East Is East


Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Set in Salford in the 1970’s, East Is East is a powerfully sharp and deeply moving story of an Anglo-Pakistani family struggling to find their place not only in society but also within their own four walls.

Patriarch George (Kulvinder Ghir) rules his family with an iron fist, emotional torment and physical threats are his go to methods for gaining respect from his wife and his frustrated children who are desperate to make their own way in the confused world they’re struggling to make sense of.


Mother Ella (Jane Hazlegrove) loves them fiercely and longs for her husband to love their children for who they are and allow them to explore the opportunities their Western lifestyle allows. The family is fractious and fraught as siblings squabble desperate for release from the pressure of their fathers imposed conformity.

Kulvinder Ghir is outstanding as George, warm and loveable one moment, seething with explosive anger the next. He takes George to breaking point with sensitivity and conviction. Ultimately a frightened man, lashing out at those he loves most due to his pride, his fears and his need for control.


Jane Hazelgrove impresses as ballsy mum Ella, with a heart full of love for her children and a genuine loyalty towards husband George, her portrayal is believable and honest. The scenes between Ella and Auntie Annie (Claire Hackett) are playful and fun, putting the world to rights over a steaming hot brew being the order of the day.

Each of the children are well cast and deliver their differing roles convincingly, torn between love for their family and their desperation for their own identities they bicker and squabble yet love each other fiercely. This is an enormously talented ensemble cast each and every individual excels with special mention to Shila Iqbal as foul mouthed Meenah who shines as the sassy sole female of the siblings.


Director Ben Occhipinti guides his cast beautifully ensuring Ayub Khan Din’s sharp script is delivered with maximum impact and perfect pace. The laughs which come thick and fast are perfectly interjected with dramatic action which stops you in your tracks, witty dialogue is interrupted by heart-breakingly poignant moments which silence and shock.

The production superbly explores themes of culture, identity, family and acceptance. It may be set in the 70’s but these themes still resonate strongly today. In our modern world with there’s often thinly veiled pretences at multiculturalism East Is East feels relevant, current and is an important story to tell. The laughs plentiful, are balanced beautifully with ‘hold your breath’ heart stopping moments of raw emotion in this slick and superbly delivered production. Sharp, honest and boldly brilliant.

On at the Octagon theatre until Saturday 14th April tickets available here.

Fat Friends the Musical

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s clear from the moment the curtain raises revealing a row of lycra clad bottoms that writer Kay Mellor’s intention is to deliver belly laughs and plenty of them.

Based loosely on Mellor’s hugely successful TV series which ran from 2000-2005 the show tells the story of lovable Leeds lass Kelly (Jodie Prenger) who despite being a size 20 buys a size 16 wedding dress which she WILL slim into by the time she walks up the aisle to marry nice but dim fiancé Kevin (Andrew Flintoff). An unexpected moment on live TV leaves Kelly committed to a challenge in which shady slimming guru Julia Fleshman (Natasha Hamilton) guarantees the wedding of her dreams if she completes her weight loss challenge whatever the consequences.

Prenger is perfectly cast as lead Kelly, incredibly likeable and entirely believable she brings great warmth and humour to the role portraying the perfect Yorkshire lass who just wants her happy ending. Her comedic timing is impeccable, her voice rich and pure as she puts her heart and soul into Kelly, ensuring the audience fall in love completely with this loveable lass.

Andrew Flintoff’s stage debut is impressive, receiving a roar of approval upon taking the stage he rises to the occasion as hapless Kevin desperate for fiancé Kelly to realise he loves her just the way she is.

Composer Nick Lloyd Webber’s score is uplifting and light, gelling perfectly with Mellor’s witty lyrics and offering some really memorable moments in the show, the ode to Chocolate being a particular stand out moment leaving many an audience member wishing they’d worn their waterproof mascara as tears of laughter roll down smiling faces.

Running alongside the central storyline are several other subplots which add to the depth of the piece and offer their own laugh out loud as well as tender moments too. Natalie Anderson and Jonathan Halliwell charm the audience entirely as Lauren and Paul with their ‘will they won’t they’ dilemma, Lauren being a Jewish Zumba instructor/wedding dress owner and salsa king Paul, a Vicar who can swivel his hips with more gusto than Ricky Martin.

The script is entirely relatable for anyone who has ever been on a diet (and let’s face it that pretty much covers us all). The scenes at the slimming class bring nods of familiarity and whispers of recognition from the audience as weigh-in cards are presented and slimmers de-robe before stepping onto the scales of doom.

The ensemble cast work together wonderfully creating a warm and family like atmosphere. It’s clear from the writing that Kay Mellor has an enormous amount of love for these characters, they are rich and relatable, the dialogue sharp and incredibly witty. Moving from ‘you need to be slim to be happy’ to ‘love who you are’ the message is predictable but nonetheless hugely enjoyable and entirely heart-warming.

Enormously entertaining, chock-full of laughs yet touching and tender, Fat Friends the Musical is a full-fat feast of tip-top fun!

On at the Opera House until Saturday 24th March tickets available here.

Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

From the moment the curtain rises on Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella, you could be forgiven for thinking you were at the cinema and not at the ballet: for this is the level of detail that Bourne has pains-takingly crafted into this beautiful, dark fairy-tale that recrates the horror of a blitz battered Britain.

The Bother’s Grimm classic is given the Bourne treatment as we are transported to London, 1940: Cinderella, is still the down-trodden, skivvy to her wicked step-mother Sybil, and her loathsome step-children whilst also caring for her invalid war-hero father, Robert. However a chance meeting with Harry, an RAF pilot, whilst a welcome intervention from Cinderella’s guardian Angel, sees Cinderella off to the ball.

With all the perils that exists in war-time London: from rabid gangs, air-raids and not to mention you’re own step-family trying to murder you, will Harry and Cinderella share their happy ever after?

This was my first experience of the ballet and I absolutely loved it. Bourne has taken a tale we’re all enormously familiar with and made it his own: filled with a great deal of warmth, humour and a very real sense of urgency and peril, Cinderella is outstanding. Ashley Shaw is perfectly cast as Cinderella: we see her transform from shy, meek girl, to a beautiful strong woman, whilst she maintains a sense of resilience that runs through her performance from start to finish. One scene involving her dancing with both a mannequin and Harry as a mannequin dummy is full of humour and passion, and if any one scene were to encapsulate this show then this would be it.

Andrew Monaghan is solid as the handsome pilot Harry: fully committed in his love for Cinderella and the feeling of desperation of having lost her. Anjali Mehra is fantastic as Sybil, the evil step-mother: suitably wicked whilst strangely alluring, clad in black throughout she certainly has fun with the role. However for me, the production is anchored by Paris Fitzpatrick who is not only Cinderella’s ‘fairy Godmother’ but also an angel of death looming over proceedings: imagine the grim-reaper only with some splendid dance moves and better threads! You’re never quite sure from his appearance if it will signify pain or pleasure.

The show would certainly warrant a second viewing as there so much going on, perfectly exemplified during The Café de Paris section, a drunken dance towards the end of the scene. In addition, there are several blink and you’ll miss them comic interludes from the salvation army and a child being admonished by his mum.

This is almost more a love letter to cinema than a ballet, with Bourne paying homage to classic films of the 1940’s, however undoubtedly there is the influence of modern day directors like Tim Burton and Guillermo del Toro. This is fully apparent in the fabulous set and costume design by Lez Brotherston: so vivid and full of life: on one hand there is the cold great nightmare that is Cinderella’s life in stark contrast to the extravagance and lavish of the ball at the Café de Paris.

Despite its 1940’s setting this production has a very modern feel to it: with some strong female characters throughout from Cinderella herself, to fighting military women, there is also a same sex relationship between a soldier and step-brother which would have of course been illegal back then.

Cinderella has something for everyone: from ballet aficionados to ballet virgins like myself you cannot help but bowled over by the fantastic choreography and the rich engaging timeless story telling.

Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella is on at the Lowry until Saturday 17th March tickets available here.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Kerry E 1

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

It has to be said I was approaching The Importance of Being Earnest with some degree of in trepidation: my only other encounter with the play occurred some 25 years previous with a rather tepid class reading by 9J at St Gregory’s Roman Catholic High School: It would be fair to say that it was a lack-lustre affair, and my Algernon Moncrieff was poor by anyone standards. To be told by our English teacher that this was a ‘comedy’ was an insult – we didn’t laugh once.

I’m happy to say Director Alastair Whatley’s take on the Oscar Wilde’s classic lays that ghost firmly to rest: this adaptation is bold, bright and full of life which will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear.

The plot focuses on two-men-about town, Algernon Moncrieff (Thomas Howes) and Jack Worthing (Peter Sandys-Clarke) both have created a fictional double life for themselves which allows them to get out of social occasions on a whim, and visit the country/city whenever they fancy. However both men’s double-lives land them in hot-water as affections of two ladies come into play, Miss Gwendolen Fairfax (Kerry Ellis) and Cecily Cardew (Louise Coulthard), have both fallen for Earnest Worthing, the fictional alter ego/brother created by Jack.

Importance 5

Howes is on great form playing the devilishly mischievous Moncrieff, lapping it up as he gets to eat lot of muffins and use the stage as his own sofa: the dream job! He is the perfect foil for Sandys-Clarke who’s up-tight Jack, attempts to keep his dignity whilst his world crashes in around him.

Coulthard is excellent in the role of exceedingly clever if slightly unhinged Cecily, Coulthard plays the part with comedic perfection. West End and Broadway favourite Kerry Ellis is equally as good in the somewhat less ‘showy’ role of Gwendolen, (her first straight play in this her 20th year in the business). There is more than a hint of Blackadder’s Queenie in both performances which is high praise indeed. A scene between the two where a slice of cake, is used as a weapon is an absolute treat and is surely the most passive-aggressive afternoon tea I’ve ever seen.

Kerry E 3

Gwen Taylor puts a unique spin on the arrogant, seemingly omnipotent but ignorant Lady Bracknell giving the character a hint of warmth and humanity, which makes some of her more unique lines of dialogue all the more absurd.

The Costumes and set design by Gabriella Slade are full bright colours which really stand out, that coupled with the gusto of the performances give the production a burst of energy.

Wilde’s writing certainly has stood the test of time, with a play about social etiquettes and living a double life who knows what he would make of today’s social media obsessed world.

With a great deal of relevance today this is a fun entertaining night out, that will leave you with a smile on your face and the sudden urge to go get a muffin! Suitably spiffing!

The Importance of Being Earnest is on at the Manchester Opera House till the 17th March tickets available here.


The Sound of Music

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Manchester’s Palace Theatre well and truly came to life last night as the audience leapt to their feet to give the stars of The Sound of Music, most notably Lucy O’Byrne (Maria) and Megan Llewellyn (Mother Abbess) a well-deserved standing ovation.

Set in Austria in 1938 on the eve of the Anschluss which saw Austria unite with Germany as a country under the Third Reich, the threat of the Nazis is ever presents as we follow the Von Trapp’s from the grandeur of their comfortable beginnings to their daring escape from the Nazis.

Lucy O’Byrne takes on the iconic role made famous by Julie Andrews in the 1965 film with charm and charisma. Gentle and kind but with a steely strong will she faces her fears head on as after being appointed Governess, she gently guides the Von Trapp’s from the limbo of grief after losing their mother to living life to its absolute fullest, all through the medium of song, well this is a musical after all!

O’Byrne’s vocals are faultless, her voice smooth and soothing with beautiful clarity. Her interactions with her fellow cast members particularly the seven Von Trapp children, heart-warming and joyful. She has genuine warmth and succeeds entirely in making the role her own. Instantly likeable she captivates entirely.

The Von Trapp children played by three sets of children throughout the tour are the marching machines the Captain has trained who burst with energy and enthusiasm the minute Maria plays the first chord of Do-Re-Mi. They shine on stage and are a delight to watch. Special mention goes to Katie Shearman who portrays eldest daughter Liesl with real emotion, her duet with Rolf (Jordan Oliver) a real highlight.

Neil McDermott is an aloof and distant Captain Von Trapp who transforms into a loving and generous father, it is a somewhat instant transformation that feels a little forced and awkward, he seems much more comfortable however in Act II and demonstrates real and heart-felt emotion towards his children, his new wife and his beloved Austria.

A real highlight are the sisters of the Abbey, proving that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s melodic score remains as timeless as ever. Their ensemble performances are exquisite with the cherry on the cake being the breathtakingly beautiful performance from Megan Llewellyn who receives one of the biggest cheers of the night at the curtain call. The power and beauty in her voice is awe-inspiring.

From stunning costumes to Gary McCann’s intricate and sweeping set this is a lavish and hugely entertaining production. Featuring classic after classic such as the delightful My Favourite Things, the charming The Lonely Goatherd and the inspiring Climb Ev’ryMountain, The Sound of Music has it all. There are a few numbers which will be unfamiliar to many, mostly those sung by Elsa Schraeder (Kara Lane) and Max Detweiler (Howard Samuels) cut unfortunately from the film but making a very welcome return to this production and adding depth to the characters. Lane and Samuels make for a great duo, bouncing of each other wonderfully in each of their scenes together.

Visually beautiful and packed with powerful performances, The Sound of Music does not disappoint. This heart-warming tale with an important message at its core will entertain both young and old alike, ensuring this classic will easily remain an audience favourite for many, many more years to come. You’ll leave the theatre with a smile on your face and a warmth in your heart.

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 17th March tickets available here.

Circle Mirror Transformation

Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Opening Night rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Bijan Sheibani is at the helm of a triumph as Circle Mirror Transformation, Annie Baker’s award-winning play, gets its Northern Premiere on HOME’s stage. Sheibani’s sensitive direction presents audiences with a simple yet thought provoking production, played out by a stellar cast including seasoned performers Amelia Bullmore and Con O’ Neill.

Set in Vermont, New England it focuses on a creative adult acting class where five unlikely strangers, from different walks of life, meet at their local community centre. Over six weeks of drama exercises and games their lives become entangled and transformed in the most humorous and moving ways.

Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Bullmore is perfectly cast as the gentle free-spirited drama teacher Marty who has enthusiastically put together the unique group. She is joined by O’ Neill who plays newly divorced Schultz, struggling to come to terms with his marriage breakdown, Sian Clifford as unlikely siren Theresa, Yasmin Paige, self-conscious high school student Lauren, and Anthony Ofoegbu as Marty’s subdued husband, James.

Together the stalwart actors form a tight ensemble where everyone has their moment to shine as they carefully peel through each layer of their characters. There’s a real truth in their performances which engages the audience throughout and, along with Sheibani’s use of Baker’s lengthy pauses, also helps to highlight the believability of the piece. It is a welcome decision to have no interval during the one hour forty-five minute duration of play as it would have broken the fluidity that is so beautiful about the piece.


You can fully understand why Circle Mirror Transformation was voted one of the top 10 plays of 2009 by the New York TimesTime Out, and The New Yorker – it washes over you, making you smile, laugh and feel a sense of connected emotion which leaves you feeling hugely satisfied.

Runs at HOME until Saturday 17th March



Don Giovanni | Opera North

Don Giovanni 01_credit Bill Cooper

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Michelle Ewen

Scandalously entertaining, Don Giovanni is a five-star romp through the ages which left us both wooed and wowed at The Lowry!

Presented by Opera North, Don Giovanni tells the story of a time-travelling lothario who leaves a trail of broken hearts – and even a corpse – in his wake before finally facing retribution.

With the Time’s Up movement empowering victims of sexual harassment and violence, Mozart’s work circa 1787 remains as relevant today as it did in the eighteenth century and, thanks to its stunning staging and raucous puppetry, this production feels thoroughly modern and provocative.

DON GIOVANNI_OPERA NORTH Don Giovanni; William Dazeley, Leporello; John Savournin, Donna Anna; Jennifer Davis, Don Ottavio; Nicholas Watts, Donna Elvira; Elizabeth Atherton, Zerlina Kathryn Rudge, Masetto; Ross McInroy, Co

Mozart presents us with three female leads: Donna Anna (Jennifer Davis), who Don Giovanni molests before killing her father Il Commendatore (James Platt); Donna Elvira (Elizabeth Atherton), who Don Giovanni has previously seduced and promised to marry; and Zerlina (Kathryn Rudge), whom he is intent on bedding on her wedding day to Masetto (Ross McInroy).

Slipping back and forth in time, Don Giovanni manages to stay one step ahead of all three women with the help of his long-suffering servant Leporello; indeed, it is only when Don Giovanni defiantly asks the statue of the murdered Il Commendatore to dine with him that his past transgressions look set to finally catch up with him…

William Dazeley has all the prerequisite charisma and acting chops to carry the title role of Don Giovanni, yet it is his partnering with John Savournin as Leporello that delivers the greatest satisfaction. Fully indulging in Mozart’s brand of nudge-nudge wink-wink bawdy comedy, Dazeley and Savournin are a riot, as well as bona fide masters of gesticulating rudely with their canes.

DON GIOVANNI_OPERA NORTH Don Giovanni; William Dazeley, Leporello; John Savournin, Donna Anna; Jennifer Davis, Don Ottavio; Nicholas Watts, Donna Elvira; Elizabeth Atherton, Zerlina Kathryn Rudge, Masetto; Ross McInroy, Co

The black, lowbrow comedy they indulge in offers the perfect counterbalance to Donna Anna’s palpable grief, which the brilliant Jennifer Davis portrays so believably. Whether she’s being roughly molested, lying prostrate on the floor or flopping in anguish against her ever-patient fiancé Don Ottavio (Nicholas Watts), Davis’ vocals never falter – making this a stunning Opera North debut for the graduate of DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama in Dublin.

As the flirtatious Zerlina, Kathryn Rudge is delicious – simultaneously reassuring her husband-to-be Masetto, while actively encouraging Don Giovanni’s panting advances. Her vocal theatrics during a simulated sex scene had the audience in stitches!

Praise too for James Platt, who lends just the right amount of gravitas to the role of Il Commendatore – making for a sensational last act.

DON GIOVANNI_OPERA NORTH Don Giovanni; William Dazeley, Leporello; John Savournin, Donna Anna; Jennifer Davis, Don Ottavio; Nicholas Watts, Donna Elvira; Elizabeth Atherton, Zerlina Kathryn Rudge, Masetto; Ross McInroy, Co

While the Opera North cast and chorus are to be congratulated on their first-class performances, it is Alessandro Talevi’s direction, Madeleine Boyd’s set and costume design, Matthew Haskins’ lighting and Victoria Newlyn’s choreography that takes the staging to a whole other level.

The device of inserting a Punch and Judy-style stage ‘window’ into the curtain was ingenious – especially when the actors’ lower bodies were replaced with identical miniature puppets. These were, without doubt, some of my very favourite scenes in the whole production.

And what is an opera without music? Hearty congratulations to the Opera North orchestra, which was expertly led by Christoph Altstaedt – breathing new life into the familiar and seducing us with every note.

Don Giovanni has one final performance at The Lowry on Friday 9th March at 7pm with a bookable free pre-show talk at 6pm, tickets available here.