& Juliet

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Some jukebox musicals come and go faster than you can say Hit Me Baby One More Time others like Mamma Mia really hit the spot becoming staples of the theatre scene; enter new kid on the block & Juliet a magnificent mash-up of legendary songwriter Max Martin’s biggest hits which judging by tonight’s thunderous standing ovation is without doubt here to stay.

Bursting into vibrant life with opening number ‘Larger Than Life’ & Juliet directed by Luke Sheppard gives an absolute masterclass in musical theatre. Visually stunning and with a cast that reads like a who’s who of theatre royalty & Juliet takes you on a joyous ride of empowerment, uplifting fun and star quality sass.

Forget what you know about Romeo & Juliet, this fresh production transforms the Bard’s tragic tale as Anne Hathaway (played spectacularly by Cassidy Janson) tells husband William Shakespeare (an impressive Oliver Tompsett) that his ending for the star-crossed lovers is…well basically shit; thus opening the gates for Juliet’s journey of sensational self-discovery as she explores for the first time what it means to truly get a life!

Oliver Tompsett and Cassidy Janson take on part narrator part player roles as the two inventively weave themselves into the narrative, influencing and entertaining throughout. Tompsett makes for a determined, unwavering Shakespeare that is until wife Anne (Cassidy Janson) takes his quill and sets about influencing not only Juliet’s but her own story. Both are perfectly cast, they spark wonderfully off each other with razor sharp comedic timing and genuinely warm wit.

Miriam-Teak Lee is simply outstanding as Juliet, giving an absolutely world-class performance, delivering powerhouse vocals with ease while her warm charisma combined with instant likability gets the audience immediately on side. It’s a thrill to join her on this fabulous ride as we will this fine heroine to find her own happy ending.

Best friend May is played beautifully by Arun Blair-Mangat his raw fragility when delivering Britney’s much-loved ‘I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman’ is packed with genuine heart and gut-wrenching emotion while Tim Mahendran is excellent as love interest Francois adding a perfect twist to proceedings while taking the story to another unexpected level.

Special mention must go to David Badella and Melanie La Barrie as Lance and Nurse who are quite simply a joy to watch, bringing the house down during their outrageously funny duet Teenage Dream/Break Free. Jordan Luke Gage introduces us to a very different kind of Romeo, an empty-headed heartthrob who may not be quite as innocent as he seems, Gage thrills with his spectacular arrival while his hilarious doe-eyed dorkish delivery is lapped up by the audience.

No review of the show would be complete without heaping praise on the insanely talented ensemble who look like they are having the time of their lives on stage. They deliver Jennifer Weber’s slick choreography with precision and a sass Beyoncé would be proud of just when you think they couldn’t get any better they crank it up a notch more, absolutely stunning.

Set designer Soutra Gilmour has created something epic here as the constantly evolving set continues to surprise while Paloma Young’s stunning costume design is a glorious meeting of period mixed with modern, think intricately detailed corsets teamed with sumptuous sports luxe and you’re halfway there.

It’s hard to believe the songs featured weren’t specifically written for the show Bill Sherman and Dominic Fallacaro’s arrangements of Max Martin’s mega hits fit the show like a glove while David West Read’s script finds a measured balance between hilariously funny and touchingly tender.

& Juliet is the musical we need right now, the ultimate in feel-good fun offering a joyous night of escapism while tackling modern themes with positivity and truth. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll dance your socks off before leaving with the biggest smile on your face with a heart well and truly warmed. Sensational fun from the first beat, we absolutely want Shakespeare that way!

& Juliet is on at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 12th October before it moves to London’s Shaftesbury Theatre tickers available here.

Hushabye Mountain

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First performed at the Crewe Lyceum in 1999, Hope Mill Theatre’s streamed revival of Hushabye Mountain brings the Jonathan Harvey penned play to a new audience at a time when living through a pandemic is something we can all relate to.

The strong opening where we see Danny pass from his earthly life to the sounds of his mother Beryl singing one of his childhood favourites ‘Feed The Birds’ sets the scene for this heartfelt piece where the brutality of the HIV/AIDS epidemic rips through the very heart of each character, leaving its unflinching and tragic mark.

As Danny sits in limbo waiting for confirmation that he can officially ‘pass on’; his friends and family left behind reflect and reforge their relationships and lives without him.

Though the timeline moves about considerably from Danny’s life pre-diagnosis to after his passing Nick Bagnall’s strong direction ensures clarity allowing the audience to closely follow events as they unfold and reflect in real time with the characters.

Despite the heavy subject matter Harvey’s wit and skill for creating characters with true grit and huge heart shines through. This stellar cast pour themselves into this piece and the reward for the audience is deeply moving.

Nathan McMullen floods Danny with life, making his diagnosis all the more tragic. He draws you in & quickly establishes the character as someone you’d always have at the top of any guest list, fun, flirty and bursting with heart. His fears are displayed openly and honestly as reality hits and his dreams fade.

The scene between McMullen & Layton Williams where Danny makes plans for his funeral is devastating in its impact. Beautifully delivered by both and although heartbreaking is peppered with wit, genuine affection and buckets of love. Williams gives a superb performance as Connor, a role very different from what we’ve seen him in before, he convinces entirely.

Similarly the hospital scene between Matt Henry as Lee and McMullen as Connor is powerful in its poignancy as the reality of what is to come hits home.

Jodie Prenger as Beryl, Connor’s Mum gives a truly memorable performance. Through her seemingly manic ramblings we see a mother searching for atonement from the guilt she feels after Connor’s farther forced her to cut ties with Connor when he came out. Her mind has been destroyed by the overwhelming guilt she feels as she appears as Mary Poppins and Judy Garland, two of Connor’s favourite icons, we’re transported to a happier time for them both where we imagine them watching Hollywood classics accompanied by snuggles on the sofa. Not physically able to protect her baby anymore her song now gently sends him peacefully to sleep.

This strong cast lift Harvey’s words and deliver them with heartfelt commitment shining a light on the complexities of love and loss. There is also hope as combination therapies begin to make an impact while Jonathan Harvey’s wit is never far away, shining through the tension and tragedy.

Powerful theatre bursting with heaps of heart.

Streaming until 20th June tickets available https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/hushabye-mountain

Meet Me at Dawn

Reviewed by Alison Ruck


Indoor theatre is back! And where better to see your first live piece of theatre in over a year than at the beautiful Hope Mill Theatre. 

There’s honestly no better feeling than being back sat in a theatre waiting for the lights to go down and in HER Production’s ‘Meet Me At Dawn’, once the lights went down I was engrossed from start to finish. 

With it being a relatively small theatre, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of Covid restrictions and audience numbers but was pleasantly surprised to see how much the theatre has done to ensure the seating can be socially distanced whist not affecting the full audience atmosphere too much. With added Perspex screens and wider rows, I felt I could enjoy the fulltheatre-feel safely. 

The stage is set rather sparsely with minimal set and lighting. We’re immediately thrown into the action and introduced to Robyn (played by Helen O’Hara) and Helen (played by Susan Jayne-Robinson), a young couple who find themselves washed up on a distant shore, following a boating accident. It’s clear from the offset that something is amiss, but it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what until much later in the piece.

Some key themes are introduced briefly early on and later revisited more in depth; this gives the piece a nice flow and allows it space to grow.

I found myself initially wondering where the story would go and how much could be explored on what seemed to be a simple, static set, located on an island beach.

However, as the piece went on, emotions rose and the actors really hit their stride and I was pleasantly surprised with the range and depth the actors displayed during some of the more emotional moments of the piece. Sound and lighting enhanced the emotional moments of the piece in the most subtle way, which truly draws you in at those times. 

HER Productions produce a range of work with a female voice at the core, and this is clear to see through the pure and honest connections that actors Helen, Susan and director Ellie Rose bring to life throughout this production. As a woman watching this show, it is so easy to see your own relationships through the characters, be that friendships, mother/daughter, or romantic. This adds to the emotion at the end of the piece (without giving too much away) when the plot resolves.

The production, which is 1 hour 20 minutes straight through, is a touching story about love and grief and all the emotions that come with it: sadness, anger and eventually peace. The production really takes you with it on its journey through these emotions and by the end leaves you with a real sense of heartbreak and considering your own relationships and their importance.

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2


Meet Me At Dawn is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 29th May. Tickets are available at: hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/meet-me-at-dawn

C.O.N.T.A.C.T

📷 Phil Tragen

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest


Over the last 14 months many of us have had a great deal of time to take stock and reflect on the world around us, so wouldn’t it be exciting to enter the head space of someone different for a short while, and become immersed in their world.

Well for 50 minutes you can, with the unique production of C.O.N.T.A.C.T brought to audiences by Aria Entertainment, WEF Productions and The Lowry, staged either at Media City and/or a Manchester City Centre.

We were told prior to the event to meet near the tram stop at Media City and to bring a brolly: this after all is Salford where the city and grey sky fit like hand in glove. In addition we were asked to download the C.O.N.T.A.C.T app for your smartphone of choice and to bring a set of earphones.

📷 Phil Tragen

We are soon introduced to Sarah (Chloe Gentles), a young women with a lot going on in her head: from the uncomfortable fitting of her bra to the odd feeling in the pit of her stomach, all the while taking in the sounds of the city, lost in her own little bubble.

However her world is soon turned on it’s head with the introduction of Raphael (Cellan Scott), a mysterious stranger who knows more about Sarah then she knows about herself.

Sarah and Raphael soon begin a journey of discovery and reflection which will change Sarah forever.

C.O.N.T.A.C.T was first performed in Paris at the height of the pandemic, moving to London last summer and garnering huge praise for it’s bold, innovative attempt to stage live theatre. After all we can’t order a drink without an app, so why shouldn’t we enjoy theatre in the same way?

📷 Phil Tragen

Both Gentles and Scott do not utter a world throughout, with both giving visual, expressive performances whilst their dialogue is drip fed into our conscious’ via the app. The two actors performances, in conjunction with the highly impressive 3-D sound design allow you to switch off and become totally immersed in Sarah’s world, so much so that as we strolled around the grounds of the Blue Peter Garden I became aware that I was part of the production, as baffled on lookers watched a group of people with headphones observing two others have a silent but very heated debate.

This unique, production is the perfect reminder of how much we need human connection and the importance of looking after not only ourselves but also looking out for others. No matter what challenges we may face, there can always be a solution found.

C.O.N.T.A.CT is on in Manchester and at Media city until the 27thJune. Tickets available at: https://thelowry.com/whats-on/contact-salford-quays/

Interview | Layton Williams | Hushabye Mountain

Hope Mill Theatre recently announced it will be working with Stream.Theatre to stream a new online production worldwide of Hushabye Mountain by acclaimed writer Jonathan Harvey.

Directed by Nick Bagnall, this online production stars Layton Williams as Connor, Matt Henry as Lee, Jodie Prenger as Beryl, Nathan McMullen as Danny, Amy Dunn as Lana and Harrison Scott-Smith as Ben.

We caught up with Layton Williams during rehearsals to hear a little more about this innovative production which will be streamed live on Saturday 5th June, and then available online on 11th, 12th and 13th June 2021 (7:30pm) and 18th, 19th and 20th June 2021 (7:30pm with a 2:30pm Saturday Matinee).

ON) Can you tell us about Hushabye Mountain, and how you became involved with the piece?

LW) It’s a show about relationships, it’s about pain, it’s about love, it’s about loss and we’ve all got these experiences we can tap into. I worked with Jonathan Harvey many, many years ago on Beautiful People which was a TV show we did when I was a kid so it’s really fab that Johnathan was my fist TV experience and now he’s giving me my first play experience.

I have always known I’d jump at the chance to work with Jonathan again, it’s been about 14 years since I first did, and I really wanted to push myself and do something different, so people see me in a way they’ve never seen me before. Especially in this current climate, to have the opportunity to be creative again got me really excited and honestly this was a no brainer for me, I was absolutely buzzin’ when they gave me the job.

ON) How does it feel to be back in a rehearsal room after such a difficult year for the industry?

LW) Amazing! Being in a rehearsal room, starting with a read through, then getting scenes up on their feet to getting our voice recorders out and doing some singing, some harmonies it feels like I’m back by popular demand and I love it! Honestly, it’s just so nice to be creating and it feels like we’ve got such a free reign to be creative with what we’re doing, although the play has obviously been done before it really feels like we can put our own artistic stamp on it. I’m really having a fab time.

ON) Director Nick Bagnall appeared in the original production, which we imagine is of huge benefit for the cast in really getting to the heart of the piece?

LW) It’s brilliant, what’s so good is that he’s really generous with the whole cast and how we do things plus we’ve had Jonathan in the room for a few days too so between the two we’re really in good hands. We’ve really got such a good team here, who we can really be vulnerable with which is just great. I just can’t wait to get out there and give it my all.

ON) The play focuses on the absence left by Danny following his death from AIDS, while you play Connor his partner left trying to navigate life, this feels a timely piece on many levels.

LW) There’s been so much heartbreak and so much loss, friends, family everywhere you look there’s been loss. So to go through that journey creatively could be overwhelming but the great thing about Jonathan is that he does bring that humour to the piece, one minute we’ll be in intense high emotion the next someone will come in pretending to be Mary Poppins, cracking one liners, and that’s what real life is, you’re laughing, then you’re crying.

Although I wasn’t around when the AIDS crisis happened, I’ve made sure I’ve educated myself, I played Angel in RENT previously who dies from AIDS and this is the other side of things taking on a completely different viewpoint. Hopefully, we’re on the other side of this pandemic now, and how lucky we are to be moving towards the other side.

Being aware, educating ourselves more, getting tested, spreading the word and knowing the hardship people went through and remembering those who were lost. This feels like a really beautiful way to both respect and remember the lives that were lost.

ON) This new adaptation from Hope Mill theatre will premiere as a live streamed event, for you as an actor does that pose different challenges to performing in front of a live audience?

LW) It’s quite nerve wracking when you start thinking about it, but I’m trying to think if this was a normal situation it would be live in front of an audience so not really dissimilar to what we’re used to. In just one sitting we can reach many people, that’s a real plus, we’re really gonna knuckle down and give the audiences the best piece we can. Also I’m from just down the road so to bring something so close to my heart to my hometown does feel really special. I feel like all the stars have aligned to be honest.

ON) After several postponements due to the pandemic things seem increasingly hopeful that the Everybody’s Talking About Jamie tour will resume at The Lowry later this year, how will you feel being back in Jamie’s red heels and in front of a home crowd?

LW) We’re gonna be back, hopefully in September, it’s a whole different show to Hushabye Mountain but one which I think people in Manchester and Salford will love. I feel like I’ve warmed up the muscles now with this piece and I’m just itching to go, it’s a show that’s really close to my heart and I’ve got unfinished business with, it’s time to wrap this tour and go out with a bang!

Hushabye Mountain runs 5th-20th June online tickets £15-£17 (+£1.50 booking fee)

There will also be an opportunity for audiences to watch a screening at Hope Mill Theatre on Saturday 12th June. Tickets are £25 and include a drink on arrival, popcorn, a post-show Q&A and a seat at Hope Mill Theatre to watch Hushabye Mountain in the very space it was created.

Tickets can be booked via https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/hushabye-mountain

Critically-acclaimed outdoor show C-O-N-T-A-C-T comes to Salford & Manchester in May

Aria Entertainment and WEF Productions have announced that the critically-acclaimed
outdoor production C-o-n-t-a-c-t will run for six weeks from Tuesday 18 May – 29 June 2021.


This immersive, two-hander outdoor performance featuring a captivating 3D sound design will
run in partnership with The Lowry in two locations – Salford Quays and central Manchester following a hugely successful run in London in autumn 2020.

This innovative production opened to 4* reviews from The Guardian and the i, with The Times
calling it “a tantalising vision of a new kind of theatre.” It will be one of the first live theatre show to open in Manchester & Salford following theatre closures last year.

Originally created by Samuel Sené and Gabrielle Jourdain and premiering in France with
French production company Musidrama last summer in a world where social distancing became
the ‘new normal’, this timely story of a moving and unexpected encounter explores the themes
of mental health and anxiety through the eyes of Sarah as she is approached by someone she
believes to be a stranger. She discovers that he can hear her thoughts but how? Who is this
man? Dive into her mind in this unique sensory and immersive new show and experience
theatre like never before.

The show runs for 50 minutes without an interval and audiences download the audio from the
app which is a completely new piece of technology synchronizing the spectators and actors,
allowing the show to play with theatrical concepts and a new form of dramaturgy. Audiences of
no more than 17 per show will purchase their tickets online and will then receive a link to
download the app and exact location details.

The show complies with the safety and hygiene measures arts as set out by the government. This pedestrian performance is an outdoor promenade experience for small groups of up to 17 and adheres to strict social distancing
between audience members. It is also an audio experience which involves no direct speaking of
any actor in the play.

Tickets can be purchased via The Lowry’s website Contact | What’s On | The Lowry


An Evening With Bruce Dickinson in Salford

Legendary Iron Maiden lead singer BRUCE DICKINSON is today delighted to announce a very special one man show for Summer 2021 – which comes to The Lowry on August 4.

‘An Evening With Bruce Dickinson’ is Bruce’s first-ever UK spoken word tour and follows sold-out shows across Europe and Australia.

This unmissable six-date tour – peppered with anecdotes from Bruce’s extraordinary life both on and off-stage, and delivered in his own inimitable anarchic style – visits Brighton, Salford, Bradford, Nottingham, Birmingham and London in August.

‘AN EVENING WITH BRUCE DICKINSON’ – FEATURING Q&A

 SIX 2021 UK SHOWS ANNOUNCED ON SPOKEN WORD TOUR

LIVE NATION today announces a very special Evening With show by IRON MAIDEN singer, BRUCE DICKINSON on his first-ever UK spoken word tour.

THE SUMMER 2021 DATES ARE:

AUG 1       BRIGHTON               THEATRE ROYAL

AUG 4       SALFORD                 THE LOWRY

AUG 5       BRADFORD              ST GEORGE’S HALL

AUG 8       NOTTINGHAM          THEATRE ROYAL

AUG 9       BIRMINGHAM           THE ALEXANDRA

AUG 10     LONDON                   O2 SHEPHERD’S BUSH EMPIRE

Tickets go on general sale at 10am, Thursday April 29 via ticketmaster.co.uk

Immersive drive-in cinema SecretCity comes to Manchester

Reviewed by Nicky Jones

As one of the first live events to happen in Manchester after the third national lockdown,
it was a welcome treat to attend SecretCity’s Opening Night!

Happening at EventCity throughout summer 2021, we were given chance to have an early experience and watch the 2020 remake of The Secret Garden at the drive-in cinema.

Arriving into SecretCity, we were greeted by an immersive Alice in Wonderland enchanted tunnel, complete with a water pistol armed dancing mushroom and a zebra on stilts.

As we followed the journey round, we saw an Alice in Wonderland scene with a vibrant butterfly who threw a giant beach ball our way! This was a fantastic welcome, and really set the tone for the rest of the event.

Before the film, a DJ set was blasted out of speakers and on radio waves – perfect for a party in the car!

The SecretBar was a huge hit with attendees, including a popular beer garden area for catching up with friends. The drinks were flowing and plenty of hot food was on offer to warm us up.

Spectacular aerial artists and roaming performers put on a stunning show throughout the build up to the film.

Popcorn in hand, we headed back to the car for the film to begin. A light show and pyrotechnics were a feast for the eyes in the last few moments before the film began, whilst the DJ encouraged the audience to flash their car lights and honk their horns!

Various films are being shown throughout the summer on the UK’s biggest LED outdoor screen, but the stunning remake of The Secret Garden was the perfect choice for opening night.

There are plenty of photo opportunities at SecretCity – so dress up and enjoy a night out from the comfort of your own car!

Fancy it?
Tickets are £35 per car, available to purchase on: https://parknpartymcr.co.uk/secret-city/

What’s on the schedule?
Wonder Woman (1984) | Thursday 15th April | 9pm
Bridesmaids | Wed 21st April | 8:30pm
Onward | Saturday 24th April | 4pm
Greenland | Sunday 2nd April | 8pm
Mulan (2020) | Saturday 7th May | 4pm
The Greatest Showman | Sunday 8th May | 4pm

Jack and the Beanstalk

Reviewed by Daisy Eagleton and Mum Michelle Eagleton

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Daisy’s verdict, aged 10:

With phenomenal outfits and magical sets, this Jack and the Beanstalk Pantomime brought the excitement of the theatre to our family home.

Things such as: close-up shots and virtual interaction made this pantomime morespectacular than ever! Who would have thought a virtual pantomime would be better than a pantomime at the theatre?

The story opens with Fairy Mary (Jenna Sian O’ Hara) hilariously narrating about the life of Jack Trott and his family. As soon as the show started I was amazed by the beautiful and bright costumes worn by the cast, especially evil Mrs Fleshcreep’s glittering red gown and Princess Jill’s first intricate gold dress.

My favourite character was Simple Simon, Jack’s brother, played by Reece Sibbald. His jokes were so funny and his silly humourmade me and my 6 year old brother laught out loud – Mum and Dad were even laughing at some of them too. 

I loved the part when Jack Trott and Princess Jill went to school in Act 1 it was hilarious plus it featured the song: ‘Naughty Children’ from Matilda and ‘Savage Love’ which got my family dancing. Jack (Timothy Lucas) was a great singer and I also though his Mum Dame Trott (Jamie Greer) was brilliant and very cheeky!

This show was all-round amazing and I wouldn’t change anything about it.


Mum’s verdict:

St Helen’s have put on a great Easter panto here which we thoroughly enjoyed. The sound and visual quality was top class and despite us not being in the theatre watching it, it managed to capture the essence and still have us interacting with the characters at full voice.

There were some fab performances by all the cast, especially Simple Simon (Reece Sibbald) who my kids adored. A moment of pure escapism where we could laugh at toilet humour and regional one liners, plus listen to music from an array of eras – Tom Jones to Rick Astley!

If you are after just under 2 hours of entertainment over the Easter break then give this show a go, It is guaranteed to get you excited for when the Theatre Royal re opens its doors, which fingers crossed could be in the near future.

Jack at the Beanstalk is available online until Sunday 11th April tickets available https://www.sthelenstheatreroyal.com

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK Queen’s sashay into Manchester!

Join the queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK for an evening of endless eleganza extravaganza as this brand-new tour takes in 19 theatres and venues across England, Scotland and Wales including a date at Manchester Opera House on February 12.

Acclaimed for their amazing production values, expect the unexpected in this glittering tour featuring UK Season 2 Finalists Tayce, Bimini Bon Boulash, Dundee’s Ellie Diamond and WINNER Lawrence Chaney from Glasgow, along with stars from Drag Race UK.

Ben Hatton, Director of Theatre Touring for Cuffe and Taylor, said: “We are thrilled to be working with the Voss Events Team for what will be Drag Race’s biggest ever UK theatre tour.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race is an exciting show and is always a huge hit so we look forward to presenting a series of outrageously entertaining shows.”

Tickets start at £35 and there are exclusive VIP options where guests can enjoy a private meet and greet with the queens before the show!

Tickets go on general sale 10am Friday 26th March RuPaul’s Drag Race UK Tickets | Opera House Manchester in Manchester | ATG Tickets

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Created by the same team behind the recent reimagining of Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up! which quickly became a standout piece of 2020, The Picture of Dorian Gray is an impressive retelling of Oscar Wilde’s famously tragic tale.

In this modern take, gone is the classic portrait in favour of the ultimate smartphone filter, wholly irresistible to wannabee influencer, Dorian Gray; whose obsession with social media adoration becomes his all-consuming downfall.

Writer Henry Filloux-Bennett’s decision to reimagine Gray as a snapchatting, insta-loving, subscriber-hungry, Youtuber is inspired, tapping into a digital world so many of us spend far more time transfixed by than we would care to admit. The guarantee of popularity, opportunity, and a seemingly endless stream of likes is just too much to resist.

Interviewer Stephen Fry attempts to piece together how Gray’s untimely demise came about via detailed Zoom interviews paired with atmospheric staged flashbacks, while Lady Narborough (Joanna Lumley) largely navigates us through the story.

In addition to Fry and Lumley the all-star cast of Alfred Enoch, Emma McDonald, Russell Tovey and Fionn Whitehead add depth and quality to this haunting production.

The dark side of social media becomes a strong thread as the stark reality of internet trolling and cancel culture claims the life of Sibyl Vane, while the pandemic is cleverly weaved through the narrative as Gray’s life behind his screen begins to spiral so does his need to hide his face from the real world via a mask, an attempt to hide the physical manifestations of his ugly actions.

Gray’s declining mental health dangerously threatening to leak through his picture-perfect profile. Gray’s transition from fresh-faced blogger to anxiety ridden sunken-eyed social media monster is both exceptional and utterly terrifying.

Inspired and chillingly brilliant this production captivates entirely.

You can stream The Picture of Dorian Gray until 31 March tickets available via Barn Digital | Visit The Barn Theatre Today in Cirencester

The Lollipop Man

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Over the last year, the majority of us have had spare time on our hands. Some of us have got fitter, some of us have tackled the bookshelves that feature prominently on our zoom quiz backgrounds, and some of us have done sweet FA. However, one thing I can pretty much guarantee, is that at some point over the last 12 months most of us will have been sucked into a good TV murder mystery. It may have been one of Netflix’s countless true crime documentaries, the BBC’s Line of Duty, or ITV’s The Bay; at some point we’ll have been shocked or screaming at the telly, uttering that immortal line, “I knew it was him!”

Well the good people at Unsolved Online Creations, have tapped into our blood lust with their first offering, The Lollipop Man? The brainchild of Stacey Harcourt and John O’Neill, this interactive, online murder mystery, provides something a little different to ease the lock down blues while putting our newly found amateur sleuthing skills to good use.

Set at the turn of the millennium in Salford, local lollipop man Martin Morris, is found brutally murdered by the Irwell, with a list of subjects as long as his luminous stick. Suspects include, the dead man’s daughter, Kayla Morris (Stacey Harcourt), or maybe local thug, Paul Cheadle, (John O’Neill) or could it be a lifelong friend of Martin’s, Mandy Newton (Fiona Boylan)?  These are just three of the eight suspects.

Each suspect gives their accounts of this fateful night, spread over several nights on the Unsolved Online Creations, Youtube channel, (https://bit.ly/3bsOWYj) these come in the form of short police interrogation interviews. In addition, new evidence is also released containing clues (or red herrings) as to whom the culprit might be.

This is a fun, innovative way to spend some time each week. Like any good murder-mystery, it keeps you on your toes. We’re three weeks in and I’m still non the wiser. You can pick it up any time, as all videos are on Youtube: I only started last week and am hooked.

It is a bold attempt to do something fresh. The performances are solid throughout, nothing fancy or OTT, just believable and intriguing enough to draw you in. The police questions that move the action forward can be a little jarring at times, and I wish more time and care had been spent on how they are delivered, but this is a minor quibble for what is an ambitious project, which on the whole wants to create conversation, debate and, most of all, a community and the chance to use the internet for something other than a zoom quiz!

The Lollipop Man? is online and can be found at: https://unsolvedonline.blogspot.com

Hope Mill Theatre’s Play Reading Club celebrates 3rd Birthday

Hope Mill Theatre’s Play Reading Club has celebrated its third birthday having gone from strength to strength during the past year providing a way for theatre-lovers to connect during the ongoing pandemic.

Established in early 2017 the drop-in group, which meets from 11am to 1pm on the last Friday of every month, now has over 40 participants, who enjoy reading aloud a play together.

Participants read a wide variety of different plays by different playwrights, from William Shakespeare to Arthur Miller and anything from adaptions to new plays by Manchester-based writers. 

Open to professional performers and non-professionals alike, the group is a positive way for people to come together socialise, enjoy culture and make friends.

Prior to the current Covid-19 pandemic the group would meet at the theatre and enjoy tea and coffee before sitting down and reading a play. When Hope Mill was forced to close its doors in March 2020, the theatre took the group online and since last March has been meeting monthly via Zoom. 

In 2020 the Ancoats venue also took their Play Reading Club out into the wider community and hosted a session with charities Mood Swings and Mary and Joseph House allowing their users to participate in, in a safe and fun way – something the venue plans to repeat in the future with other local charities.

Originally the venue charged a small fee for the session, but thanks to a grant from I Love Manchester as well as funding from the Culture Recovery Fund, the group is now free of charge with participants invited to make a voluntary donation if they wish.

Hope Mill has just appointed a new group facilitator to run the sessions, Janelle Thompson, a Manchester-based actress, who said: “I am absolutely delighted to be joining the team and facilitating this wonderful, long standing project. I’m really looking forward to reading new works and seeing old favourites in a different light.”

Joseph Houston, Artistic Director, of Hope Mill Theatre, said: “It has been incredible to see how our Play Reading Club has grown since opening Hope Mill. It has always been, and continues to be, a great asset to our organisation and our charitable aims to inspire, connect and challenge the local community. I am glad that we have managed to maintain the group though the pandemic and have received much-needed funding to make it free for participants.

“Of course there are challenges, and not all of our users are able to access the group online. As soon as it is possible and safe to do so we will be hosting our Play Reading Group live again from the venue. 

“It’s amazing to see such an amazing group of people from a range of different backgrounds, ages, races, genders and localities coming together to read a range of works from the world of plays – it is truly inspiring. You don’t have to be a professional actor to attend, although some participants are. It’s about the reading and listening and exploring plays, rather than the performance.”

Members of the Play Reading Club explain its appeal; says Kathy Holland: “It’s a wonderful opportunity to read outside the box and try something new, whilst also celebrating and supporting the arts” while first-timer Charlotte Bennett added: “I’ve not tried anything like this during any of the lockdowns but I’m not sure why I haven’t as that was brilliant. More funding needs to be put into groups like this – they are amazing for people’s mental health, socialisation and confidence.”

The next Play Reading Club is on Friday 26th February at 11am (over Zoom) and Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker. For more information on Hope Mill Theatre and the Play Reading Club visit https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/hope-mill-theatres-play-reading-club.