& 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.

Looking Good Dead

Reviewed by Alison Ruck

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

There’s a real appetite for crime dramas currently. From Netflix to the BBC, there’s always something new within this genre to thrill and enthral audiences. ‘Looking Good Dead’ is the crime drama audiences are craving, live on stage.

Peter James is known as WH Smith’s ‘Best Crime Author of all time’; his 2006 novel ‘Looking Good Dead’ reached No2 in the Sunday Times paperback best seller list. It’s clear to see why as you unpick the story.

The story centres around the Bryce family: a typical family from Brighton, with your regular family squabbles, moody teenagers and standard day to day life – but their lives turn from the everyday to the sinister with one phone call. Tom Bryce (Adam Woodyatt) and son Max (Luke Ward-Wilkinson) inadvertently witness a murder after finding a USB stick on a train. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace (Harry Long) steps in to try and crack the case in time to save the family’s lives.

With a star-studded cast including Adam Woodyatt as Tom, best known for playing Ian Beale in ‘Eastenders’, and a recent stint on 2021’s ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’. Adam is joined by fellow soap actress Gaynor Faye as his wife Kellie, who recently starred in The BBC’s ‘The Syndicate’.

The staging is brilliant, with a modern house acting as the main focus where most of the action unfolds. Divided by a sheer cloth, behind the house of the Bryce family lies an ominous warehouse setting complete with steel beams and chains. Completing the set is a movable police office which joins the stage with its own soundtrack music, further adding to that typical BBC crime drama atmosphere of the play.

The first act did take some time to develop into the gripping drama it became, filling the majority of the act with steamily unnecessary scenes and information. However, as the second act opens, we’re immediately thrust into the crime drama etiquettes, audiences know and love.

The second act was filled with twists and turns, the climax of which leaving unfamiliar audiences with a shocking revelation. One thing that is missed from the magic of television and filming within this genre is the use of clever and creeping camera angles that build suspense, unfortunately an element live theatre just cannot provide, leaving some of the more suspenseful moments lacking flair.

The action scenes, which were few and far between consisted of lacklustre punches and tackles which could be further refined and dramatic, however the strength of the plot and its surprise moments carried the play.

The adaptation from novel to stage did miss the mark in some places, with cheesy jokes (which to be fair did produce chuckles from the audience) and often over-descriptive dialogue which weren’t inspiring in a theatrical setting.

Although maybe not as dark and serious as many of the crime dramas around today, ‘Looking Good Dead’ still makes for an enjoyable piece of theatre that can definitely appeal to crime-drama-genre lovers.

You can catch ‘Looking Good Dead’ at The Lowry Theatre in Salford until Saturday 22nd January tickets available here.

The Rocky Horror Show

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

There ain’t no party like a Rocky Horror Show party!

What an absolute feast for the senses this is. The cast, the music, the gags, the costumes, the lighting design, the choreography, the audience……everything was just as it should be – absolutely thrilling!

There is no other show in this world that grabs the audience and takes them on an journey of absolute wackiness and wild escapism like this ones does. 

The plot (loosely) centres around young, introverted couple – Brad, played by the truly delightful Ore Oduba, and Janet, played by the divine Haley Flagerty, who on their way home from a wedding become engaged just moments before their car breaks down. With no help to speak of, the couple take refuge in a nearby castle, where mayhem and sexual adventure awaits them.

The couple are greeted by Riff Raff (Kristian Lavercombe) who welcomes them in his own menacing manner and introduces them to the wild world of Frank N Furter (Stephen Webb) .

Frank is determined to sexually liberate these two young, naive souls on this special night, as he reveals his newest creation “Rocky” and boy does he liberate them indeed.

Lavercombe and Webb show us that it doesn’t matter how much time has passed since this show debuted (nearly 50 years!) or how many people have played these roles, it is possible for these characters to still be as mesmerising and engaging as they have ever been. Webb is simply outstanding – everything about his performance is sensational. He oozes confidence and swagger, and the audience are eating out of his hands from the moment he begins “Sweet Transvestite”. Even during the curtain call you can feel the audience willing him to sing us just one more number.

The audience participation in this show is something that has grown over time and the actors expect it and rise to the bait. Narrator, Philip Franks, is ready and waiting for the heckles and is hilarious in his quick comebacks and gags: the audience love him for it.

It’s obvious that many of the audience have been to the show plenty of times (and they certainly dressed for the occasion) but it’s not just for the veterans. It’s an experience for all adult theatre goers, who have a sense of adventure and aren’t easily offended. Not many shows have the entire audience up on it’s feet within the first fifteen minutes. Who doesn’t want to do the Timewarp on foggy Monday night in Manchester ?

There is, quite FRANKly, no other show in the world quite like this one.

The Rocky Horror Show is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 22nd January tickets available here.

Aladdin

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This year Sale Nomads celebrate their 75th birthday, and they kick off the festivities by delivering a fabulous production of Aladdin directed by Derek Stuart-Cole (his 40th year of Nomad pantomimes). This is panto at its most pure: gender role reversal, a storyline of good vs evil, slapstick comedy, elaborate costumes, audience participation and of course a comedic dame. 

This tale is set in China’s old Peking and follows the journey of Widow Twanky (Mike Sammon) and her sons; Aladdin (Jess Dyer) and Wishee Washee (Sean Botham) as they embark on their quest for wealth in order to free themselves from the evil clutches of Abanaazar (Peter Birch). Aladdin is torn between his love for Sheherezade (Niamh Rushton-Nutt) and his loyalty to his widowed mother.

The casting of Mike Sammon as the dame is a triumph. The audience falls in love with the hilarious dame from the minute she enters the stage. The costume department have excelled themselves and the snappy banter between Twanky and Abanaazar had us in stitches – some jokes in there just for the adults as is expected! And didn’t disappoint. 

There is an array of young talent in this production. The dances are well choreographed and the dancers themselves captured the attention of our mini reviewers, who were up and dancing in the aisle. The chorus and the children all deliver well rehearsed and confident performances. 

Abanaazar’s “henchmen”, Echo and Ditto (Jon Gardner) are an hilarious duo – their constant misunderstanding and comedic timing had us giggling away throughout the show. The two genies bring a sprinkling of magic to the show. 

Eventually, Aladdin finds his fortune in colourful Baghdad and we are treated to a magical carpet ride and a wonderful rendition of Flying without Wings by the talented Jess Dyer.

Aladdin is reunited with his true love and together Dyer and Rushton-Nutt (Sheherezade) deliver an astonishing version of Everything I do, I do for you. These two young women have talent by the bucketload- it’s hard to believe that this is amateur theatre. They are pitch perfect and ooze confidence. 

Sale is so fortunate to have a production of this standard on their doorstep – there is something for everyone in this and Sale Nomads should be congratulated on the standard of this wonderful production. If you haven’t seen it yet, get your tickets ! It’s an absolute must-see to wash away those January blues ! Tickets available for Wednesday 12th – Sunday 16th

School of Rock

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

‘I thought you all were a bunch of little douche bags, but now I know that you’re soul brothers and sisters.

It’s no secret that turning the 2003 comedy cult classic ‘School of Rock’ into a musical had been on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s agenda pretty much ever since film’s inception. However, after making its debut on Broadway in 2015 and having since taken the West End by storm, it seems hard to believe Webber’s School of Rock is only just now embarking on it’s UK tour debut.

Based on the cult film, School of Rock the Musical follows the story of Dewey Finn (Alex Tomkins), a low-life loser who’s just lost his job and been kicked out of his own band. He becomes the ultimate opportunist when he poses as his substitute teacher flatmate, Ned Shneebly (Matthew Rowland) in order to pay his rent. However, teaching fourth-graders at the $50,000 dollar-a-year prestigious Horace Green would appear to be harder than he had hoped, that is until he witnesses their musical talent and forms…. ‘The School of Rock!’

‘Music is what speaks to you and that’s what matters most

A story ultimately about music’s transformative influence and power, particularly on young people; Webber is wise to keep in many of the classic iconic tunes (some a little re-mastered) but still holding their authentic power and affability, whilst complimented by some perfectly punchy and well-conceived new theatrical songs, all helping to aid the plot and character development, such as that of Principle Mullin’s (played wonderfully by Rebecca Lock) powerful solo number ‘Where did the rock go?’. The music is what brings all the elements of Director Laurence Connor’s production together and nothing is more impressive than the big group ensemble numbers, which certainly bring the ‘WOW’ factor. It also has to be mentioned that whilst Webber introduces us to the show via a recorded voice message letting us know that ‘yes the children really are playing their instruments live’, Riley’s ‘Grown Up Band’ doesn’t miss a beat and are the consistent backbone of the show.

Visually, it’s a feast for the eyes too. Louizos’ set effortlessly turns from classroom to rock stage in a matter of seconds and with the help of Katz’s lighting design and Potter’s sound design, which are equally impressive, we feel like we have been transported to a live rock concert!

It’s never a good idea to fixate on one specific actor playing one specific role, but having become so synonymous with the film, sitting down in the auditorium and much to my childhood disappointment, I had to remind myself that no, 52-year-old Hollywood actor Jack Black would not be bouncing up on this Manchester stage some 18 years later to reprise the role of Dewey Finn. That disappointment was however swiftly and skillfully dismantled by the buoyant and hilarious Alex Tomkins (alternate Dewey Finn) who stormed the stage, literally, exuding the most incredible amount of sheer and consistent energy and vivacity for the entirety of the two and a half hour production that I have probably ever seen.

The classroom scenes certainly prove to be the most heart-warming and enjoyable, as indeed the all ‘acting’, ‘singing’, ‘dancing’ and ‘musical instrument playing’ kids are the beating heart of this production. They pepper about the stage with bucket loads of enthusiasm from the off, but truly establish themselves in Act 2 as we see their character’s personal stories develop. As an ensemble they are quite the force and as such it is extremely hard to pick any standouts, but on this occasion it has to be said that Souparnika Nair’s Tomika had the entire auditorium firmly fixated in bewilderment at her breathtaking vocals as she performed ‘Amazing Grace.’ Special kudos must also go to the casting team here who have cast over 40 children alone (to allow for obvious cast rotations).

Webber, Fellows and Slater have masterly created a production that maintains the best of the film’s original warm fuzzy and familiar moments that in turn makes it a nostalgia inducing and an emotionally uplifting evening to all those ex-15 year olds, who like myself, would have grown up watching the film on repeat and known it word for word, whilst simultaneously establishing a current, up-to-date, modern musical, that equally speaks to the youth of today and families alike.

A whole lot more than just Rock n Roll, this is real life affirming stuff…

The perfect ‘January blues’ pick-me-up for the whole family, School of Rock the Musical plays at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until the 15th of January tickets available here.

Goldilocks and The Three Bears

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

St Helens Theatre Royal and Regal Entertainments Ltd have a great reputation for putting on brilliant Pantomimes, and boy do they rise to the challenge this Christmas!

There’s aerial acrobatics, fire jugglers and even some super soakers in this high energy, fantastically funny, festive offering. The stellar cast features several much-loved Theatre Royal regulars as well as Hollyoaks hunk David Tag as The Ringmaster and the wonderful David Phipps-Davis as Dame Gertie.

Regal Entertainments Ltd add a little more meat to the bones of this classic fairytale as Goldilocks (Olivia Sloyan) finds herself at the centre of a fight to save the Three Bears as well as her beloved Big Top from the hands of evil Baron Von Vippemall (Timothy Lucas). With a sprinkling of romance, a dash of peril, a fabulously flamboyant Dame and a delightfully daft Silly Billy (Scott Gallagher), Goldilocks and The Three Bears has all the ingredients for a perfect Panto.

The script is jam-packed with hilarious gags while the opportunity to shout, cheer and join in with the fun begins almost immediately. Scott Gallagher ramps up the humour as the hilarious Silly Billy, this is his third consecutive Christmas appearance at the Theatre Royal and the audience absolutely love him. He engages both adults and children alike while his timely quips about Downing Street parties are ingenious.

Theatre Royal favourite Timothy Lucas most recently seen as hero of the hour Jack, in Jack and The Beanstalk is superb as dastardly villain Baron Von Vippemall. He’s clearly loving every minute of this role; teasing and taunting the audience to brilliant effect. His versatility as an actor providing laugh out loud moments throughout, it’s always a joy to see him perform.

Hunky ringmaster David Tag impresses vocally while Olivia Sloyan shines as Goldilocks, the duo make for a perfect pairing. David Phipps-Davis brings the flamboyance as Dame Gertie with some of the most spectacular costumes and wigs I’ve ever seen while his powerful voice takes the ensemble numbers to the next level.

Nazene Langfield’s choreography is delivered with precision by the cast and Senior Dancers while Regal Entertainments Ltd’s glittering set and sumptuous costumes add to the sparkle of this festive piece.

We don’t see some of the usual songs/sketches associated with Panto however they aren’t missed as tongue twisters and sweet throwing replace them, keeping the pace quick and the exuberance high.

Regal Entertainments Ltd have delivered an absolute Christmas cracker this year, you’d struggle to find a better quality, funnier show at a more reasonable price for all the family to enjoy. Little ones were mesmerised while there’s plenty of cheeky jokes for the adults to knowingly giggle along with.

Goldilocks and The Three Bears is fabulous, family fun, seeing the joy on children’s faces in the theatre truly cementing the importance of live theatre. If you’re struggling to find your Christmas cheer then look no further and get yourself down to St Helens Theatre Royal, this dazzling production will leave you feeling merry and bright. Another smash-hit for Regal Entertainments Ltd with my mini reviewers asking can we watch it again before we’d even left our seats! A magical, hilarious, and brilliantly entertaining production from start to finish.

Goldilocks and The Three Bears is on at St Helens Theatre Royal until 9th January tickets available here.

Aladdin

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 2021

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Crossroads Pantomines production of Aladdin tells the tale of Aladdin: not as you know it, but instead as a version with many more laughs and spectacular crowd pleasing numbers.

We join the journey of Aladdin (Matthew Croke), whose only dream is to marry his one true love; Princess Jasmine (Rumi Sutton). However, the road to true love does not run smoothly, thanks to The Supreme Leader of Mancunia (Nicola Sanderson) and Abanazar (John McLarnon) : cue plenty of booing and hissing from the audience.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 2021

This pantomime has everything that British pantomime should have – with bells on! The absolute star of the show is the incredibly talented comic genius that is Ben Nickless (Wishee Washee), who helps his brother Aladdin overcome all of the hurdles put in front of him on his quest to marry Jasmine. Nickless’ Covid rap gives us an hilarious spin on the last two years of life in a pandemic, with plenty of laughs about masks, testing and lockdown life. The audience were in absolute stitches during his attempt to use a loop pedal to give us a rendition of an Ed Sheeran classic.

Alexandra Burke plays the role of Scherezade, who provides Aladdin with assistance throughout his journey, and who gets us moving in our seats as she belts out the numbers – the crowd absolutely loved her rendition of Bad Boys, and the ensemble provide the dance moves that we all expect from a spectacular panto like this.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 2021

Eventually, after much turmoil and misadventure and the most amazing carpet ride, Aladdin gets his girl. But not before we are treated to the most hilarious number “What I would be” from Nickless, Dupree, Croke and Sanderson. The audience were doubled over laughing at the comic genius of this scene, the timing is impeccable and Ben Nickless deserved a standing ovation just for this!

The set and costumes are vibrant and majestic. The use of puppets for the genie and the snake are both comic and transfixing. Ceri Duprees (Widow Twanky) outfits are extravagant and mesmerising, just as she is. She is everything she should be. Hilarious, sarcastic, and with a pair of legs to die for! Her renditions of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face and of Bang Bang will be talked about by this audience for a long while.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 2021

This pantomime is the tonic we really don’t realise we need until we get it. With all the uncertainty at the moment this is the light relief that we Mancunians are desperate for, so get your booster and get down to the Opera House for an addition boost – that’s all you need this Christmas.

Aladdin is on at the Manchester Opera House until Sunday 2nd January tickets available here.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe


Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In the novel series, A Song of Fire and Ice, it was often said that “Winter is coming”. Well, over in Narnia winter has well and truly arrived and never has it looked so spectacular!

For the holiday season, the Lowry are staging Sally Cookson’s adaptation of C S Lewis’s family favourite, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe which is a visual feast for the eyes.

Sticking relatively close to the source material, this musical production is set during World War Two and follows the evacuation of the Pevensie children: Peter, (Ammar Duffus) Edmund, (Shaka Kalokoh) Susan (Robyn Sinclair) and Lucy (Karise Yansen) from London to Scotland, to the home of the rather odd, but whimsical Professor Kirk (Johnson Willis).

Whilst exploring the house the youngest sibling, Lucy is drawn to the wardrobe where she discovers a gateway to the cold, bleak land of Narnia. There she meets the kindly but scared faun, Mr Tumnus (Jez Unwin). Here Mr Tumnus tells Lucy that Narnia is being held hostage by the White Witch, who has placed the land under a curse destined to experience the harshness of winter forevermore.

Lucy goes back to her family, but none of them believe her. She later returns through the wardrobe followed by Edmund, however Edmund meets with The White Witch (Samantha Womack) who with the temptation of Turkish Delight, decrees that Edmund must bring his brother and sisters to meet her.

Eventually all Pevensie children land in Narnia, where they encounter Mr and Mrs Beever (Sam Buttery and Christina Tedders respectively) as well as a whole host of woodland creatures who are part of the rebellion, battling to end the tyranny of the White Witch and bring about the return of their leader, the lion, Aslan (Chris Jared). With the battle lines drawn it’s time for the children to pick their sides for the ultimate battle of good versus evil.

This is a show packed full of quality with top-end production values which allows the audience to be transported between blitz time Britain and the fantasy world of Narnia. From the fantastic puppetry work of Toby Olié and Max Humphries responsible for the beautiful, graceful, Aslan to the amazing work of Joanna Coe and Susanna Peretz in the costume and make up department who bring the creatures of Narnia to life, from the plucky forest freedom fighters to the haunting, grotesque disciples of The White Witch.

With a production of this scale there are huge expectations of magic, fantasy and huge set pieces which are more than met. The first meeting with The White Witch as she arrives on a huge chariot is excellently executed, as is The White Witch’s elevation to the skies of Narnia covering the stage below with a blanket of snow. These are just two of the numerous awe-inspiring moments.

It’s not just visually where the production excels, Benji Bower and Barnaby Race’s blend of folk and roots compositions work beautifully well, giving the production a human, rustic quality.

In addition there is a superb cast, at first it’s always quite jarring seeing adults playing children, but you soon forget this as we see the four children go from somewhat annoying teenagers to ‘badass’ heroes. Chris Jared, working side-by-side with the puppet incarnation of Aslan, gives the beast an authority and dignity, obviously with Aslan there are comparisons to Christ, but Jared’s lion is more Churchillian, with his roaring battle cry.

With Samantha Womack’s White Witch, we have a cold, icy villain, void of emotion, this along with her movement around the stage seemingly gliding, yet stalking make her a truly memorable villain.

It’s shows like this that make going to the theatre one of the most joyous experiences we can have; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will captivate and enthral audiences from 9 to 90. I’ve no doubt the film version will be on TV during the festive season but treat yourself to this theatrical production and you won’t be disappointed.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is at the Lowry until the 15th January 2022 tickets available here.

 

The Book of Mormon

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“I love all these Mormon stories, they’re so f*cking weird!”

Its hard to believe The Book Of Mormon first premiered on Broadway only a little over ten years ago. However, its no surprise whatsoever that it won 9 Tony Awards including ‘Best Musical’ just three months after it’s opening night and has since gone on to smash box offices and garner mass critical acclaim, having played both here in the London’s West End and across continents continuously ever since. It’s only actually in recent years that we have been lucky enough to maybe catch a touring version of the show in this country… and boy are we lucky to have this on our doorsteps for nearly a whole month here in Manchester!

From the writers of ‘South Park,’ The Book of Mormon is the story of two young Mormons, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham (played by Robert Colvin and Conner Peirson respectively), who have been paired together and sent to Uganda on their mission. We watch them encounter a completely different culture out in Africa and see the trials and tribulations that comes with being a Mormon missionary in a place far far away from sunny, comfortable America, and where “everyone has aids!”

In an age of supposed ‘Political correctness,’ this laughs, dances and spits in its face. If you’re afraid of hearing the ‘C’ word shouted at you, then you might want to sit this one out. Yes it’s crude, but its fantastically, hilariously and unapologetically crude.

The merging of UK and US talent both on and off stage, brings almost the perfect synergy to this touring production and it’s results are frighteningly electrifying. One third of the writing team, Trey Parker, co-directs with Broadway’s Casey Nicholaw, who also choreographs again for this production, bringing a combined wealth of unmatched expertise and experience and the results most definitely pay off, having masterfully ignited and nurtured one of the strongest companies I have ever witnessed on any stage.

Although it has to be said that Peirson brings an incredible and unparalleled energy to the stage, having clearly honed in on inhabiting Elder Cunningham down to the bone; with every movement, every action, so beautifully and ingeniously crafted, so much so that its hard to believe he’s a long-term veteran of the role. Special mention must also go to Jordan Lee Davies(Elder Mckinley/Moroni) who particularly excels as McKinley performing an uproarious turn, subsequently having the audience right in the palm of his hands at all times. That being said, it’s hard to pick stand-outs as the entire ensemble are extraordinary — it is certainly no mean feat keeping a show of this scale running so exceptionally well as they do.

This production is a treat for all the senses. Musically we are gifted a feast, O’Regan’s band under Finlow’s supervision don’t miss a beat and are simply perfection. Visually too, Pask delivers exceptionally with his scenic design, having worked on over 50 productions on Broadway, including… yep you guessed it— The Book of Mormon. Broadway has well and truly been brought to the streets of Manchester, his attention to detail and artistry, together with Roth’s costume design are equally impressive.

The Book of Mormon has everything you’d expect from a big-scale, bright and buzz-y musical, ticking every box along the way…the eye-catching, entertaining WOW ensemble routines, including, ‘Spooky Mormon Hell Dream’ and ‘Turn it Off’ (which has an excellent and impressive tap sequence sneaked in for good measure). In addition,there are epic solo ballads such as ‘I Believe’ executed with power and exuberance by Colvin (Elder Price), culminating with a heartfelt and uplifting ending we all so desperately crave (especially in these current turbulent times). What this show has above all else, in between all of that, and better than any other show out there at this moment in time – is genuine, ridiculous, ludicrous, laugh-out-loud hilarity splattered throughout it’s entirety. Find me a funnier show… and I’ll call you a liar!

Never mind your Christmas parties 😉 … rest assured this has all the ‘feel good factor’ you’ll be needing to see you through to the new year. Don’t sleep on it — beg, borrow or steal a ticket whilst this show is in town!

‘This Book (of Mormon) WILL change your life’

The Book of Mormon runs at the Palace Theatre Manchester until 1st January tickets available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eric and Ern at Christmas

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I sadly never had the pleasure of watching comedy legends Morecambe and Wise live, however watching doppelgänger duo Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel in Eric and Ern at Christmas felt as close to the much-loved real deal as you could possibly get.

Physically and vocally the resemblance is uncanny while their silly humour and quick wit has the audience roaring with laughter from the off. Bearing in mind at the peak of their popularity Morecambe and Wise could easily draw audiences of close to 30 million it’s no surprise that there’s a huge amount of affection for a show based on these comedy kings.

The show recreates brilliantly what it might have been like to see the late great Morecambe and Wise on stage; the set recreates the familiar festive sets of the TV specials with the draping red curtain, decorated Christmas tree and of course a grand piano. The sketches are timeless and incredibly funny while the warm chemistry which radiates between the two performers is wonderful.

Just as Morecambe and Wise were great friends so are Stephens and Ashpitel who met back in drama school, they don’t miss a beat and are completely in tune with one another.

There’s clearly been a huge amount of work gone into this brilliant homage to their comedy heroes, their well-observed, perfectly timed punchlines hit the mark every time.

The late Eddie Braben who worked with Morecambe and Wise as a sketch writer back in their glory days kindly gave permission to Stephens and Ashpitel to use many of their much-loved TV sketches, some of which are brilliantly recreated on stage for today’s audience.

Singer Sinead Wall takes on the role of the classic ‘special guest’, her voice is fantastic as she offers further opportunity for comedy capers both behind and around her including the infamous and hilarious ‘Send in the clowns’ sketch.

There’s a real feeling of joy in the Lowry’s Quays theatre as the audience finish off punchlines, laugh until the tears roll and even get the opportunity to join in with a classic singalong or two.

At a time when the world desperately needs a little sunshine this is exactly what Stephens and Ashpitel bring, this nostalgic trip down memory lane is a real Christmas cracker!

Eric and Ern at Christmas is on at The Lowry until Sunday 12th December tickets available here.

Spinach

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

How do you describe a production like Spinach? A musical pharmaceutical thriller maybe? Operatic Rom-com? Both of the descriptions would actually work for this bonkers, hilarious production, that will guarantee to have you grinning from ear-to-ear!

The play opens with Mancuninan Tom (Joe Parker) and Londoner Kate (Charlotte Linighan), both tied back-to-back to one another in a dark, dingy basement. Neither have a clue how they got there, or who the other one is but together they must work out how they landed themselves in the predicament and more importantly how they get out of it!

All dialogue is sung from the start of the production through to the end, and as the pair sing, their memories come back. We learn that Kate is a part time journalist, but full-time good Samaritan, who helps homeless people as and when she can, whilst Tom is a pharmaceutical worker, who along with his colleague, Darren (Chris Whittaker) believe the company they work for is in cahoots with a Cuban drug cartel. With their lives in danger, can Tom and Kate stop bickering with each other, solve the mystery and maybe have a chance at finding love.

There is so much to admire about Janine and Simon Water’s production: a smart script, filled with twists and turns, married with some fun, punchy lyrics (you’ll kill for a Halloumi kebab by the end). The premise may be absurd but is no less silly than some Hollywood blockbusters.

Parker and Linigihan make a likeable, engaging couple, who have bundles of chemistry. Whittaker is equally in fine form as the co-worker, also dragged into this crazy situation. In addition, there is a scene-stealing turn from Rachael McGuinness as Maureen, another co-worker of Tom and Darren, whose no nonsense, hardened attitude hides an attraction for Darren. All four show a gift for comedy throughout and deserve heaps of credit for 80 minutes of singing, without an interval. The superb cast are backed up by some exceptional musicians with Lawrence Woof on piano and Bess Shooter on Saxophone. The music is at times menacing, playful but always on point.

The Edge Theatre and Arts Centre has a lot to celebrate this year, following an upgrade to the theatre as well as 2021 marking it’s 10-year anniversary as Manchester Theatre for participation. If Spinach is an indication of the ambition of The Edge, then the future is bright indeed.

This is a silly, fun show that provides the perfect excuse to brave the cold and have a night out at a great venue, watching a show of real quality.

Spinach is on at The Edge until the 18th December tickets available

Stick Man

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Stick Man tells the tale of the wonderful Stick Man, who one morning goes for a jog (and at times a boogie ) where he suffers some significant misadventures!

Firstly, he is chased by a dog who mistakes him for a stick to play with. Then he is taken by an energetic young girl who fancies a game of Pooh sticks and thinks he might just be the best Pooh stick she has ever seen. Next, he loses his way and is swept out to sea, where he eventually washes up on a beach and is used as a bat for a game of bat and ball, but the final straw is when he is used to place a flag on top of a sandcastle!

We’re taken on a journey through the seasons, as he tries to find his way home, to his stick lady love and his stick children three.

This production is everything that is great about children’s theatre. It’s characters are wonderfully energetic and enthusiastic. The songs, simple and catchy.

I took my, normally fidgety, two year old. This was her first live theatre experience and I was nervous of how she would react, but I needn’t have worried. She sat silently mesmerised throughout the entire production; only letting out the occasional gasp of “wow” and joining in with the “he’s behind you” chorus from the audience.

Jordan Louis-Fernand (Stick Man) Alice Imelda (Stick Lady Love) and Jonathan Ainscough (Actor/Musician) play a variety of roles with great enthusiasm and provide us with some outstanding pieces of physical theatre. Their performances are warm and engaging for the younger audience. The scenes are diverse – ranging from the high energy of the dog chasing the stick, to the tranquility of the ocean waves and the hypnotic snow of winter.

The lighting, set and costume design work well together to provide us with a simple, but effective setting to this Julia Donaldson favourite.

This production takes us on a journey of laughter, heart warming moments and pure Christmas cheer. I’ve seen Stick Man three times now and this was by far my favourite production. It is a family must see this festive season.

Stick Man is on at The Lowry until Sunday 9th January tickets available here.

Accessible Performances

Relaxed | Thu 9 December | 1.30pm
Audio Described by Caroline Burn |  Sat 18 December 2pm | Touch Tour 1pm
BSL by Emma Jane Heap | Sun 19 December | 2pm

To book accessible tickets please call 0161 876 2183

The Wiz

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

As The Wiz fast approaches it’s 50th anniversary, Hope Mill Theatre together with Ameena Hamid Productions and Chuchu Nwagu Productions have reimagined this multi award-winning musical, based on the much loved classic, The Wizard of Oz.

As Dorothy struggles with her identity a storm whips up, whisking her away to the magical land of Oz where she embarks on an unforgettable journey of self discovery, realising its not magic but self-belief that will bring her home.

Cherelle Williams takes on the role of Dorothy, slipping into silver sparkly trainers as she eases on down the yellow brick road. Her characterisation is superb while her voice is simply stunning, her rendition of Home is absolute perfection.

Tarik Frimpong is exceptional as the Scarecrow, using his whole body to tell the story he perfectly embodies the role while his skill in delivering Leah Hill’s impressive choreography is jaw-dropping.

Llewellyn Graham makes an incredible professional debut as the seriously soulful Tinman, he is an absolute joy and brings such fun to the role.

Jonathan Andre completes the quartet as the cowardly Lion & has the audience in the palm of his hand from the moment he arrives on stage. His playfulness and fun shining throughout.

Special mention must also go to Cameron Bernard Jones who is super sassy as The Wiz plus Ashh Blackwood, Anelisa Lamola and Bree Smith who all bring buckets of personality to the witches of Oz.

The Wiz is a true ensemble show, each and every member of the cast give their all. They exude joy and it’s infectious, I smiled all the way through this pacy show & would happily have stayed in my seat to watch it immediately again. Kudos to casting director Ryan Carter who has put together this outstanding cast.

Simon Kenny’s set & costume design are bright & bold, setting the tone of this vibrant piece from the start while Sean Green’s orchestrations are magnificent.

The original Broadway musical was written at a time when the civil rights of black people were still being hard fought and today almost 50 years later the importance of the Black Lives Matter campaign could never be underestimated. The Wiz celebrates loudly and proudly Black voices while choreographer Leah Hill gifts us with a rich feast of genres from across the African Diaspora.

Director Matthew Xia has created something truly magical with this talented cast. It’s joyful, soulful and bursting with pure heart, a must see!

The Wiz is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Sunday 16th January tickets available here.