, all the way to her fingertips, you could really believe she had been transformed into a swan the way she glided across the stage. As Princess Odette, she was sweet and gentle, compared to her portrayal of Odile, Rothbart’s daughter, as a jealous, calculating woman on a mission. As soon as she entered as Odile in the third act, you could have mistaken her for another dancer, the subtle changes in movement and the shift of attitude created a great contrast to the lovable Odette.
Dancing opposite Hirata as Prince Siegfried was Principal Mathias Dingma. Dingman’s version of the Prince was comparable to the classic fairytale-esque character, trustworthy, a good leader and captivated by love. His connection with Odette was undeniable, the way the two worked as a pair to show their affection for each other was stunning and beautiful to watch. When dancing the infamous pas de deux with Odile in the third act, you could tell he was completely bewitched by her and the sorcerer’s spell with his eyes fixated on her movements. |
The pas de deux in act three was incredible. Hirata and Dingma are dynamic talents who make the most difficult choreography look easy. The infamous 32 fouettes performed by Hirata left the audience feeling dizzy but not her! She ended the routine with pure grace and not even the slightest sign of breathlessness. Dingma’s fantastic leaps and jumps reached insane heights before landing as light as a feather.
The set was like an oil painting you would fit in an art gallery, grand and completed with the tiniest details to completely transform the stage. There were two sets which alternated between the acts, from the medieval palace to the enchanted lake. The palace was grand with the colours matching the costumes to make the whole production come to life and transport us back in time. The setting of the lake was dull and dark, but this created an incredible contrast against the white swans and almost gave a monochrome effect. The costumes were magnificent, expensive looking and majestic royal gowns made the simple, bright and iconic white tutus stand out even more.
The Swan Maidens in the final act appear as if by magic, it even made the audience let out an audible gasp, showing how captivated they were.When all 18 of the white swans performed together in sync, it was incredible, and goes to show that special effects are not needed to create this magic, choreography and staging can have the same effect and completely take the audience by surprise. It’s a truly exquisite production of a true ballet classic.
The Royal Ballet Sinfonia orchestra, led by Robert Gibbs, was fantastic. Live music is an amazing experience on its own and a beautifully classical score like Tchaikovsky’s holds its own, but when paired with the performers on stage, it becomes an almost immersive experience and it pulls you right in to being there, at the lake, with them. The way the dancers and the musicians work together to time everything so perfectly is impeccable, every leap and turn hit the beat without any missteps.
One thing that stood out to me was not on the stage but in fact in the programme. A short, doodled storyboard of the show simplified for kids so they knew exactly what was happening in every act. The whole show is suitable for younger audience members with multiple intervals giving opportunities for quick breaks, although the show is so captivating it does feel like it flies by.
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake is classic, elegant and spellbinding. You find yourself lost in the incredible storytelling told through the beauty of dance which brings this enchanted love story to life. It’s a ballet suitable for all ages, partnered with an iconic, recognisable score which will be left waltzing around your brain. If a ballet is what you’re after, this is not one to miss. Utterly beautiful.
WE SCORE SWAN LAKE...
Head Over Heels
Head Over Heels - Hope Mill Theatre - Wednesday 1st February 2023
HEAD OVER HEELS IS EVERYTHING TO LOVE ABOUT MUSICAL THEATRE - YOU MUST GO-GO AND SEE IT!
Hope Mill Theatre, despite its smaller capacity, has never shied away from producing top class theatre shows and every time I’ve been, I’ve absolutely loved it. This time was no different. I was already excited and had good expectations before arriving and, from the first song, I knew we were in for a good time. This visit was to see the European Premiere of bold new musical Head Over Heels from the visionaries behind Avenue Q and Spring Awakening after it rocked Broadway back in 2018.
Head Over Heels is a jukebox of The Go-Go’s, the most successful female rock band of all time, with songs including We Got The Beat and Our Lips Are Sealed. There’s also a couple of songs from Belinda Carlisle’s catalogue, as she’s the band’s lead singer, with her hit Heaven Is A Place On Earth going down a treat when paired with a shadowed love scene.
Three decades since the release of their first album, here we are tapping our feet to absolute bangers that are known by generations. Even songs that you may not know feel recognisable and the upbeat, rock style makes it even more enjoyable. The show uses the rock edge throughout the plot and acting to keep it feeling fresh. Despite a score featuring well known 80s tracks, it feels new and unique and embraces its daftness to produce a loveable production.
It’s a mixture of upbeat music and a Shakespearan plot with the story itself is based on Sir Philip Sidney’s The Arcadia. Overall it’s a celebration of love but not without the trials of patriarchy, gender dysphoria and sexual awakenings. The show is sparky and silly as the King takes his whole family on a road trip to escape Arcadia after being threatened with extinction from a spirit-like/genie-like figure called Pythio. As you can imagine, a full royal family on an outrageous journey is prime material for laugh-out-loud comedy. Its morals are all about finding your true self and standing up for what you believe in and it’s full of goodwill, slightly soppy but what’s not to like?
On entering the auditorium, you are taken straight to the punk era with black and white posters stuck across the walls and an ‘Arcadia’ neon sign placed central at the back. It was simple and effective and any time we were taken to a different location in a story or a large prop was needed, they just put a placard over the throne or used a sheet labelled with the required prop. An example of this was when they needed a bush and they used a white sheet with ‘BUSH’ written on it. I’ve seen this before in shows that keep the set to a minimum and it always makes me chuckle. Loved the costumes. A mixture of velvet, mesh, tulle and the odd ra-ra skirt wouldn’t go amiss at The Go-Go's concert or any punk rock event. Not forgetting the classic 80s lace glove.
The choreography by Director Tom Jackson Greaves (The Jungle Book, Run For Your Life, Neptunalia) is pure joy and there’s no denying the talent of each cast member, you could easily comment on the preference of every single one. From the start of We Got The Beat you just wanted to be sticking your Dr Martens on and heading down to some dingy club to get on a beer-soaked dance floor.
The cast is led by BroadwayWorld winner Luke Bayer (Millennials, Rent, Hair) as Musidorus and Maiya Quansah Breed (Rent, Six: The Musical - Original London Cast, The Secret Garden) as Philoclea and as one of the loved up couples, they definitely deliver on the cuteness and sugary sweet young love we’ve seen time and time again from anything that slightly resembles Romeo and Juliet. They are both marvellous and utterly infectious.
With a supporting cast including scene steeler Jenny O’Leary (We Will Rock You, Heather The Musical, The Secret Garden) as Pamela. Every time O’Leary stepped on the stage you were in for a treat and without a doubt she’d have you in stitches with her comedic timing, no doubt her incredible voice and range which led several of the tracks. Khadija Sallet’s (In the Heights, Legally Blonde, Ragtime) Mopsa was a great opposite, supported with the comedy and released the vulnerable side of both characters; she was calm, cool and collected.
I’m pretty much Head Over Heels for this show. It’s everything I love most about theatre and musicals in particular - it's good fun and slaps a smile on your face. Forget popstar princesses, this is rockstar royalty. It’s Bridgerton meets Rent, Mamma Mia! meets Rocky Horror and Shakespeare meets the 80s. If you want a laugh, a show you know will deliver on the fun and a toe-tapping score which will be going straight on the Spotify playlist, then this is for you.
Head Over Heels is running at the Hope Mill Theatre until March 4th so shove those winter blues to the side and get tickets whilst you can. Go-Go…
WE SCORE HEAD OVER HEELS...
Photo credits - Pamela Raith
Ellen Kent's Madama Butterfly
Ellen Kent's Madama Butterfly - Opera House, Manchester - Thursday 26th January 2023
Madama Butterfly is arguably one of Puccini’s most popular operas, despite this, I couldn’t tell you a single thing about the show (other than its name) before going. I was aware of its popularity but not really the storyline, so read up on a short synopsis to get started. Sometimes going to a show when completely clueless about the context makes it a unique and fun experience, I went having no expectations and was just happy to take in the atmosphere and enjoy a night at the theatre.
Straight from arriving at the Opera House I knew this was going to be pretty much a full house as the queue formed along the street and there was an excited buzz in the air. Opera lovers of all ages were waiting to take their seats, which goes to show that opera can be for anyone and everyone.
Madama Butterfly is one of Puccini’s most popular works in his repertoire. It’s a sad story of love, passion and tragedy as we follow young Japanese woman Cio Cio (“Butterfly”) as she loses her heart to the dashing American Naval Officer, Officer Pinkerton, only to discover his love is fleeting. The themes are wrapped up in Puccini’s beloved score and this particular production has been put together by esteemed director Ellen Kent with The Ukrainian Opera & Ballet Theatre Kyiv.
What I love about theatre is how it transports you to another location and time, it allows you to get lost in a story completely different to your own. As soon as the Opera House curtain lifted, the set did exactly this. We were shifted back in time to turn-of-the-century Japan with a set bright and full of colours to create an Oriental dream garden. The costumes matched the enchanting set with bright colours and traditional dress that stood out alongside the American Naval uniform.
At its heart, opera isn’t about grand sets or large choruses, it’s about conveying emotion through voice and this, paired with a fantastic orchestra, is what makes opera a unique experience which people have adored for centuries. A major stand out moment was when the company took their bows alongside a Ukrainian flag and sang the national anthem. This elevated the whole performance and every audience member felt this as they rose to give a standing ovation. It was extremely poignant and nevertheless important.
There’s no denying the talent and power behind the international soloists and highly-praised chorus, led by Korean soprano Elena Dee (Madam Butterfly, Aida, Mimi), Ukrainian soprano Alyona Kistenyova (Carmen, Boheme, Traviata) and Ukrainian mezzo-soprano Natalia Matveevan (Aida, Othello, Madama Butterfly). The whole company came together to portray the themes of loss, tragedy, love and passion in every element of the story. Their voices blended together beautifully to create a harmonised sound that echoed around the auditorium.
What I enjoyed about Ellen Kent’s direction was the physicality that was added to the production, in particular when we were introduced to the Japanese women at the start. Madama Butterfly had an aura of grace and floated along the stage, in a youthful and elegant style, but so did the rest of the female chorus. They moved as one, taking small steps to move ever so slowly into the centre of the stage. This created a stark contrast to the strong American Officers and helped to set out the themes and characterisation of the story. Not only this, the movement and acting made the story much easier to follow so there was no issue with getting lost in the translations. The show is sung in Italian with English subtitles so it’s simple to understand and this tackles the queries about any language barriers.
This show is certainly for the opera lovers among us, theatre goers who enjoy being immersed in the passions and emotions of the talented company. The production itself is easy to follow along and, if you know the gist of the story, then you can let yourself be immersed in the Japanese paradise and engrossed by the bittersweet emotions that this love story entails.
Pride & Prejudice (sort of)
Pride & Prejudice (sort of) - The Lowry, Salford - Thursday 19th January 2023
THE PERFECT WATCH TO BEAT THE JANUARY BLUES!
It’s my first review of 2023, and with so many incredible shows appearing in Manchester last year, the stakes are high. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start theatre going this year than with the 2022 Olivier award winning production straight from the West End, Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of). This modern, comedic adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s most popular novels, and personally one of my favourites, took to the stage at The Lowry theatre.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Pride & Prejudice, the story follows the turbulent relationship between Elizabeth Bennett, the daughter of a country gentleman, and Mr Darcy, a rich landowner. In order to fall in love and marry, they must overcome the titular sins of pride and prejudice and leave their stubborn ways behind them.
The Regency rom-com has got to be one of the most popular love stories of all times, with several adaptations and its continuing popularity among readers of all ages, so there was no surprise that the theatre was buzzing with Austen enthusiasts. The show already has a strong reputation amongst theatre lovers, and it’s easy to see why. Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) is a unique and fresh take on the iconic story where the stakes couldn't be higher when it comes to romance. Five young women have a story to tell where men, money and microphones are fought over with the hope everyone finds their happy ending. This all-female production brings Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane, Bingley and even those who never got names to the party in time for ruthless match-making games.
This version brings Austen’s characters into a 21st century light, still set in the Regency era but with narration fit for today's audience, including language that was absolutely not heard back in Austen’s day! Think Bridgerton meets your local nightclub - elegant gowns, old-fashioned values but with red plastic cups and banging tunes.
The set was minimalist with a cascading staircase in white and pale blue, partnered with a monochrome print of a book lover's dream library collection. It’s the kind of set up you would imagine at a grand home in Austen’s era with furniture to match and a white piano place at the back. The modern-day contrasts happen through the use of props, with pringle cans, wagon wheel biscuits and a little karaoke machine to add an extra element of fun. The actors switched between characters, from the servants to the iconic names, by simple layering over a jacket or dress.
The show has an all female cast made up of Lucy Gray (Fen, Red Velvet, Blue Stockings), Dannie Harris (Love Letters, Away in a Danger, Teechers), Leah Jamieson (Romeo & Juliet, Spring Awakening, Market Boy), Emmy Stonelake (Double Drop, A Christmas Carol, Belly Up), Megan Lousie Wilson (Twelfth Night, Blood On Your Hands, The Mousetrap), Ruth Brotherton (As You Like It, Estella, Puss in Boots), and Laura Soper (The Storm Whale, The Wind in the Willows, Love’s Victory).
Each actor was great, differentiating between their characters with obvious posture changes, mannerisms and accents, so it was very clear when the switches occurred. A particular standout was Harris’ portrayal of Mrs Bennett and the desperation she felt trying to get at least one of her daughters wed. The contrast between this breathless, overdramatic mother to Jamieson’s stubborn Elizabeth and Wilson’s sweet Jane was excellent material for standout comedy moments, and the audience really did have a laugh. They truly embraced Austen’s girl power and independent woman stance by creating a huge contrast between all the characters - some want to marry for money, some want to marry for love, and some represent the importance of self love. All common themes found in Austen’s repertoire.
The plot lines of the novel were (sort of) sped up to hit the comedy cues and fit into a two hour show. The dynamic of the servants narrating the story directly to the audience kept the flow going without missing out any important detail. This concept added some fun and brought Austen’s infamous wit to the production as it had fast-paced comments and several references to the other adaptations of the novel, most famously Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy.
What I particularly enjoyed was how the show wasn’t afraid to be daft and silly, afterall Austen is known for her comedic wit. The addition of the karaoke machine and a few popular anthems gave a jukebox musical vibe (sort of) and songs including Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out For a Hero and Young Hearts Run Free have been running around my head all morning! It’s chaotic brilliance and just all around joy.
It’s a brilliant, fresh and different adaptation for Austen fans to enjoy and introduces her work to newbies in a relaxed way. You really don’t need to know much about Pride & Prejudice to embrace this production, it’s easy to follow along, witty and fun.
WE SCORE PRIDE & PREJUDICE (SORT OF)...
Betty! A sort of Musical
Betty! A sort of Musical - Royal Exchange Theatre - Thursday 8th December 2022
BETTY! A SORT OF MUSICAL IS CLEVER, HEART-WARMING AND A PROPER GOOD LAUGH!
Before going to see this production, I knew very little about Betty Boothroyd. Despite that, I know the Royal Exchange is often host to excellent, diverse shows and with Maxine Peake as the lead, I held high expectations. Once finding out more about Betty’s historical stance as the first female speaker, I was curious to see how the show would take shape - because how do you create a musical based at the House of Commons?
BETTY! A Sort of Musical is sort of brilliant! The storyline follows an amateur theatre group in Dewsbury who are devising a new musical about a local celebrity. As the first female speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd is a Dewsbury girl to celebrate, and the five ladies, plus Calvin, of The Dewsbury Players are doing just that. Their high-kicks may be wobbly, their acting ‘enthusiastic’ and the props left over from a production of MISS SAIGON; but, tonight, the Village Hall is their theatre of dreams!
We see Betty at different times throughout her life, from growing up in the Great Depression to her time in the Tiller Girls dance troupe at the London Palladium, and how these moments led to her becoming Madame Speaker. Through comedy, music and a bit of drag, you’ll learn a lot about Betty Boothroyd.
The title is a perfect description as it is a ‘sort of’ musical in the sense that it has plenty of singing and dancing, but not as you’d expect from a stereotypical musical. It’s more like a play about a musical which is keeping The Dewsbury Players and their creativity right at the forefront. This made it more enjoyable as it shines the limelight on local, amateur theatre and how it brings people from all walks of life together every week to do something they all love. An ongoing drive within the plot was how much they wanted their break into the industry and with a trip from the BBC looming, the need to impress was strong. How they managed to get a visit from the BBC is a moment of true comedic brilliance, with the group’s leader Meredith twisting a few truths to make them stand out.
Maxine Peake (Happy Days, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Skriker) and Seiriol Davies (How To Win Against History, Milky Peaks, The Messenger) have written a joyful, fantastic show that is guaranteed to give you a great time. It’s got that Northern umph about it, full of wit and not afraid to touch upon controversial topics by turning them into the butt of many jokes. It’s clever how it has turned such a niche topic into one that anybody can enjoy.
Both star alongside Eva Scott (I Wanna Be Yours, Penny, I Don’t Know Why I’m Crying); Lena Kaur (Living Archive, The Last Testament of Lillian Biolcca, Earthworks); Carla Henry (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Light Falls, Our Town); and Joan Kempson (Rutherford and Son, Everybody Loves a Winner, Misery).
Each Player had their time in the spotlight as Betty, always with a song and full routine to go with it, but don’t expect the vibrato and power of a West End vocal. Under the direction of Sarah Frankcom (The Nico Project, Light Falls, West Side Story) we are kept within the realms of Dewsbury alongside their am-dram group, this is reflected heavily through the characters. The actors were all fantastic at this, keeping up their wonky kicks and good, but not amazing, vocals. It gives the show that heart-warming feeling, making it relatable and every second enjoyable.
This show isn’t professional theatre looking down on am-dram, it celebrates these groups and reminds us how important they are for bringing a wide range of people together to talk about their differing opinions. Not only that, but how much fun they are to be a part of and that theatre is inclusive and at the heart of the community.
Like many productions at the Royal Exchange, the theatre itself and being seated in the round is a huge contributor to the overall show and audience experience. The set was mostly minimal apart from when it was transformed into the House of Commons and Peake was lowered from the ceiling in the iconic speaker’s chair. Other than that, there were no grand set designs, just some plastic chairs, a wicker basket full of props and dodgy tea urn - everything you’d see at your local amateur theatre groups weekly set up. The lighting helped to transform the stage from the Village Hall rehearsal space to a full dramatic theatre in the West End with blinding spotlights.
When it comes to a comedy show there’s nothing more enjoyable than laughing together, at the same thing, and just having a great time. This show delivers on that, it’s got all levels of comedy and will give you plenty of belly-laughing opportunities.
If you fancy a theatre trip this Christmas without all the jingle bells and ‘he’s behind you’, this is an excellent option. The Royal Exchange is known for its outstanding Christmas shows (which aren’t particularly festive) and this is no exception. It’s a treat, a proper good laugh and fantastic fun!
WE SCORE BETTY! A SORT OF MUSICAL...
A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol - Octagon Theatre, Bolton - Wednesday 23rd November 2022
A CHRISTMAS CAROL IS HEARTWARMING AND JOYOUS, LEAVING YOU FEELING ON A FESTIVE HIGH!
You hear the title ‘A Christmas Carol’ and it’s hard not to feel some sort of warmth and comfort from flashback memories of watching your favourite rendition as a kid, so naturally I was quite excited about this one. I didn’t know what to expect of this production, whether it was going to be dark and haunting or a huge dose of festive spirit, but I did expect it to be a unique take on the story, like other shows I’ve previously seen at the Octagon Theatre.
The show is a family-friendly retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic story about the tight-fisted Ebenezer Scrooge who lacks love and compassion. On the night of Christmas Eve, he is visited by the ghost of his old business partner Jacob Marley and is taken on a mystical journey through yuletides past, present and future - will he be able to see the error of his ways before it’s too late?
The much-loved Dickensian classic has been told many times and in many ways (over 100!), yet it’s still hard to get bored of the feel good Christmas message, and this new musical adaption by Kate Ferguson (Treasure Island, Fair Trade, Sherlock Holmes: The Early Years) and Susannah Pearse (Treasure Island, Jabberwocky, Hall of Mirrors) is another triumph to add to the list. It seems simplified, which is a good thing - have you ever seen how chunky the novel is? The show focused on the main parts of the story and the message of love, family and kindness at Christmas, making it uplifting and heartwarming; but we still saw the dark reality for Scrooge as he hit rock bottom and was threatened with his horrifying, lonely future. These moments created a brilliant contrast to the joyful, Christmas spirit which slapped a huge smile on every audience member’s face.
The show is minimalist with no huge set required to transport the audience to Victorian England, but this isn’t missed as the costumes and lighting dim to take us back in time. It’s performed in the round with lanterns and string lights hanging from the ceiling, the lighting is cleverly used to fly us around with Scrooge and the ghosts, through the darkness of night time to the epic brightness of Christmas Day.
The costumes for the civilians were typical Victorian dress with muted colours, which helped the ghosts stand out with their bright, extravagant looks. From glittery chains on the ghost of Jacob Marley to a glowing halo and a Christmas tree dress, these costumes were far from the stereotypical looks of the era.
The small company of six talented actors switched between roles to take us on the journeys with Scrooge’s ghosts. The characterisation was fantastic and the switches between roles were obvious, whether it was through costumes or the actor themselves, making it easy to follow and understand so there’s no need to worry about any of the audience losing track of the story.
The company was lead by Laurie Jamieson (One Man, Two Guvnors, 71 Coltman Street, Romeo and Juliet) who played Ebenezer Scrooge, he was very engaged with the audience throughout the performance almost acting as a narrator allowing him to interact with the audience and really bring them into the story. We saw Scrooge go through an emotional rollercoaster as he was confronted by his Christmas past, present and haunting future; it was a real transformation from his harsh, unpleasant manor to an over-the-top Christmas convert.
Jamieson is joined in the cast by Jonathan Charles (The Wicker Husband, Watermill Theatre, Beauty and the Beast) as Jacob Marley and Bob Cratchit; Grace Firth (It’s My Move, Face Front Theatre Company) as Mrs Fezziwig and Mrs Cratchit; Lianne Harvey (Relatively Speaking, Jermyn Street Theatre/Mill at Sonning, UK and USA tour of An Inspector Calls) as Belle and Christmas Present; Lauren Patel (Everbody’s Talking About Jamie feature film) in her professional stage debut as Christmas Past and Fan Scrooge; and Robert Wade (Elephant Rock, Badapple Theatre Company, Alfie, Lawrence Batley Theatre) as Fred Tapper.
They are joined by a young company of 3 wonderful young actors sharing the role of Tiny Tim, including: Emma Kennedy-Rose (Miracle on 34th Street, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse); Florence Moluluo (UK and Ireland tour of School of Rock); and Dominic Smith in his stage debut.
The actors are also all musically talented and each played an instrument which brought the songs to life, there was no band or orchestra, they created it all. This was very cleverly crafted by the Musical Director Matthew Malone (The Book Thief, Peter Pan, Treasure Island), as the instruments merged so well with the scenes that it was an obvious stop/start whenever the actors began playing.
A Christmas Carol adds fun pantomime-like elements, in particular the audience participation and comedic portrayal of characters, making it a joyous evening out for the whole family. The running time isn’t long and the show itself feels quite fast-paced so there aren’t any worries when it comes to keeping the little ones entertained. This is a great piece of festive theatre for all ages, and is a good alternative from a pantomime if you want to switch up your theatre visits. One of the standout moments was the visit to the Fezziwig family where some epic audience participation took place, taking the show from a toe-tapper to learning some new dance moves; it was just pure fun.
Overall, A Christmas Carol at the Octagon Theatre is a simple, heartwarming and joyous production suitable for any age that will leave you feeling on a festive high. If you fancy trying out some local theatre productions this Christmas, this is a great one to have at the top of the list.
WE SCORE A CHRISTMAS CAROL...
Cinderella - Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester - Thursday 17th November 2022
SPELLBINDING, ENCHANTING, UTTERLY BEAUTIFUL... IT'S PERFECT!
Cinderella is the classic ‘girl meets prince’ fairytale which we’ve seen a thousand times before, through books, films, and pantomimes. I’ve been following the build-up of this production for quite some time and have been looking forward to seeing it, especially being at the Hope Mill Theatre. I’ve always loved fairytales and princesses, so I already knew this musical is right up my street! As soon as we arrived at the theatre, the blue carpet was rolled out and there were pumpkins everywhere, the whole place was decorated with a bit of Cinderella magic, you knew exactly what you were there to see.
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella gives us a new take on the tale, with the ugly sisters being ugly in personality rather than looks, villagers with an actual storyline, and the Fairy Godmother being a character throughout and not just used for her magic. This version was originally created for a television special in 1957, starring the legendary Julie Andrews, it was then adapted for stage and even as a film starring Whitney Houston. This production at the Hope Mill Theatre is the European theatrical premiere of the 2013 Broadway musical revival.
The show tells the story of the smart and beautiful young Ella who lives in the care of her wicked, self-absorbed stepmother Madame and her two stepsisters Charlotte and Gabrielle. In another part of the kingdom, Prince Topher is trying to find himself and learn his place in the world. When his scheming advisor Sebastian suggests throwing a ball so the Prince can meet potential brides, Ella and Topher’s different worlds come together. It’s a clever retelling of the beloved fairytale.
The set was something straight out of a book, with the props and scenery all sketch-like. The small space of the Hope Mill Theatre was the perfect place for this as you could see the detail in these sketches from every seat, and it felt like a pop-up book had come to life. A revolving centre in the middle of the stage allowed for extra movement and made the most out of the small space.
The biggest challenge for any production of Cinderella is how to pull off the transformation and create true magic, and this was something I was curious about before the show had even began. The use of lighting and puppetry, blended together with the stunning musical score created this magic and the transformation was pulled off seamlessly. I had goosebumps during the ‘Impossible/It's Possible’ numbers, it was spellbinding and utterly beautiful.
Grace Mouat (Six The Musical, &Juliet, Legally Blonde) is a classic Ella, a beautiful girl with nothing but kindness running through her. She was excellent in this role and portrayed the beloved Cinderella exactly how you’d expect, sweet but with determination. Her voice is strong yet so pure, making her the perfect princess, and she harmonises so beautifully with Jacob Fowler (Little Mix: The Search, Heathers, Dreamboats And Petticoats: Bringing On Back The Good Times), who plays Prince Topher. Fowler’s Prince matched the determination of Ella, wanting to learn more about his people and be the best King possible. The moments the Prince and Ella were together on stage were magical, even in a ballroom full of people it was as if no one else was in the room.
You can’t have Cinderella without the magical Fairy Godmother and Julie Yammanee (Carousel, Bonnie and Clyde, Gatsby) is an absolute triumph as Marie. What I loved about this particular script is how the Fairy Godmother is a character throughout the show, an outcast villager known to everyone as Marie. Yammanee’s voice is so powerful and she belted out impressive high notes so easily! My favourite moment of her’s had to be the performance of ‘Impossible’, you just believed every part of it, she was creating the magic and that’s a fact!
What’s interesting about the show is that, even though it is not a pantomime, it almost tips over the edge with a similar kind of over-the-top characterisation and humour. In particular, Madame played by Annie Aitken (Jekyll & Hyde The Musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Candide) who had the audience in stitches. Her portrayal of the wicked stepmother was refreshing and new, Madame had real motivations and plans behind her evil ways and Aitken gave us a full-bodied comedic performance which made her a standout.
I can't get enough of this production and want to see it again and again. It’s the perfect, enchanting start to the festive season and simply put, it’s pure magic. There’s not many times a Broadway scale production is performed in such an intimate setting like the Hope Mill Theatre, so see this whilst you’ve got the chance!
WE SCORE CINDERELLA...
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - The Lowry, Salford - Wednesday 9th November 2022
Check in to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for an evening of fun, comedy and great entertainment!
When I heard that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was coming to the Lowry, I added it straight onto my list of shows to see, so I was absolutely buzzing when I received the invite to the press night. I mean who doesn’t love the film? It’s fun, comedic and pure entertainment - I knew that if the show was anything like the film it was going to be brilliant; and it was exactly that!
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a brand new play based on the Sunday Times bestseller by Deborah Moggach which inspired the hit movie from 2011. It’s a feel good tale of love and adventure which takes us on a journey to India with an eclectic group of British retirees as they embark on a new life. The luxury residence is far from the opulence they were promised, but as their lives begin to intertwine, they are charmed in unexpected and life-changing ways.
The show comes across as comedic and fun entertainment, yet it highlights important questions about the social care system in Britain and what it’s really like to be old. Each character has a unique life, full of memories, achievement and both sad and happy moments - but we seem to disassociate elderly people with the lives they once lived. This story gives us an insight into these rich lives and how life doesn’t end just because you’re old and retired, it can in fact be a new beginning.
The set was amazing and felt like a character of its own. The hotel was huge and used the full depth of the stage - it really could’ve been a real destination. The walls of the run-down old building gave a glimpse of the opulence and grandeur that the magnificent building once was, you just knew there were so many memories made there in its past life. There was an instant “family-owned” business vibe with the mismatched furniture, adding to the spirit and energy of the hotel.
The costumes added so much colour and vibrancy to the production. Each character had their own style which evolved throughout the show, reflecting on their mood and how the move to India changed them. There was a mixture of modern Indian and western clothing, a beautiful blend of different cultures coming together.
Just like the film, the show is absolutely star-studded! Starring the icon of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Academy, BAFTA and Golden Globe-Award winner, Hayley Mills (Wild at Heart, Pollyanna, The Parent Trap), household favourite and screen and stage star Paul Nicholas (Jesus Christ Superstar, Just Good Friends, Eastenders) and Rula Lenska (Rock Follies, Coronation Street, Eastenders). Also featuring Andy de la Tour (Notting Hill, Star Wars, The Young Ones), Rekha John-Cheriyan (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Tomb Raider, Hollyoaks) and Marlene Sidaway (Coronation Street, Pride and Prejudice).
From the list of names alone, you know you’re in for a treat with this one. All of the stars were fantastic, bringing the well loved characters from the book and film to the stage. Each character had a different personality and past life, making them an eclectic bunch of unlikely friends, whilst also fitting every stereotype of a retired Brit. This made the show comedic and relatable for everyone, as I’m sure every audience member could relate or knew of someone like at least one character.
The energy of the play never dipped, it held the audience’s attention throughout and every major joke landed exactly how it should - there were several moments for belly laughing. You could just tell the cast were having an absolute ball on the stage, and that really made the stories of each character shine - in particular how such a varied bunch of people could live together, become friends and even find love. It’s a creative story which is ultimately inspiring, you’ll leave the theatre believing that just because someone is retired doesn't mean they are “old”, and that life can have as many new beginnings as needed.
Overall, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is fun, comedic and easy entertainment. If you loved the book, film or even the documentary, you’re sure to love this. It’s a show that’ll transport you across the globe, full of bright colours and beaming with happiness. Catch it while you can, it’s a guaranteed hit!
WE SCORE THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL...
Friendsical - A Parody Musical about Friends
Friendsical - The Lowry, Salford - Monday 31st October 2022
FRIENDSICAL IS CLEVERLY CRAFTED, BLENDING COMEDY AND MUSIC TOGETHER, MAKING IT AS FUNNY AS THE ORIGINAL SITCOM!
You don’t even have to like Friends to know Friends, it’s a cult classic that has been passed down to younger generations and is loved by many. I’ve watched all of Friends, binge-watched it on Netflix even, but I’m not necessarily a ‘fan’. However, I took my superfan cousin along to the press night knowing she’ll give an honest opinion on how it went - and to rely on her for any references and jokes I didn’t understand!
If you’re unfamiliar with Friends, it’s an American tv sitcom from the 90s that follows the story of six friends who live in New York as they find their way through careers, love and life in general. Friendsical is an original and unique new parody musical inspired by the gang and references major moments throughout the series. When Ross’s wife leaves him for another woman, he fears he will never find love again. But then Rachel runs back into his life…will he end up with his true love? With original new songs such as (He’s her) Lobster!, Richard’s Moustache and You’re Over Me, When Were You Under Me?. The gang takes on naked Thursdays, a power cut, and a dinosaur convention. Transitioning a tv show (with 10 seasons!) into a musical can’t have been any easy challenge but Friendsical succeeded.
What stood out to us was how the script was cleverly crafted to fit references and major moments from the 10 seasons of the show into a 2 hour 40 minute production. From the first scene where Rachel runs from her wedding right up until the final episode of the series, this was done by using songs to fast-forward the story through several breakups, relationships and back on track to the main storyline. It blends comedy and music together making a show that’s just as funny as the original sitcom. You don’t even have to be a proper fan to understand what’s going on, I’ve watched the full series through once and pretty much knew all the references and the plot lines; saying this, it’s pretty important to have watched at least some episodes to appreciate the comedic moments.
The set moved around to create the three iconic backdrops from the sitcom - Monica’s flat, Joey’s flat and the coffee house. Attention to detail was excellent with the purple door, mustard sofa and Chandler and Joey’s comfy reclining chairs. The show transported you into 1990s New York and right into the heart of the gang’s hangout spots. The use of spotlights gave each character a moment to express their emotions and chat to the audience about their feelings. Overall, the set was bright and colourful, even some of the lights were yellow, red and blue to match the original colour scheme.
As it was a parody, the performers were over the top and almost pantomime like creating caricatures of each of the friends. The actors were brilliant and embodied the stand out characteristics and movements from each of the characters. Ross, played by Nelson Bettencourt, was the main narrator within the plotline. Friendsical is portrayed as Ross’ project to create their lives into a musical which underlines the story of the performance - making the parody move quickly and allowing it to touch on several key moments.
Amelia Kinu Muus was Rachel and Sarah Michelle-Kelly played Monica, Ally Retberg was Phoebe and Joey was played by Sario Soloman. Whether it was Monica’s iconic organisation and cleaning habits, Phoebe’s bouncy body language, Rachel’s sass or Joey’s lovable goofiness, all actors delivered and brought to life the characters we’ve grown to love.
All six actors were excellent at bringing the iconic characters to the stage but Tim Edwards as Chandler was a definite stand out to me. He had us in stitches with his mannerisms and subtle moments, even the accent was perfect. The costumes completed the characterisation with recognisable outfits for each character throughout the performance - even Ross’ leather pants made an appearance!
Last night’s guest star was drag queen Ella Vaday, star of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. Vaday was brilliant with her comedic timing popping into scenes as several characters from the show, including Monica’s boyfriend Richard. The guest star changes throughout the tour of the production and the Lowry stint will see Louise Redknapp take on the role too.
This show is a fun, upbeat take on the cult classic which will have fans belly laughing and reminiscing on their favourite moments. Friendsical reminds us why Friends was such a hit show and continues to be, it’s got plenty of laugh out loud moments with slapstick comedy and dramatic irony. It’s definitely a must-see for the Friends superfans but still provides loads of laughs for those who are not as knowledgeable on the 90s sitcom.
WE SCORE FRIENDSICAL...
Jersey Boys - Opera House, Manchester - Wednesday 19th October 2022
JERSEY BOYS IS FULL OF TIMELESS TUNES, BEAUTIFUL STORYTELLING AND A SLICK PRODUCTION
Jersey Boys has been around for years, and is many people’s favourite musical. Despite all the publicity, I’d never seen it. Saying that, I already knew a lot of the songs - Can’t Take My Eyes Off You is my go to karaoke song so I’m already a fan of the tunes! I’d heard so much hype that I went along to the performance with high expectations; this musical is a worldwide sensation after all, so I expected it to be great. Sat in the auditorium before the show started, I was chatting to the people sitting next to me and it turned out they hadn’t seen the show either but had heard so many rave reviews, so it’s clear there’s now a level of expectation for any Jersey Boys first-timer. Throughout the evening, it became obvious that many people had seen the show several times, and now I can completely understand why.
Jersey Boys is a true-life phenomenon and takes you behind the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons and uncovers the stories of the original four members. Taking them from just four New Jersey guys and following them as they become global stars in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They had a sound like nobody had ever heard, and the radio couldn’t get enough of it. Featuring their legendary hits, including Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, December, 1963 (Oh What a Night), and so many more. It’s a true toe-tapper with recognisable tunes throughout.
Simply put, this show is brilliant! It’s uplifting with hit after hit that’ll have you smiling and swaying for the whole time. The musical arrangements are excellent, sticking to the true style and sound of The Four Seasons, and with so many artists covering their music, there’s songs that everyone will recognise. Although, there is quite a bit of bad language so be aware that it’s not quite one for the kids - but that’s something I didn’t mind at all.
The story is cleverly told with a great flow making it fast-paced but not to the point where you couldn’t keep up, it meant there was never a dull moment or a drop in momentum. This was due to how the story was scripted with each member narrating a section of the show and bringing the audience into the story. I was completely hooked. This made it feel slightly different to a stereotypical musical as it had a different structure. The songs are all legitimately part of the story which made the transitions from the narration to the singing absolutely seamless.
The set was minimal with scaffolding around the back, almost as if it was a second stage, and which created a mezzanine floor. Little furniture was used and only brought on when needed to create certain environments, whether it was a dining table or a bar set up. There was no need for a busy set as the fast pace and constant movement quickly led through the story. The costumes and props were fabulous and straight away you could tell what era the story was set in.
Each cast member was excellent, in particular the four Jerseys boys. Their voices melted so beautifully to make the harmonies that are expected with this style of music and they were so in sync with each other when doing the signature dance moves. It was well rehearsed and not one foot was out of place. It was really satisfying to watch, all of the performances were clean and a completely different style from today’s music scene.
Ryan Heenan (Back to the Future The Musical, The Boy in the Dress, Titanic) took us through the story that transformed Frankie Valli from a shy boy into a superstar. He did an impeccable job of mastering Valli’s signature falsetto, and his portrayal of his showmanship and performance style was excellent. Valli had never seen himself as a singer and under the wing of Tommy DeVito, played by Dalton Wood (Carole - The Music of Carole King, Grease) he became the lead of the iconic group. Wood gave us all the ups and downs of DeVito, from being a confident businessman who believed in the group and pushed them towards success to the weaker man with money problems.
Blaid Gibson (Jersey Boys, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Game Night) was Bob Gaudio and Christopher Short (The Prince of Egypt, Anything Goes, Forever Plaid) played Nick Massi. Each member brought something unique to the group and all four had an incredible story to tell. The voices were the true standout for all the performers and it took the show from what could’ve been just a tribute act to a full Jersey Boys experience.
Jersey Boys deserves all the hype it gets. The audience were up on their feet dancing at the end and were just having a fantastic time, all the best indicators of an uplifting show. I know I won’t be the only one who’s singing the songs for the rest of the week.
It’s brilliant from start to finish and worthy of all the rave reviews, making it a show that’ll be around for many years to come. Full of timeless tunes, beautiful storytelling, and a slick production. A great, uplifting tribute to a unique band. If you haven’t seen it, go, have a great night out and embrace the hype. If you have seen it, then go again - I certainly would!
WE SCORE JERSEY BOYS...
Jersey Boys is on at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 29th October.
Fisherman's Friends: The Musical
Fisherman's Friends - The Musical - The Lowry, Salford - Tuesday 27th September 2022
Fisherman’s Friends is an instantly recognisable title, whether you’re a fan of the film or have grabbed a pack of the sweets before. SPOILER ALERT: It’s not about the sweets! The story is one many people know and already has quite a big fan following, this is something I picked up on as soon as we entered the theatre. As we took our seats, we were transported to the seaside with the sound of seagulls chirping and waves crashing echoing around the auditorium.
The show is based on the true story of Port Isaac’s singing sensations whose irresistible story has been immortalised on the big screen, and now as a musical. When a group of Cornish fishermen came together to sing the traditional working songs they’d sung for generations, nobody, least of all the fisherman, expected the story to end on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury. They are spotted by a fish-out-of-water music manager on a trip from London, who must learn that there is more to life than selling your soul for fifteen minutes of fame.
The heart and soul of the community and sea shanties are at the core of this show and there was a real sense of friendship beaming from the cast. You could just tell they were having an absolute ball! The musicality and familiarity of the songs make this a brilliant feel-good voyage, it’s a real toe-tapper and you’ll probably surprise yourself with how many shanties you know - we all know the trending one from TikTok, right?
For me, the music was the star of the show. It was sung beautifully with impeccable harmonies and all the performers had insane voices. Instead of a band or orchestra, the cast could all play instruments, some playing several, and this added to both the musicality of the show and the sense of community and love for their village; they don’t want any outsiders influencing their ways. The array of instruments was fantastic, from guitars to the spoons, there really was a huge variety.
The set was fun, colourful and a fisherman’s heaven. Set over two levels with buoys, nets and robes placed around the mezzanine and a bar and boat that moved onto the stage smoothly to help transition into the different locations - from the Golden Lion pub, out at sea, and even a gay bar in London! The lighting stood out to me throughout the performance. It subtly faded and changed into different colours to portray the times of day - from deep, dark colours for out at sea, to bright lights for daylight, and vibrant purple and orange for the sunrise and sunset.
The cast is fairly big with eight band members, the pub owners, friends and family, as well as others. Each cast member had a brilliant voice, excellent musicality and brought an element of fun to the show. Notable mention for the great Cornish accents too!
Hadrian Delacey (A Room with a View, Me and My Girl, Miss Saigon) stepped into the role of Jim, the unofficial band leader, for this performance (he’s the Resident Director and usually plays the role of Archie). You would never have guessed Delacey was usually playing a different character, he gave Jim depth, feeling and overall excellent characterisation, not forgetting his powerhouse voice. He brought both hostility and vulnerability to character showing how much he cares for his fellow fisherman and the band opportunities that lie ahead.
Alywyn, Jim’s daughter, was played by Parisa Shahmir (The Snow Queen, We Live in Cairo, Mamma Mia!). Shahmir’s voice was utterly stunning, a true talent on its own, and she used it superbly to show the different emotions of Alywyn. Jason Langley (Oslo, Hedda Gabler, War Horse) performed as Danny, the music manager from London. Langley takes Danny from an arrogant outsider to a true Fisherman’s Friend with just the right amount of cockyness, whilst being much of the story’s comic relief and having good comedic timing.
At the end of the production, the cast sang a couple of the top sea shanty hits, encouraging the audience to sing and clap along. A stand out for this particular moment wasn’t the cast itself but the various audience members who were true Fisherman’s Friends fans and were buzzing to join in - and isn’t that what theatre is all about? Fun, entertainment, and getting transported right into the story. A production which has that effect on the audience is a smash hit. Loved it.
The show was an all round feel-good about friendship, community and music that’ll have you leaving the theatre uplifted and humming sea shanties for the rest of the evening. It had me craving a trip to the seaside and a cone of chips! Head to The Lowry for an evening of fun before Fisherman’s Friends set sail!
WE SCORE FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS - 9/10
The Book Thief
The Book Thief - The Octagon, Bolton - Thursday 22nd September 2022
The Book Thief is a story that has been told many times before, through a novel and film, but never once as a musical. I went along to the world premiere with my mum not knowing much about the show or story, just the basics - it’s about a young girl in Nazi Germany and she steals a book - that was all. Sometimes going to a show with a lack of knowledge is a blessing because you don’t know what to expect and you can allow yourself to be utterly captivated by the performance, and that is what we did.
At a snow-covered graveside in 1930s Germany, an illiterate girl steals an abandoned book - Liesel's first act of book thievery. As Liesel’s appetite for books grows, so does the Nazi regime and the shadow of death is never far away. When her foster family hides a Jewish boxer in their basement, he teaches Liesel the power of words and together they plant seeds of kindness in a world set against them.
Based on Markus Zusak’s worldwide best-selling novel, the production addresses themes of the Holocaust, death, grief, anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia. The story has been adapted by award-winning bestselling author Jodi Picoult (My Sister’s Keeper) and Timothy Allen McDonald (adaptor of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka and James and the Giant Peach) with music and lyrics by Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel (Olaf’s Frozen Adventure).
Deciding on stand out moments for The Book Thief is difficult because it was simply just that good. The flow of the show was consistent with no drop of energy at any point, keeping the audience captivated the whole time. What impressed me was how a hard-hitting story with upsetting and tense themes can be portrayed with such humour, light and hope - but I think this just highlighted the painful time that Nazi Germany must have been by embracing this hope and belief that better days will come.
After the first act, I turned to my mum and we both just said “wow”. It’s so poignant and powerful that we were hooked right from the start. The music is so beautifully crafted that by the end, I left the theatre with ‘Hello Stars’ running around my head as if I’d heard it before, the score has the same bewitching vibe of a Disney musical, moving the story along whilst being a fantastic standalone tune. There was only a small band hidden on the stage and they played every note exquisitely.
The set had two storeys consisting of the main stage area and a mezzanine floor. The main area was mostly an open space with three doors on wheels which were moved about to change the scene. The mezzanine had high, spaced out shelves with white books neatly placed, resembling a library. The colours were deep and dull, a true representation of the war era and appropriate for the themes of the story. The dull colours allowed the white books to stand out, especially when they were lit up, it was almost blinding how bright they looked. Not forgetting the subtle lights hanging from the ceiling of the theatre, illuminating the stage with a warm glow to create stars. The performers moved around the space beautifully, using up every inch of the stage area, whether it was running up the steps on to the higher level, sitting on the steps, or rolling the doors around to create the streets of Germany.
The actors were all excellent and delivered an exceptional performance. Their comedic timing was spot on, and adding humour and fun to a hard-hitting plot can’t be easy - but they pulled it off. The young company is made up of Niamh Palmer (Shoot for the Moon, Chronicles of a Twisted Tween, Goldfish Boy) and Bea Glancy (The Wizard of Oz, Treasure Island, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) who share the role of Leisel, and Charlie Murphy (Mary Poppins, Matilda Jr, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Jr) and Alfie Corbett (A Christmas Carol, La Boheme, Waitress) who share the role of Rudy. The production we watched had Palmer and Murphy performing, and they are true stars - confident, talented and cute. They commanded the stage and never looked overwhelmed or nervous, they must have been enjoying every second of it because the audience sure did.
Ryan O’Donnell (Romeo & Juliet, Tina! The Musical, The Crown) played the Narrator. He never left the stage and was always in the background watching the story unfold, despite this, my eye was never drawn to him or distracted by his presence when he wasn’t narrating - and this is everything an excellent Narrator does. His storytelling was beautiful, making the show easy to follow and transition smoothly from scene to scene.
Rosa Huberman, played by Danielle Henry (Up Against The Wall, Afterlife, My Brilliant Friend), and Hans Huberman, played by Jack Lord (Absurd Person Singular, Treasure Island, Productions for Netflix, Sky, BBC) are a fantastic duo and delivered the bickering, banter and love you expect from a married couple. Both had the audience laughing with their funny remarks and crying with the emotional heartache that saturated that era.
Daniel Krikler (The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Fighting Irish) played Max Vandenberg and gave us a full-bodied, all-around performance showing the different emotions a Jew must have felt during that time. The relationship between Max and Liesel was a portrayal of true friendship and kindness, it was completely heartwarming whenever the pair were together.
The audience reaction was epic, everyone rose to their feet to give a standing ovation as soon as the bows began. The warmth, kindness and utter heartache meant there wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the end. All of this was absolutely well deserved. The show can be summed up by describing it as the poignant storytelling of Les Miserables meets the fun and cheekiness of Matilda. But it’s so much more than just comparable to other shows. It’s got the music, the story, the set, and the talent to really make a name for itself.
If you can, get yourself to the Octagon and experience this stunning production in an intimate setting because soon enough it’ll be hitting the big stages. Remember The Book Thief because it’ll be taking the theatre world by storm.
WE SCORE THE BOOK THIEF - 10/10
Lizard Boy - Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester - Tuesday 19th July 2022
Musicals have always been my favourite form of theatre so, regardless of not knowing anything about Lizard Boy, I jumped at the chance to see the new indie rock musical. Hope Mill Theatre has the most welcoming vibe, it’s a true theatre community and (even during a heatwave!) people were buzzing and excited to watch the show.
The story follows Trevor twenty years after a bizarre childhood accident where he was drenched in dragon’s blood. Over the years he’s grown green and scaly skin and withdrew from the world. Tonight, we see Trevor go on an adventure of mythic proportions, finding answers from the incident and learning about who he truly is - all whilst on a first date with a cute boy. In a nutshell, think classic comic book meets coming-of-age love story.
Directed by Brandon Ivie (The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes, Jasper in Deadland, String, and The Hinterlands), there were no dips in the show where the energy was low or I lost interest, this is testament to the fast-paced and upbeat nature of the production. The 60-minute show had depth, feeling and insane harmonies, not forgetting the musicality of the three performers - each one played several instruments, from guitar to cello. The songs themselves were catchy and ones that wouldn’t go a miss on the ‘Broadway Hits’ Spotify playlist. It’s vibrant, innovative and everything you’d expect if a Marvel Comic became a musical.
The set was minimal, with myriad instruments dotted around and a small platform at the back. Lighting was used to bring their superhero qualities to life, in particular a glowing green for Trevor’s lizard features. The use of the instruments themselves was a standout, the three actors are talented musicians in their own right, each playing a range and their musicality was out of this world. It really was a highlight to see the three performers come together and dazzle us with every song.
There are two casts who alternate throughout the run at Hope Mill Theatre and when it transfers to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. We saw the award-winning, original American cast, led by author/actor Justin Huertas (The Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion, Howl’s Moving Castle, The Lamplighter, and We’ve Battled Monsters Before) who plays Trevor. Huertas transported us into his world as he started to accept his true self. The audience was filled with empathy and understanding as Trevor’s self acceptance resonated with so many of us. The power house Siren, played by Kisten “KiKi” deLohr Helland (Afterwords (World Premiere), The Sound of Music (Maria), Grease (Rizzo), and Oklahoma!) enchanted us with her insane vocals and the character worked as an epic opposition to Cary, played by William A. WIlliams (Beauty and the Beast, Showboat, The Gypsy King (Village Theatre) and Romeo and Juliet) as he brought a gentle and caring nature to the stage, helping Trevor to realise his worth.
The alternate UK cast is made up of Alan Cammish (My Night With Reg, Snowboy, West SIde Story), Sophie Reid (The Snow Queen, Once, Into The Woods), and Anthony Rickman (Aladdin, The Jungle Book, Wonderland: A New Musical).
The audience were completely engaged throughout the show, you could hear a pin drop until the eruption of applause as the cast took their bows. The story is ultimately about being true to yourself and not hiding away, everyone has something unique about them and we shouldn’t judge each other on how they appear on the outside. As it’s a short and upbeat show, it’s perfect for an evening out, any night of the week. We’ll be hearing so much more of Lizard Boy in years to come, so don’t miss the chance to see it now.
We score Lizard Boy - 8/10
The White Card - HOME, Manchester - Thursday 19th May 2022
Writer Claudia Rankine says, “It understands that true conversations about race and racism can feel like a crisis to those committed to silence and disavowal.” and this is exactly what we watched unfold at the dinner party. When Virginia and Charles are questioned over their thoughts, they become defensive, letting the tensions run high.
Immediately on entering the theatre, you got a vibe about the family; that they are wealthy, middle-class and white. There was no curtain up and the actors were on stage improvising, setting the scene before the play even began. I like when a production does this as it uses the time to set the scene and introduce the audience to the story, it was as if we were in their home as they were waiting for the arrival of the dinner guests. The setting is a living room/dining room open-plan space, but all the decor was white, even the artwork was white with black writing describing the picture instead of showing us the picture. It was simple yet effective and poignant.
Kate Copeland (Emma, A Winter’s Tale, The First Man) plays Virginia, a woman who snaps under pressure and, although cheers on black icons such as Serena Williams, finds herself crumbling when faced with real racial conflict. Copeland is a master at building tension and awkwardness, and then she’ll drop an epic one liner, whether it’s a comedic moment or quite the opposite - the audience audibly gasped when hearing some of her lines, we were all so invested!
Charles, played by Matthew Pidgeon (The Mirror and the Light, Bitter Wheat, Local Hero), could be described as the ‘in between’, he doesn’t crumble under pressure like Virginia but is still blind to his white privilege and power he holds. Pidgeon was great at showcasing how someone's character can change during a debate, from being impressed and enthusiastic about Charlotte’s work to becoming defensive, judgemental and unwilling to learn when questioned over racism. Charlotte, played by Estella Daniels (Chloe, Death in Paradise, Sinbad), was a well-rounded, layered character and what a joy it was to watch Daniels on stage. You could tell she was passionate about her work and a well-respected artist who knew her stuff. Her art was more than just raising awareness about racism, but was there to educate the impact it has - something which the art-collecting white couple did not understand, causing friction.
I found myself feeling frustrated, like I wanted to join the debate. Whiteness was put on display, dissected and was an important debate to witness. The outcome is uncomfortable and tense and the emotions rapidly change as the tension builds, but all of this is educational and I was hooked for the whole show. It’s a short and powerful one-act play that highlights racial issues that are still apparent in today’s society, some issues that people may think were history. Get yourself to HOME and join this ever so important dinner party.
We score The White Card - 8/10
Oh Mother - HOME, Manchester - Wednesday 18th May 2022
When seeing a show that isn’t mainstream or hyped up comes an essence of curiosity, and Oh Mother is not a show I’ve heard of before. It’s brand new in every way - a new script, new production, new music, new everything! From what I read beforehand, I expected a quirky, exciting and funny play - and that’s exactly what I got.
Oh Mother is a RashDash and HOME co-production, co-Commissioned by Soho Theatre, Tobacco Factory Theatres and MAYK. The production is part of HOME’s Spring Summer 2022 Theatre Season celebrating International Women’s Day, and celebrating women is absolutely what it does. What I love about HOME is that it provides a platform for smaller theatre companies and theatre creators who improvise and devise new productions. This is exactly what RashDash does. I love the experience you get when watching a show performed by the creators, the sense of passion and understanding throughout the performance is undoubtable.
Oh Mother challenges the conventions of storytelling, focusing on theatricality rather than following a plotline. The show is made up of fragments of stories, cut up and woven together with sequences of movement and music, all which explore domesticity, attachment, gender, bonding, and the love for a dishwasher. It’s essentially a fever dream - the bubble you are in when taking care of someone, whether it’s the beginning or end of their life. It celebrates mothers in every sense, from every stage of motherhood and even acknowledges those mothers who didn’t get to meet their child.The show itself is only 90 minutes long with no interval so a great midweek outing (still get to bed early - get in!).
RashDash, along with their own mums, explore the ups and downs, challenges and love that comes with becoming a mother. It opens the often misunderstood narrative about how motherhood can be difficult yet brings an overwhelming love which comes alongside. The show even addresses the pressure young women are under to become mothers, or how an older woman is stigmatised because she chose to not have any. So even if you are not a mother (like myself) there’s still an element that is relatable.
My first impression when entering the theatre was nostalgia, and this isn’t due to the show, but to HOME itself. Theatre 2 is a small intimate space and the seats aren’t allocated, it was a real throwback to my time as a drama student (although a professional space and bigger budget!). The intimate setting was a great match for Oh Mother as you felt included in their storytelling, as if they were talking straight to you and including the audience in the conversation. The set was minimal with ‘BABY’ in giant letters lit up at the back, a few microphones at the edges and a musician’s set up to one side. A minimal set maximised the space for movement and physical theatre was used in most scenes of the production.
The small cast of three were made up of RashDash creatives, Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland, and musician Simone Seales, all of the cast are devisers of the production. The dynamics between Goalen and Greenland were excellent, the comedy timing and understanding of each other's next move was perfection, and in some moments, they even moved as one. The original music composed by Simone Seales and Becky Wilkie was exciting, lifting and catchy. It was dynamic and helped the show transition between storylines effortlessly. Seales' talent as a musician is beautiful, their technique and ability to level up and build upon the atmosphere is excellent.
The show is chaotic, switching between multiple storylines so you are challenged to keep up, but it’s funny and enjoyable even if at times, you get a bit lost. The chaos highlights the narrative and conversations the show is having, whether it is a song celebrating how much people love their dishwasher or even a talking vagina, they had the audience belly-laughing. Overall, it's daring, ferocious and necessary, all delivered with a great sense of humour. If you like dynamic, unique and new theatre, then head straight to HOME and enjoy what RashDash has to offer.
WE SCORE OH MOTHER – 8/10
Electric Rosary - Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester - Thursday 28th April 2022
Winner of the 2017 Bruntwood Prize Judges’ Award Tim Foley’s new play brings nuns and robots together on the Royal Exchange stage for the first time. The comedy is a brand-new piece of writing inspired by Foley’s youthful trip to a monastery with his dad, where the monks rode quadbikes.
Behind the crumbling walls the Sisters of St Grace Convent are dwindling in numbers, divine inspiration is at an all-time low and a council-funded robot-nun has just been invited to join their convent. Practical and surprisingly funny, for some a blessing, for others a curse - could she be the revelation they have all been praying for? Set in a time where nuns are scarce and robots are commonplace, this new play explores how artificial intelligence influences what we choose to believe in and what it is to be human in tomorrow’s world.
The Royal Exchange theatre is the perfect space for a play of this kind - with the beautiful, old building meeting the contemporary, industrial looking stage setup. It mimicked the theme of tradition meets future seen throughout the play.
Directed by Jaz Woodcock-Stewart, the play is sharp, timely and gloriously funny. Who knew nuns and robots make a great comedy duo? It questions the connections between faith and humanity alongside technical advancement and a robotic future. Can the world of prayers and hymns collide with that of glitching and binary? That’s where Mary, the council-funded robot, comes in. We see Mary learning human behaviour through spending time with the nuns, learning phases and actions, making her more realistic as the play goes on.
Mary is a complex character (or should I say robot?) who is portrayed excellently by Breffni Holahan. Her movements, vocal techniques and facial expressions really do bring the robot to life whilst still creating a clear divide between real life and technology. The sharp wit and slapstick moments had the audience belly laughing every time. Holahan was joined on stage by Suzette Llewellyn, Olwen May, Jo Mousley, Yandass Ndlovu and Saroja-Lily Ratnavel who complete the cast.
The nuns were just as brilliant, each one a completely different character to the other, creating a clear conflict of personalities. From the junior to the Mother, each nun played a significant role in the play and added a new element to Mary whenever they spent time with her. Each character was well defined and had a significant presence bringing a new dynamic to the convent.
I went into this play with no idea what to expect and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I knew it was a comedy about robots and nuns but didn’t quite expect to have as many laughs as I did. We saw a few people dressed up as nuns, even a few fabulous drag queens in the audience and from that moment, we knew we were in for a treat.
WE SCORE ELECTRIC ROSARY - 9/10
Kes - The Octagon, Bolton - Monday 14th March 2022
I didn’t know the story of Kes, I’ve never even seen the film! Reading a synopsis before heading to the show was definitely worth doing as the production featured a small cast who switched up their roles. This was confusing at first but I quickly realised what was happening. The other audience members, who knew the film and story, understood what was going on straight away and recognised each character from the film. I’d recommend reading up on the story, either as a refresher or if you haven’t seen the film at all, before going so you can fully enjoy the play.
The production itself is a masterclass in staging and lighting. A sudden change in movement is emphasised with the dramatic change of light and a jump to another section of the stage, showing a change of scene and characters. It’s a cleverly written and directed performance - stripped back, simple and focused on storytelling. There was no need for any more actors on stage, with all three delivering top quality performances.
The running time for the show was approximately 1 hour with no interval, which surprised me at first. I’ve never been to a show with a shorter running time but I can understand why it has been written this way. The story switches dynamic constantly, cramming a lot of detail into the short time. The acting is strong and the story of abuse is heavy, so this time frame never lets the story soften or have any weak moments.
Jake Dunn’s portrayal of Billy was heartbreaking and poignant. You really felt the passion he had for training Kes and could see the sense of freedom it gave him away from the troubles of home life and school. It was as if he was living his freedom through Kes. My heart went out to Billy, you can’t help but feel sorry for him as he has to put up with abuse from school and at home. I think pretty much everyone wanted to give him a hug!
Harry Egan as The Man was fantastic. He portrayed multiple characters from Billy’s mum and brother to his school teachers. He could switch between each character in a flash, completely changing his posture and the use of his voice. It was brilliant to watch as his characterisation was so strong, making each role distinctive from the last.
Nishla Smith’s haunting vocals were an absolute treat to listen to. The tone of her voice was soothing yet eerie at the same time, bringing to life the comfort that Kes gave to Billy through song. She embodied the hawk allowing us to watch Billy’s connection grow with his new friend; even when the spotlight was not on her, you could see her in the background watching as Kes was always on Billy’s mind. Her presence was never unnoticed.
This brave and honest show was a contemporary take on the modern classic. It was wonderfully acted and directed with the music helping to round it off. It’s an important message about childhood bullies with notes on friendship and finding a passion which gives you light from everyday struggles.
The theatre was buzzing, with a few famous faces there to support the show on opening night. Afterwards people were mingling and talking about the brilliant performances and how poignant it was. There were even a few tears shed at the end. You could hear the bubbling of everyone talking about how they’d enjoyed the show and the fans of the film loved the new adaption.
We score Kes - 8/10
Opera North - Alcina
Opera North's Alcina - The Lowry, Salford - Friday 11th March 2022
Alcina is a supernatural opera set on an enchanted island composed by George Frideric Handel. It’s a tale of deception, seduction, love and loss. All men who set foot on the island fall under Alcina’s spell, but she experiences true love for the first time when knight Ruggiero arrives. Her magic is tested to breaking point when Ruggiero’s fiancée, Bradamente, arrives to rescue him.
Alcina’s island is a barren wasteland, it’s animals, trees and rocks are in fact her spellbound lovers. The staging reflected this as it was stripped back and simple with a few chairs, a bear rug and video backdrop which helped transform the set from an island paradise into a dark jungle. The movement used in the videos took us on a journey around the island and before we knew it, we were in the “Heart of Darkness”.
Opera North is a company bursting with talent. The small cast of six allowed every member to have a solo moment and let us enjoy each performer’s voice. The performers didn’t wear microphones and the power they had to have in order to fill the auditorium was next level, and this cast delivered every time. You could hear every line clearly over the orchestra, whether they were belting or singing softly.
The casting was strong in all areas. Sky Ingram stood in for Márie Flavin for this performance. Ingram’s Alcina is every inch a queen with her grace and presence tied together with Ingram’s stunning vocals. From the moment she first appears, you immediately know it is her island. She’s powerful and seductive, you wouldn’t dare cross her. Ingram delivers drama and vocal contrast in all her arias, giving an all-rounded superb performance.
There was a contrast from bass to soprano which gave a nice range and vocal balance to the show. Mari Askvik sang opposite Patrick Terry’s Ruggiero as Brandamante, who is disguised as her own brother, Ricciardo. Enchantress Melissa was rewritten from a bartone to a mezzo soprano, played by Claire Pascoe. Fflur Wyn sang as Morgana and Nick Pritchard as Oronte, who are lovers. The orchestra was led by conductor Laurence Cummings and their renditions of Handel’s arias were beautiful. It’s a real treat to listen to a large orchestra with a range of instruments.
It’s the first sustainable performance of this opera with everything from costumes to set being second-hand from other shows. Knowing this helped to understand why some of the costumes didn’t quite fit with the island setting. The gowns and suits were not what you expect to see on a barren wasteland but having been recycled, you can appreciate that they were the closest match possible. Overall there was a theme of monochrome with a dash of sparkle and each costume resembled the character well.
I’d say this show is for people who enjoy opera and understand it’s art form. There isn’t much dynamic throughout the score which meant there was no obvious tension building at any time. Saying this, the performers and musicians are of extremely high standard with one beautiful aria after another. It’s a chance to enjoy Handel’s Italian pennings and with the English subtitles, you can understand what is happening.
We score Alcina - 7/10
Opera North - Carmen
Opera North's Carmen - The Lowry, Salford - Thursday 10th March 2022
Opera North’s Carmen is set in a remote town at Lillas Pastia’s nightclub, where the soldiers drink and the girls dance, led by star performer Burlesque-dancer Carmen. A love triangle evolves between Carmen, Don José and Escamillo, beginning with Don José deserting his position to prove his love and eventually finding himself fighting against Escamillo to win Carmen. The chorus plays a big role as nightclub performers, soldiers and smugglers.
Bizet’s Carmen is one of the most famous operas and Opera North certainly put their own stamp on it. Taking it away from the original time frame of 1830 and setting the story in the 60s. The plot translated well to this new time frame, with the central messages still relevant today, it could even be set in 2022. The central themes are love and jealousy, with moments that pick up on domestic abuse. The plot can be simply summed up as a love triangle which ends in tragedy, although I’d recommend reading up on the story so you can follow the acts along.
The set was the definition of ‘fabulous’ and fully embraced the 60's burlesque club setting with a gigantic light up GIRLS filling the back of the stage. A glitter curtain differentiated between the bar and stage, and the backstage dressing room. It was a far stretch from the original setting of gypsy factory-girls, although the smoking was a nice nod to the traditional setting of a cigarette factory. It was bold and camp, not words you’d expect to be tied to an opera but it really did work.
Recognisable arias including Habanera and Toreador Song had the audience tapping their feet along and I’ll probably have the Habanera tune running around my head for the next couple of days. I even heard a ‘Bravo!’ shouted from an audience member after Williams’ performance of Habanera.
Chrystal E. Williams took on the role of Carmen, playing her with sexiness and sass. It reminded me of the strong female character of Velma in Chicago. Her voice was incredibly strong and powerful, it truly is an art having the ability to sing arias so effortlessly and gracefully. Sébastien Guèze as Don José was a good opposite for Williams’ Carmen, he played the love interest convincingly and his vocal range and ability was brilliant.
Gyula Nagy's portrayal of Escamillo was unique in that he gave the character an Elvis presence and Vegas appeal, making for great entertainment and comedic moments - especially the light up costume! His performance of Toreador was great, he commanded the stage and delivered a top-tapping rendition. I just wish they’d done an encore of this tune, it’s gotta be the most popular and I mean who doesn’t love it?! I’m always amazed by opera singers. The way they use their voices as an instrument and can sing in that way for long periods of time is truly magnificent.
The orchestra was extremely impressive. The talented musicians had to be applauded, and their rendition of Bizet’s compositions could be a show in itself. I sat in the front row and could watch as they were fully engrossed in the music. Led by conductor Anthony Kraus, who was a showman in his own right. I could’ve watched Kraus all night, the way the music took over his body was quite the experience. He was more eccentric than your typical composer which just shows his passion for his role.
This production is great for opera newbies with a recognisable score and all around fun interpretation, it takes opera away from the elitist stereotype and feels more inclusive. It’s an entertaining piece of theatre that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
We score Carmen - 8/10
The Cat and the Canary
The Cat and The Canary - Opera House, Manchester - Monday 26th October 2021
Bill Kenright’s Classic Thriller Theatre Company’s latest whodunnit is a autumnal thrill, and a great start to the Halloween week.
The Cat and The Canary is a classic story, based on a silent film and told many times through films and plays. It’s set 20 years after the death of Mr. West and his descendants gather to find out who will inherit his wealth and family jewels. As expected, every family member wants to be the heir, but to what extent?
The classic murder mystery storyline has been sprinkled with comedy, keeping the audience engaged and on their toes, questioning the characters’ truthfulness throughout. The production is star-studded, starring Bond-girl legend Britt Ekland, Anthony Costa from Blue, Coronation Street star Tracy Shaw, and West End leading lady Marti Webb. I can’t think of a better way to have spent my Monday evening!
The creepy atmosphere was set before the play even began. The theatre was flooded with thriller music, so you knew exactly what vibe to expect and was prepared for the creepy opening. The audience were thrown right into the thriller, with a haunted nursery rhyme sang by a child to open the scene.
The range of characters instantly grabbed my attention, they’re the eccentric version of a dysfunctional family - the characteristics were almost like a caricature, but this added to the comedic effect. The play reminded me of an Only Fools and Horses sketch, so it was bound to be enjoyable. The atmosphere of the theatre was great, people were chatting away in the interval and after the show, talking about who they thought was the villain and the stand-out moments of the play. This is always a brilliant sign that people are completely engrossed and enjoying the evening.
The set itself was beautiful. It’s post-war Britain, the costumes reflect the different lives of status of the characters - from beautifully groomed hair, gorgeous dresses to a maid’s outfit. The Detailed set was made up of oak panelling, huge paintings and grand furniture, you could tell straight away that this was a home the extremely wealthy. A perfect set for a murder mystery!
The Opera House is one of my favourite theatres so it was great to be back there. Although I’m not sure if the air conditioning was on too high or if it was part of the play, but the cold chill really did add to the atmosphere. Almost like a fourth dimension!
If you’re like me and are easily frightened, this comedy thriller is a great way to get in the mood for Halloween or just another great murder mystery to add to the list! It’s the perfect balance between a good chuckle and the odd jump scare.
We score The Cat and The Canary - 8/10
The Ballad of Maria Marten
The Ballad of Maria Marten - The Lowry, Salford - Thursday 23rd September 2021
Think of major, historical murder stories and you instantly think “who’s done it?”. This play changes that. The Ballad of Maria Marten delves into an untold side to a quite a well known murder case and focuses on the life of the victim up until her gruesome death.
It’s 1828, a year after Maria’s murder, and still nobody has found her buried under the barn. They simply think she’s just disappeared. Why was she murdered? Who did it? Will her body ever be found? This is what I kept referring back to as Maria told us her life story, from child to death.
I went into this play not knowing anything about Maria, her story, or her death, and initially thought this was either a thriller or some sort of crime drama. It was neither of those and turned out to be a moving, poignant play; to which I was pleasantly surprised as I’m not one for anything horror!
Beth Flintoff has rewritten the history books and given the women of the 19th century the ‘girl power’ they deserve. Maria Marten’s story has been told many times before, in TV shows, films, and songs; it was the 19th century’s most popular entertainment, going on to appear in musicals, plays , and even Dickens’ own magazine The Strand.
It’s refreshing to see a historical story through the eyes of a woman, knowing their lack of value and how society treated them. Beth really got me thinking about all the other women in the 19th century who were victims of murder, domestic abuse, or just unhappy with their lives. The all-female cast emphasised this as their connections and commerardory took the performance to the next level. Even the way they looked at each other, you could tell these friendships were strong, and probably the only true love the girls ever experienced.
There were a few times when they started singing as a way to move the story along and the harmonies were mesmerizing. It was uplifting and joyous, a complete U-turn from the original themes of the story. The voices of the actors were beautiful, pitch perfect even, and blended so nicely together. It was quite literally music to my ears.
This show is a theatre lover’s dream. The physical theatre, the use of the staging and props, the movement and how it helps the story flow. I could dig so deep into why the set was minimal, what the props represented, and how the actors moved their bodies to signal a change of scene or that the story had moved on. It’s the attention to detail that really made the show stand out as something rather special.
I highly recommend this show. It’s a real treat and a unique experience to feel empowered as a woman from, what kind of is, a murder mystery. Who knew a murder mystery could be so emotional and touching?
WE SCORE THE BALLAD OF MARIA MARTEN - 9/10!!!