From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads

From Ibiza

Opening Night verdict –

It was, of course, the immortal allure of David Bowie that drew us like a siren’s call to ‘From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads’… an irresistible opportunity to hear his music; to listen to his voice (albeit brilliantly mimicked by comedian Rob Newman); to see his otherworldly face projected front and centre stage…

So, inhabiting protagonist Martin’s world – where Bowie shines perpetually like an ephemeral ‘Diamond Dog’ – takes no leap of the imagination at all. We first encounter him aged seventeen, and he is a broken bird of a boy: gripped by an eating disorder, he is prone to occasional self-harm and leads a reclusive, dead-end existence with his alcoholic mother.

Martin’s father left the family home when he was two years old, so when he stumbles across his estranged patriarch’s treasured collection of Bowie albums and memorabilia, an obsession is born.

On the morning of Martin’s eighteenth birthday, he is gifted an envelope; left to him by his erstwhile father, it contains a map of London that treads in Bowie’s footsteps.

Galvanised by the hope that it may ultimately lead to his father’s whereabouts, Martin scrapes together enough money to head to the capital – beginning his quest outside the wrought-iron gates of Stockwell Infants School, where David Robert Jones was the small boy with anisocoria eyes and a huge future…

First thing’s first, this is a ‘one-man show’ in the truest sense – a tour de force solo performance by the impressive Alex Walton [After the Blue, ISM, London Calling, Macbeth], who is seemingly inhabited by a cast of thousands. You see him morph from all-knowing narrator to angst-ridden teenager to wizened record store owner within seconds. Each character is as fully formed and believable as the last – leaving you with the impression of having been entertained by a whole company, rather than a single performer.

Walton’s emotional range is vast – taking him from an overexcited karaoke performer in a rough pub to the victim of an all-too-real panic attack in a greasy kebab house within minutes. (Anyone who has experienced crippling fear and breathlessness when anxiety strikes could find this a particularly triggering scene, although credit must be paid to him for a startlingly accurate portrayal.)

Curiously, although Bowie’s spectre engulfs the production from start to finish, anyone expecting a musical of smash hits is going to be sorely disappointed. His music is purely incidental – utilised to hint at Martin’s mental state, rather than a succession of rousing choruses taken from the hit parade. (Expect to hear snippets from Bowie’s more experimental side of his oeuvre.) Likewise, Set & Costume Designer Andie Scott delivers a pared-back aesthetic, which merely hints at Bowie – providing no more than window dressing to Walton’s considerable talent.

Writer & Director Adrian Berry (Artistic Director of Jacksons Lane Theatre in London) is to be especially praised for delivering a truly innovative narrative and production that is heart-breaking and humorous in equal measure, as well as avoiding all temptation to conclude with a definitive ending. Part of the great joy of this experience is walking away from the theatre and ruminating over what the final scenes mean for Martin, his father and the Thin White Duke himself.

Hugely acclaimed at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – playing to sell-out audiences – the show is currently on tour nationally, with concluding performances at Jacksons Lane Theatre (6-10 March 2018). For tickets, click here.

Reviewed by Michelle Ewen

MTA Nominations 2018

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Nominations for this year’s Manchester Theatre Awards have been announced, celebrating the best work on stage and off within the city in over 20 categories, with winners being announced at a red carpet event at the Lowry theatre on Friday 9th March which will be hosted by local funny man Justin Moorhouse.

With some interesting choices and some considerable omissions, our personal pick and who Opening Night will be backing when we head to the ceremony will be;

Performance in a Fringe Production – Amie Giselle-Ward, Little Women – The Musical,

Best NewcomerHope Mill Theatre, Scott Hunter, Yank!, Hope Mill Theatre,

Best Opera La Cenerentola , Opera North, The Lowry,

Studio Production – From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, The Lowry

Best Performance in a Studio Production – Alex Walton, From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, The Lowry

Target Live Award for Best Visiting Production The Lowry, La Strada, The Lowry

With four incredible selections for Best Musical it will be a hotly contested category, we adored each production but would loved to have seen additional nominations for Hope Mill Theatre’s spectacular Pippin and Tim Firth and Gary Barlow’s uplifting audience favourite The Band.

 

The nominations are as follows;

Actress in a Leading Role

Karen Henthorn, Spring and Port Wine, Oldham Coliseum

Lisa Dwyer Hogg, People, Places & Things, HOME

Nina Hoss, Returning to Reims, Manchester International Festival

Janet Suzman, Rose, HOME

 

Actor in a Leading Role

Cliff Burnett, Hard Times, Oldham Coliseum

Jason Merrells, Uncle Vanya, HOME

Kenneth Alan Taylor, The Father, Oldham Coliseum

Ashley Zhangazha, Guys And Dolls, Royal Exchange

 

Actress in a Supporting Role

Alison Halstead, The House of Bernarda Alba, Royal Exchange

Kate Kennedy, Twelfth Night, Royal Exchange

Kerry Peers, The Father, Oldham Coliseum

Katie West, Uncle Vanya, HOME

 

Actor in a Supporting Role

Tom Michael Blyth, Hard Times, Oldham Coliseum

David Fleeshman, Uncle Vanya, HOME

Andrew Sheridan, People, Places & Things, HOME

 

Actress in a Visiting Production

Ria Jones, Sunset Boulevard, Palace Theatre

Laura Pitt-Pulford, Nell Gwynn, The Lowry

Natalie Radmall-Quirke, The Weir, Oldham Coliseum

Sheridan Smith, Funny Girl, Palace Theatre

 

Actor in a Visiting Production

Danny Mac, Sunset Boulevard, Palace Theatre

Graham McDuff, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Palace Theatre

Sean Murray, The Weir, Oldham Coliseum

 

Ensemble

Oh What A Lovely War, Oldham Coliseum

Operation Black Antler, HOME

The Suppliant Women, Royal Exchange

 

Performance in a Fringe Production

Rosie Fleeshman, Narcissist in the Mirror, Greater Manchester Fringe

Amie Giselle-Ward, Little Women – The Musical, Hope Mill Theatre

Alexandra Maxwell, The Loves of Others / Freak, Greater Manchester Fringe

Danny Solomon, Days Of Wine And Roses, 53TWO

 

Performance in a Studio Production

Rhodri Meilir How My Light Is Spent, Royal Exchange

Lucy Jane Parkinson, Joan, Contact

Keisha Thompson, Man On The Moon, Contact

Alex Walton, From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, The Lowry

 

Robert Robson Award for Dance

Debut, Acosta Danza, The Lowry

English National Ballet double bill, Palace Theatre

Ghost Dances, Rambert Dance, The Lowry

Leviathan, James Wilton Dance, Contact

 

Design

Jenny Melville (set) and Lysander Ashton (video), Paul Auster’s City of Glass, HOME

Bunny Christie, People, Places & Things, HOME

Alex Lowde, Persuasion, Royal Exchange

Yael Bartana, What If Women Ruled the World?, Manchester International Festival

 

Fringe Production

Bad Advice, Greater Manchester Fringe

Gypsy Queen, Hope Mill Theatre

The Marriage of Kim K, Greater Manchester Fringe

Moth, Hope Mill Theatre

 

Musical

Funny Girl, Palace Theatre

Jim Steinman’s Bat out of Hell the Musical, Opera House

Sunset Boulevard, Palace Theatre

Yank!, Hope Mill Theatre

 

New Play

Gypsy Queen, writer Rob Ward, Hope Mill Theatre

How My Light Is Spent, writer Alan Harris, Royal Exchange

Narcissist in the Mirror, writer Rosie Fleeshman, Greater Manchester Fringe

Narvik, writer Lizzie Nunnery, HOME

 

Newcomer

Gemma Dobson, Rita, Sue and Bob Too, Octagon Theatre Bolton

Scott Hunter, Yank!, Hope Mill Theatre

Vinay Lad, The Railway Children, The Lowry

 

Opera

Cendrillon, Royal Northern College of Music, RNCM

La Cenerentola, Opera North, The Lowry

Opera North Little Greats, Opera North, The Lowry

The Snow Maiden, Opera North, The Lowry

 

Production

The Father, Oldham Coliseum

People, Places & Things, HOME

Rose, HOME

The Suppliant Women, Royal Exchange

 

Special Entertainment

Dick Whittington, Opera House

Running Wild, The Lowry

The Toad Knew, The Lowry

Under Glass, Clod Ensemble,The Lowry

 

Studio Production

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, The Lowry

Joan, Contact

Man On The Moon, Contact

Swansong, The Lowry

 

Target Live Award for Best Visiting Production

La Strada, The Lowry

My Country; a Work in Progress, HOME

Nell Gwynn, The Lowry

The Weir, Oldham Coliseum

 

Youth Panel Award

There is a Light/BRIGHTLIGHT, Contact Young Company

Singin’ in the Rain, RNCM Young Company

Tis Written in the Stars, Oldham Theatre Workshop, Oldham Coliseum

Shrek the Musical

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Larger than life and visually stunning, Shrek the Musical arrived at Manchester’s Palace theatre this week for a two week stop as part of a new UK and Ireland tour. Based on William Steig’s children’s book and the Oscar-winning DreamWorks film, Shrek (Steffan Harri) is the story of one seriously green ogre who falls in love with the beautiful Princess Fiona (Laura Main), sadly leaving the safety of the swamp is no fairytale and our Herculean hero soon finds himself battling a fire-breathing dragon to rescue Princess Fiona from her prison tower in order to deliver her to a very vertically challenged Lord Farquaad (Samuel Holmes) in return for his swamp back.

Steffan Harri is exceptional as Shrek, loveable and enormously charismatic he has the audience in the palm of his hand from his very first fart! His accent is superb and authentic, accompanied by a strong singing voice to match up to his enormous personality.

Tour director Nigel Harman has focussed on ensuring individual performers really get their chance to shine in this current incarnation, no more so than Shrek’s loyal steed Donkey, portrayed to perfection by Marcus Ayton. A little underused in previous productions his great one-liners, exaggerated expressions and hilarious bray ensure this Donkey has some serious stage presence, without doubt the best portrayal of Donkey I’ve seen.

Samuel Holmes makes for a delightfully devilish Lord Farquaad, outrageously camp & completely hysterical he shines in the role and thrills the audience. He makes the challenging part, delivered almost entirely on his knees, look effortless as he struts around the stage full of sass & swagger.

Call The Midwife’s Laura Main as Princess Fiona is on fine form, the chemistry between her & Steffan Harri (Shrek) heartwarming to watch, their duet ‘I think I got you beat’ is a real highlight of the show which has the audience crying with laughter.

Tim Hatley’s set, costume and puppet design are top class, the constantly changing set, boosted by Duncan McLean’s projections is bold and striking, as are the incredibly intricate costumes and as for the dragon, well you’ll just have to watch and see.

There are some slight changes from previous productions with Act 1 feeling a little slower in pace in parts, Act 2 however quickly picks things up & its full steam ahead until the finale. The introduction of puppets to the song ‘I know it’s today’ didn’t quite work and changed the delivery of the number entirely. The show benefits from an incredibly talented ensemble taking on various parts including the fairytale characters, Lord Farquaad’s guards & the residents of Duloc, Shrek the musical proves there’s an enormous amount of love for the smelly green ogre and his uplifting tale. The score doesn’t have any ear worms you’ll be humming much after you’ve left the show but the hilarious script & spectacular visuals will leave you charmed. Not only does it poke fun at the classic fairy tales we all know and love but there’s some brilliant musical theatre parodies dotted throughout.

Shrek is an enormously fun production, with a cheeky humour that casts its magic on all ages. The traditional is turned upside down as this all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza delivers a special message right from its giant green heart, that we’re all special & we should fly those freak flags high & proud, a perfect introduction to musical theatre.

Shrek the Musical is on at the Palace theatre until Sunday 28th January tickets available here.

Interview | Brendan Cole

Brendan Cole’s spectacular production, All Night Long, returns to the stage this week after a hugely successful and critically acclaimed run in 2017. Manchester audiences can catch the Strictly favourite at the Bridgewater Hall on Friday 19th January as part of an extensive UK and Ireland tour. Created by Brendan himself the show takes audiences on a journey through all genres of dance and music including an impressive 13 –piece band and singers as well as a sensational cast of talented championship dancers. We caught up with Brendan ahead of the show’s arrival in Manchester to hear a little more about this critically acclaimed show.

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ON: What can audiences expect from the show?

BC: I really like to think we offer audiences a bit of everything, obviously it’s a Strictly type show but it’s very much got my name on it, it’s not put on by a production company, it’s my creativity that’s put the show together. It has everything that you’d want from Strictly and more, we have a live band, 13 incredible musicians on stage, they really are phenomenal, they cover Michael Bublé, Tom Jones, that kind of calibre of musician, they really are the best, which adds an extra element to the show, it could even be a musical show on its own without the dancing, but of course audiences have come to see that dancing and that is what they’re gonna get.

ON: In terms of dance, what can audiences expect to see a mixture of Latin and Ballroom?

BC: Everything you know from Strictly we do on a stage, with a bit extra, whether it be a waltz, a cha cha, an Argentine tango, a foxtrot, a jive, a samba, we cover every element of dance and we try to cover all genres of music too, from old to new because the Strictly audience is very diverse, they really are all ages and it’s very important to me that we have a complete show, My name is on the door so I want us to be delivering something that people love then hopefully we can offer a phenomenal nights entertainment.

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ON: How does performing on stage differ to appearing on Strictly?

BC: With the magic of television they can change camera angles, there are floor effects, ceiling effects so that magic that’s created in the studio is not just about the dance but on a stage show you are there for all to see, so with that the audience truly gets to see everything, not just a zoomed in section, but every step the dancers take, the emotion, the beauty of the numbers, the magic of the dance takes centre stage. For example the waltz that we do, normally a waltz is the story of a romance, a love story where a couple meet, then fall in love and live happily ever after, the waltz that we do we use a Michael Bublé song called ‘At this moment’ and it’s the story of an affair, so it’s very different but really powerful theatre, I love it as you see the audience transform as the story of our waltz unfolds, waltz is my favourite dance anyway so to be able to perform that dance and get a really genuine reaction from the audience is brilliant. Then one number later we do a really passionate Argentine Tango which is just wow and really full on then we might next be doing something really soft, romantic and beautiful, it’s chopping and changing to make sure audiences don’t feel like they’re seeing the same thing over and over again, every number is different, the cast are phenomenal, all the elements, the music, the lighting, the staging, the costumes, the talent, everything comes together in a two hour spectacular of what people love seeing in their living rooms but they get to see it live on stage.

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ON: How do audiences differ from city to city?

BC: It’s really interesting and varies massively, if an audience is quiet it can be quite soul destroying, I’ve performed for audiences who while they appreciate what you do just sit quietly and take it in, so you can start questioning what you’re doing. I’d definitely say the further North you go the bigger the reaction, Southern audiences tend to be more reserved, which of course is absolutely fine but it can be tough to gage how much they are enjoying the show, you can think you’re dying a death on stage then after the show there can be 50,60, 80 people outside stage door telling you how phenomenal they thought the show was, it’s a really funny thing then other times you can go out on stage and before you’ve taken a step or played a note and the audience go crazy, that’s what we do this for, it’s all for the audience, we want people to walk away very, very happy having had a really great night, that’s the main thing.

ON: Are there additional pressures to performing live?

BC: When the curtain goes up you have got to be ready to perform, whether you’ve been locked out of the building, haven’t done your hair, it doesn’t matter you have to be ready. Once we had terrible storms and couldn’t travel across the Dartford bridge in London, so myself, lots of the dancers and musicians couldn’t get to the venue, my sat nav took me on a horrendous route and I finally got to the show 8 minutes before the start of the matinee, but I walked on that stage and it’s like bang, you hit the ground running, the audience doesn’t need to know the problems you might have had, it’s live and anything can happen at any time, you have to deliver and I think that’s what makes it exciting.

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ON: We’ve heard you play the guitar on stage, is this talent you’ve always had or a new skill?

BC: It’s a new thing, our musicians are world class, they really are something special, just awe inspiring, we’ve talked over the years about how I wished I’d gone to music school and learnt more about music, I’ve always wanted to be able to pick up a guitar and just be able to play, so they suggested for this new tour they put together a musical number where I play the guitar so I thought brilliant, challenge accepted, I’m not planning on taking over from any musical legends but it’s one of those things where I’ve accepted the challenge and I’m just enjoying it, it’s a lovely Ed Sheeran song. To sit and play amidst that talent while my dancers come out and perform a contemporary rumba is really special and just something I really love doing. Plus for the audience they’re used to watching celebrities out of their comfort zone on Strictly, this was a chance for them to see me slightly more vulnerable and see something different from me, a different element to the show which is so important to me, that the show changes every few minutes, which hopefully keeps the audiences excited.

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ON: We’ve spoken to your former colleague Joanne Clifton who is currently touring with Flashdance is this something you’d be interested in doing in the future?

Yes eventually when the dancing shoes are hung up because it’s quite hard to fit in anything like that when you’re involved with Strictly plus I have my own production now. I have been offered a big role in the West End previously about 4 years ago but I couldn’t accept as it was a touring show before it went to the West End so my commitments wouldn’t allow for that as well, I was gutted to have to turn it down as it would have been a great opportunity for someone like me who isn’t necessarily an actor but who can act, and I can sing so it was one of those things that I had to say no thank you but it’s definitely something I’d look forward to in the future.

ON: Finally and we’re sure you get asked this a lot, who would be your dream Strictly partner?

BC: Ooh I’ve had them haven’t I? The honest answer is I’ve had some great partners over the years, I’ve been very lucky but there’s one person who I’d love to dance with, not necessarily on Strictly as I think that would be tricky to get her to commit, Her Majesty the Queen, I’d absolutely love to give her a Waltz lesson, just to dance a beautiful Waltz with her, I’m sure she’s been shown before but that would be an absolute dream for me, that’s definitely on my bucket list.

Further information, tour dates and tickets can be found here. 

The Band head to The Lowry!

 

The Band Q

Due to overwhelming public demand, Tim Firth’s smash-hit new musical, The Band, featuring the music of Take That, will return to the North West with a stop at The Lowry from Wednesday 16th until Saturday 26th January 2018.

The show which we gave a well-deserved five stars. is produced by David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, Mark Owen, Robbie Williams takes audiences us back to 1992 when for five 16 year old friends The Band is their absolute everything, they live, breathe, eat & sleep the music. Fast forward 25 years and life is somewhat different for our ladies as they attempt one last time to meet their teenage crushes. The winning of concert tickets to Prague soon becomes a journey of self-discover as they not only attempt to reconnect with each other but remember and realise the hopes and dreams of their 16 year old selves.

With superb direction from Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder, The Band has quickly become the fastest selling touring musical of all time as the show continues to delight audiences across the country.

Ticket information can be found here.

First look – The Toy Boy Diaries

TB Matt Beveridge and Johanne Murdock in rehearsals for The ToyBoy Diaries 2 credit Claire Bilyard

Highly anticipated new British musical comedy, The Toyboy Diaries which runs from Thursday 18th January to Saturday 10th February at Hope Mill Theatre, offers a first look at the production today with these newly released images from the rehearsal rooms.

Charting the hilarious and sometimes heart-breaking ups and downs of mid-life dating, The Toyboy Diaries is the first of 2018’s five in-house musicals from the hugely successful collaboration between Joseph Houston and William Whelton, co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre and producer Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment.

TB Sharif Afifi and Johanne Murdock in rehearsals for The ToyBoy Diaries credit Claire Bilyard

The production, which is adapted from the best-selling memoirs by Wendy Salisbury follows twice-divorced Lily as she inadvertently finds herself under a much younger man, which then opens the door to a whole new world of inappropriate relationships.

The lead role of Lily will be played by Johanne Murdock who was recently seen as Brutus in Julius Caesar and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth (Guildford Shakespeare Company). The production also features Olivier Award-nominee Nicola Blackman (Destiny Rides Again, Babe the Sheep Pig, Gilgamesh and Just to Get Married) as Lily’s best friend Penny.

TB Matt Beveridge and Johanne Murdock in rehearsals for The ToyBoy Diaries 1 credit Claire Bilyard

Matt Beveridge (The Frontier Trilogy, Titanic – Toronto and House of Therapy – Off Broadway). Sharif Afifi (Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, Wonderland – UK Tour) will play ToyBoy 2, while Alistair Higgins (Dreamboats and Petticoats – UK Tour, Sweeney Todd – Brighton, Charlotte’s Web) plays ToyBoy 3.

TB Johanne Murdock in rehearsals for The ToyBoy Diaries credit Claire Bilyard

The Toyboy Diaries will be directed by Tania Azevedo, with a book by Simon Warne, music and lyrics by Andy Collyer.

Tickets are available here.

 

 

Peter Bergin is Peter Pan!

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Peter Bergin who trained at Rose Bruford, will take flight in Blackpool as he takes over the role of Peter Pan from Jake Quickenden who will soon be appearing on ITV’s Dancing On Ice.

Featuring a live band, lavish set and spectacular costumes, JM Barrie’s classic story has been wowing audiences at Blackpool’s Winter Garden’s since December 16th. Read our ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review here.

Also appearing are TV star Jennifer Ellison as the villainous Captain Hook, Blackpool’s own Maureen Nolan as Mrs Darling and Radio Wave’s Breakfast Host Scott Gallagher as Hook’s hapless sidekick, Smee.

The show runs until Sunday 7th January, offering audiences just a handful more opportunities to capture this magical family, musical adventure!

Tickets can be purchased here.