& 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.

Neil Gaiman | The Ocean at the End of the Lane | Interview

The forthcoming tour of the National Theatre’s adaptation of the award-winning book The Ocean at the End of the Lane is coming to The Lowry in Salford. Author Neil Gaiman answers our questions.

The book is loosely based on your childhood. What was the starting point?

The book began with me wanting to try and explain to my wife where I grew up and what that world was like. She could take me to her childhood home because it’s still the same, but I couldn’t take her to where I grew up [in East Grinstead] because the place had long since been demolished; lots of lovely neat little housing estates covered the gardens and the fields and lanes. So for me it was kind of an effort to try and evoke a past and a sense of place.  An interesting side of it for me too was that I realised that I hadn’t heard, for a very long time, the Sussex accent of my childhood. Mrs Weller came in and cleaned once a week and Mr Weller came in and did the gardens. They were probably in their 80s and they had proper Sussex accents – almost like a West Country burr. I resolved to write a novel with that in too.

How did you create the Hempstocks?

I was told by my mother – quite erroneously, I discovered, when I did my research – that the farm half-way down our lane was in the Doomsday Book. And that was the start of the Hempstocks in my head; who they were and what I wanted to do with them.

Do you find writing about family especially fascinating?

I don’t think I’ve ever been able to avoid writing about family, even when I thought I was writing about something else. Whether it’s biological family or the family we make. In the novel I created a semi-fictional family for myself, and in the play version it was one step further away from my family, which I think looking back on is incredibly healthy! But the boy is definitely me.

Neil Gaiman

The play received amazing reviews when it premiered. Without any spoilers, do you have any favourite moments?

There is something astounding about the moment when they enter the ocean. That completely fascinates me. And you’re going to see miracles made out of bits of rubbish and old plastic bags and nightmarish birds beyond your imagination. It still takes me by surprise every time I watch.

Is it true that you were so moved by the play when you saw it in rehearsals that you cried?

I saw the first full run through. About ten minutes from the end I had tears running down my face. I thought that this was terribly embarrassing and I was discreetly trying to flick them away.

You describe yourself as a storyteller. What inspired you to be a writer?

I’m not sure that all writers are frustrated performers, but for me it was the joy in getting to be all of the characters. As a writer you get to do that. Being a kid who loved books I could think of nothing cooler than giving people the pleasure that I got.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane opens at The Lowry on Monday 12th December and runs until Sunday 8th January tickets available here.

A Christmas Carol

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

On the 1st Day of Christmas Shakespeare North gave to me…a fabulous, festive, fun adaptation of Dickens iconic A Christmas Carol filled with heart, and heaps of humour!

This being their 1st ever Christmas season Shakespeare North Playhouse have pulled out all the stops to ensure their version of A Christmas Carol is one theatre goers won’t forget in a hurry. It’s fast-paced, laugh out loud funny and wonderfully entertaining as four talented actor-musicians take on multiple roles and multiple instruments, spreading more than a little Christmas cheer as they go.

Nick Lane’s creative adaptation directed wonderfully by Ellie Hurt takes the original story and gives it a real Prescot feel with the addition of localised references and regional jokes all of which are lapped up by the invested audience. Add a little music, melodic songs plus plenty of audience participation (yes we even get to shout ‘It’s behind you!’) and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a real Christmas cracker!

This cast of four go all-out in ensuring no one will leave the Cockpit theatre without a smile on their face as they act, sing, dance and play their way through this super slick production.

We begin in Scrooge’s house where his staff (well most of them) are keen to tell his story; with a little encouragement from each other as well as the audience the storytelling begins.

Zoe West is superb as Ebeneezer Scrooge, snarling and sarky living up to every inch of the name. Her characterisation is wonderful, embodying the miserable miser to perfection ensuring Scrooge’s journey resonates entirely.

Jessica Dives creeps us all out as the ghost of Christmas past, weird and wacky in her haunting, complete with a horror homage, red ballon. Abigail Middleton as the Ghost of Christmas Present ensures we all absolutely get the joke while Eddy Westbury as the Ghost of Christmas yet-to-come has a little problem with autocorrect which has the audience howling.

In addition to the ghosts this versatile cast play Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim to name but a few, each is as creative and hilarious as the last. Their musicianship is a joy as they effortlessly pick up multiple instruments throughout & play them with ease.

It’s uplifting and silly but also offers a thought provoking focus on the plight of those in need bringing us bang up to date with voices from local residents affected by the cost of living crisis. This element is so cleverly interwoven that its poignancy feels strongly effective.

Simisola Majekodunmi’s lighting design adds just the right amount of atmosphere while designer Hannah Sibai makes wonderful use of the Playhouse’s versatile space, no mean feat when working in the round.

The cast do an excellent job of sweeping us up and taking us along on Scrooge’s life-changing journey, involving us wholeheartedly in the witty telling of the beloved tale.

This is feel-good festive theatre that strikes a perfect balance between professional and accessible. It is theatre for all in a stunning new regional space that feels exciting and inviting. If this is what Shakespeare North Playhouse do in year one I can’t wait to see what lies ahead!

A Christmas Carol is on at Shakespeare North Playhouse until Saturday 7th Jan tickets available here.

Images by Patch Dolan

The Man Who Wanted To Be A Penguin

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is the story of an interesting and eccentric man, who is an explorer and inventor at heart. Living in “The Shed” spending his time “solving problems” The Man (Steve Salt) is beginning to realise that perhaps his neighbours and friends aren’t as interested in the same things that he is and when he plans a birthday party (albeit at very short notice) and nobody turns up, it is the final straw. 

Spurred on by the delivery, from the lovely postal worker (Loretta Hope), of a globe, The Man decides that he is going to visit Antarctica and become a penguin.

Along the way he meets a bearded explorer, and together they face the harsh challenges of snow and blizzards. From here The Man begins to finally feel a part of something, for the first time. 

Steve Salt and Loretta Hope are just wonderful, they are so at ease together on stage and together they capture the imaginations of the audience. The physical theatre of this piece is exquisite, Director Niki McCretton has devised a way in which the narrative is told through very little dialogue in parts and it works so well: it’s like a beautifully choreographed dance.

The set and puppets and props by Holly Miller are just wonderful; the use of duvets for snow works so majestically.

This company does what it aims to do – “make memorable and rewarding shows” – it is a show written for children, about being true to yourself, challenging yourself, accepting others and building friendships. What else could we possible want for our children this Christmas?

The stars of the show were, of course, the penguins. So many sizes, so many designs, all so utterly adorable. My children were keen to get home to write “a penguin” on their Christmas list.

The Man Who Wanted To Be A Penguin is on at Waterside Arts until Saturday 31st December tickets available here.

The Mousetrap

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It is incredible to think that this play has been performed by so many actors in its 70 year run. 70 years of different generations of theatre goers sitting in auditoriums gripped by this timeless murder mystery. Laughing at the same jokes, and all asking themselves over and over “who dunit?”.

As the curtain rises for Act one, we encounter the splendid view of Mr and Mrs Ralston’s drawing room, which has been converted into Monkswell Manor guest house in order to for them to be able to afford to keep this family home. Firstly, Mrs Ralston (Joelle Dyson) enters wearing a dark overcoat, a felt hat and a light scarf and hurriedly hides something in a bureau, before quickly leaving the room. Next to enter is Mr Ralston (Laurence Pears) wearing a dark overcoat, a felt hat and a light scarf and he too hurriedly hides something before disappearing off stage. I’m fact all of the guests who arrive, arrive wearing the same garments, something that becomes extremely significant as the plot unfolds.

The Ralstons are keen to welcome their first ever guests, but with no staff to help them they appear slightly out of their depth, with the cooking, cleaning and entertaining to take care of. As they ready themselves for their opening night, we learn from the news report on the wireless of a brutal murder that has taken place in London earlier that day. 

Before long the guests begin to arrive; firstly, is the nit-picking Mrs Boyle, played by Gwyneth Strong. From the moment she arrives she is less than impressed with the guest house and her fellow guests, especially the second guest to arrive: the animated and hilarious Christopher Wren, played by Elliot Clay. His arrival is followed by the kind-hearted, and ever helpful Major Metcalf (Nicholas Maude) and finally the last scheduled guest – the unconventional Miss Casewell.

As all the guests settle into their rooms and get to know each other a loud knock at the door catches them unawares. There are no other guests due to arrive….Enter Mr Paravicini (John Altman) who claims to have rolled his flash car further down the lane and is in need of a place to stay. Something doesn’t seem right about this chancer, but there is no option but to welcome him in from the cold. 

The guests are barely settled when a telephone call from the police puts everyone on edge. A detective is to descend on the guest house with some important news.

Young and dashing Detective Sergeant Trotter, arrives on skis to inform all at Monkswell house that they are infact now murder suspects, and at least one of them could be the next murder victim. With everyone now cut off from civilisation, thanks to a timely blizzard and the unfortunate cutting of the telephone wire, it’s is up to the detective to solve the crime and keep everyone safe. But who could possibly be a violent killer and what is their motive?

I was not expecting this play to be as witty and funny as it is. The pace is mostly quick, the set really helps with the pacing of the narrative, as the cast enter and leave through varying doors and corridors.

The cast are absolutely superb, each and every one of them. Dyson and Pears make a wonderful duo as husband and wife, they are perfectly charming. Elliot Clay is exceptional – he was the stand out performer for me tonight: he is funny and energetic and portrays Christopher Wren’s vulnerability in a way that we are able to see the depth of his character. Gwyneth Strong is excellent as the cantankerous Mrs Boyle, she really gets the audience against her from the get go! Nichola Maude and Essie Barrow are perfectly cast in their roles and both have a wonderful presence on stage. John Altman plays Paravincini with the right balance of humour and sleaziness. And finally Joseph Reed: he takes command of this play, his dialogue is sharp and controlled. He controls the pace and the narrative with professionalism throughout. 

I watched this play continually questioning who was the nurderer and who was a red herring – and low and behold I didn’t have a clue and would never have guessed it! But it’s a secret, so I’m not telling! 

I’m generally not a big Agatha Christie fan, but this isn’t a typical Christie play, it’s got something more wonderful to it. The issues raised in this 70 year old play are still relevant today, the characters are easy to identify with, it isn’t just about posh people and a murder plot. It’s about acceptance, truth, the class system, gender stereotypes and dealing with your past before it catches up with you. This play is genuinely funny, and captivating yet tragic at the same time, a great night out.

The Mousetrap is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 3rd December tickets available here.

Robin Hood

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Oldham Coliseum Theatre pantomime ‘Robin Hood’.

This year’s Christmas extravaganza from Oldham Coliseum, is the tale of everyone’s favourite thief, Robin Hood, who steals from the rich to give to the poor – what’s not to love! 

I took my three-year-old along, and I was a little worried that she would be too young, but she absolutely loved it. She was totally mesmerised from start to finish. This show is filled with tonnes of energy and heaps of pizazz!

This is a wonderful ensemble cast with strong performances from all in this high-energy and hugely entertaining production.

Oldham Coliseum Theatre pantomime ‘Robin Hood’.

The young dancers (the Merry Men), choreographed by Adele Taylor, are simply wonderful. They have the audience dancing in their seats: every performance is delivered with great energy and enthusiasm as they blend with the adult company seamlessly.

Nelly Nurse (Charlie Ryan) and Friar Tuck (William Travis) were the stars of the show for me. Their interaction with the audience helped to keep the young ones engaged throughout. Nelly’s outfits, by Celia Perkins, are exceptional and exactly what you’d expect for the Dame. Charlie Ryan is a really fantastic dame – he gives us so many laughs from cheeky jokes to poking fun at politicians, he’s also really loveable.

Liz Carney gives us a perfect pantomime villain as The Sheriff, she’s wonderfully wicked and laps up the boos from the audience while Shorelle Hepkin who saves the day as Robin Hood has a wonderful warmth and on stage rapport.

Celia Perkins’ colourful stage design is bright and inviting, gifting this cast with a wonderful Sherwood in which to entertain us.

Oldham Coliseum Theatre pantomime ‘Robin Hood’.

Oldham Coliseum give us everything you’d hope for from a classic panto; from shouts of “he’s behind you” to thigh slapping gags and plenty of opportunities for booing and hissing. What works really well in this production is the use of contemporary music to entertain the audience adding to the many laugh out loud moments. There were a few schools’ groups in for the show I saw, and they were absolutely loving it, joining in with the songs and cheering the cast.

A true sign of a good panto is always how the audience engages, and there is no one harder to engage than a teenager – but this cast had them eating out of their hands. Oldham Coliseum have well and truly delivered with this panto. It is a must see for all the family, a real Christmas cracker!

Robin Hood is on at Oldham Coliseum until Saturday 7th January tickets available here.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Celebrating its 10-year anniversary, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is out on a national tour, and as night follows day with Bourne’s productions it arrives at the Lowry just in time for the transition from Autumn to Winter.

This is the third in Bourne’s Tchaikovsky trilogy of ballets, which transports us to 1890. King Benedict (Danny Reubens) and Queen Eleanor (Kayla Collymore) have everything other than what they desire the most, a child. For this they enter into a pact with Carabosse (Paris Fitzpatrick), a dark fairy with extraordinary powers. Princess Aurora is delivered to the happy couple, but the situation soon turns sour as Carabosse feels slighted by the lack of recognition she receives from the king and queen and plots a revenge on the royal family, targeting Princess Aurora.

However, Princess Aurora has a great number of guardian angels looking out for her. First there is her nanny, Miss Maddox (Stephanie Billers), and the palace serving staff. In addition, the Princess is under the protection of Count Lilac, (Dominic North), the King of the Fairies and his troupe of fairies. A failed attempt by Carabosse to get to Aurora is thwarted by Count Lilac, and her many protectors. However it is revealed what fate awaits Aurora, that of an eternal slumber unless she is awakened by her true love.

The action shifts to 1911. Carabosse is no more, however Caradoc, (Paris Fitzpatrick in a dual role) her son has vowed to continue his mother’s vendetta.

Princess Aurora (Ashley Shaw) has now come of age. She is being courted by numerous suitors from the aristocracy, however she only has eyes for the Royal Gamekeeper, Leo (Andrew Monaghan), and he feels the same way. Despite the love they have for one another they must keep their relationship a secret, which allows Caradoc to take advantage of the situation, implementing his mother’s plot and extracting the ultimate revenge. If Leo has any hope of breaking the curse he must use the help of Count Lilac, which sees the story take an unexpected but not unwelcome detour.

There is so much to enjoy and admire about Bourne’s take on this classic fairy-tale. The movement of the entire cast is exquisite, light, and fun throughout. It manages to draw you in and hold your attention from start to finish.

The playful energy is apparent from the get-go with the introduction of baby Aurora, a feisty, ball of energy, climbing the curtains and causing all manner of mischief. Other highlights are the introduction of Count Lilac and his fairies, a real treat for the eyes, a great sense of fun set against the backdrop of a huge intimidating full moon, it looks fantastic. Whilst the courtship between Aurora and Leo is a joy, played like a farce, it’s a lot of fun which could lead to an alternative title of ‘Carry on Princess’.

This is billed “A Gothic Romance”, and boy does it deliver, visually it looks stunning. The sumptuous costumes and set design by long time Bourne collaborator Lez Brotherston is a mix of vibrance and colour in stark contrast with the dark, brooding castles and forbidden forests. It fully captures that aesthetic we come to expect from classic fairy tales. One sequence where we see two faceless dancers, is as beautiful as it is haunting, and such a powerful image.

Personally, I always like the humour Bourne pumps into his productions, from the huge set pieces, with baby Aurora, to little visual gags, that puncture the production, it always makes the shows warmer and more accessible.

This is everything you’d expect from one of the world’s leading Choreographers. He takes a traditional fairy tale, tinkers with its format slightly, injects it with warmth, humour and gives it a soul, finally to be played out by a team of performers and creatives all at the top of their game. It’s a winning formula that will entertain and delight, culminating in a fantastic visual experience, well worth a trip to the theatre.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is at the Lowry until the 26th November. Tickets available here.

Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Almost impossibly this is the first time Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella has been performed in Europe as a fully staged show and my goodness was it worth the wait!

Hope Mill Theatre is transformed into an enchanting fairy tale Kingdom as Prince Topher (Jacob Fowler) is instructed to find a wife and thankfully after multiple, magical twists and turns Ella (Grace Mouat) fits the bill….the shoe I mean!

Following a melodic scene setting prologue the show opens with “Me, Who Am I?” and immediately you know you’re in for a fun-filled time as Prince Topher and his companions offer the first laugh out loud moments of many in this creatively crafted piece.

With an updated book from Douglas Carter Beane this Cinderella pitches both Ella (Grace Mouat) and Topher (Jacob Fowler) as wholesome dreamers, who don’t want much from life other than kindness and fairness for all (more of this please any listening Monarchs/Governments).

Their path to true love it littered with heart-warming encounters and hilarious happenings as the Prince pulls out all the stops to find his mysterious one true love amidst a backdrop of political unrest and the small challenge of Ella disappearing at midnight.

Grace Mouat is sublime as Ella, her warmth and likeability hook you in from the start while her voice is sheer perfection. She truly shines in this leading role. Jacob Fowler is equally superb as Prince Topher; he pitches the comedy of the character just right ensuring every single laugh hits, while his vocals are incredible.

Annie Aitken makes for a marvellously menacing Madame with a glorious hint of the Moira Rose about her; her daughters Charlotte and Gabrielle played by Katie Ramshaw and Olivia-Faith Kamau are fantastic with Stepsister’s Lament being a hilariously memorable moment. The sub-plot of Gabrielle’s secret yearning for revolutionary Jean-Michel (Adam Filipe) is a joy while Charlotte’s horror at her step-sister Ella’s success with the Prince is hysterical.

Special mention must also go to Julie Yammanee who is magnificent as Marie/Fairy Godmother, Lee Ormsby who revels in his role as the beastly Sebastian and Matthew McDonald who as Lord Pinkleton stuns with his powerful voice.

The whole show is bursting with captivating moments from William Whelton’s stunning choreography to George Reeve’s incredible projections, every element is top class. The talent on stage rivals any West End show with some of the finest voices in theatre. Each and every lead is outstanding while the incredible ensemble take this production to the next level. Their dance sequence during The Prince Is Giving a Ball is jaw-dropping and left me beaming from ear to ear; just one of the many scenes you’d love to watch over again and again.

This uplifting production takes a story we all know inside out and dusts it with more than a sprinkling of magic, a blast of camp and a covering of creativity. Director Joseph Houston, Co-Director/Choreographer William Whelton and the whole team have created something truly special here. An enchanting piece of family-friendly theatre that will be adored by young and old alike.

Cinderella with its soaring score, witty script and wonderful message of kindness will warm the coldest of Wicked Stepmother’s hearts, perfection!

Cinderella is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Sunday 11th December tickets available here.

All My Sons

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Altrincham Garrick Playhouse bring us this “intensely personal” Arthur Millar play, All My Sons, directed by Carole Carr.

The play centres around the Keller family, a family suffering from the unknown fate of one of their sons, Larry, who has been reported “missing in action” three years previously.

The father, Joe, played by David Beddy, had been acquitted of supplying faulty cylinder heads for combat planes, during the war, and left his business partner take the blame.

The daughter of the business partner was the Keller’s son Larry’s sweetheart, Annie (Katie Cullen) who after the incarceration of her father had moved to New York City with her mother. In the play, we see her return to her childhood hometown and into the bosom of the Keller family. Some of whom are delighted by her visit, while others are reminded so much of their loss by her return. Larry’s brother Chris (Tom Broughton) is still living at home and is working with his father. He has plans to marry Annie and not everyone is happy about it – this triggers a spiraling of emotions as the truth finally sets itself free.

This play is about versions of truth, relationships and community. Although this play is decades old, there is so much that is relevant today.

Altrincham Garrick Playhouse, once again demonstrates to us that they have talent in abundance. This cast is truly superb. David Beddy plays the strong yet vulnerable Joe Keller perfectly. One minute we love him, the next we see him as a victim and then we hate him and then we grieve for him. Exceptionally portrayed by Beddy.

Tom Broughton is a beautiful Chris Keller, he commands the audience and has great chemistry with the equally talented Katie Cullen as Annie. Brigid Henningway plays the anxious and heartbroken Kate Keller perfectly. She walks the fine line of villain and victim magnificently. The entire cast is spectacular.

Although it isn’t an easy play to watch at times and it’s hard to say that it’s an enjoyable story, it is important. It’s a story that Miller wrote with purpose, as he did with everything he wrote. We learn through his script that we are all versions of ourselves, and that things are not always as they seem.

Bravo, Altrincham Garrick Playhouse, once again you bring us great theatre in such a truly professional way.

All My Sons is running until Saturday 19th November at the Altrincham Garrick Playhouse tickets available here.

Othello

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Opening Night verdict

Almost 15 years since it originally premiered, Frantic Assembly’s Othello feels fresh, gripping and revels in every element of Shakespeare’s brutal tragedy.

Predominately set in well-worn working class pub, where a pool table takes centre stage, Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett bring their adaptation bang up to date as the opening sequence bursts into life all tracksuits, trainers and bolshy bravado.

Their signature physical theatre is put to incredible use as Michael Akinsulire’s commanding Othello leads his gang of brothers from the front, occupying their seemingly safe space within the pub with a cool air of authority, where tension is constant & there’s an ever present feeling that violence could erupt at any moment.

The multiple sequences of Frantic Assembly’s trademark choreography, often almost silent bar a blaring soundtrack are superb; while the Bard’s text is delivered with authenticity and brutal emotion, this is a Shakespeare for today, raw and real.

Michael Akinsulire illustrates Othello’s complexities flawlessly, his brooding behaviour keeps you on guard throughout, one moment he’s tender the next tormented. The choice to set this piece in modern day makes for an all the more stark realisation that the accusations of Desdemona’s (Chanel Waddock) infidelity are completely unfounded and unjust. Waddock is no wallflower, giving as good as she gets, but she is loyal and loving right to the end.

Iago is portrayed perfectly by Joe Layton, snide and calculating; no one is off limits as his lies wreak havoc. He needs barely any motive at all to condemn those around him through his malicious exploitation.

Kirsty Stuart makes for a memorable Emilia, ensuring the short scene in Act 2 between her & Desdemona which takes place in the women’s toilets feel pivotal. While Felipe Pacheco and Tom Gill as Rodrigo and Cassio respectively, add depth and humanity to the piece.

As with all Frantic Assembly productions this is a true ensemble piece with the whole cast working together seamlessly to create this powerful retelling of Shakespeare’s bleak tragedy. The pub setting is inspired and makes it feel wholly accessible to modern audiences. Laura Hopkins set designed paired with lighting design from Natasha Chivers and Andy Purves and a thumping soundtrack from Hybrid cement the inspired modern-day setting.

This is thrilling theatre which builds to a devastating finale as the brutality of revenge and the fragility of ego plays out. A powerful, punchy and poignant Othello which will leave you wanting all of Shakespeare’s classics to get the Frantic Assembly treatment, superb!

Othello is on at The Lowry until Saturday 19th November here.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

he Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is based on the novel “These Foolish Things” by Deborah Moggach, and was inspired by the blockbuster film. 

The play follows the journey of seven characters, from different walks of life, who have travelled to India to live out their retirement in a more exotic environment, or so they think. Sonny (Noshad More) and his mother ( Rekha John-Cheriyan) own the hotel residence but are struggling to work together and agree on what their plans for the future should be. They don’t always see eye to eye, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. 

The accommodation is not quite what the brochure had led the visitors to believe, but along the way bonds are formed, and a plan is hatched to put the hotel on the map.

The cast is a joy, so many legends of the stage and screen together on one stage. The script is joyful and witty. And while the jokes are intended for the more ageing members of the audience, there is something in there for everyone. 

The chemistry between characters on the stage is sweet and charming. Hayley Mills, plays the meek and mild Evelyn, who grows braver and braver as she realises that her voice is meant to be heard. Mills is a great joy to behold, she is slick and her presence is felt all through the auditorium.

Rula Lenska, brings us Madge, and with her performance comes many laughs, she is a master of her craft and her comic timing is impeccable. Lenska and Marlene Sidaway, who plays Muriel, have a lovely chemistry and they give us many things to laugh about throughout the production. As does Andy De La Tour as the grumpy and cricket obsessed Norman. 

Paul Nicholas, (who I first saw in stage in 1991 as Barnum) is cast beautifully as Douglas, a man who is simply going through the motions of life with his wife Jean (played magnificently by Eileen Battye) he married many years ago, but who he now realises he no longer loves. Nicholas manages to make us all fall in love with a character, who essentially wants to leave his wife for someone else, how he does it I’m really not sure. But he pulls is off and we all gasp and “ahhh” when he returns for Evelyn.

This play is filled with subplots about call centres and long lost childhood friends and love marriages. But it’s simple and easy to follow. It can at times lack pace, but in a world where everything feels so heavy at the moment this productions gives us the light relief we are desperate for. 

Colin Richmonds set design is an absolute highlight of this production. We are transported to India in so many ways and the lighting design by Oliver Fenwick, helps to guide the narrative. The set, lighting and sound design are seamlessly joined to transport us to India.

The dancing by the whole cast at the end was truly wonderful. It almost makes you wish the entire production was a musical. 

While the show is clearly aimed at those of a certain age, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyed by us all. It’s a lovely piece of theatre, with a marvellous cast.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is on until Saturday 12th November

Bugsy Malone

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Put on your trilby, shake your tail feather, and grab your splurge gun because one of the most beloved musicals, Bugsy Malone is in town this week providing the perfect night out for all the family.

The Lyric Hammersmith Theatre Group first performed this version of the late film maker, Sir Alan Parker’s timeless classic back in 2015 and it is now on a nationwide tour.

The cinematic version premiered in 1976 and garnered huge critical and commercial success. This mainly due to its original premise: that of children playing gangsters and showgirls, bringing together classic tropes of film noir and musicals.

Directed by Sean Holmes, this is the tale of a mob turf war between speakeasy owner, Fat Sam and crime kingpin, Dandy Dan. Caught in the middle of it all is wise-guy and boxing promoter, Bugsy Malone, and promising singing starlet, Blousy. As the bodies pile up can Bugsy and Blousy escape the criminal underworld and start a fresh life in Hollywood?

This is such a fun production packed with great performances, catchy musical numbers and well executed set-pieces that will have you smiling throughout. Highlights come thick and fast, with the high energy ‘Fat Sam’s Grand Slam’ perfectly setting the tone of the show. In addition, there is the superbly choreographed ‘We Could Have Been Anything’ and ‘So You Wanna be a Boxer’ which shine a spotlight on choreographer’s Drew McOnie’s outstanding work. All pack a punch and fill the production with such vibrance that you can’t help getting sucked in and taken along for the ride.

As you may expect, this is a showcase for some fine young actors, some of whom are making their professional stage debuts with this production. Mixing these super talented kids with adult performers is a treat to watch. It never seems jarring or takes you out of the action, which can happen when you have children playing adults and vice-versa. This is a super talented ensemble cast that works so hard throughout, providing big laughs and lots of fun.

The costumes and set design by Jon Bausor look great. The costumes fully encapsulate 1920’s America, lots of glitz and glamour for the ladies, and pin stripes suites for the gents. The clever set design, along with Philip Gladwell’s lighting design gives the production a darker element to it, fully evoking criminality, mob assassinations and scenes from old gangster films we are all too familiar with.

The finale may actually be one of my favourite show endings of all the productions I’ve had the good fortune to cover and perfectly captures the immense joy you get from the show.  A huge dance number for all the cast, with absolute joy etched on all their faces, so infectious that the audience were up on their feet and joining in. Bugsy Malone is a big pie in the face full of fun and fabulous performances, and one that will entertain young and old alike.

Bugsy Malone is at the Manchester Opera House till the 12th November. Tickets available here.

The Lion King

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The award-winning musical which has been seen by over 110 million people worldwide has returned to Manchester for an incredible 19 week run, taking up residency at the city’s Palace Theatre.

Based on the 1994 Disney animated feature film, The Lion King has been wowing audiences on Broadway for 25 years while also running continually in the West End since 1999; so it feels like a real treat to have this record-breaking show visit us here in the North West.

Telling the story of Simba who is tricked into thinking he is responsible for the demise of his father Mufasa , The Lion King opens with a burst of brilliance as the iconic Circle of Life plays out in all its theatrical glory, no spoilers here but this truly is one of the most spectacular openers you’ll ever see as the animals of the Kingdom burst into beautiful, vibrant life, immersing the audience fully as they take their places in the Pridelands.

Julie Taymor’s stunning costume design combined with Richard Hudson’s minimalist scenic design, vibrant lighting from Donald Holder and expressive choreography from Garth Fagan unite impressively to bring the sights and the sounds of Africa’s expansive savanna to the stage. Each scene fills you with wonder, often drawing spontaneous applause from the audience as the sheer magnificence of this production plays out. Julie Taymor and Michael Curry’s puppetry combined with intricate masks are spectacular and lift this production to a whole other level.

This is a true ensemble piece with a cast of over 50 talented performers, each and every one bringing their own piece of Disney magic to the stage. The vibrancy of the group numbers is an absolute joy, visually stunning and a total feast for the eyes, you honestly don’t know where to look, there’s so much happening on stage, every corner of the Palace Theatre feels alive.

Stephenson Ardern-Sodje and Nokwanda Khuzwayo are perfectly cast as Simba and Nala delivering the beloved characters with real heart and depth. Jean-Luc Guizonne is superb as Mufasa, commanding and calm with a gentle ease about him. Matthew Forbes is a wonderfully witty Zazu who gets the audience on side immediately with his strong characterisation and incredible puppetry skills. Another audience favourite is Thandazile Soni who is an absolute delight as Rafiki, Alan McHale and Carl Sanderson bring the laughs as Timon and Pumbaa while Richard Hurst as the brooding villain Scar is fantastic.

The show is jam-packed with much loved musical numbers including Can You Feel the Love Tonight, Hakuna Matata, I Just Can’t Wait to Be King, Be Prepared and of course Circle of Life while stunning additions for the stage include the powerful Shadowland and the stirring, He Lives in You.

The Lion King is an astonishing piece of theatre, adults will be wowed while children will be filled with awe and wonder. Magical memories will be made every night of this run in Manchester as The Lion King roars out until Saturday 11th March.

Tickets for The Lion King can be booked here.