Les Misérables

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Les Misérables is one of those few tour de force musicals that need no introduction; the buzz surrounding its arrival in Manchester a rare phenomenon. Performances sold out within days while the shows return to the region in May 2020 at the Lowry was announced even before Jean Valjean had uttered ‘24601’ on this current visit; within minutes of the curtain raising at tonight’s performance it becomes abundantly clear why.

While the West End production of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s masterpiece has been running at the Queens Theatre since 1985 it is a newly conceived touring version that has been taking the country by storm since opening in Leicester in November 2018. 

This stunning production first conceived by producer Cameron Mackintosh in 2009 in celebration of the shows 25th anniversary offers a fresh vibrancy which will no doubt recruit a new generation of theatre fans while making devoted fans fall in love with Les Misérables all over again.

Laurence Connor and James Powell’s inspired direction ensures that the almost three-hour duration whizzes by; keeping the audience fully engaged throughout this epic spectacle. There is not one drop in pace nor lull in action. Act I ending with the rousing One Day More perhaps the most epic way to lead into an interval ever.

The biggest change from the current production running in the West end is Matt Kinley’s striking design. Gone is the famous revolve and in its place come vibrant and visually stunning projections; this new design still triggering the heartfelt emotion of the traditional show whilst adding the thrill of a cinematic feel to proceedings.

Kinley’s designs (expertly animated by 59 Productions) are based on Victor Hugo’s original paintings, and offer a new depth and authenticity to the material while Paule Constable lights each scene with atmospheric perfection. Benefitting from this design creativity the scenes in the underground sewers of Paris are outstanding while Javert’s demise is quite simply jaw-dropping.

The journey Killian Donnelly takes us on as Jean Valjean is bursting with gut-wrenching emotion; from embittered convict through to tired elder nearing ultimate redemption his commitment to the role never wavers. His voice is perfection, from the gentle soothing tones during the opening of Bring Him Home to the full-out goosebump-inducing Who Am I? Nic Greenshields is equally convincing as the brooding Javert, commanding in his presence and convincing in his delivery, his stunning performance during Stars receiving one of the biggest applause of the evening.

The Thénardier’s (Sophie-Louise Dann and Martin Ball) comical interludes are an absolute joy, both clearly delighting in their roles and cementing themselves as audience favourites.

Both Katie Hall as Fantine and Tegan Bannister as Eponine break audience hearts with their moving performances while Harry Apps’ emotional delivery of Empty Chairs At Empty Tables convinces further that this is a company for who nothing less than perfection will do.

The inevitable and well-deserved standing ovation confirms the power of this enduring story; combine that with the beauty of its soaring score and the astonishing quality of talent on stage and you quite literally have the perfect piece of theatre. Every person in the ensemble gives their heart and soul to this production and the result is sensational. Epic in its scale and breath-taking in its brilliance. If you only ever see one piece of theatre make it Les Misérables.

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 30th March, currently sold out but check here for returns otherwise tickets go on general sale for The Lowry on Friday 1st March and can can be purchased here.

 

 

Little Shop of Horrors

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Little Shop of Horrors – Storyhouse, Chester

Director: Stephen Mear

Music and Lyrics: Howard Ashman

Music: Alan Menken

Reviewer: Matt Forrest

Star rating: ****

Little Shop of Horrors has all the ingredients of a great story: a love story between two beautiful souls who life has constantly mistreated. Throw into the mix themes of greed, fame and lust, and of course a giant man-eating plant!

The much-loved musical arrives at the Storyhouse for a spring run that is filled with toe-tapping tunes, absurd comedy and a hefty splattering of blood-soaked gore.

Based on the original film by B-movie maestro Roger Corman, we meet timid florist Seymour, the much put-upon assistant shop for Mr Mushnik. Seymour has a lot to deal with; Mushnik’s flower shop is going under fast due to its location on Skid Row, the wrong part of town. He is head-over-heels in love with his co-worker, Audrey and to cap it all off Seymour has discovered a new strange and unusual plant, which he has named the Audrey II. The trouble is, Audrey II is wilting away before his eyes. Following an accident with a rose bush, Seymour soon learns that Audrey II has an appetite for something a little stronger than Miracle Grow. However, as the plant grows bigger, Mushnik rakes in more and more money. Could this little botanic marvel be Seymour’s ticket to winning the girl of his dreams and the chance to leave behind Skid Row for ever, and if so, at what cost?

Little Shop of Horrors at Storyhouse, Chester, 2019

Little Shop of Horrors is an absolute treat and well worth catching. Some great catchy numbers from Alan Menken and lyrists Howards Ashman, stand out songs being the company ensemble sung Skid Row (Downtown) and the up tempo yet sinister Feed Me (Get it).

The cast are on great form with Joshua Lay and Michelle Bishop showing great chemistry as Seymour and Audrey: their rendition of the musical’s signature tune Suddenly Seymour brought the house down. The supporting cast are also great. Cindy Belliot, Tanisha Spring and Emily-Mae, are in fine voice as the sassy residents of Skid Row, Chiffon Crystal, and Ronette. Tony Timberlake is equally impressive as the devious Mr Mushnik, whilst Stephane Anelli, puts in a hilarious and scene-stealing turn as Orin, Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend.

Ryan O’ Gorman and Brett Sheils do an amazing job bringing Audrey II to life, with Gorman giving the plant attitude and menace, Audrey II gets all the best lines and Gorman makes the most of them.

Tonight’s performance was not without its flaws, there were a few timing issues but these are minor quibbles for what is a fun enjoyable, heartfelt darkly comic night at the theatre. If you don’t enjoy this then maybe you need to take a closer look inside Audrey II, she’ll take all of those reservations away!

 

Little Shop of Horrors is at the Storyhouse, Chester till the June 2nd tickets available at:

https://www.storyhouse.com/event/little-shop-of-horrors

 

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The Mousetrap

The Mousetrap,

The Mousetrap: The Lyric Theatre, The Lowry.

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Reviewed13/05/19

Opening Night star rating: ****

About 25 years back I was watching a TV programme staring Paul Kaye as comic creation Dennis Pennis, a rogue TV presenter who pranked the great and good of the 90’s celebrity world. It wasn’t just famous people who Pennis targeted, but everyday folk too. On one occasion he accosted some old ladies as they were about to see The Mousetrap and committed the cardinal sin of revealing who the killer was!  As a teenager it was hilarious, if slightly mean spirited yet little did I realise that many years later I’d be going to see probably the world’s most famous “whodunit” already knowing the ending. (Shame on you Paul Kaye).

You see despite a near 70 year run and smashing a whole host of records, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap has one of the best kept secrets in theatreland. The fact that it still has the ability to shock and surprise in the modern world shows just how revered the play is and on the basis of tonight’s production it’s easy to see why.

It begins at Monkswell Manor, a converted guest house in the country ran by a young couple, Mollie and Giles Ralston (Harriet Hare and Nick Biadon). They are preparing for the arrival of their first guests to the house, but a nasty snowstorm is hampering their preparations. At the very start of the performance we hear the news through the radio that a woman named Maureen Lyon has been murdered in London. This broadcast is repeated as the guests been to arrive: who include Major Metcalf (John Griffiths), a mischievous architect named  Christopher Wren (Lewis Chandler), a no nonsense battle-axe of a women in Mrs Boyle (Gwyneth Strong), the private and guarded Miss Casewell (Saskia Vagncourt-Strallen), and finally the Mr Paravicini (David Alcock) a mysterious traveller who is caught up in the snow storm.

As the weather worsens word reaches the house that the police are sending an officer, a Sergeant Trotter (Geoff Arnold). When Trotter arrives, he explains that there is a link between the recently diseased Mrs Lyons and Monkswell Manor, his theory is later proven when one of the guests is strangled. The big question is will Trotter be able to solve the mystery before the killer strikes again?

The Mousetrap,

What instantly strikes you about this production is just how much fun it is and that’s down to the direction of Gareth Armstrong: he allows the cast to play it straight when required but also to poke fun at the genre, never really taking itself too seriously. The ensemble cast are superb, traversing the tightrope between ‘hamming it up’ and paying respect to this well-established theatrical institution.

As one might expect with an Agatha Christie, the script is littered with clues, red herrings and the key element of suspense that will keep you guessing throughout. There is some rather clunky and at times dated dialogue which the cast play for laughs, albeit with dead pan seriousness, which again only adds the enjoyment.

Because the murder mystery genre is one, we are so familiar with, it’s easy to forget that Christie is arguably the main reason we know its troupes so well, however director Gareth Armstrong has manged to keep it fresh, entertaining and certainly well worth catching. Despite knowing the identity of the villain, it still managed to come as a surprise which is of course down to Christie’s criminal mind. Based on this production The Mousetrap still has plenty of life in the old girl yet, unlike the late Mrs Lyons!

The Mousetrap is on at the Lyric Theatre, the Lowry till 18th May. Tickets available here:

https://thelowry.com/whats-on/the-mousetrap/

 

 

 

 

The Great Gatsby

The Great gatsby, NORTHERN BALLET:Jay Gatsby; TOBIAS BATLEY,Daisy Buchanan; MARTHA LEEBOLT, Myrtle Wilson; VICTORIA SIBSON, Tom Buchanan; KENNETH TINDALL,Nick Carraway; GIULIANO CONTADINI, Jodan Baker; HANNAH BATEMAN, George Wilson; BENJAMIN MITCHELL, You

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby, Northern Ballet bring the roaring twenties to the Lowry’s lyric stage this week in all it’s seductive, extravagant glory.

David Nixon OBE’s ballet which first premiered in 2013 uses all the ingredients of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s lively novel to tell this vibrant narrative through impressive and expressive choreography. One thing Northern Ballet do exceptionally well it is tell a story & this exhilarating production further rubber stamps their status as dynamic and creative storytellers.

The Great gatsby, NORTHERN BALLET:Jay Gatsby; TOBIAS BATLEY,Daisy Buchanan; MARTHA LEEBOLT, Myrtle Wilson; VICTORIA SIBSON, Tom Buchanan; KENNETH TINDALL,Nick Carraway; GIULIANO CONTADINI, Jodan Baker; HANNAH BATEMAN, George Wilson; BENJAMIN MITCHELL, You

Sir Richard Rodney Bennett CBE’s musical score adds a cinematic feel to this piece offering a rich variety of sounds and styles which the Northern Ballet sinfonia deliver to perfection under the expert guidance of conductor John Pryce-Jones. So sublime is this score it feels like the dancers float from scene to scene as one delicious arrangement rolls into another.

Jérôme Kaplan’s minimalist set is lit to atmospheric perfection by Tim Mitchell as shafts of light cast dancing shadows across the stage.

This fast paced & vibrant piece does not scrimp on the spectacular, Gatsby’s soirées are the ultimate in elegance with slick delivery of tangos and charlestons from the company while the intimate pas de deux’s between Daisy and Gatsby are delivered with precision and passion by Antoinette Brooks-Daw and Ashley Dixon.

The Great gatsby, NORTHERN BALLET:Jay Gatsby; TOBIAS BATLEY,Daisy Buchanan; MARTHA LEEBOLT, Myrtle Wilson; VICTORIA SIBSON, Tom Buchanan; KENNETH TINDALL,Nick Carraway; GIULIANO CONTADINI, Jodan Baker; HANNAH BATEMAN, George Wilson; BENJAMIN MITCHELL, You

Minju Kang and Mlindi Kulashe also impress as Myrtle and her husband George while Abigail Cockrell and Harris Beattie bring a genuine poignancy to proceedings as young Daisy and young Gatsby respectively.

Northern Ballet succeed beautifully in capturing the emotion and passion of the determined Gatsby all set against a backdrop of whirling jazz, bubbling corruption and sizzling encounters. A triumphant, emotive retelling of an American classic.

The Great Gatsby is on at The Lowry until Saturday 11th May tickets available here.

There will be a post-show talk in the theatre on Fri 10 May

The King and I

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Bartlett Sher’s production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic which wowed both New York and London audiences opened at Manchester’s Opera House this week; its first stop on an extensive UK and Ireland tour which sees the multi-award winning production hitting the road until May 2020.

Starring Jose Llana direct from Broadway as The King of Siam and Annalene Beechey from the West End production as Anna, The King and I remains without doubt one of the all-time greats from the golden age of musicals.

Featuring a company of over 50 as well as a full-scale orchestra no expense has been spared in ensuring this lavish production impresses from the moment the overture begins.

Following the death of her beloved husband, English widow Anna takes on the job as teacher to the King of Siam’s children. She soon discovers however that the job isn’t entirely what she expected as she ends up teaching not only the King’s many children but several of his wives too. Further complications arise when the house she was promised fails to materialise and conflict begins with the stubborn King: a dictator whose command all must obediently obey.

Although set in the 1860’s the story is still surprisingly relevant as we see Anna set about changing the King’s old fashioned and out dated views on women. While there is an element of civilised Westerner going to the East to teach what is decent and right the context here feels more like a meeting of minds proving both can learn from and benefit each other.

Michael Yeargan’s exquisite set design combined with Catherine Zuber’s sumptuous costumes mark this production out from the start as a lavish and beautifully enthralling revival.

Christopher Gattelli’s additional choreography breathes new life into Jerome Robbins original 1950’s choreography adding a fresh vibrancy which the strong ensemble deliver with impressive precision.

Annalene Beechey is everything you’d wish for as Anna: wonderfully engaging, gracious and warm, with a strong sense of self while gifted with the most sublime voice she embodies to perfection the compassionate teacher.

Jose Llana equally impresses as the King of Siam. Brilliantly sharp and incredibly witty he has a playful, cheeky charisma winning the audience over in an instant despite his characters archaic opinions on women.

The connection between the two feels genuine and well developed cementing the climactic scene as they waltz around the stage during Shall We Dance? as one of the most joyful moments you’re likely to witness in the theatre.

They are supported by a superbly talented supporting cast with special mention going to both Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thiang, Aaron Teoh as Prince Chulalongkorn and Kamm Kunaree as Tipton.

High praise must also go to the incredibly talented children in the show who together with Beechey deliver a delightfully endearing version of audience favourite Getting To Know You while Billy Marlow impresses enormously as young Louis Leonowens.

The pace of this rich production is consistent throughout with the significance of the story convincingly expressed. The King and I proves there is no puzzlement in its status as a timeless classic: this is a truly epic and joyous production both visually and musically. Thrilling in its scale and spectacular in its delivery, the King and I is a dazzling must-see.

The King and I is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 11th May here.

 

The Exonerated comes to Hope Mill Theatre

The Exonerated Hope Mill Theatre

Hope Mill Theatre will stage the Northern Premiere of gripping death row drama The Exonerated this June.

The play written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen will be reimagined in the style of a television true crime documentary and will be directed by Hope Mill Artistic Director and co-founder Joseph Houston.

Taken from interviews, letters, transcripts, case files and the public record, The Exonerated tells true stories of six wrongfully-convicted survivors of death row in their own words.

Moving between first-person monologues, courtrooms and prisons; six interwoven stories paint a picture of an American criminal justice system gone horribly wrong – and of six brave souls who persevered to survive it.

Artistic Director Joseph Houston, said: “I want this to be a unique theatrical experience that integrates documentary-style filmed footage, but without losing the impact of live theatre.”

The production which will be Hope Mill Theatre’s second in-house play directed by Houston will blend live theatre and filmed footage to create a unique, fully integrated multimedia experience.

The Exonerated runs at Hope Mill Theatre from Thursday 6 June to Sunday 16 June 2019. Tickets, from £10 are available www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk

Take That – Greatest Hits LIVE

Writer Kate Goerner

Regular readers of Opening Night will know that we’re pretty big fans of The Band, the musical based around the songs of Take That.

Combining a moving coming-of-age story of acceptance and loving yourself with the many hits of Gary, Robbie, Howard, Mark and Jason was a recipe for theatre magic in our (often tear-filled) eyes.

But disclaimer, we were fans of the group itself first – so as such here at Opening Night we were looking forward to going back to The Band’s roots thanks to Take That’s current Greatest Hits 2019 tour. Always theatrical, always dramatic – what would the group have in store this time?

The tour, which is in Manchester all this week, followed their recent album Odyssey – itself a tribute to those hits, reimagined.

Looming over proceedings is a giant orb, recreated from the from the Odyssey album cover, in spectacular fashion. Part stage, part projections, it really is a spectacular backdrop to the show.

And what a show! It’s as nostalgic as you’d expect – but with dazzling hi-tech staging that means the material and performances never feel old hat.

In fact it feels like the freshest tour in a while – while being a genuine love letter to a 30 year career.

There’s a feeling of the passing of the decades that’s reflected throughout the evening in the staging – from the Seventies-style Evel Knievel jumpsuits the lads wear to open the show (to the uplifting Greatest Day) to the monochrome Sixties section, the Eighties hair metal motorcycle tribute and a nice nod to the Nineties.

The hits are all there – with some real ‘lump in the throat’ moments on the big screen like a video of Robbie performing Everything Changes, or the Bee Gees in How Deep is Your Love.

We even got Mark singing Babe, a beautifully stripped back version of Pray with sign language (although we did miss the Pray dance!) and Lulu – YES LULU – joining Gary, Mark and Howard for Relight My Fire.

The evening ended in magical fashion with Rule The World complete with fireworks.

So while Opening Night hopes to see The Band hit our stages again some day, Take That prove that the original is usually the best!

Further tour information can be found here.

Equus

Equus Production Photos ©The Other Richard

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Back in 1973 Equus premiered to huge commercial and critical success, and thus a modern classic was born. Back then the story of a teenage boy with a troubled mind shocked, captivated and enthralled and here in 2019 it still manages to do so and more.

Psychiatrist, Martin Dysart (Zubin Varla) is charged with finding out why a stable boy, Alan Stang (Ethan Kai) would commit the repugnant act of blinding six horses with a spike.

What follows is journey into the fragile mind of a young man who is confused by an overbearing father (Robert Fitch) and devoutly religious mother (Syeeta Kumar). Their bruised, repressed relationship with each other, seeps into the soul of their son with devastating consequences.

Equus Production Photos ©The Other Richard

Dysart uses a great many tricks and techniques to discover the root of Stang’s illness and builds a strong relationship with the boy but at what cost? For Dysart has his own demons to concquer: trapped in a loveless marriage and constantly questioning his chosen profession. Can Dysart get to the bottom of what happened that horrific night in the stable, and if so at what personal cost to him?

Director Ned Bennett has done an outstanding job creating an intense, intimate psychological drama, that focuses on the reasons why, rather than the act itself. The two leads are exceptional: Varla shows the frailty of Dysart, smoking constantly, somewhat nervous, his interactions with Stang flip the doctor/patient dynamic on its head. He plays the world-weary shrink with humanity and warmth whilst still unsure of his place in the world.

Equus Production Photos ©The Other Richard

Ethan Kai is equally impressive turning a brave, physical performance filled with nervous energy, anger and fragility. The interactions between the two are leads are what anchors the productions. They are supported by a fantastic cast who have dual roles as humans and horses, it sounds ridiculous but under Bennett’s direction is effective and with clear use of lighting and stage design works fantastically well. The cast should be commended for their hard work and dedication to the craft.

This is visceral, unsettling look at mental health and raises some interesting points about it’s treatment and the ethics that go into getting the results, add into the mix a superb cast and a creative production team at the top of there game, and you get a powerful, brutal piece of theatre that looks fantastic and pulls no punches.

Equus is on at the Lowry until Saturday 27th April tickets available here.