Wind in the Willows

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Rufus Hound as Toad. Photo by Marc Brenner

Step into the glorious English countryside and encounter the delights of woodland and water bank characters in this all new musical Wind in the Willows. Based on the 1908 much-loved children’s classic by Kenneth Grahame the story of Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad has transformed from book to stage, adapted by Downton Abbey creator and Oscar winner Julian Fellowes with music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.

It’s always a big ask for an audience to buy into a new musical yet this one managed to get the crowds flooding in as it opened at The Lowry, Salford this week where it runs until 6th November. Whether it was the adults craving some childhood nostalgia or introducing their own little ones to the charming tale it certainly struck the right chord on all levels.

From the opening bars we are welcomed into a world where creatures talk, dance and sing as they go about their day to day business. There’s families of foxes, otters, hedgehogs, squirrels and more as the cast of thirty plus perform a number of roles to bring the woodland to life. What the show is essentially about though are the friendships and bonds between these creatures and how they support each other through thick and thin. After a chance meeting by the riverbank, Ratty (Thomas Howes) invites Mole (Fra Fee) to come stay with him and they soon become great pals Messing About in A Boat. On the other side of the water the wise Badger (David Birrel) comes out of his sett to make his old friends’ son, Toad, keep on the straight and narrow.

Rufus Hound (Toad) is fast becoming a musical theatre name, having had successful roles in One Man, Two Guvnors and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels previously. The actor, presenter and comedian comes to this production with a much improved singing voice than ever before and seems perfectly cast as the erratic speed-loving Toad, letting loose on his outrageous behaviour. Having seen Hound previously in action I felt he could have made his portrayal of Toad even wilder especially in the show-stopping number The Amazing Mr. Toad, and really used his zaniness to full effect. Having said that he delighted the crowds and guaranteed lots of laughs as he ‘Poop Poop’d his way through endless scrapes!

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Fra Fee as Mole. Photo by Marc Brenner.

Fra Fee was adorable as the well-meaning Mole, with a heart of gold and a trusting nature. Fee’s lovely Irish lilt added an endearing quality to the character and his voice was full of real emotion for his home as he sang the solo A Place To Come Back To. Other notable performances came from Sophia Nomvete as Mrs Otter-bounding with energy and lighting up the stage with her charisma as the doting Mum looking out for her brood, plus Neil McDermott as Chief Weasel who brought a ‘Del Boy’ quality to the mischievous and downright dirty Wild Wood bunch.

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Neil McDermott as Chief Weasel and the company. Photo by Marc Brenner.

This is a big budget production with some massive ‘showy’ numbers but for me it wasn’t those which left a mark after the curtain fell, it was the scenes that touched your heart for their sweet innocence. By far the best moments were when the extremely cute Hedgehog family lamented the trials of The Hedgehog’s Nightmare of crossing the road without getting squashed by a car and the Door mice choirs beautiful singing.

The true star of the show of Wind in the Willows is the set, a stunning masterpiece by Peter McKintosh. It’s hard not to be blown away by the attention to detail he has gone to in creating the homes of the main characters, from the impressive circular bookcase in Badger’s den to the intentionally frog shaped frame of Toad’s mansion he really does the production proud and sprinkles a bit of magic in every scene.

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Badger’s den. Photo by Marc Brenner.

This quintessentially British production is well worthy of a West End transfer, which is definitely on the cards, although a tweak or two to some of the songs and a bit more action from the script wouldn’t go a miss before it gets there.

Wind in the Willow runs at The Lowry, Salford until 6th November

www.thelowry.com

Elf – The Lowry 2017

elfWe’ve had some very exciting news for you today here at Opening Night, for the first Christmas Season since its record-breaking run at the West End’s Dominion Theatre, Elf will be heading to The Lowry!

Elf will run for a strictly limited season from Sat 25th November 2017 to Sun 7th January 2018.

Based on the beloved 2003 New Line Cinema hit starring Will Ferrell, Elf is the hilarious tale of Buddy, a young orphan child who mistakenly crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and is transported back to the North Pole. Unaware that he is actually human, Buddy’s enormous size and poor toy-making abilities cause him to face the truth. With Santa’s permission, Buddy embarks on a journey to New York City to find his birth father, discover his true identity, and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas.

Elf features a book by Tony Award winners Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone), with songs by Tony Award nominees Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer). The production will feature direction and choreography by Morgan Young (Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), set design and costumes by Olivier Award winner Tim Goodchild, lighting design by Olivier Award winner Tim Lutkin, vocal arrangements by Phil Reno, dance arrangements by David Chase, orchestrations by Doug Besterman, video design by Ian William Galloway and sound design by Clement Rawling. Musical supervision will be by Stuart Morley. Phew what a line up!

Tickets will be available to Lowry members from Friday 28th October* with public sales beginning on Friday 4 November, get those dates in your diary as tickets will no doubt fly out for this magical production!

*First 50 members to buy tickets are entitled to a 2 for 1 offer. Once these have been claimed members can buy one ticket and get the second half price. Offers are only valid for the first performance on Sat 25th November.

http://www.thelowry.com/

Kill The Beast – Don’t Wake The Damp

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After delighting audiences (me included) with previews earlier this year before heading up to the Edinburgh Fridge and receiving 4 and 5* reviews like they were going out of fashion, not to mention the small matter of wining The Stage Edinburgh Award, glorious comedy quintet and Lowry Associate Artists Kill The Beast, return to The Lowry with their revamped and rebooted Don’t Wake The Damp.

Set in a crumbling concrete tower block, doomed for destruction by the almighty Council planning department due to the rising of some devilishly dangerous damp we find our heroin June (Natasha Hodgson). Former Science-Fiction screen siren now more at home cradling a casserole June is determined neither the Damp nor the Council will take her down. After kidnapping Council worker Terry Brambles (needs must….we’ve all been tempted right?) June is unwillingly thrust into the company of her nerdy and narcissistic neighbours to tackle the deadly damp that’s rising all around them.

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Directed by Clem Garritty who also co-writes with performers David Cumming, Oliver Jones, Zoe Roberts and Natasha Hodgson, Don’t Wake the Damp it a riotous jape full of glorious gags, bonkersly brilliant songs and electric performances. The team are fantastic, playing weirdly wonderful characters to perfection; their strong characterisation makes even the most deliciously daft totally lovable. The writing is brilliant; the speed at which the gags come is seriously quick, you’ve barely stifled your snorts from one joke and you’re laughing your socks off at the next. The use of projected animations designed by Alex Purcell displayed on three large moveable screens behind the performers allow this quick paced piece to move from scene to scene effortlessly and adds perfectly to the unique charm of this retro sci-fi comedy mash-up.

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There isn’t a more marvellous way to while away an evening than in the company of Kill The Beast, an absolute treat from start to finish, get yourself to The Lowry before the Damp overcomes us all! On until Saturday 29th October, tickets available below!

http://www.thelowry.com/event/dont-wake-the-damp1

Stick Man

Scamp Theatre’s Stick Man – Live on Stage from Scamp Theatre on Vimeo.

If you know a little person say six years old or under then there’s no doubt you may have heard of a children’s book called the Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. In fact Julia has written a number of books for youngsters that have gone down a storm both in and out of the classroom. Stick Man is one of those well-loved tales and, like the Gruffalo before it, has also been made into an animation and now a stage play.

Packing out the Quays Theatre at The Lowry, Salford during the October half-term Scamp Theatre and Freckle Production’s Stick Man is a delightful show from start to finish. With just three talented actors at the helm (Jennifer Greenwood, Robert Jackson and David Shute) it provides 60 minutes of non-stop family entertainment involving, song, dance and puppetry.

The story is a simple tale to tell, of Stick Man (yes, a man who is a stick), his Stick Lady Love and their three little stick children. When Stick Man goes out for a jog one day he ends up in a number of dangerous situations; he gets picked up by a dog; played with by a little girl and gets pecked at by a swan – all of which, for Stick Man, is pretty terrifying! His pleas of “I’m Stick Man that’s me and I long to be back in the family tree” are ignored as he is left stranded and alone, struggling to find his way home.

The majority of the show is sung, accompanied by music and sound effects which bring Stick Man’s story to life. Combined with this the actor’s physical movements and miming are used to full effect to really engage with the children’s imagination, managing to create an array of characters with minimal costumes and props. There’s audience participation a plenty as the cast run out into the audience creating a panto-style chase that has the kid’s joyous voices crying out in unison ‘He’s behind you’ plus there’s even a game of bat and ball to get everyone involved.

As a child of the 80’s the talented Stick Man trio of Robert, Jennifer and David reminded me of a Rod, Jane and Freddy for today (without the mad perms and bad dress sense and with 100 times more talent and panache). The kids loved them, the adults adored them too and by the end they made sure everyone had fallen in love with Stick Man and his family.

Stick Man runs at The Lowry until 30th October. Performances at 11am, 2pm and 4pm daily.

www.thelowry.com

 

 

 

Ghost – The Musical

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Based on Bruce Joel Rubin’s 1990 smash hit film starring screen legends Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg, and following the original musical interpretation which premiered at Manchester’s Opera House back in 2011, Bill Kenwright brings his new production of Ghost the Musical to the Palace Theatre.

With music by Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, and lyrics from Grammy Award winner Glen Ballard (whose previous credits include Alanis Morrissette’s album Jagged Little Pill) Ghost tells the story of young, loved up New Yorkers Sam (Andy Moss) and Molly (Sarah Harding). Sam is tragically murdered in the street in a robbery gone wrong, which we soon learn was organised by his close friend and work colleague Carl (Sam Ferriday). As Sam takes his last breaths he soon realises he has become stuck between two worlds, ripped away from his love too soon he realises she too is in danger and he must find a way to connect and protect her. This connection comes in the form of Oda Mae Brown (Jacqui Dubois) so called psychic and spiritual healer, or more accurately fraudster and dodgy dealer.

Harding has come under heavy criticism for her performance in the role, most notably in the opening stops on the tour, but I’m happy to say Manchester’s audience welcomed her with open arms and she gave a touching and enjoyable performance. At times her acting was a little breathy but there is no denying she has a sweet and soulful voice and the chemistry between her and Andy Moss was moving. Fair play to her for getting up on stage night after night when even the most confident of us would be hiding under a blanket eating a vat of ice cream if we’d had even half of the criticism she’s received. She has clearly worked hard to improve her performance and is determined to silence her critics.

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Andy Moss makes for a very likeable and playful Sam making his death seem all the more tragic, his commitment to protecting Molly from danger is moving and his interactions with Oda Mae (Jacqui Dubois) are brilliant. Moss portrays Sam’s highs prior to his death with warmth and excels when the lows of the afterlife take hold. Dubois was born to play Oda Mae Brown, if ever they remake the film she should be first in line at the auditions, outrageous, hilarious and full of sass, she shines in this production and her fun interactions with both Sam and Molly are a joy to watch.

With a strong supporting cast including a fine performance from Sam’s sly former friend Carl (Sam Ferriday) Ghost is a highly entertaining show, with beautiful music and some clever effects you’ll laugh, quite possibly cry and definitely come away from the production wishing you’d kept up with those pottery classes!

On at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 29th October, tickets available here!

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/ghost-the-musical/palace-theatre-manchester/

Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show

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Heading into the Opera House on a cold Monday night surrounded by burly boys in stockings and suspenders and gorgeous girls in teeny tiny French maid’s outfits can only mean one thing; the fabulous Rocky Horror Show is back in town!

An unbelievable 43 years old now, Rocky Horror shows no signs of ageing as this bright, bold and brilliant production burst into life. There is a buzz in the air from the many audience members dressed up for the occasion and the cheers and whoops begin as soon as the curtain rises. If you don’t know the story…(Really?! Where have you been!) then here’s a brief overview; conservative kid Brad (Richard Meek) and his straight-laced fiancé Janet (Hayley Flaherty) are on their way to visit their old science teacher Dr Scott (Paul Cattermole). Their car breaks down on a dark windy road in the middle of nowhere; the only thing in sight is a creepy looking castle, of course they decide to knock on the door and ask for help, and so the fun begins as we meet Frank-N-Furter and his debauched gaggle of a gang.

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Taking on the part of Narrator is Charlie Condou, well known for his recent role in Corrie, Charlie makes for a witty and cheeky narrator, he gives as good as he gets with the notoriously quick audience heckling and is immediately likeable with his relaxed and fun approach to telling the tale. Before you know it you’re up on your feet doing the Time Warp much to the delight of the audience and screaming with pleasure as Frank-N-Furter (Liam Tamne) makes his entrance. Tamne makes for a delicious Frank, sassy, strutting and completely debauched, exactly as he should be!

Director Christopher Luscombe has done a fine job of making this production an absolute must-see, the whole cast are exceptional. Both Hayley Flaherty (Janet) and Richard Meek (Brad) are superb, their transformation from prim and proper to debauched and dirty is fabulous. Paul Cattermole takes on two roles Eddie and Dr Scott and does a fine job with each. Special mention also must go to Kristian Lavercombe Riff Raff, Kay Murphy Magenta and the brilliant Sophi Linder-Lee Columbia flirty and frivolous, complementing our leads perfectly.

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Added to the superb cast, the creative team have delivered a visually stunning show, costumer designer Sue Blame has kept things traditional which is exactly what the audience want to see, whilst set designer Hugh Durrant wraps the stage in a giant celluloid movie reel perfectly lit by Nick Richings tremendous lightening design.

The show is sharp and without doubt the most fun you can have on a Monday night in Manchester, fun, filthy and totally fabulous! On at the Opera House until Monday, tickets available here!

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-rocky-horror-show-2/opera-house-manchester/

Shirley Valentine 2017 tour

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In celebration of Shirley Valentine’s 30th Anniversary, Willy Russell’s heart-warming comedy will embark on a UK tour in 2017, arriving at The Lowry on Monday 19th until Saturday 24th June, starring fans favourite, actress Jodie Prenger as our Shirley.

Undoubtedly one of the UK’s most successful playwrights, Russell’s award-winning work including Educating Rita, Blood Brothers, Our Day Out and Shirley Valentine has been performed all over the world. Talking about the new tour Russell says; “It’s now thirty years since Shirley Valentine first walked onto the page, into my life and the lives of so many others. Shirley cooked her first meal of egg and chips on the stage of the Everyman Theatre Liverpool before then hoofing it down to London where along with the cooking and talking to the wall she started picking up the string of awards she’d win in the West End, on Broadway and in the film that earned both BAFTAs and Academy Award Nominations.”

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Talking about the reasons for deciding to take Shirley on tour now on her 30th anniversary, Russell explained, “The one thing Shirley Valentine has not done of late is extensively tour the UK. There have been approaches and plans mooted but, somehow, it’s just never quite felt right and so I’ve resisted such efforts – until now! When producer Adam Spiegel introduced me to Jodie Prenger I knew in an instant that here was a formidable actress, one who possessed the grit and the warmth, the drive and the vulnerability, the energy and the heart to make Shirley Valentine really live again. How could any playwright resist that or deny the whole of the UK the chance to see Jodie bring Shirley to life?”

No stranger to the theatre having appeared in numerous West End productions, UK tours as well as being a regular on our TV screens and radios, Prenger will no doubt relish the challenge of bringing to life such a beloved and treasured character, warm, witty and at times achingly vulnerable, Jodie is the perfect choice for the role.

The tour will be directed by Glen Walford who directed the original production and produced by Adam Spiegel Productions (Motown, The Last Tango, The Producers, Dance ‘Til Dawn, Midnight Tango, Love Me Tender, The Mousetrap on Tour). Tickets are on sale now via the link below

http://www.thelowry.com/event/shirley-valentine