The Peony Pavilion


In heading to The Lowry for The National Ballet of China’s production of The Peony Pavilion , I knew could expect excellence but had no other preconceived idea. I guess the introduction to the evening prepared for something different, the choreographer introducing his cast and the story was quite different, enigmatic and totally charming. I felt closer to the story already. Often described at the Chinese Romeo and Juliet, The Peony Pavilion tells the story of a young girl, Du Liniang who falls into a slumber and dreams of falling in love with a young scholar, Liu Mengmei.

The opening solo dance was effortless and quite beautifully abstract, stunning choreography from Fei Bo . A central square which changed throughout the play as dreamspace or prison or a solitary confinement was a minimalist design which made the lines across the stage so clean.


The set was stunning, for most of the play there was a huge branch which embodied the back half of the stage sitting on a high diagonal which gave a poetic presence of absence, confirming the nature of seasonal change when leaves leave before new buds can grow.

The costumes were stunning especially the chinese opera singer Jia Pengfei who moved like a geisha and gave the most interesting performance of the evening, she dressed and undressed seamlessly describing time or drawing a warning. They were jaw dropping with elaborate, finely detailed embroidery of classical chinese flowers at times she took shape of rose through the movement of her material. The tiny chiffon layers of the ensemble followed the whipping of pirouettes or lame duck sequenced complex choreography.


There’s a sense the company is moving with this piece into a modern classical style, a mixture of classical contemporary techniques interwoven into the ballet, the theme of marrying pointe work with bare feet wasn’t as interesting choreographically as it may have tried to be.


The second half gave rewarding performances in a lead male solo and ghost duets . The huge cast gave a warm performance, the stage rained with peony petals, changed into a forest environment where the ensemble played with trailing green neon light in a poi like chained ball which left resonance in the space as they moved.

It was a charming portrayal of the story, striking and utterly captivating.


Love’s Labour’s Lost


A wonderful additional to this years offerings celebrating 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, The RSC bring not one but two of the Bard’s works to Manchester this Christmas time. Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing, argued by some that the latter is another name for Shakespeare’s missing play, Love’s Labour’s Won, the similarities between the two are plentiful, both being set on a large county estate, sparring couples, masked encounters, mistaken identities and of course hilarious high jinx including overheard and secretly observed sonnets. Playing back to back at Manchester’s Opera House before heading to the Theatre Royal Haymarket , both productions are an absolute triumph.

Opening with the King of Navarre (Sam Alexander) and his three Lords, Berowne (Edward Bennett), Longaville (William Belchambers), and Dumaine (Tunji Kasim), swearing an oath  which includes avoiding contact with women for a lengthy three years, shortly followed by the arrival of the beautiful Princess of France (Leah Whitaker) and her ladies Rosaline (Lisa Dillon), Katharine (Rebecca Collingworth) and Maria (Paige Carter) it soon becomes clear this was an oath that was never going to easily run it’s course. Cue much merriment and classic Shakespearean rhyme while completly against their oath the Lords fall in love with the ladies and of course the King with the Princess.


Don Armado (John Hodgkinson), a Spaniard visiting the King’s court, is also hit by Cupid’s bow, but rather than with a Lady of the court he is taken by Jaquenetta, (Emma Manton) a local dairymaid who has recently been found cavorting with Costard (Nick Haverson) the gardner. So ensues the writing of love notes, delivered of course to the wrong recipient. The unconventional courtships continue with a wonderful scene where we see the King and his Lords disguising themselves as travelling Muscovites which leads to hilarious scenes of Russian dancing and the ladies switching identities themselves through the swapping of favours received by the Lords and the use of elegant masks.

Working with the same company of actors and setting both plays either side of the Great War adds real poignancy to the ending of Love’s Labour’s Lost, sometimes described at the ‘unfinished play’ the merriment and frivolity of the play comes to an abrupt end when the King and his Lord’s head off to war, much as life for many must have been as their young men suddenly headed off to the battlefields of Northern France.


The cast are exceptional, the talent on stage an absolute joy to watch, from Edward Bennett’s brilliant Berowne to John Hodgkinson’s hilarious Don Armado the comic timing and delivering of the Bard’s script is just perfection. Special mention to Peter McGovern whose Moth was magnificent, not to mention his Hercules in the ‘Nine Worthies’ which had the audience in hysterics.

Visually stunning, Simon Higlet’s set is outstanding, with scene changes flowing beautifully due to the ingenious use of a large sliding truck and sub-stage trap. Where Much Ado is festive and twinkling, Love’s Labour’s Lost takes place in the summertime of 1914 when skies are blue and poppies, in a nod to the impending Great War are plentiful. Melody Wood’s luxurious costumes are delightful, perfectly encapsulating the period. The use of music by Nigel Hess, directed by Bob Broad, further enhances this production, filmically underscoring certain moments and offering some challenging vocal pieces which the cast embrace wonderfully.


Love’s Labour’s Lost is an absolute joy, highly entertaining and wonderfully acted. Playing at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 3rd December.

Much Ado About Nothing – Opera House

Now that we have witnessed the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Edward Bennett electrocuted inside a giant Christmas tree, the festive season can officially begin!
What better way to mark the conclusion of 2016 – and the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death – than with two of the Bard’s best-loved comedies, played on consecutive nights at the Opera House Manchester, with the same cast?
Director Christopher Luscombe and production manager Paul Hennessey’s grand experiment examines the long-rumoured synergies between Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing – setting them in the same country estate (modelled on Charlecote Park, near Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon) and bookmarking them in summer and winter, before and after the Great War. 
Both deliver a witty, sparring couple; a supporting cast of characters that include a policeman, a curate and many domestic servants; masked encounters between lovers; and – one of Shakespeare’s favourite devices – endless cases of mistaken identity. 
Associate director Guy Unsworth concludes that Shakespeare ‘deliberately shows us two sides of the same coin’ and ‘does indeed want us to view them as an extended double-bill’… Mark thee well!
Anon – immersing ourselves in Much Ado About Nothing’s wintry scenes on a cold Mancunian night – we encounter fast-talking, resolutely single bachelorette Beatrice (Lisa Dillon), who declares: ‘I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me’. The equally marriage-adverse Benedick (Edward Bennett) has just returned from the war, yet it is Beatrice’s quick-fire degradations of his character – spoken at a masked dance – that leave him mortally wounded. 
Their union seems doomed until their eavesdropping antics reveal a surprising fact… they are each madly in love with the other. These revelatory conversations – staged by Benedick and Beatrice’s family and friends, for their benefit – are some of the funniest scenes in the production. Bennett’s comedic antics inside the family Christmas tree solicit great guffaws of appreciation from the audience; it feels inevitable when he breaks the fourth wall – dissolving into barely suppressed laughter himself.  
In another plot, Beatrice’s cousin Hero (Rebecca Collingwood), who radiates chastity and goodness, is due to be married to besotted Claudio (Tunji Kasim); however, he jilts her at the altar when her name is sullied by an accusation of infidelity. With Beatrice and Benedict’s – and Hero and Claudio’s – unions both hanging in the balance, could it be that all hopes rest on hapless constable Dogberry (Nick Haverson) riding to the rescue?
Gripped in a fit of body spasms and crashing around the set, it feels as though he is perilously close to tumbling from the stage; Haverson gives every fibre of his being to the slapstick comedic stylings of Dogberry. Along with Lisa Dillon, his performance is a highlight among the sublime cast – assembled by Gabrielle Dawes and Helena Palmer.  
Designer Simon Higlett has created a sumptuous Christmas card-style stage – rich, festive and twinkling. His team seamlessly interchange between the house and its grounds by virtue of a large sliding truck and the sub-stage trap. It’s as ingenious as it is beautiful – complemented by Melody Wood’s sumptuous period costumes that brilliantly encapsulate fashion on the cusp of the 1920s. 
This is the second time that composer Nigel Hess has scored the two plays for the RSC, but with exception of a couple of affection quotes, he has revisited them again with completely new music. To further explore the cohesion between the comedies, he uses musical cross-references between the two productions. It’s a triumph, with nuances that complement the on-stage gusto and frivolity to perfection. 
Christmas is a season of laughter and good cheer – and you will find both in these sparkling, immaculate productions by one of our nation’s greatest treasures: the Royal Shakespeare Company. 
Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing are on at Opera House Manchester until Saturday, 3 December.


Cinderella at The Bolton Octagon

photo credit: Richard Davenport

Hats off to the Bolton Octagon for always trying to push the boundaries when it comes to their Christmas shows. From Alice in Wonderland to last year’s BFG the northern theatre has shunned the traditional panto and instead presented their audiences with contemporary productions to delight them over the festive season. You’d be forgiven for thinking they had changed tact this year with Cinderella being their production of choice for 2016 but, as ever with the Octagon, it has a clever twist!

Told through the eyes of five charismatic rats;  Whiskers (Alexander Bean), Claws (Alicia McKenzie), Teeth (Anne O’Riordan), Tail (Felicity Sparks) and Ears (Tomas Wolstenholme) this is a modern day version of the fairy-tale classic, jam-packed with live music and audience participation.


photo credit: Richard Davenport

The show starts with the rats lamenting over the fact that Cinderella has left them to go and live a new life at the Palace. One by one the energetic rodents don costumes to take on different roles and explain just how Cinders went from rags to riches.

All five actors excel at creating some well-rounded characters but the leader of the pack has to be Anne O’Riordan who puts in a sparkling performance as Teeth. ‘Pocket rocket’ O’Riordan is delightful as she exudes cheekiness and has both the children and adults laughing along at her facial expressions and ‘dodgy’ dancing.

The cast of six is completed by Lucy Faint as Cinderella whose northern accent brings a down to earth charm to the role and she manages to make her both vulnerable and straight-talking. There’s some great moments when Faint journeys into the audience sitting next to them to sing a song, making the children’s jaws drop as a result.


photo credit: Richard Davenport

Don’t be fooled by Ellen Nabarro’s set design, (which at first glance looks like a cluttered space filled with a centrepiece of musical instruments from piano to xylophone), everything used to dress the stage cleverly doubles up as a prop or a costume and can be returned back to the set when it’s finished with. The lighting is one of the true stars of this production though as the stage transforms into a magical space filled with hundreds of lightbulbs, topped off by a huge glitterball hanging from the ceiling and even lights in Cinders ballgown!


photo credit: Richard Davenport

If you are looking for something a bit different this Christmas then look no further, the Bolton Octagon’s blown the cobwebs off an old fashioned fairy-tale and produced a great offering for all the family.

Cinderella runs at the Bolton Octagon until 14th January 2017





Hair The Musical


Following on from the phenomenal success of Parade earlier this year, Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Entertainment have teamed up once again to bring to cult classic and perhaps the most iconic of all rock musicals Hair to Manchester.

Set in New York’s East Village in the 6o’s at a time when the counter culture of a freedom and peace loving youth was emerging, Hair remains as current and relevant today as it was back in 1967 when it burst onto the New York theatre scene with its message of love, peace and a rejection of conservative America, in particular the controversial Vietnam war. Through Hair we meet a tribe of hippies who passionately believe in a ‘Make Love, Not War’ way of life, turning their backs on the expectations of their families and society and creating their own free love and liberal environment in which to belong. At the heart of the story is Claude and his battle to resist his draft to the army, does he do as his friends have done and live the life he chooses or does he succumb to society’s expectations, rejecting his beliefs of pacifism and freedom by serving for his Country in Vietnam.

The intimate staging of Hope Mill Theatre is perfect for this innovative production. Bold, bright and brilliant Hair is an absolute triumph, each and every member of the cast is exceptional, from the opening number, the much loved Aquarius the cast draw you in and immediately you wish you were part of their tribe. Engaging and totally absorbing Director Jonathan O’Boyle and Choreographer William Whelton have guided this talented cast in the most delightful way, each individual member is given the opportunity to shine, showcasing their incredible talent and then together as an ensemble the impact of the cast as a whole is mesmerising. The staging perfectly sets the scene for this great production, upon entering you are immediately immersed into a colourful, safe and relaxed space, with blankets scattered about in a nod the the original productions be-in. Add to this a stunning score from Galt MacDermot delivered superbly by a small band of five led wonderfully by Musical Director Gareth Bretherton.

It seems almost unfair to single anyone out for special praise from this unbelievably talented tribe but Ryan AndersonBerger, Liam Ross-MillsWoof, Robert MetsonClaude, Laura JohnsonSheila and Natalie GreenMom deliver their roles with a passion thats so wonderful to see. Special mention must also go to Hope Mill Theatre owners Joseph Houston and William Whelton, their drive and determination to bring such quality and innovative theatre to Manchester must be commended, making theatre accessible and more affordable is hugely admirable and they are truly deserving of all the success that has come and no doubt will continue to come their way. The announcement of 2017’s musical theatre programme again in partnership with the wonderful Aria Entertainment has us counting down the days until their next opening night! (Yank! On 9th March in case you’re wondering!)

Hair is an absolute must see, a triumphant piece of theatre, uplifting, absorbing and beautifully symbolic, a timely reminder that love is way more powerful than hate, and ultimately we are all one tribe who really should just love each other.

Hair runs at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 3rd December, tickets available here;

HAIR the musical

George’s Marvellous Medicine


Photo by Mark Douet

Since 1992 The Birmingham Stage Company have produced more Dahl shows than any other company in the world. Their recent hit shows have included Horrible Histories and the world premiere of Gangsta Granny by David Walliams. Now the company brings George’s Marvellous Medicine to audiences across the UK, stopping at Manchester’s Opera house for 5 dates, running until 19th November.

Olivier award-winning David Wood’s adaptation of this Ronald Dahl classic is perfect in every way, ensuring fans of the original book are not disappointed and children can happily join in reciting the many humorous lines at every stage of the production. Dubbed the ‘National children’s dramatist’ by The Times it is clear that the task of bringing Dahl’s eccentric characters to life is in very safe hands with Woods.

The story centres around likable lad George, played energetically here by Ed Thorpe, and his desire to turn his grumpy and mean Grandma into a much lovelier relative who treats him with love and showers him in kindness. There are some hilarious dream sequences which bring George’s inner thoughts to life and even see Grandma twerking!

Deborah Vale is Grandma and plays the role very much in the mould of 90s sitcom favourite Hyacinth Bucket. Not only is there a strong resemblance to Hyacinth but the likeness between George’s Mum and Grandma is uncanny until you realise it goes deeper than that – the actresses are actually identical twin sisters in real life – perfect casting!

The packed house of children and parents lap up the slapstick action as George is left alone to give Grandma her medicine and he systematically goes from room to room in the house filling a huge pan with crazy ingredients to replace it with his own special potion.

“Grandma, if you only knew what George has in store for you” is met with screams of delight and derision.


Photo by Mark Douet


Grandma’s transformation is worth the price of a ticket alone as she gulps down George’s marvellous medicine and grows 30 foot tall in the blink of an eye. The children in the audience are amazed and enthralled at the sight, with wide eyes and open mouths as Grandma’s head crashes through the roof of the house. Hats off, or should we say roof’s off, to Jaqueline Trousdale who has designed a very clever set which enables the magic of this book to make an effortless transition from page to stage.

George’s Marvellous Medicine is everything a children’s show should be, with its eccentric humour and larger than life characters providing 90 minutes of non-stop entertainment for all the family.

George’s Marvellous Medicine runs at the Opera House, Manchester until Sat 19 Nov 


Billy Budd – Opera North


The good ship Opera North has sailed into Salford Quays with its stellar performance of Benjamin Britten’s ‘Billy Budd’ – a tale of high drama on the high seas aboard The Indomitable.

Ensconced in the bowels of The Lowry, with a superb view of Leslie Travers’ ‘handsome’ set, you are immediately transported back to 1797 by Captain Edmund Fairfax Vere (Alan Oke) – reflecting on the arrival of Able Seaman Billy Budd (Roderick Williams), who has been pressganged into joining the fight against the ‘Frenchies’.

Uncommonly beautiful – and possessing a disarming goodness – Billy endears himself to all classes of men… except the dastardly Master-at-Arms John ‘Jemmy Legs’ Claggart (Alastair Miles). Recruiting the services of a reluctant Novice (Oliver Johnston), whose spirit he has broken by a brutal flogging, cruel Claggart plots Billy’s downfall with a maniacal zeal…


The stage is set for a titanic clash of good and evil, as The Indomitable presses on into enemy territory through a cloak of mist – a fitting metaphor for Captain Vere’s clouded conscience as he presides over the climatic court hearing to determine Billy’s fate.

An immersive, dramatic tale with themes that are as enduring as the classics Captain Vere frequently calls to mind, ‘Billy Budd’ is stupendously entertaining – an affecting character study of the intrinsically good, the duplicitously evil and the tormented adjudicator.

London tenor Oliver Johnston’s depiction of the wretched Novice is worthy of individual praise for the haunting inflection he lends to every perfectly-pitched note. Crouched face-down, bloodied from flogging and shrouded by the threat of his own demise, he is mesmeric – offering a sensitive counterpoint to the frequent bluster of the ranking commanders he serves.


Stephen Richardson’s Dansker, Daniel Norman’s Red Whiskers and David Llewellyn’s Squeak all serve the production well, with characterful performances that add welcome touches of lightness and humour, while Alastair Miles’ Claggart skilfully delivers a contemptible villain without dipping into pantomime territory. (Boos at the final curtain aside!)

Roderick Williams, as the titular Billy Budd, is effused with the requisite air of unsullied innocence – boasting all the likeability of the character he inhabits. Sitting alone, illuminated by a sole spotlight, he is particularly memorable – taking the audience by the hand on his journey from sorrow through to noble acceptance of his fate.

Beautiful to look at, in the style of a Renaissance painting, the ensemble segments offer a wonderful opportunity to appreciate Leslie Travers’ costumes – a palette of muted greys and creams enlivened by the blues, golds and reds of the officers’ jackets – while the masterful lighting design of Thomas C. Hase brings the pared-back set dramatically to life with every developing plot twist.


Of course, the musical brilliance of the show is underpinned by the accomplished orchestra, conducted by Garry Walker and led by David Greed, who became (at that time) the youngest leader in the country when he joined the Orchestra of the Opera North in 1978; also, the chorus, which has been restored to its full complement of 36 full-time members (no small feat in the challenging financial climate the arts face). A much-deserved ovation as the curtain came down marked the audience’s appreciation.

Director Orpha Phelan last worked with Leslie Travers on Bellini’s ‘I Capuleti e i Montecchi’ in 2008. Together, they can feel very proud to have created a wonderfully entertaining and visually stunning rendition of ‘Billy Budd’ – a quarter of a century since it was last staged by Opera North.


Sang in English – with subtitles for the deaf, deafened and hard of hearing – this is an extremely accessible performance that both novice and veteran opera-goers can enjoy alike.

‘Billy Budd’ will next be staged at The Theatre Royal in Nottingham on 17 November at 7pm. Click to book:


Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Entertainment announce triple 2017 musical bill!


The hugely successful partnership between leading London-based theatre production company Aria Entertainment and Hope Mill Theatre one of Manchester’s newest arts venues which brought us the much loved Parade earlier this year looks set to go from strength to strength with the announcement an impressive trio of shows for 2017.

Headed up by Manchester-born Producer and Company Director Katy Lipson, Aria Entertainment originally joined forces with Hope Mill Theatre, based in a Grade II listed mill in Ancoats and brainchild of Joseph Houston and William Whelton, back in January 2016 to spearhead the venue as a platform to showcase, and bring both new and revival musical theatre to the North. Further cementing their commitment to the partnership came in today’s announcement of their three exciting headline musicals for 2017 – Yank!; The Stationmaster; and Little Women.


Yank! is a World War Two love story, with book and lyrics by David Zellnik and music by his brother Joseph. It tells the story of Stu, a scared mid-western youngster who is called up in 1943. He becomes a photographer for Yank Magazine, the journal ‘for and by the servicemen’. With a score that pays homage to the timeless music of the 1940s, the musical explores what it means to be a man, and what it is to fall in love and struggle. Yank will also be produced with Ben Millerman and directed by James Baker who also directed the almighty Parade.

Yank! will run from 9 March to 8 April 2017.

The Stationmaster is a musical Aria Entertainment first produced a workshop production of in 2015 as part of their annual From Page To Stage Festival Of New Musicals. The musical is inspired by Horvath’s Judgment Day, translated by Christopher Hampton with a book by Susannah Pearse and Music and Lyrics by Tim Connor. Set in a small town in the Lake District in 1958, railway stationmaster Thomas Price is the pillar of his local community. But when a young woman unexpectedly arrives on the platform, his well-ordered life begins to unravel. The Stationmaster will be directed by Bronagh Lagan.

The Stationmaster will run from 7th September to 30th September 2017.

Little Women will make its UK premiere at Hope Mill Theatre from 9th  November to 9th December 2017. The musical originates from a book by Allan Knee, with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and music by Jason Howland. Based on Louisa May Alcott’s classic 1869 semi-autobiographical novel, Little Women follows the adventures of the March sisters Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy. Jo is trying to sell her stories for publication, but the publishers are not interested – her friend Professor Bhaer, tells her that she has to do better and write more from herself. Begrudgingly taking this advice, Jo weaves the story of herself and her sisters and their experience growing up in Civil War America. . This will be the UK premiere of the Broadway musical which starred Sutton Foster who was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance and will no doubt be a highly anticipated production.


Aria Entertainment’s Producer and Company Director Katy Lipson said of todays announcement;

“I am absolutely delighted to announce our 2017 season at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester. I am also excited to be on-board as resident producer on all in-house musical productions and to lead our vision on producing exclusively musical theatre with a focus on new musicals. We hope through our productions of Yank!, The Stationmaster and Little Women, we can bring even more audiences into the theatre to discover the intimacy and wonderful work we are investing in.”

Joseph Houston, Artistic Director of Hope Mill Theatre, added:

“We are absolutely thrilled to announce our 2017 season of musicals in collaboration with our resident producer Katy Lipson. All three titles are extremely exciting not only for Hope Mill Theatre – but for the musical theatre industry. Staging the UK premiere of two exciting shows such as the Off-Broadway musical Yank! and Broadway hit Little Women solidifies the theatre’s vision for producing never been seen before works and, the staging of new British musical The Stationmaster, we show our commitment to supporting new British musicals. These titles are sure to cement Manchester and the North’s position as a key driving force in musical theatre.”

To conclude the partnership’s programme for 2016, opening this weekend for Aria Entertainment and Hope Mill Theatre is cult classic musical, Hair, the story of a group of peace-loving hippies living in the shadow of the Vietnam War.

Previews begin on Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th November, followed by a three-week run from Tuesday 15th November to Saturday 3rd December. Tickets available via the link below;

HAIR the musical



9 MARCH – 8 APRIL 2107

On sale Thursday 10 November 2016



On sale soon



On sale soon


Jim Steinman’s Bat Out Of Hell – The Musical


Originally released in 1977, Jim Steinman’s Bat Out Of Hell has sold an eye-popping 50 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling albums of all time, if this wasn’t impressive enough 16 years later Bat Out Of Hell II was released, which produced the unstoppable hit I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).  In 2006 Steinman and Meatloaf triumphed again with the release of Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose. Excitingly for us these three almighty collections with the addition of a newly written chapter have been translated into a new musical which will make its world premiere at Manchester’s Opera House on 17th February 2017 before heading to London’s West End for a limited season.

Originally called Neverland, and based on a futuristic version of Peter Pan which Steinman work-shopped in 1974, Bat Out Of Hell – The Musical has been many years in the planning. Set against the backdrop of a post-cataclysmic city adrift from the mainland we meet Strat (Andrew Polec) the forever young leader of The Lost who has fallen for Raven (Christina Bennington), daughter of Falco (Rob Fowler), the oppressive ruler of Obsidian, who has been locked away in the palace towers. The show takes us on an adventure of romance, rebellion and rock and roll, which features many of the monster hits we all know and love including You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth, Bat Out Of Hell, I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) and Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, as well as two previously unreleased songs, What Part of My Body Hurts the Most and Not Allowed to Love.

Manchester was treated to a preview of the show this week when the cast descended on Albert Schloss to perform three tracks from the upcoming show, full of energy and sounding incredible, Polec lead the charge as Manchester audiences were given a taste of what to expect when the show premieres in February. Directed by award-winning theatre and opera director Jay Scheib, Bat Out Of Hell – The Musical is no doubt set to become a theatrical triumph , vibrant, sassy and full of attitude, the cast delivered each song with passion and were brimming with energy and the self-assured confidence you’d wish for from any rock star.


Adding his support to the new musical was the legendary Meatloaf who spoke of his passion for the music of his great friend Jim Steinman;

“This has been Jim’s dream for 50 years, he wrote Who Needs the Young when he was only 19 years old! The genius of Jim Steinman added to the passion and meaning he puts into his music combined with the feeling it gives you is immeasurable.  Bat Out Of Hell doesn’t belong to me, it doesn’t belong to Jim it belongs to each and every one who listens to it, who performs it, it belongs to you, and now it needs to belong to Andrew Polec who will in turn make it belong to the audience”

Tickets are available now via


17 February – 29 April 2017

Opera House, Manchester

Performances: Mon-Sat at 7.30pm, Thurs & Sat at 2.30pm (no matinee on Sat 18 February)

Tickets: from £17.50

Helen Forrester’s Twopence To Cross The Mersey


Cast of Twopence To Cross The Mersey. Photo by Dave the Pap.

Set during the time of the Great Depression Twopence to Cross The Mersey is a bleak play which highlights the poverty and squalor of the dark days of the 1930s. Adapted for the stage from Helen Forrester’s most famous novel it is a semi-autobiographical tale of a middle-class family who fall on hard times and move to Liverpool to start over again. Helen (Maria Lovelady) is just twelve years old when her father (Christopher Jordan) is made bankrupt and her plus her six siblings make their way to Merseyside with their socialite mother (Emma Dears) dragging her heels behind. As the oldest child in the family Helen is made to stay at home and look after her newborn brother whilst the others go to school and her parents look for work.

Maria Lovelady puts in a touching performance as the put upon Helen who is made to grow up fast when all she yearns for is to enjoy being young and to go to school to learn. Lovelady has played the role previously and, despite being an adult playing a child, is extremely believable making the audience root for her to get a happy ending.

There’s a plethora of characters throughout the play, portrayed by the eight strong cast, with some impressive quick costume changes from one to another. Hats off to actress Eithne Browne who takes on a massive nine roles, making each one as well-rounded as the other and stealing every scene she is in.


Photo by Dave the Pap.

Christopher Jordan and Emma Dears are great in the supporting roles of Helen’s Mother and Father. Dears’ facial expressions and cut glass accent had the audience simmering in disgust as she expertly displayed the self-absorbed Mother and her inability to think of her children’s welfare before her own.

With a minimal set of little more than two wooden door frames, a table and two chairs the cast had to work hard to create the image of a deprived Liverpool through their acting ,with the help of inventive sound effects and mood lighting. They pulled it off though and proved you don’t always need lavish sets for a production to work.

My only criticism would be the overuse of narration by the characters, in particular Helen, who on numerous occasion went from narrating in character to talking to others onstage which was a little confusing and took a while to get used to. There’s less narration in the second half of the play which makes for smoother viewing and less stilted action.

St. Helen’s Theatre Royal is the last stop on Twopence To Cross The Mersey’s seven venue tour across the North West and North Wales beginning back in September at Liverpool’s well-renowned Royal Court Theatre.

Runs at St. Helen’s Theatre Royal until 12th November.





The Boys in the Band


20 years on since it last graced the stage The Boys in the Band is enjoying its first major revival. Back in 1968 when it premiered to audiences this iconic play was seen as radical for portraying an insight into the lives of a group of gay men at a time when homosexuality was rarely discussed and hardly represented in the theatre.

The Boys in the Band comes direct from its West End stint at the Park Theatre to play a small number of dates at The Lowry, Salford followed by the Theatre Royal, Brighton and the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds.


Donald (Daniel Boys) and Harold (Mark Gatiss). Photo by Darren Bell.

Playwright Mart Crowley provides audiences with a bittersweet tale set in New York in the 1960s. All of the action takes place in the stylish apartment of Michael (Ian Hallard)- a self-confessed bad drunk and needy gay man. Michael is throwing a party for his friend Harold (Mark Gatiss) who is turning 50 and has invited a number of his gay friends over to celebrate. There’s laughter, dancing and even an impromptu entrance and entertaining cameo from buff and beautiful hustler (Jack Dergess), dressed as cowboy, a surprise present for the birthday boy. The night turns sour though at the arrival of Michael’s former college ‘roomie’ Alan (John Hopkins) who crashes the party. ‘Straight’ mate Alan doesn’t take kindly to the camp activities taking place, resulting in a dark turn of events and a game of truth where secrets are revealed.


The Boys in the Band cast. Photo by Darren Bell.

The stellar cast of nine actors are impressive, each carving out their characters perfectly as they drop their façade and show their insecurities one by one. Olivier award-winning Mark Gatiss is mesmerising as the self-proclaimed ‘Jew Fairy’ Harold with his tight curly hair and velvet suit he slowly struts around, executing razor-sharp dialogue and controlling demeanour.

Gatiss’ real life husband Ian Hallard puts in a great performance as Michael, the neurotic Queen who wants everything to be perfect but can’t resist dishing out the jibes and using his acid tongue to full effect when things start to not go his way. The spotlight shines brightest on actor James Holmes as the ‘camper than Christmas’ Emory. Holmes’ overly gay portrayal has the audience in stitches as he sashays his way across the stage and delivers some fabulous one liners.


Alan (John Hopkins), Emory (James Holmes) and Donald (Daniel Boys). Photo by Darren Bell.

There’s no showy set changes, no gimmicks here, it’s just a pure gold script with polished direction by Adam Penford and acting that will leave you wanting to see more.

A big thumbs up go to producers Tom O’Connell and James Seabright for bringing The Boys in the Band back to the stage and delivering such an entertaining and quality production.

The Boys in the Band runs at The Lowry, Salford until 3 November, then moves to the Theatre Royal, Brighton on 8 November and the West Yorkshire Playhouse on 14 November.

Billy Elliot – Preview

Billy Elliot Tour

As much as we can’t believe it, it’s time to face facts, it’s November and the festive season is fast approaching! Now before you panic, about your Christmas shopping and where you’re going for your turkey dinner, let me remind you of one very exciting thing…..multi award-winning smash hit Billy Elliot the Musical arrives at the Palace Theatre, THIS MONTH!!! From Tuesday 29th November to Saturday 28th January 2017 to be more precise.

Based on the 2000 film and set in a northern mining town, against the background of the 1984/’85 miners’ strike, the story revolves around Billy, who trades his boxing gloves for ballet shoes and soon discovers a passion for dance that ultimately changes his life forever. Billy is from a place where the men don’t dance, end of story but, with a gritty determination he attempts to prove his doubters wrong by going all the way

Billy Elliot the Musical is a total phenomenon which has now been seen by almost 11 million people across five continents and has won over 80 awards internationally, including an almighty ten Tony Awards and a hugely impressive five Olivier Awards. We really can’t think of a better show to have in Manchester for the festive period.

Billy Elliot Tour

The producers of the multi award-winning show have announced that the four boys who will play the role of Billy in this, it’s first ever UK and Ireland tour are Adam Abbou (12 years old from Liverpool), Matthew Lyons (11 years old from Leeds), Haydn May (11 years old from Bath) and Lewis Smallman (12 years old from West Bromwich). The boys were cast following nationwide auditions and after months of intensive rehearsals will alternate in the role. The show will no doubt leave you wondering where on earth they find such talented children, the role not only demands the boys have excellent contemporary dance, tap and ballet skills, but they’ve got to be able to sing and act as well!

The production is brought to life by the multiple award-winning creative team behind the film including writer Lee Hall (book and lyrics), director Stephen Daldry, and choreographer, Peter Darling, not forgetting Elton John who composed the show’s score. With tickets already flying out book soon to avoid disappointment and allow Billy to entertain you this Christmas time!

Tuesday 29 November 2016 to Saturday 28 January 2017

Performance Times: Mon – Sat eves (excl. 31 Dec) 7.30pm. Thu & Sat mat 2.30pm.

Extra mats 20, 23, 28, 30 Dec 2.30pm or by calling the box office on 0844 871 3019.