& 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.

Cinderella

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Epstein Theatre’s Christmas panto is now a staple part of my festive schedule; it has become as much a part of Christmas as a turkey dinner, a drink with friends on Christmas Eve and avoiding the Queen’s speech. The Epstein’s festive extravaganza has never failed  to put a smile on my face and get me in the holiday spirit and I’m happy to say this year’s production of Cinderella is no different.

It’s a story we all know, that of the kind-hearted but downtrodden, Cinderella (Sammy Winward) who is a skivvy for her wicked sisters, Megan and Kate (Chrissy Rock and Sarah White). Cinderella’s only friend in the world is Buttons (Lewis Devine), who is secretly in love with Cinderella.

Cinderella 14a - photo by David Munn

However, fate, or more accurately the Fairy Godmother (Samantha Palin) has a plan to help Cinder’s find her true love, in the form of Prince Charming (Andrew Geater). A chance meeting between Cinderella and the Prince sets sparks a flying and soon the Prince and his ever-faithful companion, Dandini (Warren Donnelly) decide to host a ball in order for the Prince to find his Princess.

Despite an initial slow start, this production has something for everyone, great songs and dance routines, with numbers including, Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, and George Ezra’s Shotgun.  A fantastic, hard working cast, and  some great visual and verbal gags some for the younger audience members and a few adults in attendance too.

Cinderella 12a - photo by David Munn

It is hard to believe that this is Sammy Winward’s first Pantomime but she has taken to it like a duck to water and makes the perfect princess. Lewis Devine is the show’s lynchpin, full of charisma; he certainly knows how to work the crowd. Whilst Chrissy Rock and Sarah White are having a ball as the ugly sisters, suitably vile throughout, the pair get the lion’s share of the best lines and are clearly relishing their roles.

There are some great set pieces throughout, a meeting between Cinderella and Prince Charming, which Button’s tries to ruin, is great fun. In addition, the scene at the ball is filled with beautiful costumes, and solid dance routines. However, unquestionably the highlight of the show is the fantastic 3D projection, which is a treat to see and had the younger audience members very excited, I don’t want to say too much but certainly gives a unique slant on the “he’s behind you!” trope so familiar with panto.

Cinderella 01a - photo by David Munn

This is a great fun, family show, with a wonderful ensemble cast, that will have you grinning throughout. Based on the reaction from the children in attendance for tonight’s show this is the perfect way to escape the winter weather, a festive treat for all the family!

Cinderella is on at The Epstein theatre until Sunday 5th January tickets available here.

 

Snow White

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When it comes to family fun Qdos Entertainment don’t do things by halves. Delivering Manchester Opera House’s pantomime for the third successive year they give audiences another Christmas cracker of a show in which no expense is spared; a glittering and gaaawwwjus production of Snow White starring Strictly’s very own Craig Revel Horwood.

This festive extravaganza has everything you’d want from a Panto, lavish sets, elaborate costumes and lots and lots of laughs. Writer Alan McHugh (with additional material from Ben Nickless) ensures the script is teaming with Mancunian references from the wonderful opening number playing homage to the Opera House to the tune of The Lambeth Walk to the ‘mad for it!’ Magnificent Seven who are ready to ‘ave it!’ all night long!

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 2019

Revel Horwood makes for a deliciously devilish baddie, fabulously theatrical and outrageously naughty as wicked Queen Lurcretia he commands the stage throughout. Strutting, preening and pouting before belting out his several solos with style and some serious sass proving what an incredibly talented all-rounder he truly is.

There is strong support from audience favourite Ben Nickless who returns for the second year running, this time playing the hapless Muddles along with a welcome return for Manchester’s favourite Dame, Eric Potts who makes for a magnificent Nora Crumble. The two bounce off each other brilliantly, their silly humour and cheeky charm is measured just right for this family audience. They bring this classic story bang up to date with hilarious mentions of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and there’s even a scene with a over keen Alexa!

Zoë George and Joshua St Clair make for a perfect pairing as Snow White and the dashing Prince Harry. Although a little underused when we do hear from them their vocals are superb and they both have bucketloads of charm.

The ensemble cast and young company add to the spectacle of the lavish numbers with slick delivery of Ashley Nottingham’s choreography, great to see some same-sex pairings on stage during the dance numbers too.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 2019

Of course as to be expected with Panto there are some cheeky moments with a few close to the bone one-liners however the innuendo never goes too far & is pitched at just the right level to give the adults a giggle while the kids laugh along with the slapstick and physical comedy that’s so brilliantly delivered.

Revel Horwood, Potts, Nickless & St Clare’s riotous version of The Twelve Days of Christmas brings the house down quite literally, it is pure panto perfection!

The combination of impressive special effects, classic panto entertainment and a wonderfully talented cast result in another hit for Qdos.

Snow White is a riotous romp of camp, colourful, comedy, a FAB-U-LOUS night out for all the family.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 2019

Snow White is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Sunday 29th December tickets available here.

 

Hope Mill Theatre launches ‘FIRST CURTAIN’ free ticketing scheme for young people

img_0845

Hope Mill Theatre launches ‘First Curtain’ scheme to help fund tickets for young people to the UK theatrical premiere of the Broadway version of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella which opens in Manchester on Saturday 9th May.

Tickets are now on sale for Cinderella which will be the first musical produced by A Factory of Creativity – the charity recently formed to take over the running of Hope Mill Theatre. Co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre Joseph Houston and William Whelton will direct and choreograph Cinderella, respectively.

To coincide with Cinderella tickets going on sale, Hope Mill Theatre is launching its new ‘First Curtain’ scheme. The scheme allows customers to purchase an additional ticket at checkout with the extra tickets purchased helping fund a first trip to the theatre for local young people. Hope Mill Theatre will be working with local primary schools and community groups within Greater Manchester to help welcome children of all ages to the show.

Joseph Houston and William Whelton at Hope Mill Theatre. Photo Phil Tragen Photography 2

Joseph Houston, Artistic Director, said: “At Hope Mill Theatre we are passionate about making theatre accessible and instilling at a young age the magic, escapism and education which live theatre can offer – as well as nurturing theatregoers of the future.

“I recently visited a local primary school and spoke to many children who said that they loved acting and performing at school but had never actually seen a piece of live theatre – many families do not have spare funds to visit the theatre. We believe in the importance of young people feeling that arts are accessible and so wanted to help give some children the chance to have their first theatre experience in a smaller more intimate setting.

“Our ‘First Curtain’ scheme will allow us to work with schools within Greater Manchester as well as local community groups to fund trips to our production of Cinderella as well as running workshops.”  

Cinderella will be the first show staged at Hope Mill Theatre to have allocated seating – meaning early booking is advised, tickets are available here.

 

Gypsy

01 RET GYPSY - Ria Jones (Rose) - Image Johan Persson

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Since it first debuted on Broadway back in 1959, Gypsy, based on the memoirs of world-famous striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee has cemented itself amongst theatre goers and critics alike as a cult classic.

The combination of Arthur Laurents emotionally rich book, Julie Styne’s sublime score and Sondheim’s clever lyrics are a magical starting point for any director, ensuring any recreation comes with high expectations. The challenge of staging the show in the round adding more than a little pressure to those expectations.

Director Jo Davies ensures her cast more than rise to the occasion in the Royal Exchange’s production as all sections of the audience are equally played to with the use of a huge revolving proscenium arch bedecked with Hollywood lights designed by Francis O’Connor.

03 RET GYPSY - Melissa James (Louise) - Image Johan Persson

The show bursts into vibrant life with a flurry of child stars twirling and tossing, vying for their moment in the spotlight, at the heart of them of course is Momma Rose, prompting and pushing Louise and Baby June to smile wider and kick higher.

Intentions set out from the start Baby June is without doubt the main event here with sister Louise playing second fiddle to her star-turn. The ultimate in pushy showbiz mothers, Momma Rose will make certain everyone knows what a talent her baby is, that is until pushed too far she abandons both her mother and sister in a bid to escape her mother’s obsessional drive. Forced to turn to her alternative due to her desperation for success wallflower Louise who lives life firmly in the background is thrust centre stage with astonishing results.

08 RET GYPSY - Melissa Lowe (June) - Image Johan Persson

The energy from the young cast (the Red Team for tonight’s performance) is exceptional. They leap and bounce their way through opening number Let Me Entertain You (Rose’s Entrance) like they’ve been vaudeville stars all of their little lives with Marley Quinlan-Gardner giving a hilariously brilliant performance as the pouting, petulant Baby June. The changeover from children to adults is cleverly done, you barely realise it’s happening when suddenly it’s a grown-up cast twisting and twirling before you.

Ria Jones is outstanding as Momma Rose, addicted to the glamour of showbiz and prepared to sacrifice anything for the success of her daughters. So consumed by her need for success she dangerously risks losing everything due to her single-minded obsession for glory. Ria Jones gets to the very heart of Rose, witty and wonderfully charismatic with an unwavering determination her delivery of final number Rose’s Turn where she finally takes centre stage brings the house down, breathtakingly brilliant.

013 RET GYPSY -Melissa James (Louise), Ria Jones (Rose) and Ensemble - Image Johan Persson

Often in productions of Gypsy it’s all about Momma Rose however Jo Davies ensures shy Louise is given full attention. Her character goes on the most incredible journey while her transformation into sensational striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee is nothing short of magnificent. Melissa James is a sensation, delivering the role with great style, pure class and heaps of sass. She showcases Andrew Wright’s choreography to perfection while wowing in Gabrielle Dalton’s stunning costumes during her thrilling transformation number Let Me Entertain You (Gypsy’s Strip).

Lewis Gaunt as Tulsa offers a real standout moment with his beautifully executed performance of All I Need Is The Girl while Dale Rapley gives an incredibly touching performance as loyal Herbie.

011 RET GYPSY - Louis Gaunt (Tulsa) - Image Johan Persson

One small quibble would be that while the revolving arch looks spectacular it does somewhat restrict your view if it stops directly in front of you, thankfully it moves frequently but it does feel a bit of a design flaw in an otherwise spectacular show.

Gypsy is a dazzling, daring production with both design and choreography beautifully evoking the long since vanished world of vauderville. Broadway is brought back to Manchester with a big, bold and beautiful bang. Another absolute triumph for the team at the Royal Exchange.

Gypsy runs at the Royal Exchange until 1st February after adding an extra week due to popular demand, tickets available here.

 

 

 

Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It is of course the time of year for that most British of institutions…the Panto, so it’s only fair that the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society have a crack at it with their version of Peter Pan. The trouble is this lot are to high-quality theatre what the Daily Mail is to fair and unbiased reporting!

The Cornley PDS are of course the creation of super-talented Mischief Theatre Company, who bring their smash-hit Peter Pan Goes Wrong, to the Lowry just in time for the festive season.

Like their pervious offering, The Play That Goes Wrong, this production focuses on the hard working, but inept ‘amdram’ troop as they attempt to put on a performance of JM Barrie’s classic, which as director Chris Bean is at great pains to stress “isn’t a pantomime, more a  Christmas classic”, with disastrous, yet hilarious results.

This is a play within a play, as the Cornley players each with their egos, foibles and lack of ability soldier on in an attempt to put on the best show possible: these include, Jonathan, as Peter Pan (Ciaran Kellgren), a lady’s man, whose wandering eye and haphazard flying technique keep plunging the show into chaos. We also have Sandra, as Wendy Darling (Katy Daghorn) who is desperate to standout from the crowd, with a somewhat OTT, performance. Then there is Max, as Michael Darling/crocodile (Tom Babbage) who is only in the show because his family are bank rolling it, he also has a soft spot for Sandra.

In addition to these three, we have egotistical co-directors Chris and Robert (Connor Crawford and Oliver Senton), a petrified actor, Lucy (Georgia Bradley) searching for her voice, Dennis (Rommayne Andrews) an actor, who needs his lines feeding to him via headphones. Then there is Francis, the show’s narrator (Patrick Warner) who is having all manner of issues with his stage entrance/exit, and pyrotechnics, then finally Annie (Phoebe Ellabani) who has more costume changes than Beyoncé. As well as these combustible elements, there are technical difficulties blighting the performance from radio interference from a local taxi firm, to a revolving stage with a mind of its own.

Once again Mischief have created another comic masterpiece, full of slapstick, outstanding physical comedy, great comedic set pieces which come thick and fast, sure some of the gags you can see coming a mile off but that’s half the fun of it. The show is very similar in delivery to that of Mischief’s previous productions, but it’s a format that clearly works and is a must for fans or a perfect introduction to what they are all about.

There is so much to admire from the outstanding cast, who all get their moments to shine, the clever writing, and most impressive of all the technical wizardry of the production team all combine to make this show such a treat.

Just like a puppy this show shouldn’t be just for Christmas, it will bring you joy and laughter no matter what time of year you watch it.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong is at the Lowry till 7th December tickets available here.

SIX The Musical

SIX

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In just two short years SIX the musical has gone from launching at a 100 seater venue at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to preparing to open on Broadway at the 1000 seater Brooks Atkinson Theatre next February. To say the show has been a success is a mega understatement; rarely does a new musical capture the imaginations of the public in quite the way SIX has. With loyal fans eagerly joining the Queendom and social media awash with cosplay costumes and videos of the show’s final number (the megaSix) a second UK tour was inevitable and lucky for us SIX chose to return to The Lowry for a festive six week run.

SIX

The premise although seemingly simple is brilliantly innovative. The Queens until now have been confined to the history books, summoned occasionally when children recite the old ‘Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived’ rhyme; deciding enough is enough the Queens finally find their voices each taking their turn in a lyrical battle in a bid to prove once and for all who really did have the toughest ride at the hands of their infamous husband Henry VIII.

Part pop concert, part staged musical SIX is a fierce and fabulous retelling of history, remixed and reimagined for a whole new generation. Every song is outstanding in its originality and pure genius. Each Queen is offered the opportunity to walk away with the crown allowing every cast member to breathe life, heart, soul and some serious sass into their namesakes. Individually they are uniquely brilliant together they create the ultimate girl band; guiding us through a sisterly retelling of their forgotten stories while poking fun and posturing for the top spot along the way.

SIX

Lauren Drew commands the stage as Catherine of Aragon, statuesque and strong she switches from stone cold serious to super fun with a skilful ease. Maddison Bulleyment has perfect comedy timing as Anne Boleyn even managing to make getting behead get plenty of laughs while Lauren Byrne’s soaring vocals are a real goosebump inducing moment.

Shekinah McFarlane is a joy as Anna of Cleves with bags of sass and the richest of voices while Jodie Steele captures perfectly the lost innocence of Katherine Howard in her heartbreakingly brilliant version of All You Wanna Do.

SIX

At tonight’s performance alternate Harriet Watson takes on the role of Catherine Parr, her crystal clear vocals and genuine warmth more than doing justice to Marlow & Moss’s lyrics.

The diversity of the cast is enormously refreshing to see, while each individual delivers a fully realised, complex character. The wide range of pop influences ranging from Beyoncé to Britney will ensure the melodies stay with you for days while the lyrics give make these historical women much more than ‘just wives’ giving them heaps of personality and depth.

Gabriella Slade’s edgy costume design has a fun, modern feel while Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography cements the strong girl power vibe.

SIX

SIX hits every mark as a perfect piece of theatre, innovative, uplifting, funny & immensely empowering. If this is what herstory looks like then sign me up now for the school of Marlow and Moss!

You can catch SIX The Musical at The Lowry until Saturday 11th Jan with the extra week added due to phenomenal demanding having the best availability tickets can be found here.

 

Marvel Universe LIVE!

mul2_20170625_01793_edit_0

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Kate Goerner

It’s been hard to avoid the all-conquering global domination of the Marvel universe in the past decade, thanks to the big screen smash hits of the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. And now you can see your superhero faves up close and personal in a new Arena size show – Marvel Universe LIVE!

In Manchester this weekend, the show features aerial stunts, martial arts, daring motorcycle skills, pyrotechnics, special effects, 3D video projection and much more. Called on by Doctor Strange, the Guardians of the Galaxy join the Avengers on a momentous crusade against the scheming Nebula who teams up with the conniving and loathsome villains Loki and Green Goblin.

mul2_20170624_10679_edit_0_0 - Copy

The incredible superhuman forces of Iron Man, Thor, Black Panther, Hulk and Black Widow will unite in clashes that pit student against mentor, sister against sister and brother against brother.

Given that the popularity of the Avengers & Co is so huge that parents would probably fork out for anything branded under that banner, it’s gratifying to see the level of work and sheer skill that has gone into this massive show. All credit to Marvel and producers Feld Entertainment for delivering a budget-busting, large-scale production that’s chock full of thrilling stunts and action packed dramatics. You really do get plenty of bang for your buck here.

mul2_20170624_10617_edit_0 - Copy

The main attraction is certainly the much loved characters – who jump, punch, kick, fly and web-sling their way through proceedings. The costumes and wigs etc are spot on, with a special shout out for our favourites Groot and Rocket Racoon from Guardians of the Galaxy.

A stunning sequence on motorbikes had us holding our breath and a scene-stealing appearance by the mean, green Hulk was well worth the wait! The fight choreography is spot on, executed with precision by the impressive hardworking cast of over 25 performers. But it’s not all explosions and punch-ups though, there’s some really artistic moments to enjoy too, including a stunning display of aerial artists on silks and a dramatic section with a host of fire jugglers. And the terracotta warrior statues that ‘come to life’ were beautifully realised too.

mul2_20170625_00773_edit_0

My little Captain America certainly didn’t want it to end, declaring it “the best show he had ever seen!” Which is high praise indeed.

Marvel Universe LIVE! definitely puts the super into superhero!

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