& 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.

A Monster Calls

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Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s not very often I’ll go into review a show cold: I’ll usually have some idea of plot, cast, etc before going into the the theatre. In the case of A Monster Calls I knew it was based on a book, and there was something in the back of mind telling me that there had been a film adaptation too. In terms of plot I knew very little, had I known I could have prepared for the tsunami of emotions that hit me.

This is the story of Conor (Ammar Duffus), a lonely 13-year-old boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders: harassment from the school’s bully, a father living on the other side of the world, his mother (Maria Omakinwa) is seriously ill. Understandably, it’s his mum’s illness that is of most concern to Conor, confused by what he is seeing and his mother’s reassurance that “everything with be fine” he has no outlet for emotions.

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Conor’s life soon becomes even more complicated when he receives a visit from a monstrous creature. Located in his garden is a giant yew tree, which comes to life at the same time each evening. The yew tree has been on the earth for hundreds of years and informs the boy that he will tell him three tales and in exchange Conor will tell him one in return.

Each night the tree returns with a brutal fable, involving, kings, queens and apothecaries, all with a dark heart to them, there is no happy ever after with these stories. But, what do they mean and how do they help Conor?

Sally Cookson has created a powerful, visceral and devastating adaptation of Patrick Ness’ international bestseller.  This is a fairy-tale that deals with grief, anger and the importance of expressing our emotions, this is an unflinching, unsentimental view of the world through the eyes of teenager, complete with all his frustrations and heartache.

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The production looks and sounds amazing. The haunting score by Benji Bower, is both beautiful and haunting, played masterfully by musicians Seamas Carey and Luke Potter. There use of electronica and voice distortion gives the production a fantasy, other worldly quality.  The staging is simple but affective, just a white floor, with a white back drop where, looking not to dissimilar to a padded cell, adding an element of claustrophobia, despite the vast openness of the stage. Visuals are projected on the wall throughout, and the ensemble cast when not playing their part will double up as visible stagehands handing out props as and when required.

However it’s the recreation of the woodland behemoth that is most impressive: using a series of  giant ropes which cascade onto the stage throughout, the ensemble cast gather them together to form the tree, this coupled with Keith Gilmore’s physical and menacing delivery as the monster, make for an impressive visual spectacle creating a truly intimidating protagonist.

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The production isn’t without it’s flaws, despite a solid showing from the cast, with strong physical and emotional performances throughout they are occasionally let down by some stilted dialogue which is a little distracting, however this is a minor quibble for what is an innovative, powerful piece of theatre.

Having quite recently lost my father, nothing could have prepared me for the emotional sucker punch the production provided during its final moments and judging by the amount of people clearing the sand from their eyes (least that’s what I think it was) at the end of the performance nor was anyone else. Powerful, intelligent and emotional, when this monster calls you had best answer as you won’t be disappointed.

A Monster Calls is on at at the Lowry until Saturday 29th February, tickets are available here.

Cabaret

Cabaret

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Set in Berlin in 1931 during the chilling rise of the Nazi’s, Cabaret introduces us to the unconventional love story of American writer Cliff Bradshaw and English performance artist Sally Bowles, who entertains nightly at the city’s decadent and debauched Kit Kat Klub.

An additional and deeply moving sub-plot detailing the ill-fated romance between elderly Jewish fruit seller Herr Schultz and German boarding house owner Fräulein Schneider ensures that Cabaret is as intricate as it is entertaining, with its own Master of Ceremonies Emcee, ominously overseeing the action.

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Amidst the razzle dazzle of the big numbers which are delivered spectacularly by an impressive ensemble the story is firmly anchored in the drama of the period as a much darker landscape emerges and the reality of the changing political climate is realised in everyday life.

Kara Lily Hayworth excels as good time girl Sally Bowles, with soaring vocals delicately delivered she finds the genuine vulnerability of this troubled soul. Charles Hagerty makes for a strong Cliff Bradshaw, wide-eyed in wonder initially he leaps headfirst into the decadence of the city until the stark reality of what is happening to Belin is realised.

James Paterson and Anita Harris are a real joy as Herr Schultz and Fräulein Schneider making the inevitable outcome of their doomed love story all the more heart-breaking to watch.

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John Partridge makes for a commanding and charismatic Emcee, strutting and strong initially his journey from start to finish is the most humbling of all as we see the reality of this crushing regime played out. His transition from fearlessly flamboyant to painfully oppressed a bleak reminder of the grim history of the period. Director Rufus Norris gives us a stark and honest climax to the show which Partridge and the ensemble deliver with an unspoken sensitivity.

Designer Katrina Lindsay has ensured this complex piece engages from the off, the vibrancy of the Kit Kat Klub lures you in with it’s flashing lights and twirling staircases which in turn gives the gut-wrenching final scenes the impact they deserve.

The whole show is beautifully lit by Tim Olivier giving it a somewhat cinematic feel while Dan Samson’s sound design is superb. Javier De Frutos gives the ensemble cast some incredibly complex choreography which they deliver with ease bringing the Kit Kat Klub to vivid life.

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Just as Kara Lily Hayworth sings during titular number “What good is sitting, alone in your room? Come hear the music play!” we can’t help but agree, with impressive staging, strong performances and superb choreography this is a Cabaret which will long stay with you.

Cabaret is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 29th February tickets are available here.

 

 

 

 

Ghost Stories

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Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Finally, a decade after it’s theatrical premiere at Liverpool’s Playhouse Theatre, Ghost Stories is embarking on a full national tour, and trust me it was well worth the wait!

From the twisted minds of childhood friends Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, comes the ultimate scary theatrical experience, that will chill to your core.

Both Dyson and Nyman are no strangers to horror and the supernatural: Dyson is arguably best known for his work with, The League of Gentleman. Whilst Nyman is an actor and writer, who recently starred opposite Renée Zellweger in the Oscar winning film Judy. However, it’s his previous work with Derren Brown, which undoubtedly feeds into this production.

It would do the show a disservice to offer a review complete with plot synopsis and spoilers, the less you know going in beforehand the better. So, this review like a government investigation into Russian donors to the Conservative Party will be heavily redacted.

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Beginning with a lecture from Professor Goodman (Joshua Higgott), Goodman specialises in the study of the supernatural, especially debunking people’s stories, or exposing fakers and frauds. However, of all the cases that he has investigated there have been three that have stuck with him.

The first is that of security guard, Tony Matthews (Paul Hawkyard), and his unsettling final shift. The second is that of teenager, Simon Rifkind (Gus Gordon) and the strife his troublesome car gets him into. Finally, businessman, Mike Priddle (Richard Sutton) and the events that lead up to a family tragedy.

Can Professor Goodman offer up a rational explanation behind each of these stories, if so what can be?

If the aim of Ghost Stories is to have you jumping out of your skin then it achieves its goal ten times over, like a rollercoaster the thrills come thick and fast, just when you think you’re safe there’s another scare right around the corner. It’s not all shocks, there are several laughs too, with a pitch-black script and lots of fun gags, horror and comedy have often made strange bed fellows, Ghost Stories undoubtedly have got the balance spot on.

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With a production of this nature it of course relies hugely on its creative team and high production values and what they have created is something quite special. With James Farncombe’s lighting design, sound design by Nick Manning, then add into the mix Jon Bausor’s impressive set design and you have an atmospheric, gasp-inducing full-on sensory experience.

The cast are on fine form, Higgot has an engaging stage presence as our guide to the paranormal, whilst the three storytellers each bring something different to their tale. There’s comedy, drama, and terror from each turn but all done very differently, which is a credit to all three actors as well the sublime writing and direction.

This is so much more than a fright-fest: it’s smart, innovative and most of all an enormously fun piece of theatre that pulls out all the stops to give you a night out that will live long in the memory.

Ghost Stories is at the Lowry until the 22nd February 2020 tickets available here.

 

 

 

Will Young announces Chester Storyhouse date inc VIP Meet & Greet

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Will Young’s Show And Tell Tour comes to Storyhouse for one night only on Sunday 20 September 2020. Tickets go on sale at 10am on Friday 21 February 2020.

On his first ever spoken word tour Show And Tell, he will talk about his life and experiences to fans.

The show will cover a variety of topics, from the evolution of pop to gay rights, as well as Will’s funny moments during a unique and successful 18-year career. He will speak about numerous career highlights, from winning the first ever Pop Idol aged 22, to scoring four Number One albums and four Number One singles.

His tour in September and October will play nine venues across the country, and follows the publication of his new book, To Be A Gay Man.

Fans have the chance to meet Will before the show during a VIP Meet & Greet, places are limited. There will also be audience questions.

Will explained: “I’m really looking forward to this. It’ll be a funny show and I’ll be talking about my career as well as looking at mental health, gay rights and much, much more. It’s a spoken word show – there’s no music – and I’m excited to be following the publication of my new book with nine UK dates.”

The show follows the success of Will’s latest record, Lexicon. It follows his life from the age of four, through boarding school and university, to entering and winning the biggest talent competition ever seen, Pop Idol. He will reflect on a successful pop career, as well as talking about being one of the first openly gay pop stars.

The tour will start in Worthing on 12 September, before visiting Cheltenham, Bristol, Chester, Lincoln, Yarm, Porthcawl, Kingston-Upon-Thames, and Shrewsbury.

Tickets for Will Young’s Show And Tell show are priced from £25. Each ticket is subject to a £1.50 booking fee. A VIP Meet & Greet package is also available. Further information can be found here.

 

The Last Quiz Night On Earth

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If it were your last night on earth, how would you spend it? Surely, with friends, family, neighbours maybe even complete strangers? How about with all of these whilst participating in a pub quiz? A pub quiz probably wouldn’t be your first thought when faced with your imminent doom, but The Last Quiz Night on Earth may just change your mind!

With an asteroid hurtling towards the earth, and all hope gone, landlady Kathy (Meriel Schofield), and quizmaster, Rav (Shaban Dar) decide the best way to go out is by throwing a quiz and we’re all invited. However, with the pending apocalypse, it’s inevitable that the night won’t run smoothly and the arrival of Kathy’s estranged brother, Bobby (Chris Jack), as well as of Rav’s ex-childhood sweetheart, Fran (Amy Drake) throw a spanner in the works. Will the sibling rivalry and matters of the heart get in the way of the sports round? Will we crown a quiz champion before our untimely demise and just which team will have the best name?

Writer Alison Carr and director Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder have created a fun, innovative slice of a theatre, packed full of comedic set pieces, great one liner and a pinch of high drama. In its rather unique setting the play tackles issues such as redemption, forgiveness, and tolerance. However, there is an extra dimension  to the performance, as it’s fully interactive, the quiz is real, so you’ll need a quiz team, think of a witty team name (my personal favourite this evening was Salford Analytica) and you may even be called on for a bit of audience participation, you could end up playing Paul, Kathy’s no good ex!

The cast are on fine form, Schofield is the show’s heart and soul, holding the production together, Dar injects some razzmatazz and sparkle as our quiz master general, with Drake showing  a gift for comedy and Jack adding a touch of intrigue and pathos as Bobby. All four have great chemistry and with one another, and because of the interactive nature, adlib and bounce off the audience and get them involved whilst staying tight to the script.

Some of the more interactive elements can prove a bit tricky, as it’s staged in a real pub, depending on where you sit it, you can miss some of what’s going on. With this being a quiz, the competitive aspect can grip some audience members and cause a distraction from the action, it does give the show an air of authenticity but can frustrate in places.

Sound designer Chris James adds depth to proceedings with an apocalyptic sound scape, that includes a War of the World inspired radio broadcast. In addition, there is a tongue-and cheek soundtrack featuring the likes of REM, Europe, and Lisa Stansfield that will raise a smile throughout.

The show resembles an episode of a sitcom, more than it does a piece of theatre, which is meant as compliment, The Last Quiz Night On Earth is a fun, entertaining night out, which makes you wish you had more time with Kathy and the gang, but sadly the giant rock hurtling towards you the Earth has other plans. So, enjoy their company whilst you can! Ps Sue Pollard, if you go, you’ll know.

The Last Quiz Night on Earth is on at The Welcome Inn before touring until 11th April. Tickets available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wuthering Heights

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Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Emily Brontë’s one and only novel is a curious beast indeed, beloved by so many, this tale of passion and obsession has captivated and engrossed audiences for nearly 175 years. Wuthering Heights has spawned numerous film, television and theatrical adaptations, with mixed results. Step up director Bryony Shanahan and writer Andrew Sheridan, to give their take on this timeless tale.

With the windy moors as backdrop, we find the spirited, Cathy (Rakhee Sharma) and her brother; Hindley (Gujeet Singh) at play, the harsh, landscape is their playground. However, when their father (David Crellin) returns from a business trip, he has with him Heathcliff (Alex Austin), a street urchin who has been beaten and abused.

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Heathcliff’s introduction to the family unit stirs up very different emotions in the siblings, for Hindley, jealousy and rejection as the new arrival has displaced him in his father’s affection. Whilst Cathy has found a fellow kindred spirit, someone, who like her, is at one with her brutal surroundings. The pair soon forge an intense bond, filled with passion and rage that will eventually spiral out of control and affect all around them

This is a bold, daring adaptation, that doesn’t always hit the mark. Sheridan’s script does not pull any punches, there is some dialogue in the script that is more akin to an episode of Peaky Blinders, than a period drama, this however is not the problem, the tone of the production is somewhat all over the place trying to blend high-drama and comedic elements and it doesn’t quite work. References to Star Wars, and Cathy Come Home, are out of place and do nothing but take you away from the drama.

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Where Sheridan’s script does succeed is in its examination of trauma, and the impact it can have on mental health. In addition, the development of Hindley adds an extra dimension.

Key to any production of Wuthering Heights is the relationship between, Heathcliff and Cathy, and whilst Austin and Sharma give strong individual performances: Austin is a cross between John Lydon at his most obnoxious and a feral cat, it’s a unique, refreshing take on one of literatures best loved anti-heroes. Whilst Sharma is feisty as the free-spirited Cathy, who’s decent into madness is believably brought to life. The main issue is the passion and toxicity of their relationship does not grip you nor captivate, as it needs too.

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The production team have done a fantastic job of bringing the rugged, unforgiving landscape to life during the first half of the play: the Yorkshire backdrop is an integral character brought to life by Cécile Trémolières set design and Zoe Spurr’s atmospheric lighting design. In addition, this mixed with Alexandra Faye Braithwaite’s folk/metal score and haunting sound design, give the production an extra layer and a supernatural feel.

Whilst the Brontë purists may need convincing of the alterations, you cannot help but admire the risks that have been taken, it is not perfect and it does have its faults but it is always better to try something new, than play it safe, and make no mistake this adaptation is far from safe!

Wuthering Heights is at the Royal Exchange until the 7th March tickets available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview |Andy Nyman & Jeremy Dyson | Ghost Stories

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There’s something dark lurking in the theatre…

Enter a nightmarish world, full of thrilling twists and turns, where all your deepest fears and most disturbing thoughts are imagined live on stage…

A fully sensory and electrifying encounter, Ghost Stories is the ultimate twisted love-letter to horror, a supernatural edge-of-your-seat theatrical experience like no other.

After thrilling audiences across the globe with record breaking, sell-out productions as well as a smash hit film, Ghost Stories has embarked on its first UK tour which arrives at The Lowry on Tuesday 18th February.

This exhilarating production is unique in the fact that despite having premiered a decade ago the secrets that make it such a hugely successful and uniquely terrifying show have remained well-guarded.

We spoke to creators Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson ahead of the show’s arrival at the Lowry to hear a little more about creating this supernatural spectacular.

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“Secrets are precious,” explains Andy Nyman. “If you give people a secret that they really enjoy and you ask them nicely to keep it, they do.” Before writing Ghost Stories, Nyman was the man behind many of Derren Brown’s mystery-filled stage shows and early TV performances so when it comes to keeping secrets, he’s more than qualified. “Jeremy and I love the experience of telling people a really good story without them knowing anything about it in advance. You feel the buzz in the audience; it’s an exciting thing to sit and watch.”

Clearly there will be no spoilers here so what can we actually say about the show? “Ghost Stories is a 90-minute scary, thrill-ride experience about a professor of parapsychology who investigates three cases.” explains Nyman. “A rattling hour and a half that will make you roar with laughter, leap out of your seats and talk about it for a very long time.”

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Nyman and co-writer Jeremy Dyson, who is best known for his work with The League of Gentlemen, have a long history that reaches back as far as their teenage years when their mutual love of horror saw them forge a lasting friendship. “It’s a very English genre,” says Dyson. “Certainly, when it comes to the supernatural side of things. The English sensibility defined a lot of that. It’s a very English tradition, and there’s no question that’s part of what we’re celebrating in Ghost Stories.”

With horror being such a popular film genre, we pondered the question as to why we don’t see more of it on stage, “I think it’s hard to do well,” offers Dyson. “You have to have a love both for theatre and for horror. It’s a bit like comedy. People talk about comedy writers having funny bones. I think you need scary bones to write horror.”

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The passion both Nyman and Dyson have for this piece is clearly a huge part of its success, “If people are paying their hard-earned money to see a show you’re putting on, you have a massive responsibility to give them more than they pay for,” says Nyman. “It’s not fair to think ‘that’s good enough, it will be fine’, you have to over-deliver. You’ve got to lose sleep over it. When the show is up and working and you keep tweaking it to get it right, and you see people going away happy, you know the main reason you’ve got to that place is you’ve felt a responsibility and you’ve worked hard at it.”

Ghost Stories opens at The Lowry on Tuesday 18th February and runs until Saturday 22nd tickets are available here.