& 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.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If there’s one thing theatre audiences love, it’s a Disney adaptation. From full-scale productions such as the long-running Lion King to the newly opened five-star smash, Frozen, right through to magical musical numbers and glittering finale scenes in local pantos; Disney’s influence runs right through British family theatre and is often the first theatrical experience many children have.

Latest adaptation, Bedknobs and Broomsticks flew into Manchester’s this week, stopping at the Palace Theatre on it’s World Premiere UK tour, amazing to think despite celebrating it’s 50th anniversary there’s never been a full-scale production before!

While the lesser recreated of the Sherman Brothers penned Disney hits (Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) it’s charm and appeal have made it a firm favourite for fans, while it’s classic score is still a childhood staple. Yes, the plot is a bit bonkers at times, but for many that’s a huge part of this cult classic’s charm.

Film fans will be happy to hear that this stage adaptation remains largely faithful to the film with some padding out of backstories which works beautifully.

Set in the 1940’s, evacuees and siblings Charlie, Carrie and Paul have been sent to the countryside after losing their parents during an air raid in London. Miss Eglantine Price takes them in and they soon discover all is not as it seems as apprentice witch Price reveals she just needs one final spell from former tutor Professor Emelius Browne in order to use her magic in a bid to help the war effort. With the help of an enchanted bedknob their adventures begin!

Additional songs by Neil Bartram fit well with the much-loved classics, Portobello Road, The Beautiful Briny, The Age Of Not Believing and my personal favourite Substitutiary Locamotion with new addition Negotiality feeling like it’s been there all along.

Jamie Harrison’s impressive set and dazzling illusions really add to the magic of the piece. The bed really does fly as does Miss Price who swoops up into the air on her broomstick and as for the final battle scene, well seeing really is believing!

Gabriella Slade’s costumes are stunning, intricate, elaborate and utterly gorgeous while there’s a wonderful use of puppetry weaved into the production. Designer Kenneth MacLeod has created some spectacular puppets while the cast bringing them magically to living, breathing life. Norton the Fish portrayed fabulously by Rob Madge deserving of a spin off show of their own! While actors being turned into rabbits right before your eyes is a whole lot of fun! This really is physical theatre at its finest.

Dianne Pilkington is sublime as Miss Englantine Price, witty, charismatic and with a voice that’s pure perfection. Charles Brunton compliments her wonderfully as Emelius Browne, his eccentricities and magic skills endearing him to the audience immediately.

Conor O’Hara gives eldest child Charlie true depth as he demonstrates powerfully the influence war has on the life of a child. His journey as Charlie breathing fresh ideas into to this classic tale.

The quieter moments are given the time that they deserve to be impactful while the big full ensemble numbers really take the entertainment levels up a notch. The Portabello Road scene and the Beautiful Briny dance competition are a joy and leave you wishing there were a few more full ensemble numbers to enjoy. I must also mention how wonderful it is to see such a representative cast on stage, more of this please!

The ensemble work hard in this show, moving sets and becoming scenery throughout. This took a little getting used to and on occasion felt like there was a little too much to look at. The pace of Act 1 slows a little at times while Act 2 burst into gorgeous, glittering life and before you know it the bows are being taken.

This is a beautifully crafted show, technically brilliant, superbly designed and wonderfully delivered. There’s peril, romance, incredible puppetry and thrilling magic. Film fans will come away happy while an army of new fans no doubt will be gained. An enchanting production which will delight young and old alike.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks is on at the Palace Theatre until Sunday 24th October tickets available here.

Tell Me On A Sunday

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“Mum, I know you’ll think I’m potty… but at last I think I’ve found him!”

Tell Me on a Sunday is Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black’s first (and often forgotten) musical love child. This bittersweet tale is the story of Emma, played by the powerhouse that is Jodie Prenger, as she travels across the globe, from London, to New York, to California and back, on a quest for long-lasting, meaningful love. A one hour, one-woman show, which brings to the surface all the nostalgia and sentimentality of falling in and out of love and all the wonderfully uncomfortable bits in-between.

Although maybe not as well known to a wider audience as some of Webber’s other works, musically the show does have some beautifully powerful numbers, including the stunningly heartbreaking title song Tell Me on a Sunday, which witnessing Prenger nail is an absolute treat and a stand-out moment.

Francis Goodhand musically directs with panache. But there are plenty of ‘Goodhands’ here in the band too who play beautifully throughout. In fact, in conversation after the interval, Goodhand describes this as musical theatre at its best – ‘no smoke or mirrors,’ just really rather good music, which is most definitely true. Its also nice to have the band onstage throughout, who are a very worthy backdrop to Prengers’ wonderful Emma.

Anyone familiar with Prenger, knows that she not only oozes bucket loads of charm and charisma, but is a formidable performer. Least not her vocals, which are effortless and consistently sublime during this hour long song-cycle; in fact they are Streisand-esq at parts (and I don’t say that lightly!) Her portrayal of Emma is full of subtlety and raw sentiment, as she carefully navigates us through a whole range of emotions, from hopeful to desperate, vulnerable to strong, taking us on the journey with her every step of the way. Prenger provides a wonderfully crafted, fully realised performance, as she commands the stage and without us even realising the hour has passed; she is a pure delight to watch.

Unusually and unique to this production, after the interval we are invited to re-join Prenger for what is a mini An Evening with…’ style second act and proves equally as enchanting as the first. Bursting back onto the stage, Prenger welcomes us back with vigour and so much likability and humour, its (ironically) hard not to fall in love with her!

She spoils us with some more songs and answers some interesting questions from the audience. This evening Harry, 11, asks for any tips about entering the acting industry, to which Prenger quickly exclaims: “DON’T DO IT!” prompting fits of laughter from the audience; she most certainly has them in the palm of her hands. We are also introduced to the very talented Jodie Beth Meyer (Understudy Emma), who performs for us alongside Prenger, and whose voice is equally impressive. In a clever turn by the producers, this addition of an ‘Act 2’ really makes you feel like you’re making a night of it and getting your money’s worth!

It must be acknowledged that its been a tough old time for the arts and as such producers are in requirement of that much needed revenue boost, which performing in large-scale spaces can enable. However, this revival of the 2016 Watermill Theatre’s acclaimed production does at times seem a little lost in the Lyric theatre here in the Lowry. It’s certainly easy to see how this intimate, personal show lends itself better to a smaller-scale space and possibly would have been better suited to one of the smaller spaces that the magnificent Lowry has to offer.

Yes there are elements of the show that appear a little outdated, but the premise still remains universal and the message rather poignant as Prenger aptly reminds us towards the end of show, ‘Dreams Never Run On Time’ which hits us differently, especially with the world still in a strange, unsettling and unpredictable place. However, the audience are still hugely thankful to be back inside an auditorium watching and listening to live musical theatre and here Don Black’s clever, cute, conversational lyrics, are beautifully matched by Webber’s distinctive and indisputable music, both of which are perfectly complimented by Prenger’s show-stopping talent and makes for a lovely mid-week treat – never mind a Sunday!

Tell Me on a Sunday runs at the Lowry Theatre until Saturday 23rd October tickets available here.

What the Ladybird Heard

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Fresh from it’s sizzling summer stint in the West End, a stage adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks’ ‘What the Ladybird Heard’ classic children’s book is making its way across the country on an autumn tour.

“The Ladybird said never a word, but the Ladybird saw and the Ladybird heard…” So when burglars plot to seal the prize cow, little do they know the Ladybird is about to save the day…

It was so lovely to see the Lowry Theatre in Salford ‘buzzing’ this Sunday morning with lots of little, excitable (children dressed up as Ladybirds), coming to see what could possibly be their first ever theatrical experience.

At first thought you’d be right to think, how could this sweet (but very small) children’s book be turned into a 55-minute musical play? Well, with director Graham Hubbard at the helm, the team here have successfully adapted this much loved story into a well-imagined, perfectly-timed, warm-hearted, enchanting stage version.

Whilst Donaldon’s words have been developed and evolved for the stage, with the addition of music and lyrics and a few other surprises along the way, the familiarity of the original story still remains at the heart of this theatrical version. Indeed, after working closely in the developmental stages with the creative team, illustrator, Lydia Monks’ pictures appear to have been transported straight from ‘page to stage,’ which as a result has enabled Bek Palmer to create a versatile and beautifully enticing set, which hugely aids in the cleverly, creative unraveling of the story, just like the book. Whilst simultaneously enabling the audience, both adult and children alike, to feel instantly comfortable and at home as they take their seats for this classic tale’s debut tour.

Musically, Fiber and Shaw have created some ‘Jolly Good Tunes’ that come as a welcome addition with this stage version and really helps engage the young audience’s imagination, facilitating the right level of audience participation, with some singing and bopping along the way too!

One of the most delightful and endearing moments of the piece occurs when the cast come together through song to assemble the well known animals of the story using only the materials on the farm. Here we see the full concept of this smart and innovative piece in full flow, as a sheep is created out of a wheelbarrow, a dog is born using a big sweeping brush and a horse erected from an old bicycle; all of which become fully formed, re-occuring personalities throughout the play and add a rather lovely artistic dynamic.

Special kudos to this small yet talented cast who individually act, sing and jig around the space, all whilst playing a musical instrument or two and with the unwavering amount of energy a piece like this requires (especially at 11am on a Sunday morning to a busy, rustling and wriggly young auditorium), which is no mean feat in itself!

This is a tight ensemble who bring a great sense of warmth and drive to the narrative throughout the duration on the performance.

Although advertised for age 3+, my two and a half year old niece was fully engaged in the storytelling and thoroughly enjoyed herself. This stage version of the classic tale, has the perfect amount of humour, heart and imagination for young ‘theatre first-timers,’ toddlers and little ones alike.

‘Mooo’-ve quick and ‘baa’ sure to catch ‘What the Ladybird heard’ in a theatre near you!

You can find tickets and more information here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death Drop

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s 1991, our killer-heels are high, Charles and Diana are celebrating 10 years of wedded bliss (cough, cough) and we’re off to Tuck Island for a dragtastic night to remember!

This is a whodunnit like no other, where guests quickly begin sashaying away at a sickening pace. Phone lines are cut, roads are blocked while a dramatic storm rages, we’re soon left wondering who’ll be next to get the chop.

Having never met their hostess before, personalities soon begin to clash as dark secrets are revealed in all their camp, chaotic glory. There’s a killer on the loose and our delectable diners will need to work together to figure out just who it is bumping them off before there’s no one left to tell their raucous tale!

The extravagant soiree is hosted by the mysterious Lady Von Fistenburg (Vinegar Strokes), but nobody knows who she is nor why they’ve been invited. First guest is Morgan Pierce, the sharp-tongued, no-nonsense editor of World of the News played brilliantly by Karen from finance. Next to arrive is thrusting, testosterone fuelled producer Phil Maker delivered superbly by Georgina Frost.

Ra’jah O’Hara makes a strong theatrical debut as weather girl Summer Raines, while Richard Energy is hilariously convincing as Tory old boy Rich Whiteman. Last to arrive is faded pop star Shazza, played perfectly by Willam, an American one hit wonder who’ll happily burst into song at the teeny tiniest opportunity.

Completing the cast is the wonderful Holly Stars, playing the Bottomely triplets, Blue, Brie and Spread, event caterers who are more Fray Bentos than Foie Gras. Also the writer of the piece, she is an absolute joy to watch & threatens to steal every scene with her dead-pan delivery and physical comedy.

There are deliciously camp musical numbers, more witty one liners than you could shake a contour stick at, groan inducing toilet humour, perfectly timed theatrical thunderclaps plus a whole lot of silly, and the audience eat it up!

Act 1 flies by, as each guest is introduced, while the audience roar their approval. It’s swift pace giving you gag after gag while the action keeps you guessing. Act 2 loses a little momentum at times and would benefit from a little trimming to ensure it feels as punchy as Act 1.

The strong cast deliver some superb performances, with each individual demonstrating clearly what talented entertainers they are. While it’s totally farcical it’s also very clever and feels like a quality production, kudos to costume designer Isobel Pellow and wig designer Florencia Melone who have done an exceptional job.

Fun is absolutely the order of the day in this raucous romp that’s as camp as it is colourful. The dead have a hilarious habit of rising again while the witty wordplay will have you absolutely roaring with laughter.

Death Drop delivers exactly what theatre audiences are looking for right night, a great night of escapism, guaranteed laughter and a gorgeous feeling of shared experience.

Fierce, farcical and a whole lot of fabulous!

Catch Death Drop at The Lowry until Saturday 16th October, tickets available here.

Grease

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“If you’re having fun then you’re Number one!”  proclaims a certain Mr. Peter Andre as Vince Fontaine to a packed out Manchester Opera House – and boy he wasn’t wrong!

This Tuesday evening Quay Street was buzzing with excitement and that wasn’t just because it had actually managed to stop raining for an hour, but probably to do with the fact that yes it’s still an absolute treat to have live theatre return to the heart of the city. Amongst the many excitable attendees queuing to take their seats were multiple sets of Manchester’s own Pink Ladies, whom will have waited patiently for over a year to see this latest production.

Although now synonymous with the Travolta/Newton-John illustrious partnership, it’s easy to forget Grease the movie actually succeeded the theatrical production’s New York debut by six years. However, the story of the Pink Ladies and the Burger Palace Boys (the original T-Birds) and their subsequent trials and tribulations as they make the painstaking journey from adolescence to adulthood, still lies at the heart of this cult classic.

Nikolai Foster’s production, originally planned for 2020, but halted due to the Covid pandemic, clearly pays homage to the production’s original predecessors. Foster does a superb job at bringing together all the elements to make this a great comeback for the latest UK touring production.

The production is a visual delight, the characters look every bit the part; the jeans, the jackets and the ‘Grease-y’ hair styles are out in full force. All of which is smoothly complimented by Richmond’s clever and versatile set design, which centres around a 1950’s school gym, manoeuvring and evolving throughout, becoming the school hall, canteen, the local diner, the girls’ bedroom etc. accordingly.

Equally, it’s pure joy to watch Arlene Phillips’ Choreography, which again brilliantly honours the original era, but also packs a little extra punch with some modern elements sprinkled in, providing us with some stand-out ‘WOW’ ensemble moments, including the dance break of both ‘Greased Lightning and ‘We Go Together.

Musically the production was faultless; beautifully arranged by Travis and directed by Glover to get the best out of both the band and the vocal harmonies. It’s easy to forget amongst the classic sing-along smash-hits that there are some delightfully stunning little melodies gifted within the score. Doody’s (Alex Christian) rendition of ‘Those Magic Changes’ produced a beautifully sweet moment, sensitively crafted and wonderfully performed.

Leading the cast, Dan Partridge excellently personifies Danny Zuko with the poise and self-assurance needed, together with Ellie Kingdon (alternate Sandy) whom whilst making her professional debut on this production, stepped in as Sandy for tonight’s performance with hours to spare as part of a couple of last minute cast changes, simultaneously managing to deliver one of the most powerful Hopelessly Devoted To Yous I have ever witnessed, fully deserving the rapturous applause she received at the end of the number.

The cast as a whole are bright, exuberant and energetic, they constantly drive the show forward with confidence and charisma, most certainly breathing fresh life into this old classic. It is utterly refreshing watching this dynamic and vibrant cast doing their thing! Whom, apart from Andre, who did in fact deliver a rather good all-round charming performance once he came down from his raised DJ booth and onto the stage in Act 2, mainly consists of a relatively unknown, fresh, young group of thriving triple threat musical theatre actors.

Although special mention has to go to the ‘scene-stealing’ Jan and Roger (played by Byrne and Barnett respectively), both of which embody these two hilariously-sweet characters so wonderfully.

At times this production veers slightly away from the recognisable ground that die-hard Grease fanatics would be expecting, with a few chop and changes along the way and the inclusion of some lesser known musical numbers. However at the centre of this production remains the same familiar, loveable, funny, warming story of the Rydell High class of 1959.

Forget your Pumpkin Spiced Lattes…this is certainly not only the one that you want, but the one that you need to lift your spirits and give you that warm fuzzy feeling this Autumn.

Grease runs at the Opera House Manchester until 23rd October tickets available here.

The Osmonds : A New Musical | Casting Announced

The five actors who will be playing Osmond brothers in the world premiere of THE OSMONDS: A New Musical have been announced.

Ryan Anderson as Merrill Osmond, Jamie Chatterton as Alan Osmond, Alex Lodge as Jay Osmond, Danny Nattrass as Wayne Osmond and Joseph Peacock as Donny Osmond will lead the UK &  Ireland Tour which begins at Leicester’s Curve on 3 February 2022 and will arrive at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on Tuesday 9th until Saturday 13th August 2022.

THE OSMONDS: A New Musical with story by Jay Osmond tells the true story of the five brothers from Utah who were pushed into the spotlight as children and went on to create smash hits, decade after decade.  From their star residency on The Andy Williams Show from 1962 to 1969, to pop stars and ‘Osmondmania’ from 1971 to 1975, to the arrival of The Donny & Marie Show, a popular variety TV show, from 1976 to 1979, The Osmonds lived a remarkable life recording chart-topping albums, selling out vast arena concerts and making record-breaking TV shows – until one bad decision cost them everything. 

The musical features a list of 1970s anthems, including One Bad Apple, Down by the Lazy River, Crazy Horses, Let Me In, Love Me for a Reason, (We’re) Having a Party, Puppy LoveLong Haired Lover From LiverpoolPaper Roses and many more. 

Website:  TheOsmondsMusical.co.uk 

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/theosmondsmusical/

Twitter:  @OsmondsMusical 

Instagram:  Theosmondsmusical                   

Rock of Ages

Reviewed by Nicky Jones

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Bringing the audience straight back to 1987, Rock of Ages opens with a guitar solo which had the audience whooping, cheering and clapping from the very beginning!

This riotous rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza is back entertaining audiences of Manchester once again, featuring all your favourite 80s rock hits including Don’t Stop Believing (Journey), We Built This City (Starship) and Hit Me With Your Best Shot (Pat Benatar).

The show is put together in true jukebox style, with incredible vocals coming from both the leads and the ensemble.

The plot of Rock of Ages is a classic love story – a small-town girl Sherrie (Rhiannon Chesterman) has moved to the big city to achieve her dreams of being a Hollywood actress.

She meets wannabe rock star Drew (Luke Walsh) and they clearly have chemistry right from the start, however throughout the show the couple face challenges which prevent them being together. These include friend-zoning, following their dreams, love-rival rock stars like Stacee Jaxx (Kevin Clifton), who focuses his interests on making his ego bigger and doesn’t care who he hurts along the way – much to the disappointment of Sherrie – and two German property developers wanting to take away their hotspot venue and the place that’s given them a chance; The Bourbon Room.


Throughout the show, humour was embedded into both the writing and the performances. Lonny (Joe Gash) interacts with the audience with tongue and cheek jokes – even picking on an audience member and repeatedly returning to her as the subject of his jokes. All of his lines were delivered with endless amounts of energy and brought so much joy to the auditorium. This was a real highlight of the show. He had impeccable comedic timing and had everyone belly laughing after each delivered line. This is a really fun side to the script that really keeps the show moving, especially as the show doesn’t have a strong narrative. However, this doesn’t matter as the cast totally rock the stage without a strong plot – which is what the audiences are really there to see!


A stand out scene was Regina (Rhiannon Chesterman) and Franz (Andrew Carthy)’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot – it’s outrageous, camp and just a scream – it’ll keep you laughing right until the end of the show!


The staging and production totally make you feel like you’re back in the 1980s at a rock gig – the lighting is bright, retro amplifiers are all over back wall and the live band are centre stage.

The night was tied up with an audience favourite ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, which had everybody up dancing and clapping with huge smiles back on their faces.

Kevin Clifton gave a touching speech after the final few notes – thanking everybody for supporting live theatre once again.

Overall, this show is a complete team effort from the cast. There isn’t one or two stand out leads, but instead the whole cast continually bring each scene to life.

It’s big, it’s bold and it’s been entertaining audiences for years! It’s a fantastic night out of nostalgia – don’t miss it whilst it’s back in Manchester.


Rock of Ages is at the Opera House until Saturday 9th October 2021 tickets available here.

Going The Distance

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Written by Henry Filloux-Bennett and Yasmeen Khan, digital production Going The Distance, directed by Felicity Montagu is a touching and often hilarious look at the plight of local theatres during the pandemic.

March 2020 saw theatres across the UK forced to close their doors, with no real promise of reopening in sight, the fight for survival well and truly began.

Going The Distance introduces us the players of Matchborough Community Theatre, desperate to survive and on an incredibly limited budget a decision is made to create their very own version of the Wizard of Oz; offering opportunities for local residents to get involved and come together to create something magical, which will in turn secure the future of the much-loved theatre.

Well, that’s the theory, in practice complex relationships, mismatched ideas and a wannabe diva who is more Hollyoaks than Hollywood provide a recipe for a hilariously bumpy ride. Add to this a genuine warmth and poignancy as the impact of the pandemic is seen through various character’s eyes and this heart-warming piece begins to feel much deeper than at first you may have anticipated.

Head of Marketing Rae is portrayed brilliantly by Sarah Hadland, her eye-rolling frustration at the less tech savvy members of the team clear for all to see. Penny Ryder delivers a touching performance as Maggie, demonstrating perfectly how a theatre is much more than just bricks and mortar. Her monologue towards the end of the piece beautifully reminding us of the importance of local theatres not just as performance spaces but as a place at the very heart of the community; this opportunity for community creativity is wonderfully displayed via Gail’s journey, delivered perfectly by Emma McDonald, complimented beautifully by Merch Husey’s sensitive Kem.

Bickering former couple Frank and Vic, (Matthew Kelly and Shobna Gulati) add a familiar reality to the piece while Nicole Evans as Billie is an all too recognisable character for anyone who has ever been involved in a community project, brilliantly written, and fantastically delivered.

Going The Distance is a cleverly crafted reflection on the past 18 months and the far-reaching effects of the pandemic. It’s wittily told while importantly the laughs don’t detract from its thought-provoking poignancy. At around 75 mins straight through Going the Distance is a real love letter to local theatres and the individual characters who make them what they are, a place for all to feel entertained, involved and uplifted.

You can watch Going the Distance online from Monday 4th October until Sunday 17th October, tickets available here.

The Wiz – Full casting revealed

Hope Mill Theatre, Ameena Hamid Productions & Chuchu Nwagu Productions today announces the cast for a radical new version of the award-winning Broadway musical The Wiz, which will be this year’s festive offering.

Directed by Matthew Xia (‘Into the Woods’, Royal Exchange), The Wiz is a joyous retelling of L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s novel ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ reflecting contemporary African-American culture. Its 1975 Broadway premiere production won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Matthew Xia said: “The Wiz is approaching its 50th anniversary, it now exists within the canon of mainstream musicals and it’s due time for some bold reinvention. Originally a funk and soul-based analogy for the African-American experience, in 2021 Manchester we’re offering a contemporary take
on the discovery of self-determination and Black joy with this celebration of Black culture across the
African diaspora.”

The cast is made up of Cherelle Wiliams is Dorothy; Tarik Frimpong, Scarecrow; Llewellyn Graham, Tin Man; Jonathan Andre, Lion; Cameron Bernard Jones, The Wiz; Anelisa Lamola, Addaperle; Bree Smith,
Aunt Em & Glinda; Kofi Dennis, Lord High; Ashh Blackwood, Evillene. Ensemble: Andile Mabhena,
Shayna McPherson, Dylan Gordon-Jones, Samantha Shuma, Marisha Morgan.

The show is produced by Hope Mill Theatre, Ameena Hamid Productions & Chuchu Nwagu Productions.
Creative team: Director Matthew Xia; Musical Supervisor and Orchestrations Sean Green; Musical
Director Ehsaan Shivarani; Choreographer Leah Hill; Design Simon Kenny; Associate Costume Design
Maybelle Laye; Lighting Design Simisola Majekodunmi; Sound Design Tony Gayle; Casting Director
Ryan Carter; Casting Mentor Anne Vosser.

Musical Supervisor Sean Green has created new orchestrations. “In thinking about how much the music is loved, I had the thought What if the music was a love letter to black music? I started hearing all sorts of music within the DNA of the score. This exploration has allowed me to incorporate various genres from across the African Diaspora in the new orchestrations which, alongside the funk and soul in the original, really adds depth and colour to the world that we’re creating with this production.”

The Wiz will run from Wednesday 24 November 2021 to Sunday 16 January 2022 tickets are available here.

Love n Stuff

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

‘…Thought your home was India?’ ‘No, it’s wherever you are.

Tanika Gupta hits the sweet spot and gets the right blend of heart-filled sentiment and outlandish laugh-out-loud humour to make ‘Love n stuff’ a warm and uplifting way to re-open the Coliseum after so long.

Love n Stuff which first premiered at Theatre Royal Stratford East in London in 2013, centres around the marriage of Bindi and Mansoor, played by Komal Amin and Maanuv Thiara respectively.

“Beef with the missus?” “No she doesn’t eat beef. She’s Hindu.” Its a story of marriage; the good, the bad and the everything in between. A story of the things that divide us and the things that unite us, but ultimately a story of (yep you guessed it) ‘love!’

As we take our seats waiting for the performance to start, we find ourselves inside a departure lounge at Heathrow Airport, the irony and nostalgia of which isn’t lost on us as we wait patiently after the last 18 months of travel restrictions, for a holiday… Oh and for the show to start!

Mansoor is waiting for his ‘delayed’ one-way flight to India, whilst his wife (and seemingly their entire neighbourhood) have other plans.

In-between the ‘Love’ there certainly is A LOT of other ‘Stuff’ going on. Amin and Thiara mutli-roleplay the entire show (13+ characters) themselves. It is indeed no mean feat that they are on stage and hold the audience’s attention for the entire 1 hour and 20 minutes. Their multi-roleplaying is of exceptional standard and range; from an over zealous duty-free assistant, to an erotic-obsessed temple guide. There is no limit as Amin cross-genders with the embodiment of the young South-Londoner ‘Baggy’ with panache. Both Amin and Thiara really do flourish in their portrayals of such a vast array of characters, whilst at the same time showcasing their ability to switch back and forth between each one, using mainly just their physicality and voice, with pin-point precision and great efficacy.

Although with so much going on it occasionally may feel a little challenging to connect emotionally with the piece, Buttoo’s direction ensures that whilst chaos ensues, its organised. Sibai’s slick, smart and simple, yet versatile set, allows the storytelling to unravel smoothly, equally aided by Sayeed and McCready’s culture-rich music and Taylor’s precise lighting design, the scenes are established and evolve quickly and effectively.

It’s hard to believe ‘Love n Stuff’ is the Coliseum’s first in-house produced show since February 2020. A joyful and poignant way to burst open the much loved doors of the Coliseum and the hearts of it’s audience, which on a side note, felt more diverse then ever. Kudos to the Coliseum for their continuous hard work engaging and connecting with different parts of it’s identity, culture and the outer community.

This Autumn, for a laugh-out-loud, heart warming theatrical experience, all you need is LOVE (n Stuff).

‘Love n Stuff’ runs at Oldham Coliseum until Saturday 2nd of October – here.

Love n Stuff also visits:

Watford Palace Theatre – Tuesday 5th – Saturday 9th October 2021 here.

Sheffield Crucible Studio- Wednesday 13th- Saturday 16th October here.

Glee & Me

Reviewed by Alison Ruck

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Oh, how wonderful it is to be back at The Royal Exchange Theatre, and what better timing than to be back on their 45th birthday! And what a way to celebrate with the world premiere of Glee & Me.

Let’s dive straight into the deep stuff – the eternal question…what is the meaning of life? A question I’m sure we’ve all pondered at some point in our lives… but the thought of it leads to some sort of existential dread. Well, that question is one that Lola seeks to find the answer to, after she gets the horrific news that she is terminally ill. So, she sets herself a promise to do two things: discover the meaning of life – and have all the sex!

Glee & Me is written by Stuart Slade and won The Bruntwood prize for playwriting in 2019. It tells the story of a sharp-witted, sixteen-year-old Lola, who is diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. Despite the way the title reads, it’s not at all a play filled with ‘glee’, on the contrary as glee stands for the shortened version of the particular brain tumour Lola is battling against, glioblastoma multiforme.

The one-woman play is as equally heart breaking as it is quick witted and humorous. Liv Hill as Lola is absolutely sensational. At no point did I believe I was watching an actress on stage: I was there with Lola, listening intently as she tells us her story. Raw, beautiful and poignant.

Slade’s story is a sad one, but its also one of love, hope and gratitude. There are some beautifully written lines, of an almost poetic nature, leaving you to ponder your own life and the love within it.  Contrasted with the sharp-witted character he has created, the humorous elements not only add light to what is a dark topic but draws you into Lola’s story even more, helping you relate to her relationships, her youthful nature and her troubles.

There is no better space for this production than The Royal Exchange, as the in-the round environment of the theatre only added to the conversational dimensions of the play. The stage and lighting design, by Anna Yates and Jess Bernberg, were carefully considered not only for the space but for the desolate moments with the play to draw you back to the painful reality that Lola was experiencing. The subtle lighting changes revealed and extenuated the pain and difficulties that Lola faced, becoming more frequent throughout the play and climaxing to a peaceful and enriching ending.

Yet even in these darkest moments of the play, you’re quickly snapped out of them back to the hilarious one liners and relatable topics that had the audience thoroughly amused. It’s an ode to a great writer and a great actress for a play such as this (and a relatively short 1 hour 25 minutes straight through), to make you both laugh out loud and then cry within minutes.

The heart wrenchingly beautiful play is one that needs to be experienced by audiences, and I hope and expect to see this production do great things in the future. Glee & Me is a reminder to us all to find joy even in the darkest of times, something which we have all strived for in the last year or so. As Lola says, “You’ve got to laugh, or it’ll destroy you”.

Glee & Me is on at The Royal Exchange until Saturday 30th October tickets available here.

Bat Out Of Hell

Reviewed by Michelle Ewen

Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The ‘Bat’ is back in town! Four long years since its world premiere at the Opera House Manchester in 2017, Bat Out of Hell – the award-winning hit musical – has finally come home to Quay Street. Announcing its return with a victorious lap of roaring motorcycles, smoking tyres, gasoline fumes and lashings of leather, this is a production you could see, hear and taste before anyone had even set foot on stage!  

A frenetic fusion of Peter Pan meets Mad Max, Jim Steinman originally conceived Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell as a musical. It took four decades for that vision to be fulfilled – and it was worth the wait.

Enter Strat (Glenn Adamson), the charismatic leader of The Lost – a collective of rock n’ roll-loving misfits who, following a DNA-freezing earthquake, are condemned to be forever 18. Living in a network of tunnels beneath Obsidian (formerly known as Manhattan), The Lost are the scourge of city leader Falco (Rob Fowler), whose disaffected daughter Raven (Martha Kirby) and hilariously disenchanted wife Sloane (Sharon Sexton) reside with him in Falco Towers.

When Raven discovers a discarded T-shirt following The Lost’s latest protest in Falco Square, she locks eyes with its owner – Strat – setting the two on a romantic collision course that bristles with high-octane energy. Raven is as determined to become one of The Lost as her parents are to stop her, but with their own relationship in dire need of a fuel injection, can Falco and Sloane get on the same page when it comes to their daughter’s future?

Scored with nearly 20 Meatloaf and Jim Steinman classics, this rambunctious rock opera comes screaming out of the gates with ‘All Revved Up with No Place to Go/Wasted Youth’. Act One continues to pack a punch with a sizzling ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ – memorably staged atop of a convertible car – and an achingly tender rendition of ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’ by out-of-step lovebirds Zahara (Joelle Moses) and Jagwire (James Chisholm). 

By contrast, Act Two starts its engine in comparative idle – a flurry of duets slowing the pace right down. Once again, Fowler and Sexton – reprising their original roles – stand out with ‘What Part of My Body Hurts the Most’, whilst Tink (Killian Thomas Lefevre) infuses ‘Not Allowed to Love’ with palpable yearning. When ‘Dead Ringer for Love’ kicks in, the production bursts back into life; then it’s a home run of stone-cold classics right to the final curtain.

This is one sexy, fleshy, no-holds-barred production with flashes of pink thong, straddled laps galore and blood-smeared abs all making an appearance on stage. Not for the faint-hearted, Jay Scheib’s superb direction errs towards comedy rather than grotesque – lending a light-hearted feel to the whole production.

There was so much to love about the cast in Version 1.0 of this musical, but rest assured, those who are returning for Version 2.0 can find joy in the performances of the latest additions to the billing. 

Glenn Adamson’s Strat is fresh and enchanting, embodying the ‘forever young’ aesthetic of The Lost, whilst Martha Kirby’s Raven is his perfect ‘Wendy’ – a wistful romantic on the cusp of love; however, the standout performance is BOOH veteran Sharon Sexton as Sloane, who goes for every laugh and smashes every vocal.  

Jon Bausor understood the assignment – bringing us a set and costume design that hits every dystopian note. Falco Towers, suspended above ‘The Deep End’ and revealed to us via roaming videocam, is a particular triumph. It feels like a truly innovative use of space, as throbbing motorcycles, a vintage car and a sofa take it in turns to appear and disappear stage left and right.

Xena Gusthart’s clever choreography gives every member of the ensemble the opportunity to shine – especially during the riot scenes and the ‘push me-pull me’ love ballads.  

Of course, this production is all about Steinman’s music. Under the supervision of Michael Reed, the band are an absolute knockout – bringing us home with a final surprise number dedicated to the hitmaker who passed in April this year. Having bounced around in their seats and sung their hearts out, the audience is finally unleashed to give a roaring ovation. 

For this reviewer, Bat Out of Hell continues to be the benchmark by which all musicals are measured… For Crying Out Loud, You Know I Love You.  

Bat Out of Hell is on at the Opera House until Saturday, 2 October. Find out more and purchase tickets here.