Kinky Boots

Kinky

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Broadway and West End sensation Kinky Boots has hit the road on its first ever UK tour and if you were ever in any doubt that these boots were made for walking the deafening roar of last night standing ovation should comfortably settle any such fears.

Based on the 2005 British film written by Geoff Dearne and Tim Firth this superb show with music and lyrics from the legendary Cyndi Lauper serves fierce, feel-good fun with a capital F.

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Charlie Price (Joel Harper-Jackson) is left the failing family business when his shoemaker father passes away, leaving him torn between saving the family business and the jobs of the friends he’s come to know as family or giving it all up to follow his girlfriend Nicola (Helen Ternent) to a life in London.

After a chance meeting with spectacular drag queen Lola, Charlie soon begins to realise he may just have the power within him to save the factory and indeed save himself as he explores the challenges of following his heart and learning how to be who he truly wants to be.

Joel Harper-Jackson last seen in the city in Hope Mill Theatre’s 2017 production of Little Women is superb as Charlie. Torn by the decision he faces he brings genuine warmth and powerful emotion to the role which ensures the audience are rooting for him from the start. Particularly impressive is his powerful delivery of the challenging ballad Soul Of A Man, note perfect in his execution and packing a powerful emotional punch.

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The relationship between Harper-Jackson and Lola (Callum Francis) is an absolute joy to watch; as their friendship grows so does our affection for them both.

Francis gives a world-class performance as the outrageously brilliant Lola, fierce and utterly fabulous he is completely mesmerising, you literally cannot take your eyes off him. It comes as no surprise to learn he’s off to Broadway soon to take up the role there, how lucky we are that we get to see him in Manchester for 3 whole weeks first.

He entirely dazzles as Lola, oozing sass and style one moment then grabbing you right in the feels the next during the heartfelt tender ballads I’m Not My Father’s Son and Hold Me In Your Heart. Commanding and charismatic you’d struggle to find a better performer on any side of the pond.

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Paula Lane makes a welcome return to Manchester bringing great humour to the role of factory girl Lauren who falls hopelessly in love with Charlie. Clearly an audience favourite she is kooky, kitch and magnificent fun.

The real show-stopping moments which push the story forward at a perfect pace belong of course to Lola’s magnificent angels, as they back-flip and high kick their way through electrifying numbers showing off Jerry Mitchell’s choreography to perfection. In addition to the angels the incredibly hardworking and hugely entertaining ensemble cast come together so tightly they truly lift this show to the next level.

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There aren’t many shows you’d happily stay in your seat and watch immediately again, Kinky Boots is undoubtedly one of them.

It’s witty script and effortlessly catchy score deliver and then some, while its message of love and acceptance really touches the heart. There is glitz & glamour in this high-kicking, high-energy show but at its heart is a joyous, uplifting and deeply moving story. A kinky, kick-ass treat!

On at the Opera House until Saturday 1st Dec here.

 

Cinderella | Oldham Coliseum

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Mini Reviewer Daisy, aged 8

This classic fairy tale, based on a girl and her two stepsisters plus their stepmother, has been chosen as the Oldham Coliseum’s Christmas pantomime.

Cinderella is played by Shorelle Hepkin, who shows off her great personality, and of course, there is Buttons, played by Richard J Fletcher who is her mate and has some extra funny scenes.

The costumes are amazing and wow the audience, putting the ‘ooh’ into ‘Shock’.

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Sue Devaney is fantastic as the wicked Stepmother and shows off some brilliant vocals.

As for the two stepsisters, who are played by Fine Time Fontayne and Simeon Truby, they are hilarious-especially when they come out dressed in emoji costumes with big haired wigs!

There’s a great glittery set, which shines throughout all the scenes and there’s some classic hits I enjoyed singing along too, from ABBA, to Baby Shark to This is Me from The Greatest Showman.

I loved it!

Daisy’s verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

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Mum of Daisy, aged 30 plus 10

The Oldham Coliseum definitely knows how to put on a panto and this years’ offering, Cinderella, is no exception. From start to finish there’s something for kids, parents and grandparents and all come out beaming from ear to ear by the end.

If you want tradition you can’t go wrong here as it’s got everything; not one but two great dames as the ugly sisters (aptly named as Pumpy and Trumpy Squeezepocket played by Fine Time Fontayne and Simeon Truby); the super fabulous Sue Devaney who steals the show as Cinders Stepmother and of course there’s Buttons, the comedy sidekick (Richard J Fletcher).

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You’ve also got all the classic panto lines to keep the audience involved such as ‘he’s behind you’ and ‘oh no she isn’t’ plus there’s a mix of current pop tracks that keeps it ‘down with the kids’.

My four year old and eight year old were in stitches when the step sisters ‘flossed’ and joined in with glee when Baby Shark was being sung.

A fantastic festive night out!

Mummy’s verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Cinberella is on at the Oldham Coliseum until 12th January tickets available here

Rebus: Long Shadows

Rebus_Cathy Tyson as Siobhan Clarke & Charles Lawson as Rebus_c Robert Day (2)

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

After appearing in 19 novels, numerous audio books, and a TV series, it seems long overdue for writer Ian Rankin’s most celebrated creation, Inspector Rebus to make it to the stage, and boy was it worth the wait.

Rankin and playwright Rona Munro have created a brand new case for the now retired Rebus (Charles Lawson). He spends his time trying to stay off the ‘fags and the booze’, but one drug he still cannot shake is that of good, old-fashioned policing. A chance encounter with Heather (Eleanor House), a young woman whose mother was murdered some 17 years ago brings up some ghosts of the past, forcing the ‘old gunslinger’ out of retirement and maybe a chance to exorcise some of his own personal demons as well.

Haunted by these past victims, this particular cold case takes Rebus back into Edinburgh’s criminal world, landing at the door of his old nemesis, crime kingpin ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty (John Stahl). In addition, Rebus must contend with Siobhan Clarke (Cathy Tyson), a friend and former colleague who wants to make sure a case from 25 years ago doesn’t come back to haunt them both.

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Rebus: Long Shadows  is almost the perfect storm of a production, fast paced, slick, and razor-sharp script with some stinging, pitch black dialogue. Lawson is excellent as the no nonsense troubled former detective, who will do anything to get the right result, even if it means breaking the rules. Stahl is on superb form as Cafferty, full of charm and menace; he certainly makes for a worthy adversary. The interactions between the two are natural and fully demonstrate the respect and loathing they have for one another.

Cathy Tyson is equally as good, if somewhat underutilized as Siobhan Clarke: her character seems the weakest in the triangular relationship between Rebus, Clarke and Cafferty. The supporting cast are on fine form with Eleanor House and Dani Heron as the ghosts of Rebus’s past plaguing him at every turn: whilst Neil McKinven morphs into every other character, from Barman to criminal low life, he plays them all: enjoyable are the scenes between Mckinven and Lawson, where Rebus is shaking him down for information: authentic, believable and filled with humour.

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Occasionally the story becomes a little contrived, but there are a few neat twists and turns: this isn’t a ‘whodunnit’ in the traditional sense, more a tale of redemption, morality, and growing old in an ever-changing world.

Ti Green’s multi-purpose stage design is outstanding: it changes effortlessly from luxury apartment, to dingy back street boozer. It does a fine job of evoking images of Edinburgh’s snickets and passageways: if anything, you want it to be more dank, mysterious and atmospheric.

This is a first-class production with actors at the top of the game: Rebus may be long in the tooth, but this production could certainly teach other murder/mysteries a thing or two.

Rebus: Long Shadow is at the Manchester Opera House till 3rd November 2018. Tickets are available here.

Calendar Girls

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

There can’t be many people who don’t know the magnificent story of the Rylstone & District Women’s Institute and their impressively innovative way of raising funds; but, if there are then lucky for them writer Tim Firth and long-time friend Gary Barlow have worked their collective storytelling magic to create a musical about the ground-breaking WI ladies.

When Yorkshire lass and WI member Annie (Anna-Jane Casey) loses her beloved husband John (Phil Corbitt) to leukaemia a seed is planted by best pal Chris (Rebecca Storm) to raise funds for a comfy sofa for the visitor’s room at Skipton General. These funds won’t be raised with a traditional raffle or tasty bake sale, but by the girls creating their very own ‘alternative’ calendar for distribution across the Dales.

There are tender moments throughout this moving piece, where tears threaten as the cruelty of life is played out, none more so than during Anna-Jane Casey’s emotional delivery of Kilimanjaro. These poignant moments are interspersed wonderfully with witty laugh out loud moments which firmly remind us that in life if we want to experience the highs we must also accept the heart-breaking lows.

As the idea of the ladies baring all inches closer to becoming a reality we see them wrestle with their own insecurities and daily battles offering the realisation that we all face similar difficulties and obstacles in life.

Firth and Barlow’s pairing is an impressive one, the script is warm, genuinely funny and entirely relatable while accompanying songs flow seamlessly as lyrical extensions of the script.

The reworking of this piece from its original 2015 incarnation sees some notable changes. The decision to opt for a celebrity based cast works well in part with each actor enormously likeable and engaging however the multitude of accents robs the production of its down to earth, grass roots charm and at times is distracting from the story. As the Yorkshire grit and determination is lost so its authenticity is watered down.

Likewise designer Robert Jones has scaled back the previous touring set, the green drawers and cupboards which created the rolling Yorkshire hills now replaced with a regularly opened gate, effective still but its impact not comparable.

Despite these quibbles Firth and Barlow’s superb storytelling still shines through as the cast take us on an inspirational story which turns tragedy into triumph.

Anna-Jane Casey and Rebecca Storm as best friends Annie and Chris are hugely impressive, pals through thick and thin their pairing is convincing and genuinely touching.

Karen Dunbar as Cara is hilarious, add to this a superb turn from the legendary Ruth Madoc who delights in every opportunity to raise a laugh.

There’s also a wonderfully written comedy sub-plot in which the younger members of the cast fight their own battles of teenage angst, first love and the absolute worst….embarrassing parents. Isabel Caswell, Danny Howker and Tyler Dobbs as Jenny, Danny and Tommo respectively are joyful to watch.

Calendar Girls portrays the inspirational story of the courageous women of Yorkshire with wit and genuine warmth, while there is sadness the bloody-minded defiance of these strong Northern women is there for all to see. Heart-warming in its delivery and inspiring in its message.

Calendar Girls is on at The Lowry until Saturday 10th November tickets available here.

Putting It Together

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

While the West End enjoys a triumphant Sondheim revival in the form of Marianne Elliot’s gender-swap Company, us Northerners can also delight in a Sondheim sensation as Hope Mill Theatre, Aria Entertainment & Neil Eckersley bring us a fabulous festive treat with the cleverly constructed and enormously entertaining Putting It Together.

Set at a festive cocktail party in a Manhattan loft apartment, two couples socialise together while Andrew Gallo acting as narrator observes their interactions & anticipates their unraveling with a knowledgable word to the audience as the story develops.

The very first scene, Invocations and Instructions to the Audience from The Frogs clearly lays this out as a night of pure enjoyment, so sit back, relax & let the remarkable talent of this fine cast paired with the music and lyrics of the mighty Stephen Sondheim entertain you.

The construction of this show taking numbers from several different productions is absolute genius, as songs we know and love are given new meaning while some of the lesser known tracks are given a platform to be heard.

As the lives of the characters mixed with their human complexities intertwine songs are used to great effect to portray the emotional longing of each character.

Hello Little Girl from Into The Woods is given a whole new twist as Gavin Jones lusts after Simbi Akande in a daring attempt at seduction while Pretty Women (also from Sweeny Todd) becomes a gentle, tender and touching love song, delivered beautifully by Alex Cardall and Gavin James.

Described as a ‘musical review’ created to showcase Sondheim’s work the plot is never intended to thicken much but this really feels unimportant when you have the opportunity to sit and listen to five stunning actors at the absolute top of their game deliver the most brilliant, beautiful lyrics accompanied by sublime music played on-stage by the enormously talented Michael Webborn.

The pace is fast & once we start we gallop through, each piece thrilling in equal measure. Bronagh Lagan’s confident direction paired with William Whelton’s impressive choreography drives the piece from start to finish; Bang from A Little Night Music performed by Andrew Gallo, Simbi Akande and Alex Cardall perfectly illustrating this, punchy and powerful.

Special mention must go to Lauren James Ray whose delivery of Getting Married Today absolutely brings the house down, impressive throughout her wit and acting are both superb, she is a joy to watch.

Every member of this small cast delivers and then some as they work their way through each musical number; each track feels real, authentic and is honestly delivered. Sondheim’s lyrics so slick and witty ensuring we travel each emotional step with the characters.

Putting It Together is the festive treat you didn’t quite realise you needed but once you’ve sat and enjoyed a sublime evening in the company of this stellar cast you’ll be without doubt wanting to come back for more.

Joyfully entertaining from start to finish.

Putting It Together is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 24th November tickets available here.

The Damned United

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

In 2006 The Damned United hit the bookshelves, blending fact and fiction it told the story of charismatic, controversial football manager, Brian Clough and his ill-fated tenure at Leeds United. Author David Peace described it as “An English Fairy Story”. In 2009 it was turned into a film starring Michael Sheen, and now somewhat inevitably it has been adapted for the stage by the Red Ladder Theatre Company.

Following the same narrative structure of the book, we start with the end of Clough’s playing career due to injury. The demons, the nagging self-doubt are there for all to see from the onset, as well as the brash arrogant showman the world of football came to love or loath depending on your point a view. The action zigzags between him taking the helm at Leeds in 1974 and his successful but turbulent run as Derby County manager from 1967 through to 1973.

This is a fast paced, journey into the tortured mind of one man battling many enemies – unhappy players, interfering chairman, the bottle and rival manager Dom Revie. However, it’s Clough’s own insecurities and his relationship with his assistant manager and best friend Peter Taylor that is the heartbeat of the production.

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The time-hopping narrative structure can be a little confusing at times, but the production is anchored by two outstanding central performances: Luke Dickson puts in a nuanced, layered shift as Clough, filled with subtly traits and mannerisms: it would be easy to play this as a caricature but Dickson avoids this. David Chafer is also on fine form as Taylor, a man loyal and true to his friend but growing disillusioned by his treatment. Their relationship is what holds the production together. They are supported by James Smelt who morphs into all the other parts in the play.

The action is played against a corrugated fence backdrop: adding to the tension and authenticity of the surroundings, you can almost feel the deep-heat in the air. The fence doubles as a screen with various images projected on it throughout, pushing the drama along.

This is a fascinating look at obsession, addiction and self-loathing that is well worth a watch.

The Damned United is at the Lowry until the 27th October tickets can be found here.

Magical Christmas Movie Experience comes to Manchester

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Here at Opening Night we’ve started to feel a bit festive with the announcement of some Christmas movie classics being screened at a new pop up cinema launching next month – including Home Alone, Love Actually and Die Hard (and yes Die Hard IS a Crimbo movie – no debate!)

The Magical Christmas Movie Experience will showcase some of the best-loved Christmas movies in the surroundings of a beautifully transformed Mayfield Depot near Manchester Piccadilly.

Cinema goers will enter a magical kingdom through a secret wardrobe, finding themselves in an enchanted forest full of festive surprises.

Running over four long weekends from November 23 to December 16, the festive film programme includes The Greatest Showman, Love Actually Weekend and two Christmas Classics weeks.

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The phenomenon that is The Greatest Showman will be brought to life in colourful fashion with, stilt walkers, fire breathers and a fabulous choir creating a fully immersive experience. And there will also be sing-along screenings. Yeah ok it’s not really an Xmas movie – but we’re not complaining!

The Love Actually weekend takes the yuletide feelgood favourite, starring Hugh Grant, Martine McCutcheon, Martin Freeman, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley among other famous faces and adds the seasonal sound of a live gospel choir as well as some more surprises. We’re already welling up at the thought of THAT Emma Thompson scene (dammit where’s the tissues!)

And the Christmas Classics weeks features a host of heart-warming, thrilling and hilarious favourites including Home Alone, The Holiday, Elf, Die Hard, The Polar Express and Gremlins.

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There’s be plenty of food and drink to feast on too.

In the cinema, a range of seating will include giant bean bags, and while people are encouraged to dress warmly for the winter weather, there will also be blankets on offer to snuggle under which will keep audience’s toasty – and which will be donated to the city’s homeless after the final screening.

Steven Matthews Event Organiser said: “Last Christmas Love Actually appeared in the same location, that was huge and really well received.”

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“This is something new for Manchester – it’s the first experience of its kind with an enchanted forest and everyone’s favourite festive flicks. Audiences can expect loads of surprises, and a totally unique experience.”

Doors to the enchanted forest and food court open at 6pm on Thursdays, 5pm on Fridays and from noon at weekends.

Tickets for all the films start from £14.99.

For more details visit http://www.magicalchristmasmovieexperience.com