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Lizzie Johnston
(43 Reviews)

Judy & Liza - The Amazing Bio-Musical

Judy & Liza - Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester - Wednesdat 29th May 2024

JUDY & LIZA IS JOYOUS, EMOTIONAL AND EVERYTHING A BIO-MUSICAL SHOULD BE

Judy & Liza, just by the name you’d probably know what to expect, and when I was invited along, I knew it wouldn’t be one to miss. The silver screen icons, Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli, have to be two of the most recognisable names with films that have played a key part in our childhoods - mine anyway! The mother-daughter duo is one of a kind and loved by so many, it was no surprise the varied ages of audience members who were in attendance on Wednesday. 


When it comes to shows like
Judy & Liza, my one hope is always that the actors do a good job playing them, and that it doesn’t become an impressions show. With these two as the characters, it could have easily become that way - but it really didn’t! 

The show, which is now in its tenth year, reunites the duo as they tell the turbulent tales of their lives as Hollywood’s biggest stars against the backdrop of their infamous 1964 London Palladium concert. The way the story is told felt really organic, particularly between the mother-daughter duo, as they used a photo album to pick out their memories and iconic roles. 


The set itself was nothing over-the-stop but it was glamorous enough for the production. A raised stage with lights sat in the middle with two microphones on either side, a bar stool was placed on one side of the stage and a travel trunk on the other. The backdrop was a shimmery gold curtain with a screen in the middle which showed the images from the photo album as well as iconic movie clips. It really brought to life the whole show, touching on what you would have expected the London Palladium show to be like, not forgetting the nods to all the glitz and glamour of the time.


Helen Sheals
(Judy!, Merry Wives, Downton Abbey) takes on the role of Judy Garland, one she’s familiar with after playing her in the West End musical Judy! At The Arts Theatre. Paired together with Emma Dears (Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Grease) as Liza Minnelli, the duo were an absolute powerhouse! Their voices were spectacular and really had the right tone to play Judy and Liza, which just mad the whole thing feel special. Their chemistry was also brilliant which was the true heart of the show, they could be a real mother-daughter duo without question. 


I can’t not mention the main part of the show - the songs, and my goodness what a great selection! Their greatest hits were included throughout, such as Over The Rainbow, Caberet, Maybe This Time, and plenty of others. The script was written to showcase the behind the scenes of their lives during the times of their success, with tales of The Wizard of Oz and Caberet, which I just loved. 

I can’t ever watch anything about Judy Garland’s life and not think about how tragic it was and the production’s storytelling of her tough times was heartbreaking and thought-provoking. I overheard a gentleman on my way out describe the show as “chilling”, which I completely agree with. 


Hope Mill Theatre is the perfect location for a show like this as it allows it to flourish at a smaller, more intimate scale, making it feel like an even more special experience. The format of the show felt almost like a cabaret and both Judy and Liza interacted with the audience at several points, which showed they never lost the audience’s attention. 

Judy & Liza is a standout show and a great production for any lover of the silver screen. I’ve been singing the songs ever since and it’s left me planning a Judy & Liza movie marathon! It’s joyous and emotional, everything a bio-musical should be. 

WE SCORE JUDY & LIZA...


 

Frankie Goes To Bollywood - HOME, Manchester - Thursday 16th May 2024

FRANKIE GOES TO BOLLYWOOD IS UPLIFTING WITH PLENTY OF SPARKLE AND JOY!

From first walking into HOME MCR to leaving at the end of the night, the place was buzzing and vibrant. I walked in to find a crowd swarming around an Indian dancer who was enchanting the foyer area. I instantly knew I’d be in for a colourful delight and headed to my seat eager to watch the show unfold. 

The musical itself is brand new, which added to the audience’s excitement, because no one us really knew what to expect. Frankie Goes To Bollywood is from the makers of Britain’s Got Bhangra and is described as Rifco Theatre’s most ambitious musical yet. The story is inspired by real stories of British women in the Bollywood spotlight, the biggest film industry in the world, and closely follows Frankie as she goes from a quiet life in Milton Keynes to claiming the staircase of stardom. 




It tackles the themes of female empowerment, fame and fortune all through the lens of Bollywood beauty and the classic ‘hero saves young, pretty girl’ storyline - though this is exactly what Frankie tries to tackle in the industry, she wants to be the hero herself and change the perception of women in Bollywood movies. 

The score was spectacular throughout with real uplifting and inspiring melodies, exactly what you want from a glittering musical. Paired with the talented cast, the toe-tapping songs were swirling round my head for the rest of the night! There was a real mix of songs in the show, and the musical elements were constant throughout with a song for every scene. 




The set and costumes were FAB-U-LOUS and really embraced the beauty and glamour of Bollywood - I should’ve worn sparkles! Not a sequin was out of place. The overall set was basic with larger props brought on to transform the location from England to India, and from a cinema to a film set. The transitions were smooth and fast-paced, which kept the production upbeat and didn’t allow for any breaks in the audience’s attention. 

Laila Zaidi (Three Acts Of Love, Little Bits Of Light, West Side Story), who takes on the role of Frankie, is a true star. I fully believed in her character and just constantly smiled as we watched Frankie’s dreams come true. Even in the darker moments where Frankie questioned her choices and missed home, I still found myself routing for her. 




Frankie couldn’t have taken to Bollywood without the support of her best friend Goldy, played by Katie Stasi (Roles We’ll Never Play, Dick Whittington, Wizard of Oz). Goldy is the dreamer of the two, she’s the one who wants to be a star and take on the film industry though it’s Frankie who gets the chance. In a test of true friendship, Goldy couldn’t be more supportive and encouraging, which makes for a heartwarming pair. I loved Goldy’s self-confidence and motivation, she’s a positive force and knows exactly what she wants for her life. 

I particularly enjoyed the Bollywood references with overdramatic moments where fans would be brought on stage, the actors would move in slow motion and the score would build up. It had a great comedic effect and was just pure fun. 




I can’t talk about the comedy without mentioning Gigi Zahir (Tempest, Fame Whore, Cinderella), who played Shona Chatterji. I can’t tell you exactly what his character did because he had the longest CV Bollywood has probably seen - which became an ongoing joke. He was brilliant and brought the sass to the stage, not forgetting his fantastic outfits. 

Frankie Goes To Bollywood  is everything you’d want for an uplifting theatre experience - sparkle, joy and a little bit of cheese. It’s like one of those comfort films you’d put on Netflix when you’re not feeling too good, it’s familiar and pure happiness. It has the potential to go far with a standout cast and great score and I am so glad to have experienced the premiere run. 


WE SCORE FRANKIE GOES TO BOLLYWOOD...











The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner - The Lowry, Salford - Tuesday 7th May 2024

THE KITE RUNNER IS THOUGHT-PROVOKING, DEEPLY MOVING AND CAPTIVATING

The Kite Runner, a well-known bestselling novel and a Broadway hit, has returned to the UK and last night it took to the Lyric theatre stage at The Lowry. Despite being a popular title, the book is one I’m not familiar with nor had much idea about, though the online synopsis for the show left me intrigued with what I was in for. 

I arrived at a buzzy auditorium and took to my seat whilst Hanif Khan, a tabla player, welcomed us in with echoing beats around the room, a score that would continue throughout the duration of the show. The story itself is one of friendship, betrayal and redemption as Amir, played by Stuart Vincent (The Play That Goes Wrong, The Kite Runner, Romeo and Juliet), takes us through his life and journey from Kabul to San Francisco, with a captivating performance of Khaled Hosseini's acclaimed novel. 




Stuart Vincent’s portrayal of Amir was honest and gripping as he played the character with great depth. It was a real rollercoaster of emotions from excitement as a child to the crushing guilt he felt as an adult. As Amir is a storyteller throughout the show, Vincent was excellent at dissociating and jumping out of the scene to update the audience on his feelings and thoughts. The second half, which focuses on his time in America and life as an adult, was the strongest half as he tapped back into those childhood feelings, giving the character multiple layers and showing the audience how his childhood trauma was still affecting his present life. 

Playing Amir’s father Baba, Dean Rehman (Everyman, Idle, They Yammer), made the duo a strong but small family, once again with several layers to unravel as the story played out. You could really feel the emotions and see that he also was holding onto guilt and secrets from his past, which he never spoke about and kept from his son, even as he aged and became ill. As a dynamic duo, the father and son relationship was a difficult but strong one, you could tell they really cared for each other yet they were never fully happy. 




The staging was simple yet effective with lights helping to change the environment and feeling, from a rustic Kabul to the high rise buildings of American cities. The dimming of lights was used to hone into the characters and spotlight the heartbreaking events they were experiencing, it also reflected the frightening situation they were in. Compared to the bright, multicoloured lights used for their arrival in America which emphasised the relief the characters felt upon their arrival, that they had made it safely across the world. 

It was the use of sound and instruments that was a standout for me. Sound Baths were used to create and build up tension, and it really did, they would start with a single one and then multiple would be dotted on the sides of the stage which echoed and filled the room with a constant vibrating sound. Only live music was used when the story was set in Kabul, whereas San Fransisco played jukebox music, once again spotlighting the difference between the two places. 




The whole cast was brilliant, with Yazdan Qafuri (The Lord of The Rings, Othello, Rumi) playing Amir’s friend Hassan, and Tiran Aakel (The EU Killed My Dad, The Girl On The Train, The Mother of Kamal) playing his father Ali, who were both utterly loyal and ridiculously brave, performances which were just heartbreaking. The friendship between Amir and Hassan is the heart of the narrative and their chemistry together and complex relationship allows the show to explore themes of privilege and guilt. 




Despite having uplifting moments, this show is not one for a cheery evening out. It’s thought-provoking and tests the emotions of the audience. The cast give their all, sharing the raw emotions featured throughout the story, which the whole audience enjoyed. 

It’s not essential to know the book or have an idea of the storyline as the show was easy to follow with the narration. It captivates and grips you, taking you on the ups and downs of their lives, sharing poignant moments and not shying away from giving truthful performances of these awful events. It’s a triumph of storytelling and stagecraft, offering the audience a deeply moving experience. 



WE SCORE THE KITE RUNNER..






Cluedo 2 - The Next Chapter

Cluedo 2 - The Next Chapter - The Lowry, Salford - Tuesday 2nd April 2024

CLUEDO 2 IS GREAT FUN - COMBINING THE TWISTS AND TURNS OF A WHODUNIT TALE WITH CLASSIC COMEDY

Cluedo, a beloved mystery board game that’s brought together generations and one of the most well known games, has been adapted once again for the stage. Returning to The Lowry, Cluedo 2 brings to life a brand new tale, set in the swinging 1960s, with a new house, new suspects and a new mystery. Despite having missed out on seeing the first Cluedo play, Cluedo 2 is a show on its own and far from a sequel. It still has the same iconic characters and rooms as the game, and first show, but stands on its own.


The plot revolves around rock n roll legend, Rick Black, who hasn’t had a hit in years and is consequently broke. As he’s settled into a new, expensive home named Graveny Manor, Rick desperately needs to revive his career and fame. Along with his wife, manager, interior designer, and butler (is he even really a butler?), the group uncover each other’s mysteries and secrets, particularly as the bodies start to pile up. 




The set design was a standout for me, it was simple and used the iconic elements of the original game in such a creative and lively way. At the back was the layout of the board, with the corresponding room lighting up for each scene. Throughout the show, there was great attention to detail for each room, despite the simplicity and minimalism of the overall layout, a few pieces of furniture and the correct props completely transformed the set into different areas of the manor house. The costumes also paid homage to the famous characters and classic roles of murder mysteries, but added a 1960s twist to make them relevant to the storyline. 


All of this paired with upbeat music to move the play along made for brilliant and entertaining transitions. I particularly loved how the longer transitions would take you through different rooms of the house, including a quick game of billiards. 


The ensemble cast were superb, embracing the heightened style of comedy and fully committing to the over the top nature of their characters. Each actor brought the iconic names to life with their own unique flair, with characteristics you would imagine each role to have when playing the original game. 




Ellie Leach (Strictly Come Dancing, Coronation Street) took on the role of Miss Scarlett, in her stage debut. She captured the character’s wit and charm with effortless grace, which ultimately added to the surprise elements of the fascinating twists in the plot. 


There was no standout character for me, as the whole cast kept the audience entertained throughout. The physical comedy was cleverly crafted to make it look natural and effortless, with some moments deliberately bigger than others compared to other subtle touches that added an extra comedic element to the scene, which could be cryptic clues, ultimately making the production feel interactive and exciting.


The ensemble cast included
Jason Dunn (Losing Louis, Follow My Leader, A Chorus Line) as Colonel Mustard, Jack Bennett (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Ecstasy, Windfall) as Wadsworth, Hannah Boyce (The Judas Kiss, Lord of the Flies, Around the World in 80 Days) who took on Mrs Peacock, Mrs White was portrayed by Dawn Buckland (Sinatra the Musical, Rehab the Musical, Nativity! The Musical), and Edward Howells (The Polar Express, Still Life/Red Peppers, The Boy With the Cuckoo Clock Heart) played Professor Plum.




You don’t need to be a fan of the board game to enjoy this play, it’s simply a modern twist on traditional murder mysteries and combines the twists and turns of a whodunit tale with classic comedy. It’s lighthearted and easy entertainment, giving the audience a chance to embrace their inner detectives and see if they can figure out who the real murderer is among the group. This kept the audience hooked throughout, as we wanted to process the clues and be engaged with the whole experience. 


The classic board game translates to the stage brilliantly in Cluedo 2, creating an immersive theatre experience for all ages. It’s a must-see for board game fans and theatre enthusiasts alike.



WE SCORE CLUEDO 2...




WATCH OUR "IN CONVERSATION WITH JASON DURR AND ELLIE LEACH" VIDEO DISCUSSING THE PLAY

São Paulo Dance Company

São Paulo Dance Company - The Lowry, Salford - Tuesday 12th March 2024

SÃO PAULO DANCE COMPANY ARE A DELIGHT TO WATCH - FIERY, PASSIONATE AND SLEEK!

The São Paulo Dance Company took to the Lyric Theatre stage at The Lowry on Tuesday evening as part of their highly anticipated UK debut. In all honesty, I hadn’t heard much about the São Paulo Dance Company until their current tour, but from the promotional images alone, I knew we’d be in for a night of stunning contemporary dance - and that’s exactly what we got. Despite my lack of knowledge about the company, the theatre was rumbling with anticipated fans who were eager to see the dancers share their talent. 



São Paulo is known to be one of Brazil’s finest dance companies, who fuse elegance and sensuality together using elements of classical ballet and traditional Latin American dance, creating sleek and high-quality performances. Choreographed by Goyo Montero, Nacho Ducato and Cassi Abranches, the programme of dances is rooted in Latin American and Spanish culture, and split into three acts, bringing a mix of vibrancy, technicality, and Afro-Brazilian rhythms to the stage. Each act flowed effortlessly, as the performers continued to move to create seamless transitions and merging each part together to complete a bigger routine. 



The first act, choreographed by Goyo Montero, reflects on life cycles through a passionate routine, using a range of dynamics from quiet stillness to exploding energy. This bill is mostly a group number, when the dancers move together as one with incredible precision and fluidity. 

The second part of the triple bill, Gnawa by Nacho Ducato, took influence from Valencia and its Mediterranean colours and flavour, merged together with the hypnotic music of North Africa.in this bill is a pas de deux, where two dancers took to the centre of the stage and blew everyone away in a performance that looked so technical yet so light and easy - a true sign of talent. 



Cassi Abranches was the creative mind behind the third bill, choreographing a vibrant finale that explored timing and rhythm. The exhilarating final act saw the dancers sculpt their bodies to the groove of Afro-Brazilian tunes. This was my favourite in particular as I loved the sunset colours, the sharp movements to the beat of the music and the upbeat performance. 

The troupe of 22 dancers had such fluidity between them, dancing beautifully whether it was as a group, duo or a solo moment. The performers were full of energy and passion, giving the audience a red-hot performance with a Latin edge. 


The staging was extremely minimalist, using moody lighting and spotlights to create an atmosphere. This, along with the simple costumes, allowed the movements of the group to be the main focus and not get lost amongst a busy set. I particularly liked when the dim lights and smoke combined to create almost a blur, putting the choreography at the forefront and highlighting the talent of the dancers and how they act as one. 

For those who appreciate and enjoy dance, São Paulo Dance Company is a real enlightening treat. The company embraces a range of techniques and takes inspiration from different Latin American and Spanish cultures to create a programme of unique and exhilarating performances.


The audience left in complete awe of the performers and their athletic power, they never once dropped their energy and made the whole show look effortless. The dancers are a delight to watch, and the company is quite frankly overloaded with exceptional talent - it’s fiery, passionate and sleek entertainment!

 

WE SCORE SAO PAULO DANCE COMPANY...



Watch our "In Conversation with Daniel Reca & Leticia Forattini" video discussing the piece.



Birmingham Royal Ballet - The Sleeping Beauty

Birmingham Royal Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty - The Lowry, Salford - Thursday 7th March 2024

BIRMINGHAM ROYAL BALLET'S THE SLEEPING BEAUTY LEAVES THE AUDIENCE SPELLBOUND - A TRULY MAGICAL EXPERIENCE!


The Sleeping Beauty
was my favourite fairytale growing up, in fact I’d say I was pretty obsessed with it. I was hooked on the magic and wonder of the story, playing the video of the Disney version on repeat. As soon as I heard Birmingham Royal Ballet were returning to The Lowry with a production of The Sleeping Beauty, I put it straight in my diary and knew I had to go. Last year I reviewed the company’s production of Swan Lake, and I still rave about how magnificent it was, so I was extremely excited to get to enjoy this talented company once again. 




The Sleeping Beauty is a fairytale of love, magic and wonder that sees a young princess cursed by a wicked fairy. On her sixteenth birthday, Princess Aurora pricks her finger and falls into a deep sleep for 100 years, a curse that can only be broken by true love’s kiss. It’s a childhood favourite with a cast of familiar characters, making this a ballet to be enjoyed by all the family. 




The performance is a traditional ballet, split into four acts with each being a key moment to the story. The stunning choreography by Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov and Peter Wright entrances you during each of these moments, from the christening to the wedding. Ballets can feel like a different theatre experience than plays or musicals, however the way this production was crafted makes it easy to follow so the storyline was never dropped, meaning The Sleeping Beauty is a great ballet for anyone who has been before. 




As soon as the curtain dropped, we were instantly transported to a grand ballroom, with opulent costumes to match as the cast poured onto the stage. The blend of the lavish costumes from the fairies to the couriters, brought the childhood favourite to life on stage, with lace and sequins that any young ballerina would dream of wearing. The design paired together with Tchaikovsky’s charming score is beautiful and enchanting, particularly as I noticed the memorable tune of Disney’s ‘Once Upon A Dream’ from the animated film within the score - an instant goosebumps moment. 




The whole audience was captivated by the elegance and magic of the show, including the set design which transitioned from the grand ballroom into a vine covered chamber hidden deep in the forest. The way this was created was truly magical, with Ellis Small’s (Cinderella, Don Quixote, Giselle) The Lilac Fairy effortlessly floating between the vines.




As The Lilac Fairy, Small’s soft and elegant movements provided a great contrast to Daria Stanciulescu’s (Cinderella, Quixote, Romeo and Juliet) The Fairy Carabosse, constantly showing the battle between the good and evil fairies. Stanciulescu demanded the stage as soon as she entered, completely changing the atmosphere with her powerful and sharp moves. 




Princess Aurora was every ounce of and beauty you’d expect as Momoko Hirata (Cinderella, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake) graced the stage with true princess qualities. As a performer, Hirata is mesmerising and utterly stunning, she’s a real talent and it was a delight to see her dance again. As Princess Aurora, Hirata is young and full of life, which gives the story great irony considering the curse she is under. Once she meets the Prince, Aurora becomes completely encapsulated by him, with Hirata and Max Maslen (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Swan Lake), Prince Florimund, performing the extraordinary pas de deux. Together, they are the epitome of a fairytale with beautiful and undeniable chemistry.




I couldn’t recommend a fairytale ballet enough, particularly one performed by Birmingham Royal Ballet. The company is exquisite, graceful and deliver a mesmerising performance every time. The Sleeping Beauty has breathtaking choreography and stirring music, casting its spell on the audience to leave them spellbound long after the final curtain falls. Our night at the ballet was a truly magical experience, reminding the audience of the enduring power that classical ballet has and its ability to enchant and inspire. 



WE SCORE THE SLEEPING BEAUTY...








Shed: Exploded View

Shed: Exploded View - Royal Exchange, Manchester - Saturday 10th February 2024

SHED: EXPLODED VIEW IS A DEEPLY MOVING PLAY WITH A POWERFUL IMPACT

I always love a trip to the Royal Exchange, it’s a vibrant place which celebrates the best of theatre and regularly welcomes new and exciting productions. This time I’m heading there to see a new play written by Phoebe Eclair-Powell, which was the 2019 winner of the Bruntwood Prize Playwriting, named Shed: Exploded View. As this is the world premiere, I turn up with a limited idea of what to expect, having only seen the show described as a “delicately woven tapestry about violence, love and loss” on the Exchange’s site.



Turning up with no expectations to what you’re about to see adds an element of intrigue to a theatre trip, which suited this show perfectly. The plot follows three couples whose paths cross in different ways and different ways, yet they all have troubles of a similar kind. Each couple is a different age group at the present time, with one at the start of the relationship, one two decades in and one right at the end. 

We see key moments and pivotal memories for each duo, from the first meeting, engagements and starting a family. Though these memories are far from happy, in fact there’s an underlying issue of domestic abuse that is constantly referred to. Over the 30 year timeline, we see short scenes depict the downfall of the relationships and how this impacts the day to day life as a couple. These moments are penned onto the stage with chalk as a reminder of the trauma caused by words and actions, which builds up and starts to cover the stage as the show goes on.



The stage itself is revolving and has three different sections, allowing the characters to pass cross each other throughout the timeline. It’s a simple set up with the frame aid a shed hanging from the ceiling and six chairs placed to one side, where the actors would be when not on the stage. The costumes too were simple and non-fussy, everyday clothes and dull colours, depicting the characters as normal, everyday people.



The youngest couple, Abi and Mark, played by Norah Lopez Holden and Michael Workéyè, meet at uni and at first seem young in love and happy but it soon turns sour. Abi becomes a victim of domestic abuse and is killed by Mark, which is an anchor for the whole play. At first their relationship is young and fun, with banter and aspirations of their life together, however the audience can see tensions rising and you feel yourself desperately wanting Abi to run. Norah acts this role beautifully as you truly see her yearning for her love for Mark to be enough. 



Couple number two is Abi’s parents, Naomi and Frank, whose relationship is deeply impacted by her death, although it wasn’t exactly a fairytale beforehand. Lizzy Watts shows a multitude of layers to Naomi, from deep frustration at her struggling relationship with Frank and difficulties in motherhood. Hot head Frank, played by Jason Hughes, clearly loses his love for Naomi and finds it somewhere else, however the two haven’t separated and this causes friction. 



Lil and Tony are the oldest couple who met each other later in life, in fact it’s not either of their first marriage. Hayley Carmichael plays Lil as a wise woman who notices troubles within the other relationships, urging the women to get out whilst they can. She has her own struggles and despite truly loving Tony, there are moments when she cracks. Will Johnson pulls at your heart strings in his role as Tony, he must have a form of dementia and old age is starting to affect him. His monologue of what to the audience seems a simple list really shows the confusion he’s living with and how this causes tension between himself and Lil. 



Shed: Exploded View is fast-paced as it jumps between scenes but is still easy to follow and engaging. It’s shorter run time of 1 hour 40 minutes with no interval kept the pace up with no moments where the atmosphere dropped. As an audience member, you find yourself asking questions and wanting to know how the couples journeys go. 

Each scene is unique but with many similarities and the same key messages at the core. It’s a deeply moving play with a powerful impact that opens up the conversation around violence and relationships, and what we choose to see and ignore when looking as an outsider.

 

WE SCORE SHED: EXPLODED VIEW...






The Rocky Horror Show

The Rocky Horror Show - Opera House, Manchester - Tuesday 23rd January 2024

THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW IS AN INFECTIOUS, TIMELESS MASTERPIECE THAT KEEPS ON GIVING

Corsets, fishnets and red lipstick can only mean one thing - The Rocky Horror Show. The cult classic, created by Richard O’Brien, has transported from Transylvania back again to the Manchester Opera House. The plot follows the adventures of Brad and Janet, a newly engaged couple who stumble upon the bizarre castle of Dr. Frank N Furter, a mad scientist from another planet. What unfolds is a wild ride of seduction, science fiction, and rock 'n' roll.

The electrifying rollercoaster of glam, gender-bending, and pure unadulterated fun has captivated audiences for decades and there’s no wonder this show has left a huge mark in the world of theatre. From the very start when the house lights go down and the band begins to play,the audience are roaring with excitement and anticipation, despite many knowing exactly what to expect having been before. 

There’s a certain aura around this show and it doesn’t matter what you wear, who you are or even what day it is, every audience member just wants to have fun. It’s rare in theatre to see a show like this, where a lively audience is not just expected but encouraged making it an experience as a whole. 

The set can simply be described as fabulous, with glitter curtains, multicoloured lights and a mezzanine hidden behind a giant film strip; it’s extravagant yet not over the top. The costumes are exactly what you expect and what the audience love, each character dressed in their iconic looks that even a few audience members rivalled. The look of sequins, basques and high heels contrasted the innocent and fairly plain costumes of Janet and Brad, not forgetting the gorgeous makeup looks of dark eyes and red lips. It’s pretty clear for the audience to see that Janet and Brad are far out of their comfort zone and completely lost.  

Janet, played by Haley Flaherty (The Mousetrap, Travels With My Aunt, Matilda), at first seems sweet and almost shy, but this doesn’t last long as she undergoes a full transformation of character as she embraces the world of Rocky Horror. She’s trusting and loving of her fiance Brad, played by Richard Meek (Hairspray, Annie, Thoroughly Modern Milly), who despite being unnerved by the whole situation, attempts to stay brave for her; but he too discovers a new side to himself. 

There’s no Rocky Horror Show without the iconic Frank N Furter, played by Stephen Webb (Titanic, Rothschild & Sons, Wonderland), who brings a new level of energy to the show. Webb’s Frank N Furter is strong-minded, quick-witted, and captivates the audience with equal parts of charm and mischief. The sweet transvestite from Transylvania is the show's magnetic force who leads a quirky ensemble including Riff Raff, Magenta and Columbia. 

The first moment where I realised this was not an ordinary night at the theatre is when Philip Franks (Witness for the Prosecution, Art, Noises Off) entered the stage as the Narrator. His improvisation and comical comebacks to audience shoutouts had the auditorium roaring with laughter and cheers. Every time he commanded the stage, his comedy was timely, relevant and entertaining. It geared the audience up perfectly for any opportunity to participate in the show, particularly for the unforgettable ‘Time Warp’, a tune and dance known by many that got us all jumping out of our chairs. 

The show itself is a dazzling fusion of pop and rock with anthems including "Sweet Transvestite," and "Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me", which are songs that have transcended the stage and are now a firm part of pop culture. It’ll have you toe-tapping along and leave you singing the tunes for the next week, they’re just so catchy and fun. 

The Rocky Horror Show is an infectious timeless masterpiece. It embraces the weird and wonderful in a gender-bending celebration of liberation and self-expression - no wonder it’s a well loved cult classic! Whether you’ve seen it several times, have only seen the movie version or have never seen it at all, the stage show is an experience you don’t want to miss. 


WE SCORE THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW...




WATCH OUR INTERVIEW WITH JOE ALLEN

Ellen Kent's Carmen

Ellen Kent's Carmen - Opera House, Manchester - Thursday 11th January 2024

ELLEN KENT'S CARMEN IS THE PERFECT OPERA FOR NEWBIES AND DEDICATED OPERA FANS ALIKE, WITH A RECOGNISABLE SCORE AND TOE-TAPPING SONGS!

Opera has returned to Manchester, this time with productions from director, Ellen Kent and the auditorium filled with opera lovers alike. Tonight’s showing was Carmen, the well known and well loved opera by Bizet and having seen Carmen before, but one with a modern twist, I was eager to watch a production which felt classic and traditional.

It’s not a bad way to spend a cold, January evening by embracing culture and enjoying a classic performing arts form. Particularly when the story is set in sunny Seville, Spain. Carmen tells the story of a hopeless soldier who is seduced by a fiery gypsy woman and it follows their love affair over the course of several months, and many ups and downs. The plot itself is a simple, yet dramatic one full of love and lust - and knowing this makes an opera performed in French much easier to follow!



Mezzo-Soprano, Natalia Matveeva (Carmen, Madama Butterfly), took to the stage as gypsy girl Carmen. A beautiful vocalist who sang the repertoire like it was a breeze. Don Jose was sang by Tenor, David Sumbadze (La Traviata, Rigoletto, La Boheme), who fought for Carmen’s love against Iurie Gisca’s (La Boheme, Pagliacci, Carmen) Escamillo - something better know for as the Toreador.

Ellen Kent’s production seemed to have a more traditional stand-and-sing approach, rather than a focus on the acting, however the audience still enjoyed the drama of the opera through the performer’s vocal abilities. As Carmen, Matveeva moved around the stage in a flirtatious manner presenting herself as strong-willed and strong-minded, a great opposite for Don Jose who can across as having a softer, more romantic demeanour. Whereas Carmen’s attitudes were a perfect companion to the confidence of Escamillo, this highlighted the difference between the two and showed the tension within the love triangle.



The production was non-fussy with the stage set with a central door at the back, which acted as the main entrance, and walls which almost looked like the outside of a colosseum curving around the stage. This worked as the cigarette factory at the beginning and even when the story had moved to the bullring at the end. The costumes were exactly what you’d expect from the story, long following dresses partnered with corset tops for the gypsy girls and tradition Spanish outfits for the matedors. 

The opera itself is set in four acts, which at first sounds long but with the three intervals and the fast paced score, it keeps you engaged and the time flies by. Bizet’s score is fantastic, with songs anybody could recognise despite whether they are an opera fan. Conducted by Vastl Vasylenko, the orchestra played magnificently throughout working beautifully with the performers on stage to deliver a classic opera experience.



A standout moment happened at the end of the performance when the full company took to the stage to sing the Ukrainian national anthem in what was a heart warming moment met with a roar of applause. The passion and talent that the performers have is brilliant, and it was a great way to wrap up the show.

Carmen itself is the perfect opera for newbies and dedicated opera fans alike, with a recognisable score and toe-tapping songs. Ellen Kent’s production delivered everything you’d expect from a traditional rendition, giving the audience an experience that is entertaining and classic.


WE SCORE ELLEN KENT'S CARMEN...





Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World

Fanastically Great Women Who Changed The World - The Lowry, Salford - Thursday 7th December 2023

FANTASTICALLY GREAT WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD IS VIBRANT, COLOURFUL AND UPLIFTING!

When you first hear the title ‘Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World’, you can immediately think of one woman, whether she’s a historical figure or an international popstar, there’s a woman in your mind who you think has had a great impact on the world. I had a vague idea of what this show would entail, it’s based on the award-winning Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World book series by suffragette descendant Kate Pankhurst, so it’s bound to include a few of those iconic figures.

 

The empowering pop musical sees inquisitive heroine, Jade, break away from her class on a school trip and she discovers a whole world in the, not yet open, Gallery of Greatness. Along the way, she meets incredible wonder women: Frida Kahlo, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, Mary Seacole, Marie Curie, Emmeline Pankhurst to name just a few.

 

 

The standout for me was the talented cast who took on several iconic characters and nailed each one. From quick costume changes to the accent switching, you recognised who each woman was as soon as she entered the stage. Georgia Grant-Anderson (Demon Dentist, Beauty and the Beast, Holby City) takes on the role of 11-year-old Jade who sneaks into the closed off gallery and meets the incredible women. Grant-Anderson ticks every box of how enthusiastic a young girl would be in this moment and we see the character become braver as her belief in herself builds throughout the show.

 



Jennier Caldwell (SIX, American Idiot, Knights of the Rose) takes on Emmeline Pankhurst and Agent Fifi, Elena Breschi (Kindertransport, Little Fir Tree, LOL! Surprise Live) plays Sacagawea, Frida Kahlo and Marie Curie, Chloe Hart (Hairspray, Kinky Boots, Wicked) is Gertrude Ederle, Jane Austen and Mary Anning, and Leah Vassell (SIX, West Side Story) takes on Amelia Earhart, Mary Seacole and Rosa Parks. The all-female cast was amazing, their voices gelled so deliciously together and the chemistry between them was perfect. It emulated a real, strong female friendship group full of love and support for each other.

 

 

The set was basic, but there was no need for anything as the whole story revolved around the characters. The three-piece band sat on top of large pillars at the back of the stage and the lights would switch between colours to make the show vibrant. The costumes were fabulous, not a dull shade in sight! Emmerline Pankhurst donned a purple military uniform showing her strength and leadership and Frida’s multi-colour dress was exactly what you’d imagine her to wear. All of the costumes stood out wonderfully against the gray school uniform worn by Jade.

 



I cannot express how much joy and warmth this show brings, it’s the ultimate reminder of just how limitless girl power is. It’s a sister to the hit musical, SIX, and brings to the stage more historical female figures that we should know and love. A trip to the Lowry over the Christmas period is so worth it for this show.



It’s vibrant, colourful and uplifting but still delivers all the key messages of history making and how hard it was for these women to break through. It’s an unapologetically powerful popstar punch and fits in an insane amount of girl power in the short 80-minute run. 

 

Simply put - It’s full of fantastically great women and I loved it!


WE SCORE FANTASTICALLY GREAT WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD...









To Wong Foo The Musical

To Wong Foo The Musical - Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester - Thursday 26th October 2023

TO WONG FOO HAS ATTITUDE WITH A POWERFUL MESSAGE ABOUT EMBRACING ONE'S TRUE SELF!

Despite To Wong Foo being a 1995 cult classic film, I’d never seen it -though I do love Hope Mill Theatre so knew it'd be a good one. I turned up to find a photo op of a pink convertible placed right at the door, like something out of the Barbie movie, and from then on was excited to step into the glamorous and colourful world of drag. 


To Wong Foo: The Musical
is a stage adaptation of the 1995 cult classic film "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar". The show takes the audience on a fabulous journey, following the adventures of three drag queens, Vida Boheme, Noxeema Jackson, and Chi-Chi Rodriguez, as they embark on a cross-country trip to participate in the "Drag Queen of America" pageant. Starting in 90s New York before traveling through the states, their car breaks down in Middle America, and their lives, as well as those in the town, are turned upside down.


The casting for this production is glorious with the three leading actors each bringing their own unique charm and creating a dynamic chemistry.
Peter Caulfield (Tammy Faye, Last Easter, A Christmas Carol) is Vida Boheme and the leader of the trio. Vida is the one who starts it all, a simple act of kindness offering to teach the world of drag to Chi Chi Rodriquez turns leads to a spiraling, glittery project of a lifetime. 


Chi Chi is played by
Pablo Gomez Jones (In Dreams, Les Miserables) and Chi Chi is the fun, light and young Queen of the group -often referred to as the Princess. This dynamic really shows the connection that drag can bring as she’s taken under their wings and develops into a gorgeous Queen. Gregory Haney (Tina, Wonderful Town, Hamilton) brings the sass and wit as Noxeema Jackson, his comedic timing and facial expressions matched with the grace and elegance of a Queen merges the trio together. 


The costumes in this show deserve their own recognition. The dazzling array of outfits, each more opulent and extravagant than the last, create a visual feast, showcasing the diversity and creativity of the drag world. When put against the duller costumes of the town’s people, they truly stand out and make a scene. 

The set itself wasn’t extravagant, but this meant the drag queens could be. Beige, slightly graffitied walls surrounded the stage and props would be brought on to transform the space from a dressing room to a coffee shop and everything in between. 

The original score is both toe-tapping and emotional, with heart wrenching ballads and uplifting songs that wouldn't go amiss on the dance floor. It gives a bit of country and a bit of club but all with that musical theatre flair we all love.
 


What truly sets this production apart is its underlying message of acceptance, unity, and embracing one's true self. The themes of the power of drag and the importance of celebrating diversity are beautifully woven into the storyline, making it a heartwarming and thought-provoking experience for all. This matched with the Hope Mill Thetare’s intimate setting gives the show an extra layer of charm. 

It’s Ru Paul’s Drag Race meets country - it has attitude, is iconic and simply just dazzling. This celebration of drag is for both drag enthusiasts and newcomers, and it’s definitely not one to be missed.


WE SCORE TO WONG FOO THE MUSICAL...



Watch our "In Conversation with Peter Caulfield" video discussing the show










INNIT Musical

INNIT Musical - The Lowry, Salford - Thursday 14th September 2023

INNIT MUSICAL IS RAW, REAL, ENTERTAINING AND FUNNY - TRULY SALFORD!

When I first found out about
INNIT, I knew I had to check it out as a proud Salfordian. It’s not a show I had previously heard of, which adds to the excitement as you can simply turn up and embrace the unexpected.

INNIT is a true tale of hope and redemption, only to be found by taking an unapologetic delve into the murky world of ‘scallies’. Although the show is set in Salford, it’s real and relatable to so many as it explores a life which could be lived across the country. Written by Micky Dacks, it is based on his childhood story after he turned to a life of crime at nine years old before joining a Manchester street gang at 13. The story shows that change is possible, taking the audience through the ups and downs of his life and how he turned away from crime and gangs.



As a Salfordian myself, I found the characters very entertaining and relatable, we all know someone who can relate to any of the situations played out in the show. From teenage love to peer pressure and family drama, we all know someone who has experienced a similar situation. There’s raw emotion throughout which is hard hitting when you think about the ages of the characters. The teens are avoiding school and college to spend their time committing crimes across the city, a vicious circle they can’t seem to escape. 

The set was simple and grungy like something straight off a Salford backstreet. The cast moved the stairs around to switch to new locations and keep the production moving swiftly. The costumes matched the set, as they were a real representation of Salford. From tracksuits to Stacey’s sparkly dress, there’s an element of the different lives lived around the city.



I particularly loved the characterisation of the gang. They were almost like caricatures, over the top and comical but without missing the grit and threat needed to really tell the story. Led by the charismatic and tough
James Smalley (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) as Finley, they provided a comic relief whilst also still delivering hard hitting moments. They were almost stereotypes of what people expect gangs to be like, one is the leader who uses “banter” as a reason to bully the others, the one who’s second-in-line and acts as if he’s also the leader, the gullible one who believes every word they say and of course the one who doesn’t really want to be part of the gang - and that’s Ashley Thompson. 



William Bours
(Les Miserables, Phantom of The Opera, Cats) played Ashley Thompson, the character based on Dacks story. Bours gave a heartfelt performance, one that pulled at your heartstrings. You could tell how much he wanted to break away from the life of crime despite feeling the peer pressures around him. His chemistry with Ruthie Presh Lane’s (Angels of the Prisons, Let The Right On In, The Captain of Kopenick) Stacey Stevens was a joy, one that showed the love and lust of a teenage romance. Their relationship added a depth to the story, as it was more than just the pressure from his family and friends, but Ashley’s want to impress Stacey and make her happy. 



The original songs were catchy and entertaining, spanning across all sorts of genres from Pop to Hip Hop and Rock. Despite the storyline not being the typical plot for a musical, the score worked effortlessly and the whole audience loved it. I’ve still got “Universal Credit” running around my head!

This show is truly Salford. Raw and real yet still entertaining and funny. Head to The Lowry and have a good laugh and maybe even a cry - can you get much better than seeing a Salfordian show and a Salford theatre?

WE SCORE INNIT MUSICAL...





LIZZIE The Musical

LIZZIE The Musical - Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester - Sunday 3rd September 2023

LIZZIE THE MUSICAL IS SENSATIONAL - IT'LL BE A CRIME TO MISS IT!

LIZZIE: The Musical has caught my eye since Hope Mill first announced its run as a ‘true crime rock musical’ is not something you come across often - also the fact I have the same name, I’m easily amused! The show itself is not widely known, having premiered at The Living Theatre in New York City in 2009, this production is the first in the UK and what a joy that it is at the Hope Mill Theatre. Upon arriving at the theatre, six giant, purple letters greeted us and from then we knew we were in for a treat. Whether Lizzie is a criminal or not, this would be a celebration of the woman who got the country talking. 

 



The musical explores the crucial years of Lizzie Borden’s life as a true crime case unfolds around her. She was accused of murdering her father and stepmother with an axe in the late summer of 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts. The musical delves into the mysterious mind of Lizzie and speculates on the motivations she may have had: loss of inheritance, history of sexual abuse, overwhelming oppression ,and madness. Alongside her older sister Emma, maid Bridget, and neighbour Alice, LIZZIE: The Musical brings to life the infamous case that had the American public hooked. 

 



There’s no bigger compliment than to say you’d see a show again, and I left LIZZIE wanting more. The female-led show, fronted by the four characters, is as uplifting as true crime can get. There aren’t any particular ‘stand-out moments’ for me as the production constantly entertained, had the audience hooked and never once fell flat, and that’s a rare feat. Think of a Netflix true crime documentary, one that follows the lead up and motivation behind the killing and pair it with a strong, female rock band - that’s LIZZIE.

 



Lauren Drew (Legally Blonde, Les Miserables, SIX) takes on the titular role of Lizzie Borden, and she is a force. Incredible vocals show the ups and downs of Lizzie's life, as Drew delivers passion throughout. Lizzie’s sister, Emma, is played by Shekinah McFarlane (SIX, Parade, The Voice) and McFarlane’s independence and power set the dynamic of big sister to little sister, together they are a strong-willed sister duo who shouldn’t be messed with. 

 



Maiya Quansah-Breed (SIX, Rent) brings a soft, feminine touch to the show as love interest Alice. Despite her gentle nature, Alice is strong-willed and courageous who’s chemistry with Lizzie is electric. Bridget, or sometimes called Maggie, is a comedic relief and fantastically played by Mairi Barclay (Pippin, Mother Goose). She leaves the audience questioning her participation in the crime, being a confidant for the sisters and so much more than just their maid. 

 



The set is simple, like a wooden barn, with a central door at the back of the stage. Props are used to change scenes, from chairs to the all important axe. Pigeons surround the top of the barn, a reference of Lizzie’s love for the birds and desperate want to escape. The costumes are straight out of the 1800s, which makes the rock essence of the show even more entertaining as their looks couldn’t be further from a hit rock band. A noticeable moment was how Lizzie’s hair became looser as the story progressed, showing how she was breaking away from the situation. From a neat bun to loose waves, you could physically see her change of character. 

 



Bright lights and loud music made this a rock concert not to forget. The intimate setting of the Hope Mill never takes away from productions that hold such presence and power, this show could hold its own on the big stage and Hope Mill gives the audience a closure connection to the characters. 

 



The empowering score, the unbelievable vocals and all around creativity of LIZZIE bring to life a crazy, bloody tale of four unexpecting women. It’s feminine and a great big boost of girl-power, with a score and historical story which will likely be compared to the hit musical SIX.Grab your fans, pick up your mics and head to Hope Mill. It would be a crime to miss it. 

WE SCORE LIZZIE THE MUSICAL...




WATCH OUR REHEARSAL ROOM PRESS LAUNCH VIDEO OF LIZZIE THE MUSICAL





Matthew Bourne's Romeo and Juliet

Matthew Bourne's Romeo and Juliet - The Lowry, Salford - Wednesday 12th July 2023

PUNCHY, BOLD AND A STAND-OUT REIMAGINING

Romeo & Juliet is the classic love story told many times in many ways. From classic musical West Side Story to family film Gnomeo & Juliet, there’s no denying it’s a storyline we’re all familiar with. Another known telling is the ballet with a score by Russian composer Sergey Prokofiev and last night’s showing at The Lowry was certainly a unique spin on the tale. 

British choreographer, Matthew Bourne, is widely hailed as the UK's most popular and successful choreographer and director, and has been creating and directing since 1986. His retelling of Shakespeare’s famous lovebirds is a contemporary take accompanied by a new orchestration of Prokofiev’s music, he tells the timeless story of forbidden love with a scintillating injection of raw passion and youthful vitality. 



The story is so well known that minor details can happily go amiss and the audience can get lost in the beauty of the choreography, this certainly isn’t a textbook retelling. Bourne’s production was intentionally ambiguous from the get go with the story based at the Verona Institute - he had the audience questioning whether this was a school, a hospital or even a social experiment. What is clear is that the young people are confined against their will by society and divided by gender, girls on one side and the boys another. 

The set itself was something straight from a dystopian world, it wouldn’t go amiss in The Handmaid’s Tale. Bright white walls, clear segregation, surrounded by barriers and alarms, it was obvious the characters were trapped. This dystopian take really highlighted the desperation Romeo & Juliet had in the fact they had to risk everything to be together. The ending moments of their dying love (literally!) made the white-tiles become even brighter making the audience feel sympathy for the young people trapped within the institute. The bold, deep red blood, which gradually covered more of the pristine white costumes, gave this scene a new dynamic and raw feeling of hopelessness.



A stand out moment was the scene, which to me came across as almost a school dance, where the lovers first met. You immediately saw the sizzling chemistry between the dancers and their moments together were more gentle and intimate compared to the rest of the cast who were much more dynamic and bold. This was the beginning of the teenage discovery and madness of first love. 

Cordelia Braithwaite (Sleeping Beauty, The Car Man, Nutcracker!) gave several layers to Juliet, portraying her as gentle and shy in some moments yet brave and strong minded when she needed to be. Her graceful movement and effortless flair paired perfectly with Romeo, danced by Paris Fitzpatrick (Early Adventures, Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet). They were completely lost when with each other, it was extremely intimate and was a true portrayal of the deep connection shown throughout the retellings of the story. It’s what makes the characters so iconic, this desperate need to be together. 



Bourne’s choreography was bold, dynamic and sharp. I turned up thinking it was going to be more of the traditional ballet style, but it definitely was a contemporary take and not full of white tutus. There’s no denying Bourne's extraordinary and creative mind, delivering a unique and unseen spin on an arguably overfamiliar tale. In the production, Bourne has deliberately chosen performers at the start of their careers, echoing the ferociously youthful story being told on stage. It’s punchy, bold and a stand-out reimagining.

Romeo & Juliet is a production danced stunningly from beginning to end and there’s no denying the incredible talent displayed by the entire cast. With elements of dreamy innocence and harsh determination, it’s a whirlwind account of a fast fixation between two young lovers.

 

WE SCORE MATTHEW BOURNE'S ROMEO AND JULIET...






La Clique

La Clique - Depot Mayfield, Manchester - Wednesday 31st May 2023

LA CLIQUE IS FULL OF EXTRAORDINARY TALENT - IT'S CLASSIC ENTERTAINMENT AT ITS FINEST!

Hidden away on the rooftop of Depot Mayfield is a night you’ll never forget. A night full of theatrics of a different kind is awaiting, and we turned up not knowing what to expect. When you hear “circus” you first think of clowns, animals and acrobats, and although we knew it wasn’t going to be just that, we turned up excited to be surprised.



The world-leading cabaret La Clique is a trail-blazing show presented by live entertainment company Underbelly. Originating at the Endiburgh Fringe in 2004, the production has gained international acclaim touring around New York, Singapore, Melbourne, Montreal and London’s Leicester Square. 

The beautiful 1920s Spiegeltent invites you into the intimate world of the genre-defining cabaret, with a central circle, small traditional-style stage at one side, and chairs placed in the round. The moody lighting, huge red curtains and traditional circus music greet you and invite you into the world of La Clique. The Spiegeltent is a form of traveling entertainment venue, also known as a ‘mirror tent’, built in the late 19th century in Belgium. 



Despite the central stage, the acts appear from all over, so you never know which way to turn or which act is next, it’s full of surprises. The intimate setting also makes the audience a prime target for the acts, with the comedians dishing out fantastic one-liners to people all over the room. 

La Clique is pure entertainment full of extraordinary talent. The performers ranged from sword-swallower Heather Holliday, who brought Las Vegas showgirl luxe with her death-defying skills, to singer Chastity Belt who beautifully sang modern classic hits served up with a slice of comedy. 



Drag Queen Myra Dubrois offered up a classic drag act with her comedic vocal arrangement, the cleverest unicycle act you’ll see by Sam Goodburn will leave you belly-laughing and cheering with joy. Aerial artists  LJ Marles, Miranda Menzies and Oscar Kaufmann bring sexiness and sophistication with their stunning performances and astonishing strength and flexibility. One minute you’ll be in hysterics, the next you’ll be jaw-dropped - it’s classic entertainment at its finest. 



The show itself is 90 minutes long, so there’s no need to worry about a late evening midweek. In fact, it’s a brilliant way to enjoy a drink whilst the sun is shining followed by some insanely good entertainment.

The show of the summer, La Clique, is more than just a cabaret circus, it’s a full experience. There are several bars in each area of the rooftop with seating and the odd local food trader too. It’s a social experience perfect for a summer night with friends, so grab a drink and embrace the wonderful wackiness. 

La Clique’s summer residency is at Depot Mayfield for six weeks and guarantees to be a fun, hilarious, and sensual night. It’s so good, I’m going again.


WE SCORE LA CLIQUE...




Dirty Dancing - Palace Theatre, Manchester - Tuesday 30th May 2023

DIRTY DANCING IS THE PERFECT WAY TO KICK OFF THE SUMMER - IT HAS THE FEELGOOD FACTOR AND IS SO HOT... IT'S SIZZLING!

There really isn’t much of an introduction needed for this show, it’s based on a classic film loved by many and is iconic in so many ways. The global smash hit, Dirty Dancing, is back in Manchester this week at the Palace Theatre offering up the time of your life. For so many, the film has been on repeat, blasting out those famous lyrics, and sometimes even attempting the well-known lift at the end. When it comes to pre-show expectations, pretty much everyone knows and loves Dirty Dancing or even just a reference without having watched the film. So dare I say, expectations were pretty high. 

Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story On Stage tells the story of Baby and Johnny, two fiercely independent young spirits from different worlds, who come together in what will be the most challenging and triumphant summer of their lives. The live show brings the classic film to life, right before your eyes and features hit songs Hungry Eyes, Hey! Baby!, Do You Love Me?, and of course (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life. 

There was a real buzz of excitement in the theatre with Dirty Dancing fans across a range of ages gathering to watch the beloved characters come to life. From hen dos to after work socials, this is a show fit for every occasion and one to enjoy any day of the week. 



The set was a typical American summer camp and a pretty good replica of the movie. Light, bright and 60s, with cabin doors and the lake backdrop to transport you straight onto vacation with the Houseman family. Evening the curtain when walking into the theatre was themed around the Kellerman’s Mountain House. The costumes were what you’d expect to see from the late 50s, early 60s with circle skirts and under skirted dresses to cropped shirts and leather jackets. 


Moody and mysterious Johnny was played by Michael O’Reilly (Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story On Stage (Dominion Theatre), West Side Story, Lord Of The Flies) alongside clumsy and comical Kira Malou (Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story On Stage (Dominion Theatre), Fame, Penny on Mars) as Baby. The pair have electric chemistry and are incredible castings, embodying the legendary romantic duo we’ve grown to love. O’Reilly hits all the dance moves to rival the beloved Patrick Swayze to life, and has all the mannerisms and the intensity that Swayze is known for. 


Malou is sweet and innocent, a beautifully baby-faced teenager who acts as an excellent contrast for O’Reilly’s sex appeal. She’s fantastic at showing the transformation of Baby’s dancing skills across the story, from tight hipped awkward wriggles to the awe-inspiring ending performance. 



Danny Colligan (Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story On Stage (Dominion Theatre), Les Miserbables, The Book of Mormon) as Billy Kostecki and Lydia Sterling (Romeo & Juliet, Woyzceck, Godspell) as Elizabeth carry the show through the music, from opening with an upbeat rendition of This Magic Moment to a stunning performance of the cherished duet at the end. Alongside the pair was the Kellerman’s Band who bring the music to life on the stage and as part of the cast. I love when shows have live musicians on stage as it adds an extra element of excitement and curiosity as to who’s playing what and how they fit into the story. The band are seamlessly placed throughout and act as the score to the summer of love for the whole ensemble. 


The ensemble is incredible. The talent brought to the stage made the whole show look easy and effortless, with dancers showcasing unbelievable moves. It’s jaw-droppingly impressive and perfect in every way.


Overall, the stage show keeps pretty close to the original story and has all the parts we know and love, with any trickier moment pulled off using clever effects. When it came to the infamous dance, it was perfection, hitting every move known and loved by so many, and attempted by a few. As soon as Johnny ran into the theatre and declared “nobody puts Baby in the corner”, the theatre erupted. It’s these moments that make you love theatre, when the whole auditorium is engrossed into the story and emotion floods the place - this was the moment we’d all been waiting for. Those five minutes are pure joy and elation, exactly what you 
would hope for from Dirty Dancing.


This show is the perfect start to summer. It’s an overwhelming blast of nostalgia that sucks you in and leaves you wanting more. Get down to Kellerman’s Mountain House and relive this joyful, energetic story. It’s an uplifting, feel good show full of iconic bangers and it’s true….you will have the time of your life!

 

WE SCORE DIRTY DANCING...




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

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

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

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

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...



 




Photo credits - Johan Persson


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...



 




Photo credits - Pamela Raith

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

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.



BOOK  YOUR TICKETS TODAY!

 

 

 

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

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

A wealthy, privileged white couple invite Charlotte, a talented black artist, to dinner where a heated debate puts white privilege under the microscope. Set in an increasingly racially divided America and shortly before the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests rippled across the world, The White Card puts to question cultural appropriation and representation by uncovering some uncomfortable truths. Although set in the USA, the play is just as relevant here in the UK and invites us to play our part in the debate. The White Card poses the question: can society progress when whiteness remains invisible?

 


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



Production photos credit  - Wasi Daniju

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


BOOK YOUR TICKETS HERE

 




All Production shots by The Other Richard

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

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'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'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!!!

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