The Band

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The fastest selling musical theatre tour of all time returned to the North West last night to a sell-out audience and a thundering standing ovation; confirming this life-affirming, laugh out loud production first seen at Manchester’s Opera House back in September 2017 is back for good….well until Saturday 26th January at least.

The Band offers a heart-warming trip down memory lane taking us back to 1993 when for four 16 year old friends their favourite boyband was literally their everything. They lived, breathed and worshipped at the TV when Top of the Pops came on, anything for their idols who provided the soundtrack to their lives and for one a much needed escape from reality. We then fast forward 25 years to a place where life has moved on, friendships have diminished but somewhere deep down a love for The Band continues to flicker and could be the key to bringing the girls back together again.

What comes next is an emotional, relatable and incredibly funny journey of not only self-discovery but also a much longed for opportunity to reconnect with each other and remember the hopes and dreams of their sixteen year old selves.

The Band opened to four and five star reviews last time it was in Manchester almost eighteen months ago; I loved it then and can confirm it’s even slicker now. While its charm and relatability remains there’s an added joy that comes from the deepening of the cast’s on stage chemistry, for this story to touch audiences the characters absolutely had to be believable, they feel authentic, lovable and even more real than they did before.

The five actresses playing the younger girls are outstanding, their delivery of uncomplicated and innocent friendship entirely believable. Full of life and boundless energy Faye Christall, Rachelle Diedericks, Katy Clayton, Lauren Jacobs and Sarah Kate Howarth tell their story with all the energy and enthusiasm of a sixteen year old on the cusp of life’s adventures. Jubilant, frivolous and here for the fun, then packing an emotional punch when tragedy strikes, each character is beautifully developed and unique from the next.

Playing the wide-eyed teens 25 years on are four outstanding actresses; hilarious, surprising and above all entirely relatable. Their journey of reconciliation perfectly embodying the reality of fragmented friendships; Rachel Lumberg, Alison Fitzjohn, Emily Joyce and Jayne McKenna more than do justice to Tim Firth’s uplifting script and through the duration of the evening have the audience both fighting back the tears and roaring with laughter. There is heartache, celebration, great humour and above all great heart.

BBC’s Let It Shine stars AJ Bentley, Curtis T Johns, Harry Brown, Nick Carsberg and Yazdan Qafouri deliver some stunning harmonies and slick choreography as the members of The Band.  The musical arrangements add something new to Take That songs we’ve heard so many times before, there’s a deeper significance to the lyrics as the boys intertwine them subtly into scenes to both powerful and even at times comedic effect.

Jon Bausor’s multi-layered set transforms from teenage bedroom to busy airport with ease while directors Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder ensure the cast utilise every inch of the expansive set.

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The Band musical really is the perfect package, a beautiful story delivered in a real and honest way. While you will more than likely laugh as well as cry you will undoubtedly leave feeling uplifted, deeply moved and enormously entertained.

Cathch The Band at The Lowry until Saturday 26th January tickets available

Interview | Zoe Bourn | Twirlywoos Live

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Over the last 10 years there’s been a huge increase in the number of children’s TV shows making the leap from screen to stages across the country allowing little ones the opportunity to see their favourite characters in the flesh and offering a first theatrical experience in the process.

Translating the larger than life fantastical world of Children’s TV into the physical world of theatre whilst still ensuring the magic remains the same is no easy feat, one which for Zoe Bourn has become a full-time job. Her passion for creating engaging, memorable and unique live experiences for even the youngest of theatre goers has led to her bringing some firm favourites to theatrical life including the world famous Thomas and Friends and Fireman Sam.

Zoe now turns her attention to Twirlywoos whom have been a firm favourite on CBeebies since they first appearance back in 2015. The stage production will feature inventive handcrafted puppets of the mischievous bird-like creatures and will feature everyone’s favourite characters from the much-loved TV show.

We caught up with Zoe ahead of the show’s arrival at The Lowry on Friday 15th February to hear a little more about bringing this show to life.

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Twirlywoos has enjoyed phenomenal success on TV. What do you think makes it so popular?

“I think its success is largely due to the playful nature of the characters. The humour appeals to everyone and really helps to make it universally accessible.”

What can audiences expect from Twirlywoos Live?

“We have purposely stayed close to the TV format so our little audience members will feel safe and familiar with what they’re seeing. But they can expect a very different experience as we invite them into the action and bring the Twirlywoos magic to life all around them.”

Do you have a favourite Twirlywoos character and why?

“I actually love Peekaboo! It’s such an easy character for children of this age group to relate to and offers a really lovely interlude from the chaos the Twirlywoos create. And I love the fact that no one else ever sees or interacts with it and yet you never feel sorry for it – that’s a powerful character!”

What are the challenges of transporting Twirlywoos into the 3D world of theatre?

“There have been many! Due to the nature of the show we have needed to have lots of research and development sessions in order to figure out how best to translate it. One of the main challenges is how to present the real world scenes as the characters are very small and we have to ensure they are seen from every seat in the auditoriums. The team who look after the TV show have worked really closely with our production team to give us the flexibility we needed on the scale of our puppets without them appearing any differently.”

You have adapted other much-loved children’s titles for the stage. How do you go about writing new stories for these well-known characters?

“It’s important to immerse yourself in the TV episodes and to respect the rules and structure that their writers have invented wherever possible. Shows of this calibre have a whole science behind them and I think if you can balance the inclusion of this with the golden rules of live theatre then you have a winning formula. Children are also sticklers for detail. They will be the first ones to tell you if you’ve got it wrong!”

Why do you think it’s important that children experience theatre at a young age?

“Giving young children the opportunity to experience live theatre opens them up to a new dimension of experience and can inspire their own creativity. The earlier we can do this and the more regularly the better – especially in the UK where our education system doesn’t always recognise the importance and value of the arts to our growth and wellbeing.”

You can catch Twirlywoos at the Lowry from Friday 15th until Monday 18th February, tickets available here.

 

Stephen Schwartz Q&A at Hope Mill Theatre

Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment and Joseph Houston and William Whelton of Hope Mill Theatre today announce An Evening With Stephen Schwartz, which will take place in Manchester on Sunday 17th February.

A drinks and finger buffet will begin at 6pm followed by a showcase of the multi-award winning lyricist and composer’s best loved works as well as Schwartz’s first ever UK panel discussion about his life and his work.

With a back catalogue which includes the critically acclaimed shows Wicked, Pippin and Godspell as well as contributing to the lyrics for the films Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame as well as songs from The Prince of Egypt this will be a night not to be missed!

All proceeds from ticket sales will go towards Hope Aria’s 2019 season which opens with Schwartz’s RAGS from 2nd March until 6th April.

Tickets for the Hope Mill Theatre event which include a drinks reception and buffet are priced at £45 and can be purchased here.

 

 

 

Award winning Michael Jackson tribute coming to Manchester

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A decade on from his untimely death, fans of the King of Pop get a chance to enjoy Michael Jackson’s biggest hits, performed by one of the world’s top tribute performers, in the stunning surroundings of the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester this Spring.

2019 marks 10 years since the death of Michael Jackson and lifelong fan Ben Bowman is considered one of the best MJ impersonators in the world.

He’s embarking on a massive UK tour that celebrates the life and work of Jackson, one of the most popular and influential entertainers of the past 50 years.

Michael starring Ben visits Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall on Friday March 8.

Ben was just eight-years-old when he saw his musical hero live in concert. Already a devoted fan, the experience lead him to embark on a life-long career as a tribute artist to the star.

Some 25 years later, Ben is in demand across the world for his shows which include an incredible live band, stunning costumes and iconic dance routines and he says its an ‘honour’ to use his talent to pay homage to Jackson, and to his legacy.

Michael Starring Ben features not only the greatest hits of Michael Jackson but also The Jackson 5. The show includes Thriller, Beat It, Billie Jean, Man In The Mirror and many more. The production mixes elements of Jackson’s own stage shows with exciting new arrangements combined with a stunning light show to create a perfect celebration of Michael and his music.

Tickets are on sale and are available here.

Rocky Horror

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Walking through Spinningfields surrounded by swathes of burly blokes in stockings and suspenders on a foggy January night can mean only one thing…Rocky Horror is back in town!

An incredible 46 years since it first opened, Richard O’Brien’s cult classic shows no sign of age as this fresh and feisty production bursts into vibrant life. There’s an electricity in the air as from the minute the lights go down as usherette Laura Harrison introduces the show in unique Ricky Horror style.

After running into a spot of car trouble conservative kids Brad (Ben Adams) and Janet (Joanne Clifton) end up seeking help at a creepy castle in the middle of nowhere. This is where the fun well and truly begins as the virginal duo meet Frank N Furter and his debauched servants for a night they’ll never forget.

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Guiding us through the mayhem is Corrie’s Beverley Callard in the role of Narrator; she gives as good as she gets with the notoriously sharp audience heckling and the love Manchester has for her is wonderful to see.

Ben Adams and Joanne Clifton as Brad and Janet are superbly cast. The duo who recently starred in Flashdance together and only this week announced they’ve written their own musical really are a match made in musical heaven. Their chemistry is electric as they change from innocent stiffs to naughty nymphs; with strong acting skills and great comedic timing not to mention powerful voices, their transformation will thrill the most diehard of Rocky Horror fans.

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Stephen Webb whips the audience into a frenzy with his fabulously flamboyant Frank N Furter, the antici………pation for his entrance brings squeals of delight as he struts round the stage with ultimate sass. Special mention must also go to Kristian Lavercome, as Rif Raf, Laura Harrison as Magenta, Miracle Chance as Columbia, Callum Evans as Rocky and Ross Chisari as Eddie/Dr Scott each shine in their roles bringing this production to the next level and complementing the leads perfectly.

Set designer Hugh Durrant wraps the stage in a giant celluloid movie reel which is lit to perfection by Nick Richings dynamic lighting while Nathan M Wright’s choreography feels fresh and inspired.

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The songs are catchy and some of the biggest ear worms you’ll ever hear while the story is so brilliantly bonkers you’ll be kept entertained from start to finish. With a superb cast and a chance to leap up mid-way through Act I and do The Time Warp you really can’t go wrong.

Frivolous, flirty and a whole lot of fun! Catch Rocky Horror show at the Opera House until Saturday 26th January tickets available here.

 

Interview | Joanne Clifton talks Rocky Horror

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Professional dancer, singer and actress Joanne Clifton is quickly gaining a strong reputation as one of the most versatile performers in the business as she continues to win rave reviews for her musical theatre performances. After appearing in Manchester recently as both Milly in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Alex in the iconic Flashdance, she’s now back to do The Time Warp at Manchester’s Opera House alongside her Flashdance co-star Ben Adams in The Rocky Horror Picture Show which opens tonight in the city.

We caught up with Joanne ahead of opening night to hear a little more.

Welcome back to Manchester Joanne, what a fun show to return with!

Absolutely, I am having so much fun it’s the craziest show to work on and I’m so excited to be back in Manchester, I can’t wait to perform and get back to my favourite places like Albert Schloss and Australasia too. I have really come to love Manchester, when I was doing Strictly with Ore I was training up here in Manchester and came to really love the city and he showed me so many amazing places. Plus working on this show is just so much fun, I really didn’t know much about it at all before I auditioned and I’ve come to love it so much.

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I guess you danced The Time Warp many times in your dance career, how does it feel performing it on stage in such an iconic show?

It’s brilliant, we get such a buzz from the audience too, I’ve probably been performing the Timewarp every Halloween since I was a little girl without every really knowing what it was so to perform it on stage with this incredible company is just wonderful. It’s such a loved show.

It certainly is a show which has cult following, how has that experience been for you?

In rehearsals our director Christopher Luscombe had told us to expect shouting out and gave examples of what we can expect at the usual parts where people shout out which we all found so funny but then when you are out of the rehearsal room and have a theatre full of people shouting out different things at unexpected times it’s something else. That’s what really makes this show so special, its fan base is amazing. Just looking out to the audience and seeing all the effort people have made and the different costumes they’re wearing, seeing different people dressed as your character and so many others is brilliant. I’ve noticed after seeing people being so daring with their costumes I’ve started getting a bit more daring with my clothes for press nights and things.

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Do you think the fact people can be adventurous and a bit more daring is part of the shows timeless appeal?

Yes, I think the message of just being who you want to be really is what we all want, what we’re all striving for and that message really speaks to people.

How is it working with Ben Adams again?

It’s great, we’re best mates so I knew we’d have loads of fun, we had a great time doing Flashdance and now this, it’s almost like we come as a package. We recorded a song from Flashdance which did really well and now we’ve recorded Damn It, Janet from Rocky Horror which is available on Spotify and Itunes, we’re also writing a musical together which we’re really excited about.

Your brother Kevin is about to star in Rock of Ages which we had in Manchester recently have you offered him any advice?

Not really advice as such but Kevin decided he wanted to try musical theatre after seeing how happy starring in shows has made me, we’ve both been performers from such a young age and we love doing that. Kevin had his first rehearsal this week and he couldn’t wait to ring me and tell me how much he loved it. It’s something that makes me so happy and seeing that convinced him to give it a try too.

Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show tours the UK until 2nd November 2019. For tickets and venues visit http://www.rockyhorror.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

Robin Hood & The Babes in the Wood

The decorations may have come down and the tree has been packed away but there’s one festive treat still on offer as Robin Hood & The Babes in the Wood plays at Warrington’s Parr Hall until Sunday 13th January.

This traditional production is packed full of the usual pantomime favourites, cream pies in the face, water guns as well as being grabbed by the ghosties, or was it the ghoulies? There’s also a sprinkling of topical modern references including the floss, a certain Baby Shark song and even an appearance from the one and only Donald Trump as this fun, family show offers laughs a-plenty for all ages.

The Tony Peers Production written by Phil Beck (who also stars as Nurse Nellie) keeps things very panto traditional with Louise Willoughby playing Robin Hood to Charlotte Buxton’s Maid Marion. Willoughby makes for a strong and sassy lead with both ladies giving note perfect performances despite some hilariously difficult conditions brought about by comedy duo Nurse Nellie and Silly Billy (Phil Beck and Mike Carnell) whose comedy capers are greeted with shrieks of laughter from the audience.

As a double act both Beck and Carnell are fabulous fun, quick witted and enormously entertaining with impeccable comedy timing the duo ensure the action moves at a perfect pace as they gently guide us through the story throwing in plenty of laughs along the way. Ian Moore’s lecherous Sheriff of Nottingham revels in the boos while the Sheriff’s reluctant henchman Snarly played by Edward Leigh shows there’s more to him than meets the eye.

Robin Hood is a great fun production which offers the perfect introduction to festive theatre at a family friendly price. The small cast work brilliantly together, clearly having a lot of fun on stage they succeed in taking the audience along for this traditional and cheeky ride. While there aren’t the big show stopping numbers or dazzling choreography of bigger budget productions the laughs come thick and fast ensuring this panto covers all bases in terms of appeal, from toe-curling close to the bone jokes for the adults to slap-stick silliness for the kids.

My fellow mini-reviewer remarked on the way back to the car “My cheeks hurt from laughing so much” a true testament to the enduring appeal of panto; cheeky, charming and chock-full of fun.

Catch Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood at Warrington’s Parr Hall until Sunday 13th January. Tickets available here.