Aladdin Press Launch


First Family Entertainment and The Opera House, Manchester have announced their star-studded line up for this year’s fabulous family panto and boy are we in for a treat! Oh no we’re not……OH YES WE ARE!!!!

There will be superb sets, sparkling costumes and of course side splitting comedy all headed up by a spectacular cast! Rumour has it there may even be a flying carpet and don’t get me started on what that magical lamp might do!


First up is much loved Manchester actor John Thomson, currently riding high in the TV ratings with the return of the brilliant Cold Feet, John takes on the role of the evil Abanazer. After playing Captain Hook back in 2007 John is thrilled to take on another notorious baddie and is looking forward to the challenge of getting the fine balance right between the comedy of the role and also the mischief and villainy.

“Playing a baddie is all about getting the balance right…one foot in the booooooo’s and one foot in the ha ha ha’s, to the kids watching it means everything, it’s so real to them, they get so involved and everything that happens on stage is so important”.

John spoke about his admiration for Panto greats who have paved the way for our current stars, Cannon and Ball, Norman Wisdom, Russ Abbot, Cilla Black..and more recently Joe Pasquale, Bradley Walsh, Bobby Davro and Brian Conley;

“..they delivered performances I not only admire but also aspire to, for me it means I want to get this right”.

John loves the unique charm and the Britishness of Panto, noting that the top three trending items on Twitter over the weekend were “The Archers, Country File and Antiques Roadshow” John thinks it’s clear what the British public want, good ,well made, wholesome entertainment, with hopefully the successful return of Cold Feet shaking things up a bit and paving the way for a return of more quality drama and entertainment and what better place to start than with the much loved tradition of Panto!


Joining John for the festive season as the Genie of the Ring is the legendary Sherrie Hewson. Sherrie is hugely excited to return to Manchester, where she had an enormously successful five years on the cobbles at Coronation St. Aladdin is one of her absolute favourite Panto’s so she’s thrilled that her Grandchildren will get to see her in such a magical production.

A veteran of Panto with many tales to tell Sherrie will make for an exceptional Genie, dramatic, flamboyant, not to mention totally and utterly fabulous!

Sherrie hugely values the importance of Panto and loves how it gives so many children their first opportunity of live theatre. Sherrie described how Panto has given her own Grandchildren a taste for the theatre, something they now all enjoy as a family with regular trips to London.  Sherrie takes great pride in knowing her part in this year’s Panto will create magical memories for many more children and families new to the world of theatre. With great experience comes great knowledge and after working on so many panto’s in the past Sherrie certainly knows a great cast when she sees one;

I’m so looking forward to working with my fellow cast members, this cast feels really good, everything fits and feels just right.


No Panto is complete without a dashing Prince and there’s no exception here, taking on the role of Aladdin is they very lovely Ben Adams known to many as the lead singer of popular 90’s boyband ‘A1’. Ben is now a hugely successful songwriter having recently enjoyed a spell at No 1 with the track ‘Guilty Flowers’ which he co-wrote with Ward Thomas and Shelly Poole. Add to this the fact Ben still tours with A1 and has recently reached No.1 with his own Classical Ep ‘One Beautiful Mourning’ as well as creating a new musical Eugenius! Phew!

Ben is really excited to be in Manchester, this is actually his third Christmas playing Aladdin after previously playing the role in Woking and Milton Keynes so when given the chance again he was keen to perform somewhere new, Ben reflects on his touring years with A1 and described past Manchester audiences as ..”Brilliant, always great fun” but due to being on the road he’d only ever get to stay for one night before heading off to the next gig so Ben’s taking this time as a great opportunity to explore Manchester and get to know this fabulous city.

While Ben is excited to take on the role again he’d love in future to tackle the challenge of playing a dame, having lots of fun with the role and of course enjoying the great interaction with the audience.


Completing the start-studded line up and appearing as the long-suffering Widow Twankey will be Eric Potts, one of Britain’s best loved panto dames. Eric has previously won critical acclaim for his panto roles at the Opera House playing Widow Twankey in Aladdin in 2009 and Sarah the Cook in Dick Whittington in 2013 and is a huge crowd pleaser. As well as appearing in and writing the script, Eric will also be directing this year’s show!

With laughs a plenty, chart-topping songs, tonnes of unforgettable Panto puns, lamp loads of wishes AND a real flying carpet, Aladdin is set to be the most magical show of the season. Once you rub the magic lamp this fine cast will transport you into a magical world of boo-able baddies and hunky heros with more than a few tricks and treats along the way!

Aladdin print.jpg

Opera House, Friday 9th December – Sunday 8th January

Tickets available now from

There are two BSL Interpreted Performance scheduled for Thu 15 & Fri 16 Dec 2016, 7pm, and on Fri 30 Dec 2016 at 1pm a Relaxed Performance. For more information on access performances call the access team on 0161 245 6605.


New Play Will Put Issue Of Homelessness In The Spotlight


PARALLEL image credit: Anthony Robling

An all-female cast has been announced for a thought-provoking and innovative new play, which tours the North of England this Autumn, co-produced by Black Toffee and Harrogate Theatres.

Parallel is a darkly comic drama, which highlights the personal stories behind homelessness. The play is hugely pertinent, as the national housing crisis worsens and rough-sleeping has doubled since 2010. As well as highlighting this important social issue, Parallel also explores our broader understanding of home, purpose and charity, through the lives of three strangers, who desperately need to connect.

Anna is stranded. Beth came for a think. C just wants some kip. Three women meet by chance late at night. None of them really want to be there, yet none of them leave. It is a rare moment of stillness in a hectic modern world, bringing both solace and discomfort. With only loose change, some booze and a dodgy carrot at their disposal, will any of them find their way home?

The three women will be played by actors who will learn all three parts. A dice roll by an audience member decides which parts the actors will play at every performance. There are in effect, six different versions of the play.

Writer, Laura Lindsay, explains her reasoning behind this exciting theatrical device: “The dice roll explores the impact of chance on the outcome of our lives. It illustrates that homelessness can happen to anyone. Ultimately I wanted to emphasise that we’re all very much alike with the same needs and wants, and it is largely fortune and circumstance which determine the quality of our living situation. I also think it is really interesting for the audience to imagine the show in different combinations and reflect on why they think an actor is most suited to a certain part. We’ve had some audience members come to see the show more than once to see another combination.”

The cast are confirmed as Janet Kumah, Arabella Gibbins, and the writer herself, Laura Lindsay.

Janet Kumah has a wealth of experience across stage, TV and film, as well a strong musical background including performing in West End smash-hit, The Bodyguard.

Arabella Gibbins played the lead in the musical Poppies earlier this year, which premiered at The Space Theatre in London to wide critical acclaim. She has recently returned from performing in  a five star sell out show at the Edinburgh Fringe, with her comedy group Laughing Stock.

A graduate of Manchester’s Arden School of Theatre, writer and producer of Parallel Laura Lindsays’ acting credits include the national tour of Hidden, The Rise and Fall of Little and Emmerdale.

The production sees Laura, Black Toffee’s founder, join forces again with Director James Baker. The pair enjoyed recent success and critical acclaim with the musical Parade at Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester. 

Parallel is touring five venues throughout November, playing Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester from 1 to 5 November.

For more information visit:

Selfridges goes Shakespeare!


Now time for something a little different…

Opening Night usually tells you about what is coming up in the world of theatre…but what about when theatre finds itself a temporary new home?

Well that is what is about to happen today (11th September).

Theatre company The Letter Room will be descending on Manchester’s Selfridges Exchange Square, creating raucous little pockets of theatre that puts the audience in a Shakespearean world to celebrate the Shakespeare ReFASHIONed scheme. They will be enhancing shoppers experience, getting them laughing, clicking their fingers and maybe even dancing.  The performances will take place at 2pm and 4pm and will run across different floors of the Exchange Square store.

Head down the escalators to the Lower Ground’s beauty floor the the underground speakeasy where Juliet is the singing diamond. There’s music and dancing, everyone is beautiful and it’s a party. Think Baz Lurhman’s Great Gatsby. As the Capulets are getting ready for the masquerade ball behind the scenes you might just see Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time.

On the ground floor, Malvolio is donning his most favourite accessories….the yellow stockings. That hugely famous scene from Twelfth Night unfolds among the shoes and handbags, farcical and fierce. In his garters and stockings it’s a nod at the burlesque and freak show inspired world of the French vaudeville.

First floor menswear is where to meet Rosalind and Celia from As You Like It, where Rosalind is trying on her new threads, to impose as Ganymede to win the heart of Orlando in the Forest of Arden. Ascend to the second floor and you embark on  1950s glamour, think Mad Men and sharp suits. Here you’ll find the rebellious Kate from Taming of the Shrew and enjoy Rock and Roll music from the Buddy Holly’s and the Don Cherry crooners as the characters sip on cocktails.

The day will be full of acoustic live music with some original and some twists on recognisable tunes. The Letter Room will perform excerpts from four Shakespeare plays, incorporating modern day fashion with bygone eras to create an exciting, otherworldly interpretation of some of Shakespeare’s most famous characters. The Shakespeare ReFASHIONed scheme celebrates four hundred years after his death with a range of in store activity and exclusive product.

So, if you fancy some Shakespeare this Sunday, head to Selfridges Exchange Square…there’s no need to be ‘Bard’ at home!

For more info visit


Casting announced for Dirty Dancing UK Tour


Dirty Dancing UK Tour

Get those watermelons ready….it’s time to head to Kellermans when Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story Live on Stage mambos its way to the Palace Theatre, Manchester in October.

The classic story of Baby and Johnny, featuring the hit songs ‘Hungry Eyes’, ‘Hey! Baby’, ‘Do You Love Me?’ and the showstopping ‘(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life’, returns to Manchester this autumn following two blockbuster West End runs, two hit UK tours, and various sensational international productions.

Lewis Griffiths will star as Johnny Castle, one of the most iconic roles in popular culture. Lewis has had a prolific career in musical theatre, most recently starring as ‘Nick Massi’ on the UK tour of Jersey Boys. Katie Hartland will make her professional musical theatre debut carrying the watermelons as she takes on the role of Baby Houseman, having graduated from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in 2015. Carlie Milner will star as Penny Johnson. Carlie is part of the Dirty Dancing family; starting as a member of the ensemble in 2014, she covered and subsequently took over the role of Penny in 2015.

Dirty Dancing –The Classic Story On Stage originally opened at London’s Aldwych Theatre in 2006 with a record-breaking advance of £15 million, making it the fastest ever selling show in West End theatre history. The production became the longest running show in the history of the Aldwych Theatre and played to over 2 million people during its triumphant 5 year run.

Full of passion and romance, heart-pounding music and sensationally sexy dancing, the record-breaking show has been reconceived in an all new production created by an innovative new creative team; directed by Federico Bellone, choreographed by Gillian Bruce and with design re-imagined by top Italian set designer Roberto Comotti.

The production features the much-loved characters and original dialogue from the iconic film, with exciting extra scenes added in.

Dirty Dancing – Palace Theatre, Manchester

Mon 10 – Sat 15 October 2016

Book tickets here 



Alder & Gibb Preview


After its epic production in 2014 at the Royal Court, Tim Crouch returns to his celebrated play ‘Adler & Gibb’ with a new cast and ‘acoustic’ staging, simplifying it to amplify the story. Crouch brings the show to The Lowry’s intimate Quay’s theatre from Tue 13th – Sat 17th September.

Written and directed by Tim Crouch and co-directed by Andy Smith and Karl James, ‘Adler & Gibb’ is the story of a raid – on a house, a life and a legacy. In preparation for the film role of a lifetime, an actress goes to extreme lengths to dig up the truth. Her subject is the deceased celebrated artist, Janet Adler, who rejected the art world in favour of a private life. Breaking into Adler’s house in search of anything that might help make her portrayal more authentic, she finds more than she bargained for when she discovers the house is still occupied.

From the real to unreal, fake to true and theatre to film, the play marries Crouch’s career-long fascination with form to a compelling story of misappropriation and legacy.

In discussing this particular production Crouch explained that; “The scale and ambition of Adler & Gibb is new to my work and it means a lot to have an opportunity to re-visit it this year. The Royal Court run in 2014 enabled me to stretch every aspect of the play to its fullest. I’m excited now to increase the reach of the writing while simplifying the demands of the staging. We’ve talked of developing an ‘unplugged’ version that builds on what we learnt two years ago. A version that allows the audience to really hear the words, see the pictures in their heads and follow the story. This new production is an intensification of what the play means to me and a strengthening of its aim.”

Described by as ‘Theatrically and intellectually ambitious.’ **** Adler & Gibb is a no doubt set to be one of the most fascinating theatrical productions of the season.

Tickets available here

Sunny Afternoon, Opera House, Manchester

The Sixties weren’t the era dubbed ‘swinging’ for nothing. It was the time of great music being born and bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were holding court to the screaming masses. There was another band on the block though shaping the sound of the Sixties, made in Muswell Hill, London and going by the name of The Kinks.


Sunny Afternoon pays homage to the four young cockney lads who made up that band famous for singing simple songs about life in London and what a wonderful time it was. The musical, penned by original band member Ray Davies, first took to the stage in 2014 and since then has enjoyed a successful run in the West End bagging itself four Oliviers on the way, including Best New Musical. Manchester now gets the chance to cast its eye on the show becoming the first stop on its premiere UK Tour, with a week long run at the Opera House.

Unlike other musicals that feature the back catalogues of songs from famous bands (We Will Rock You-Queen, Mama Mia-ABBA) Sunny Afternoon uses all the well-known hits in a biographical way charting the creation of The Kinks and the ups and downs they encounter as they embark on stardom.

Ryan O’Donnell puts in a captivating performance in the lead role of Ray Davies, the reluctant pop star more at home composing songs than on tour singing them. His vocals are pitch perfect and executed with such raw emotion you really feel he means every word.

O’Donnell previously performed as the alternate Ray during Sunny Afternoon’s West End run and it’s great to see him bag the role for good as part of the UK tour. His co-stars are equally as talented, Mark Newham putting every ounce of energy he has into playing Ray’s younger brother Dave, as he manically strums the bass guitar and behaves like a childish rock star vying to be centre of attention with his frenzied antics.

Garmon Rhys is believable as shy bassist Peter Quaife but it’s Andrew Gallo who almost steals the show as the bands percussionist Mickey Avery, performing an impressive drum solo that seems to go on forever, to the delight of the audience.


One of the refreshing things about Sunny Afternoon is that it isn’t a musical full of bubble gum sweetness and karaoke classics. At times it’s gritty, the music is raw, and there’s more than a sprinkling of expletives in the script.

There’s some wonderful moments to watch out for, from the goosebump inducing guitar strumming of You Really Got Me to the poignant a cappella version of another of The Kinks greatest hits, Days.

If you weren’t a fan of The Kinks before, you will leave the theatre wanting to hear more of their music but not before jumping to your feet to dance along to their toe tapping tracks in the show’s rousing encore. A standing ovation well deserved, congratulations Ray Davies, you really got me!

Sunny Afternoon – Opera House, Manchester
Friday 19 to Saturday 27 August
For more tour information

Sister Act, The Palace Theatre, Manchester

Returning to Manchester after her triumphant spell in the Bodyguard, Alexandra Burke proves this diva is here to stay as she delivers all the sass and attitude that makes Deloris Van Cartier such a loveable and unforgettable character.

Sister Act-30-07-16-Leicester Curve-608

Directed and Choreographed by Strictly legend Craig Revel Horwood, Sister Act tells the story of wannabee singer Deloris who sees a little too much during a late night discussion between her married boyfriend Curtis (Aaron Lee Lambert) and his no good cronies, one of which he believes has ratted him to the cops. Deloris flees for her own safety and finds sanctuary in the local Convent under the instruction of local cop and former school friend Eddie (Jon Robyns). Life as a Nun is a million miles from her usual liquor swilling, cigarette smoking, good time gal days but that irrepressible Deloris spirit soon has chance to shine when she’s given the opportunity to work with the choir of Nuns who currently sound like a cat’s chorus.

Burke is perfect in the role of Van Cartier, with just the right amount of sass and diva attitude she also has a lot of fun with this role and her comedic side is given the opportunity to shine, add to it that voice and wow, we have our star!

Burke is complemented by a strong cast; the Nuns really do take this production to the next level, each of their scenes is full of joy and every actress gives their absolute all. Notable performances come from Karen Mann as Mother Superior whose stern guidance despite frustration after frustration eventually develops into a solid bond, and the fabulous Sarah Goggin whose is a joy to watch as Sister Mary Robert, gaining in confidence with more than a little guidance from her new found sister. Jon Robyns makes for a great Eddie and you’re desperately willing him and Deloris to get together pretty much from the start of the show.

Sister Act-30-07-16-Leicester Curve-628.jpg

The choreography is fun and flirty and further adds to the laughs this production provides, Matthew Wrights set and costume design works well transporting us from 1970’s nightclub to quiet Convent with ease. The one thing that distracted me a little during this production was the use of actor-musicians, whilst this works wonderfully for some shows for me I wanted my Nuns giving it their all for the fabulous choreography rather than being distracted from their booty shaking by playing the trumpet, but that comes down to personal taste and that being said everyone on stage absolutely excelled at both.

Sister Act is fun and totally fabulous; Burke’s voice is big, bold and beautiful, a heavenly production with bucket loads of feel good factor!

On at the Palace until Saturday 3rd September

Tickets available here



The Wind In The Willows, Press Launch

Adapted for the stage by Oscar-winning screenwriter and Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellows and Olivier Award-winning composer and lyricist team George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, (collaborators on international hit musical Mary Poppins) brand new stage musical The Wind in the Willows is soon to come to life on the Lowry stage.

Kenneth Grahame’s much loved classic tells the tale of the vibrant Mr Toad, played by Rufus Hound, as he embarks on many an adventure with his trusted companions Ratty (Thomas Howes) and Mole (Fra Fee), there will be scrapes and predicaments along the way with Toad getting himself in a pickle on more than one occasion, but true friendship and a sense of belonging will prevail making this new production an absolute theatrical treat not to be missed!


Producer Jamie Hendry values so highly the joy of this classic novel that copies have been sent to each school within the cities this World Premiere tour will take in, introducing a whole new generation to the fun and frolics of the flamboyant Mr Toad and his long suffering friends.

This week the cast and creative team gave a lucky few a sneak preview into what we can expect when the show opens on 27th October at the Lowry. Sassy Sophia Nomvete who will be taking on the role of Mrs Otter thrilled with her song, fast, fun and totally fabulous! Fra Fee recently seen playing Courfeyrac in the Les Miserables movie plays Mole, a soft, kind and gentle creature, his voice when singing his song about Home is just perfection, I literally didn’t want him to stop singing. Changing the tempo after Mole’s calming piece is Neil McDermott who portrays Chief Weasel, with just the right amount of swagger and attitude, McDermott makes it clear that his mischievous Weasel won’t give Toad, Ratty and Mole and easy ride.

Willows 2

I spoke to Thomas Howes about his excitement to be making his musical theatre debut and getting back to the stage after many years doing film and TV. As soon as he heard about this new project he knew absolutely had to get involved, as the creative team described, this is a show for all generations, for Howes it will be an opportunity for his young nephews to come and see him in a family friendly professional role, something he is massively looking forward to. After auditioning then having several call-backs Howes contacted Julian Fellows who was unaware he was auditioning to say he’d got the part and got a huge, ‘Well done’ from the much respected writer who he had previously worked with on Downton. For Howes the generosity of Ratty is something which enormously appealed, despite Ratty’s stiff upper lip his caring nature and generosity shines through. A highlight for Howes being the song ‘A friend is still a friend’ which he feels will really strike a chord with audiences and highlights one of the most important themes running through the show, that being friendship and the importance of having and being a friend.


The Wind in the Willows looks set to become an absolute smash hit, judging on this preview I have no doubt the show will become a runaway success, the excitement felt at the preview filtered from the cast and creatives to each and every audience member, it is clear that this is going to be something very special.

After the show’s stop at the Lowry it will hopefully head to the West End to further wow audiences. Tickets are available now and are selling fast for this perfect family tale of fun and friendship, book now to avoid disappointment and bag one of the hottest tickets of the year.

The Wind in the Willows – Thursday 27th October until Sunday 6th November

King Lear, Opera House, Manchester

An exciting addition to the current offerings celebrating 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare is Director Max Webster’s touring production of King Lear with the mighty Michael Pennington wearing the tragic Kings crown.

Pennington gives an absolute masterclass in classical acting, he is utterly mesmerising, angry and fierce one moment, fragile and vulnerable the next, he draws the audience in and you quickly forget there are a few hundred other theatre goers around you.

The transition from powerful tyrant at the start of the play where Lear wrongly disowns adoring daughter Cordelia (Beth Cooke) to the final scenes where we see him broken and maddened by sorrow is enormous, captivating and totally heart-breaking. Misjudging his two eldest daughters loyalty, Lear finds himself increasingly desperate, stripped of his wealth and majesty, the respect he was once shown is now forgotten and he is left to live with the past mistakes he has made.

In addition to Pennington’s fine performance is a very strong cast who each in turn deliver fantastic performances. Lear’s two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan are played expertly by Catherine Bailey and Sally Scott, an evil duo who grow increasingly twisted with the power bestowed upon them. Similarly the warped relationship between brothers Edgar (Gavin Fowler) and Edmund (Scott Karim) is played out perfectly, the villainy of Edmund leading to the brutal demise of his own father Gloucester (Pip Donaghy) offers Edgar the opportunity to secretly nurse and care for the Father he was forced through the evils of his brother to flee.

2. King Lear_Michael Pennington and Beth Cooke c Marc Brenner-1974

Adrian Linford’s set is sparse but effective, allowing the actors to be the firm focus of this production. At just under three hours including an interval it is not a short production by any means but Director Max Webster maintains a great pace and flow which combined with the fine performances on stage keep you totally engaged.

Although one of Shakespeare’s most bloodthirsty tragedies, this excellent production offers wit, humour and many moving moments, it is beautifully accessible Shakespeare, unpretentious, poignant and totally gripping.

On at the Opera House until Saturday 4th June, tickets available here;