& 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.

Fisherman’s Friends

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The acapella group Fisherman’s Friends rise is nothing short of remarkable. From humble beginnings in the Cornish village of Port Isaac through to playing the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury. Along the way there is a gold selling album, numerous national and international tours, two feature films and now Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical, a fantastic, feel-good production, that will see your emotions bob up and down like a buoy on a choppy night in the North Sea.

Based on a true story, the story begins showing the two passions of our protagonists, fishing and singing, as the group bring in the catch of the day, during some pretty hazardous conditions, all done with a song in their hearts. It’s a neat introduction to Lucy Osborne’s fabulous looking set that manages to fill the huge stage of the Lyric theatre. Fishing boat, local pub and even a Soho night club, the staging is top draw.

Back on dry land we meet the gang, led by Jim, his father, Jago, as well numerous villagers and salty sea dogs where loyalty, and friendship is as important as keeping their traditions alive and having a well-earned pint. They are all kept in check by Jim’s daughter, Alwyn, who is also a great singer in her own right. The arrival of Danny, a former A & R executive at Island Records will see the seafaring folk enter uncharted territory; Danny who is blown away by the group’s harmonies and just a little smitten with Alwyn hatches a plan.

Danny hopes to have the group record a demo, land them a record deal and hopefully save his own flagging career. However, it’s not all plain sailing and Danny must gain the trust of the group and Alwyn; and that’s just the start of his problems.

Whilst the plot isn’t the most original or ground-breaking story telling you’re ever likely to see, with its fish-out-of-water meets rags to riches familiar tropes, the production has plenty of a heart, soul and a huge sense of fun, it’s certainly one of the most up lifting nights at the theatre I’ve had in quite some time. Fantastic musicians, stirring vocal blends and powerful solo’s, this production more than delivers when honouring the legacy of the band.

As you might expect there are a great number of sea shanties featured including Blow the Man Down and (What Shall We Do with the) Drunken Sailor and songs that the band have made their own, Keep Hauling and the absolute banger that is No Hopers, Jokers & Rogues.

The performances are outstanding throughout, Jason Langley’s Danny is often the comic foil throughout the show. Langley turns in a fine comedy performance and has a great singing voice to match. Parisa Shahmir as the feisty Alwyn is the perfect match for Langley and the chemistry between the two is the driving force of the whole production. Her stunning vocal performance on The Tidal Pool is absolutely gorgeous.

There is strong support from Hedrian Delacey, as Jim the band’s unofficial leader who expresses his mistrust over unfolding events. Delacey walks the tightrope between caring father figure and cynical patriarch exceptionally well.  In addition, we have Robert Duncan and Susan Penhaligon as Jim’s parents Jago and Maggie, the beating heart of the community, both clearly having a ball as the mischief makers in chief, who have been around the block enough times to know that you shouldn’t squander life’s opportunities.

The music is performed by cast members, who are ever present on stage throughout giving the production a feel of authenticity. I’ve been to enough folk nights to see people getting up and joining in. There is some outstanding musicianship on display throughout the show.

You don’t have to be familiar with the story of the Fisherman’s Friends or even know the music, to enjoy this rousing, upbeat story, just get comfy and let it wash over you. Watching it made me think of hot chocolate, an open log fire, and a cosy night on the couch under a blanket, just some life’s little joys and treasures that offer comfort and are good for the soul, and Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical is no exception to this.

Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical is on at The Lowry until Saturday 1st October, tickets available here.

OutStagedUs

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I was invited to review this “fearlessly bold celebratory night of theatre addressing and exploring issues of sexuality and gender identity.” But I certainly wasn’t expecting to laugh and cry as much as I did.

Hive North theatre company (formerly Hope Theatre Company) has selected eleven very different pieces written by various writers and performed by an exceptional cast.

All pieces are centred around issues of gender identity and sexuality. As I was leaving the auditorium I overheard someone say “there are so many voices that need to be heard” and that’s it – that’s the essence of this performance as a whole.

Within each piece there is a story that many can identify with. There is a struggle that so many people have faced and so many people continue to face. There are issues that I would never have considered that people are confronted with and grapple with daily. There is also great humour and real honesty.

I was incredibly moved by the first piece “Behind Enemy Lines” by Bobbie Warner; the honesty and raw emotion in the writing when exploring the issue of the loss of a pregnancy for a trans masculine person was so incredibly moving and thought provoking.

Spark by Caitlin Magnall-Kearns was an absolute highlight. It was so warm and fragile and the performances from Ralph Bogard and Sam Goodchild were heartlifting and heartbreaking all at the same time. I have never ever wanted two people to end up together more than I did these two!

There was also so much humour in so many of the pieces, even where the subject matter was serious and hard hitting.

The entire cast is to be congratulated on their performances – there was so much talent on stage and nowhere for anyone to hide in this intimate setting of the studio at the Lowry.

All eleven pieces were extraordinary – I feel like my perspective, my empathy, my understanding and my insight have all been changed for the better thanks to these very important pieces of theatre. I felt so incredibly proud of all the writers for sharing such insight into issues that we just don’t explore and discuss enough.

Hive North have done an incredible job of finding these writers and telling their stories. I left wanting to see more and more from these writers, these actors, these directors and these stories in all theatres across the country. I will 100% be back for more, but next time I will remember to pack my tissues!

OutStageUs is on at The Lowry until Thursday 29th September tickets available here.

The Book Thief

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Originally programmed for Spring 2021 before Covid was even a word in our vocabulary, The Book Thief has finally had its world premiere at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre and gosh was it worth the wait.

Set in Nazi Germany during WWII, The Book Thief tells the powerful tale of Liesel Meminger who we first meet as a young child, sent to live with a foster family in a desperate bid by her parents to protect her from the creeping evil taking over the country. Liesel’s lower social class means the only way she can get her hands on the literary escapism she yearns for is by stealing it, she is a child without words but through love they will come. Her first opportunity presents itself from the pocket of a gravedigger as her brother is buried, and so the Book Thief is born.

Markus Zusak’s global best-seller is such a beautiful story it feels like it was always destined to make the leap from page to stage especially after being given the Hollywood treatment back in 2013. It is such a beloved book this new musical had to be treated with the utmost care and respect, something director Lotte Wakeham and the creative team have done with abundance, it is quite simply, stunning.

Jodi Picoult and Timothy Allen McDonald have adapted Zusak’s work faithfully doing absolute justice to the globally adored novel while Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson have gifted the piece with stunning melodies and exquisite songs that gently entwine themselves into the narrative.

Every inch of this production feels of the highest quality from Nic Farman’s atmospheric lighting design to Samuel Wilde’s exquisite puppetry, every detail has been crafted to perfection.

Narrating the piece and guiding us through is ‘Death’, portrayed wonderfully by Ryan O’Donnell. Full of warmth, wit, wisdom and warnings, Death reminds us he’ll visit us all one day but the living we do before he arrives is what really counts. O’Donnell is entirely convincing in the role, commanding our attention yet generously guiding our focus to the story unfolding before us.

The role of Liesel is tonight played by Niamh Palmer who is outstanding. On stage for almost the entirety of the evening she embodies the Liesel millions of readers have fallen in love with. Her voice is superb while her acting convinces entirely. The scenes between those she grows to love are meaningful and heartfelt making the themes of love, language and mortality all the more poignant.

This evening’s Rudy is a wonderful Charlie Murphy, he is pure joy on stage & bursts with charisma. His scenes with Niamh Palmer are both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Jack Lord and Danielle Henry as Hans and Rosa Humbermann bring wonderful wit and warmth while Daniel Krikler as Max Vandenberg adds a genuine depth to the piece as the stark reality of life in Nazi Germany plays out. His poignant delivery of ‘Hello, Stars’ offering a whole new meaning to the words since we first heard them at the start of the piece sung so sweetly by Liesel.

While the leads are outstanding this is a true ensemble production, each and every member of the cast give their all. They deliver Tom Jackson Greaves’ stunning choreography with precision; at times it’s joyful, light and celebratory, others, each and every motion portrays the gut-wrenching pain of persecution and loss. The storytelling through movement combined with the powerful script and score make for a perfect marriage, communicating to the audience clearly and carefully.

While there is an ever present feeling that mortality may never be too far away this is a truly beautiful story of hope and the power we all have through the words we use & the choices we make. Words of love not hate, seeds of kindness, a reminder to look to the stars and to never let evil win.

The Book Thief is a total triumph, full of heart, humour and hope. There was laughter, tears and a swelling of genuine emotion as the thundering standing ovation was received. Everything about this show says West End transfer, it’s a truly special piece of theatre which deserves to be seen far and wide. Superb.

The Book Thief is on at Bolton’s Octagon theatre until Saturday 15th October tickets available here.

Girl from the North Country

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

To many Robert Zimmerman, or Bob Dylan to use his stage name is the greatest songwriters of all time. With a career spanning six decades and spawning well over 40 albums, Dylan undoubtedly deserves his spot in the conversation for who is the GOAT. Either love his music or loathe it you can’t deny the volume and quality of his work.

With that in mind there is something of the inevitable about Dylan’s music, being turned into a musical; however, the result isn’t quite what you had in mind and that’s down to writer/director Conor McPherson (The Weir, Port Authority).

McPherson’s Girl from the North County takes place in Dylan’s home town of Duluth, Minnesota, some seven years before the singer was born. It’s 1934 and Duluth, like the rest of America, is still suffering from the impact of the Wall Street crash and the great depression.

Guest house proprietor, Nick Laine, (Colin Connor), has a great number of problems. Along with trying to keep the business afloat, he must care for his dementia riddled wife, Elizabeth (Frances McNamee), help his son, Gene (Gregor Milne) stay sober long enough to hold down a steady job, appease his mistress, the good natured Mrs Neilsen (Nichola MacEvilly), and see that his pregnant, adopted daughter Marianne (Justina Kehinde) is wed to a local ageing business man, Mr Perry (Teddy Kempner), in a bid to secure a stable future for the young women.

In addition to his immediate family, the guest house must remain open in order to keep a roof over the head of the various hard-on-their-luck waifs and strays the lodgings has collected, including an ex-con boxer, a sinister priest, and a family with a troubled son. Under the watchful eye of the local GP and morphine addict, Dr Walker (Chris McHallem) their stories intertwine with one another leading to a fateful Thanksgiving dinner that will change their lives forever.

Those expecting a jukebox musical of Dylan’s greatest hits are in for a rude awakening. For sure there are some crowd pleasers, Hurricane, I Want You, and Like a Rolling Stone to name but a few, but the music chosen spans Dylan’s career up to 2012, with the song Duquesne Whistle. Whilst most musicals use their songs to drive the narrative along, the song choice here is to show a shared connection between the characters.

McPherson’s bleak script tackles some meaty subject matter, with dementia, mental illness, financial hardship, and racism (all so very relevant to this day), which in lesser hands could stray into melodrama, however, Girl From The North Country treads that line very carefully aided by a fantastic, hardworking ensemble cast, some powerful central performances, great song-and-dance routines, and a script punctured with a enough humour to keep it entertaining for all the right reasons.

Despite the rather grim setting and subject matter, the production has a great deal of energy to it, with the 20 strong cast frequently on stage together joining in backing vocals, playing various musical instruments, or dancing, whilst the production’s band The Howlin’ Winds expertly delve through Dylan’s back catalogue.

The production values are right out of the top draw, with Rae Smith’s scene and costume design, marrying perfectly with Mark Henderson’s lighting design and Simon Baker’s sound design to create an authentic dreary, dank claustrophobic setting with shoots of colour throughout. At times some of the set pieces resemble a painting in scale composition. The authenticity of the production helped by the use of instruments only around in the 1930’s.

My only real criticism is that at times there are too many narratives, and not enough time devoted to them, so some plot strands don’t quite reach a satisfying conclusion which is a little disappointing.

Girl From The North Country, is a satisfying night at the theatre, and one not just for fans of Dylan’s music. It’s a well-crafted piece of work anchored by some of the best songs of the last century.

Girl From The North Country is at the Lyric Theatre Lowry until 24th September 2022. Tickets available here.

Something’s Coming (to Tameside), Something Good…

Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s hit musical, ‘West Side Story’ is coming to Tameside from 29th March to 1st April 2023. Presented by Hyde Musical Theatre Society the classic love story will take to the stage at Hyde’s Festival Theatre.

Following their sell out production of the Elvis juke box musical ‘All Shook Up’ earlier this year, Hyde Musical Theatre Society return to the stage next year with the romantic and tragic musical ‘West Side Story’.

Recently released in it’s second film adaptation by Steven Spielberg, ‘West Side Story’ takes the well-known Shakespeare play ‘Romeo & Juliet’ into the 1950’s streets of New York. Exploring the fierce rivalry of gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, and the young, forbidden love between Tony and Maria. The musical features songs such as Somewhere, America and I Feel Pretty.

Chair of Hyde Musical Society, Julie Wilkinson Said “We chose this musical not only because is it one of the greats from the fantastic pairing of Bernstein and Sondheim, but it has themes that are so important in the current climate. It’s a tragic but beautiful story that teaches us to love without hate.”

She continues, “The 2021 film was a massive hit, there is still an appetite for this to be brought to the stage. The last time it came to Manchester was in 2020 at The Royal Exchange, so we thought its time to bring the Jets and the Sharks back to Greater Manchester!”

The company, like many other local theatre societies, were pulled from the stage during the dress rehearsals of their 2020 musical ‘All Shook Up’ due to the Covid-19 outbreak. They took to the stage with the production more than 2 years later.

Hyde Musical Society celebrated their 80th year in 2020, and are hoping to bring theatre audiences back into their local theatres following the two years of closures.

Daniel Oliver-Grant, Director of this production of West Side Story said “I’m so excited to be working with Hyde Musical Society, their last show ‘All Shook Up’ was brilliant, well received by audiences and had a phenomenal cast. I think ‘West Side Story’ can be even bigger and better.”

He continues “We’ve got a fantastic group of dancers, and an incredible principal cast that I have no doubt will bring this much-loved musical to life. I’ve got big plans and some great ideas to make this production feel fresh, but keep the charm that audiences know and love.”

Rehearsals start in Hyde this October, and the cast take to the stage for a weeklong run at Hyde Festival Theatre, from 29th March to 1st April.

Tickets are available from Sparks Theatre Management or head to hydemusicalsociety.org.uk for more information.

Dreamgirls

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Dream girls is a roller coaster of a story that introduces us to three talented young singers, who are starting out singing in a world where not everyone wants to hear them and not everyone has their best interests at heart.

The girls enter a singing competition, but they don’t stand a chance when small time star “Jimmy Early” (Brandon Lee Jones) loses his backing singers s and his manager Marty (Jo Servi) fails to entice the girls to go on tour with Jimmy. Enter Curtis Taylor Jr (Matt Mills) the man who will stop at nothing to convince the Dreamettes to do the tour and let him be their new manager. And he has big plans, which don’t always include everyone.

Curtis Taylor and songwriter C.C White (Shem Omari James) begin their dream to get the girls to the top of the charts, and in Curtis’ case, at all costs. The story tells the tale of fames, fortune and heartbreak. And most of all friendship.

And I am telling you , I am not going to ever stop raving about this show. 

Wow, wow, wow. I have never seen a show with such power and strength, in storyline, cast and music. This show is something else.

The casting are incredible: each and every cast member plays their part perfectly and with immense talent and emotion. The hits just keep coming. One after another. The staging is clever and functional. We are told the story through seeing, not by being told. We feel the emotions of the characters because the actors show us and pull us along for the ride.

The Dreamettes have a bond, both in script and onstage. Their performances as a group are electric and note perfect. Paige Peddie, who plays Lorrell, works the audience perfectly and we adore her within seconds. She starts of as a timid young girl, and we see her grow into a strong woman. Natalie Kassandra, who plays Deena, is excellent in her portrayal of a young woman who is manipulated by a man who is controlling and coercive. That is until she absolutely comes into her own in Act two in her duet of Listen, with Effie White (Nicole Raquel Dennis). I was mesmerised and moved by this number. These women are incredible.

Now I knew that Nicole Raquel Dennis was going to be good, because I follow her on Twitter and I’ve seen what she can do, but I was not prepared to see her live. This woman is something else. I have no idea how it is humanly possibly to do what she does, day in and day out. I have never, ever seen an audience jump to its feet in the middle of a song in Act One. “And I am telling you I’m not going”, was the single greatest performance I have ever seen. Nothing could have prepared me for how I would feel during that performance. I’ve heard Nicole compared to Jennifer Hudson, she doesn’t need comparing to anyone. She is exceptional in every single way, she’s beautiful, majestic and talented.  I can’t wait to see what she does next. 

Now, while it may seem that the women dominate this show, their talent is matched by the male leads also. Brandon Lee Sears performance as Jimmy is energetic, humorous and at times heart wrenching. And boy can that man move his hips! Shem Omari James is beautiful in his role of Effie’s brother C.C, he is a great talent, and I’m sure we are going to see him in the West End over and over again in the coming years.

Matt Mills, who plays Curtis Taylor is multi talented and plays the greedy, desperate manager fantastically. Another excellently cast performer, who delivers in every scene.

The entire cast deserves a mention, they are slick and powerful and deserve every standing ovation that they receive. This show is big, bold, loud and full to the brim with talent. 

The music, oh the music, I grew up with my parents listening to Motown, so I was always going to love the music. I wanted to get up and dance many a time during the show. Tom Eyen and Harry Krieger deserve every accolade they receive, they know how to write a hit.

This show is everything it should be- glitzy, glamorous and oozing with talent. It’s not to be missed. I want to go back again and again and again.

Dreamgirls is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 24th September tickets available here.

Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Usual the Sea Witch

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

There is a famous Monty Python sketch called The Fish Slapping Dance, whereby Michael Palin slaps John Cleese in the face with two tiny fish, whilst performing an absurd little jig, only for Cleese to retaliate with a massive slap to Palin’s face with a huge trout! Now I know this isn’t the normal way to begin a review but after watching Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula The Sea Witch, you’ll feel like you’ve been walloped over the head by something bigger than a giant trout! Vulgar, absurd, and hilarious, this in-your-face musical parody is as crude as it is fun and I loved it, and dare I say so would the Python team too!

With cinematic releases from Disney such Maleficent and Cruella, told from the point of the villain proving to be a huge commercial successes, Fat Rascal Theatre’s march on the Mouse-eared media Megalodon with their alternative take on everyone’s favourite sea witch, is also proving to be a huge audience favourite.

In this retelling, the action rewinds 20 years:  Ursula, is a sassy, no nonsense strong woman, who heads to Atlantica in the hope that a marriage with the Kings son, Triton will save the kingdom. However the course, of true love doesn’t run smoothly, first some body shaming aimed at our straight talking heroine, followed by being framed for murder, sees  Ursula exiled from Atlantica

Fast Forward 20 years, Triton returns to his former lover, in need of her help with his daughter, Ariel. Ariel is his only living heir and will inherit the kingdom, however it’s fair to say Ariel isn’t quite ready to be a reigning monarch, more interested in men, and what they have between their legs than ruling the sea. Will Ursula’s plan work and make Ariel, become the princess those Disney bigwigs want her to be?

This production is an absolute riot from start to finish: catchy, no nonsense show tunes with big laughs, not just there because they have to be but there because they enhance the plot. Stand out numbers include the crude, but hilarious, Where the Dicks Are, the scene setting Nasty, and my personal favourite, We Didn’t Make it to Disney.

The cast more than matches the excellent written material.  Allie Dart-Munro as Ursula, gets the balance of sass and vulnerability just right. Whilst George Whitty as Triton, has a tremendous singing voice, hitting all the right notes. His is a dead-pan performance when compared to his co-stars. Miracle Chance is exceptional as Ariel, a gift at comedy, a real ‘jesters’ performance. Whilst Jamie Mawson as Eric, the handsome prince of the story is as OTT as he is ridiculous.

There is great support from Danni Payne and Jack Grey who play multiple characters and puppets including Sebastian the lobster, now sporting an Irish descent.

My only gripe really is the sound mix seemed off during the first half, with some of the lyrics lost in the mix, it was rectified following the interval, but I’m sure there were more laughs to be had if I could hear the gags.

With strong messages about body positivity, water pollution, the environment and #MeToo blended with a great deal of risque songs, and more ‘knob’, gags then the average Graham Norton monologue, this is highly entertaining and fun night at the theatre, just leave the kids at home with a babysitter and the subscription to a popular child friendly streaming platform would be my advice.

Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula The Sea Witch is at the Lowry till Saturday 10th September, tickets available here.

Identical

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

This brand new musical is based on the original book “Das Doppelte Lottchen” by Erich Kastner; two huge Hollywood movies both titled “Parent Trap” have been made of this tale and both are absolute family must sees.

Directed by Trevor Nunn, with music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, Identical is the tale of twin girls separated as babies, who then meet at a summer camp age ten. Initially the are appalled that they look alike (well, more than alike: identical). Eventually the penny drops and they realise that they are twins who must have been separated. They devise a cunning plan to switch places when returning to their respective homes. They do a great job of convincing those around them that they are who they say they are, until one becomes unwell and it’s up to the other to bring the families back together as one.

There are three sets of twins who play the roles of Lisa and Lottie. In the performance I attended it was the turn of Kyla and Nicole Fox and these two young women are incredible. Everything about their performances was exceptional. They were, without doubt, the absolute stars of this show. Every note they sang, they hit perfectly and their chemistry with their respective parents as well as with each other was magical. 

The first half is a little slow at times, but it’s setting up the narrative for what will come in the second half and it is worth the wait. The songs are pleasant and performed well by all of the cast, but there didn’t seem to be any big numbers to take away and sing on the car journey home.

The play is played straight, it sticks to the story and at times it misses the opportunity to make us laugh, but it’s simple and enjoyable. The cast are all excellent and there are moments of tenderness between characters that brought a lump to my throat.

The set design is like nothing I have seen before and quite frankly it took my breath away. The use of digital moving images on backgrounds that change and shift is so dynamic. It really helped to set the scene and tell the story. It was obvious where each scene was set – using this kind of technology means that there is no limit to the number of settings you can have. I think this will be seen more and more in touring theatre productions – it is phenomenal.

All in all this is an enjoyable show with fine performances from all the cast. Beautifully written songs and is entertaining. I think children age 9 and over would really enjoy this show – it is a little long for younger children with a running time of approximately 2 and a half hours. A few tweaks here and there and Identical could soon become a firm family favourite.

Identical is on at The Lowry until Saturday 3rd September, tickets available here.

SIX

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I have felt for a very long time like I was the only person in the world who hadn’t seen this musical. Trust me, I’ve tried, but covid had other plans. My delight when asked to review it was not pretty: it involved much whooping and a little overhelmed sob. But, as the day approached I was little anxious about whether it was going to live up to everything I’d read and heard. Live up to the hype? OMG: lived up to and sky rocketed above any expectations I had. Absolutely outstanding, like nothing I’ve ever seen. I’m going back for more, without a doubt.

A show about women, by women, empowering women, telling the tale of women, but not just for women. I took my 70 year old dad with me and he is equally as excited about this show as I am!
History/herstory, it’s a must see for all.

The show is based on the lives of Henry VIII wives, all six of them. The staging is that of a pop concert where the Queens use songs to compete to prove that they are infact the most important and tragic wife of Henry VIII – there are no set changes, no costume changes, no time off stage for the characters or musicians. What you see is what you get. And what you get is phenomenal. It is no wonder that this has become a global sensation.

So much of our history is dominated by men, and the role of women can often be depicting them as villains or muses or meek and mild. This show is ripping up those history books and reclaiming the stories of these six women. The parallels to modern life, divorces played out in court rooms, the media, the use of social media, is uncanny.



Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss are a force to be reckoned with. The lyrics to the songs are modern, engaging and hilarious and at times very raw and vulnerable. The music is class, melodious, banging, brazen, comical, classical, it’s like nothing I’ve seen before. This show was written by these two, then undergraduate students, and first appeared at the fringe in Edinburgh and tonight it was in the lyric theatre in Salford with the audience on its feet in absolute awe of this show.

And what makes this show the most incredible show I’ve seen is also this dynamic and talented cast. Each “Queen” brings something different, both in character performances and talent.

Catherine Aragon is played by Chloe Hart and this woman took by breath away. She is fearless, sassy and bold in her performance. She was a stand out performer for me and my absolute Queen!

Anne Boleyn is played by Jennifer Caldwell, who is hilarious throughout the entire show, reminding us time and time ago that she was behedded, a fact that entertains the audience again and again. Her performance of “Don’t Lose Your Head” was flawless.



Casey Al-Shaqsy plays Jane Seymour and her note perfect, raw performance of “Heart of Stone” was moving and showed the great vulnerability of a character who often we consider to be the lucky one. Once again showing us that a male narrative of historical events can omit the struggle of women through history.

Jessica Niles plays Anna of Cleves. Her and the company’s introduction to her character through the magnificent number “House of Holbein” is exquisite. It is for me, the cleverest number in the whole production. The fact that her story is told by using online dating sites to help us understand her story is ingenious. Niles’ goes on to deliver a brilliant performance of the number “Get Down” showing us an insight into the life of Anna from a whole new perspective.

Katherine Howard is played by Leesa Tulley, who is magical in her performance of “All You Wanna Do” – it’s very, very Brittney – if not a more polished version! With the Me Too movement this highlighted that it has been a struggle faced by women for centuries – literally!

And our last queen – Catherine Parr played by the mighty Alana M Robinson. The Queen who makes the show stop and reevaluate it’s narrative – bringing together the women to support and empower each other. And all this done while busting some moves and hitting all of the high notes.

Six is the show of the moment and for many many good reasons. This show is helping to cultivate a new intelligent form of theatre for future generations. It is a show that has longevity, that will be talked about over and over, a show that we will encourage each other to go and see, the show we will go and see again and again. All of this because it’s well staged, beautifully and cleverly written and because this cast and the casts before it and the casts that will come after it will engage us and inspire us and educate us. Yes it’s all women but it’s not just for women, it’s a show for all. You might have forgotten what you learnt about Henry at school – you won’t forget about what you learnt about these woman in this show.

SIX is on at The Lowry until Sunday 14th August tickets available here.

South Pacific

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Credit: Johan Persson

Rather surprisingly that hottest place in Manchester last night wasn’t the mythical island of Bali Ha’i central to the plot of South Pacific (this was due the fabulous air con at the Manchester Opera House), however make no bones about Daniel Evans’s revival of this Roger and Hammerstein classic is one of the hottest tickets in town!

From the much-praised Chichester Festival Theatre production, South Pacific is a dual love story. The first involves a French plantation owner and an American nurse; the second an American GI, and a native Tonkinese woman. All four find themselves on an island in the South Pacific, with the spectre of World War 2 hanging over them. However, it’s not war that threatens their relationships, but their past lives, clashes of culture and most certainly current prejudices that stand in the way of true love.

Credit: Johan Persson

Cards on the table I’ve never seen South Pacific, so seeing racism tackled in such a forthright manner was quite unexpected, especially when the prejudice came in the guise of the production’s ‘heroine’, nurse Ensign Nellie Forbush. When Oscar Hammerstein penned the lyrics to ‘You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’ over 70 years ago he hoped that the subject of racial equality would have improved but sadly we’re not quite there yet.

With such a weighty subject matter the production requires some powerhouse performances and lucky for us that’s exactly what we get. Julian Ovenden is in sublime form as plantation owner, Emile de Becque. Charming, charismatic, and tortured, his rendition of ‘This Nearly was Mine’ is the highlight of the night from a show jam-packed with highlights. Opposite him is the equally excellent Gina Beck as Nurse Forbush, a performance packed with energy, like a 4tth of July firework set she draws your attention throughout, radiating warmth and joy which makes the characters prejudices all the more shocking.

Credit: Johan Persson

In addition, there are some fine supporting performances Joanna Ampil puts in a great comedic turn as Bloody Mary, the personification of a survivor, doing all she can to protect herself and family. Whilst Rob Houchen as Lieutenant Cable and Sera Maehra as Liat, bring something wonderfully different to the second love story. Houchen with his delicate vocals on the aforementioned, ‘You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’ is superb while Maehara opens the production with a beautifully haunting dance routine, which then feature throughout.

As well as Amil’s Bloody Mary, there is additional light relief from Douggie McMeekin’s scene stealing, Luther Billis, a dodgy GI, with a lot of fingers in a lot of pies, think Dad’s Army’s Private Walker and you’re on the right track.

Credit: Johan Persson

Of course, being such a classic South Pacific has some big ensemble numbers in its arsenal, from the hugely infectious ‘There is Nothin’ Like A Dame’ to the bright and breezy ‘I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa my Hair’, that will have you itching to sing along.

Director Daniel Evans’ South Pacific has a contemporary feel to it and is all you could want from a night at the theatre, fantastic performances, great show tunes and more importantly a social commentary on racism, which sadly still blights society today. 

South Pacific is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 23rd July tickets available here.

Lord of The Dance

Reviewed by Robyn Molyneux

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Last night I had the pleasure of attending one of Manchester’s most beautiful theatres, the Palace theatre. The architecture is just stunning, and having taken my seats with no pre-conceptions of what I was about to see, I was blown away by the talent shown by the dancers that made up the troupe for this mid-week evening performance; the energy was infectious, and it is clear to see the hard work and dedication that goes into preparing for and delivering each performance.

I wont lie, I’m not sure what I had expected but this felt like a dream you have had when you’ve had too much cheese before bed, the kind of randomness that just sort of works!

In almost equal measure was the cheesiness and fun that the show delivered, with a loose storyline of good triumphing over evil! The show was full of charisma and embodied the famous style of Michael Flatley, cut from the same cloth with light-hearted comedy moments and showcasing the talents of those toes whilst flexing and “blue steel” posing all at once.

Between the main acts of dancers was a solo female singer who although talented, felt like she was drafted in to give the audience a break from the high energy show however, I found a bit out of kilter with the rest of the shows essence. Also, there were two violinists who played beautifully that accompanied the dancers throughout some numbers, maybe they should stick to playing the violin and avoid the awkward dance moves that went with it?

In terms of the difference numbers, my favourite part has to be when a dance off takes place. The slow build of articulate noise that can be created from their tap shoes is amazing, you feel the beat and excitement build in the rhythm as it comes to point.

Overall, the show was great fun and something a little different that everyone should see at some point in their life, full of feel-good vibes and incredible talent!

Lord of the Dance is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Sunday 17th July tickets available here.

Sister Act

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Sister Act tells the story of wannabe club singer Deloris (Sandra Marvin), who is the mistress of gangster Eddie Souther (Clive Rowe). Ready to end their affair, after he gifts her his wife’s old fur coat, Deloris accidentally witnesses Eddie kill a man. Fearing for her life she flees to the police and is forced to enter witness protection. A convent isn’t quite what she had in mind though and it takes her a fair bit of adjusting! But being given the role of choir master helps Deloris bond with the other nuns and she sets about helping them raise money to fix the church roof.


This show is a roaring success, and the Manchester audience loved it. It’s clear that many people (judging from the huge applause she received before she had even opened her mouth to deliver a line) came to see the legend that is Jennifer Saunders and she really doesn’t disappoint. There is no hiding from the fact that she isn’t a singer – but she doesn’t need to be, she even acknowledges this during her performance herself. Her comic timing, stage presence and the way in which she engages with the cast means that the audience is captivated with her character, Mother Superior, immediately.

The cast is packed with stars of the stage and screen and this makes for a very polished performance all round. Lizzie Bea hitting the high notes was a highlight of the show- she is a great talent. While Clive Rowe in a sparkly 70s disco dancing outfit performing “I could be that guy” is something I won’t forget in a hurry!


The songs differ from those in the movie and they aren’t as catchy, but it really doesn’t matter. The way that the “nuns” come together and perform is absolutely first class – Sister Mary Lazarus played by Leslie Joseph is a triumph, 76 years of age and moves as fast and nimble as any cast member on that stage. Later in the year she will take on the role of Mother Superior, which I think will be well worth seeing.


The set design by Morgan Large is impressive and Tim Mitchell’s lighting design compliments it incredibly well. Visually it makes such an impact.

Sister Act has all the ingredients for a fun night out, filled with laughter, good music and spectacular performances. It doesn’t disappoint from start to finish. The audience couldn’t wait to get up on their feet for the finale.

Sister Act is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 9th July tickets available here.