The Commitments

Commitments Credit Johan Persson (15)

Photo credit: Johan Persson

Irish writer Roddy Doyle’s novel The Commitments first hit the shelves back in 1987, 30 years on and the story has been turned into a BAFTA award-winning film and most recently a stage musical.

Set in 80s Ireland it follows Jimmy (Andrew Linnie), a young working class music fan, who shapes an unlikely bunch of amateur musicians into an amazing live act, and aims to make it the finest soul band Dublin has ever produced.  There’s a plethora of characters, from the cock-sure frontman Deco (Brian Gilligan) to the hot-headed drummer Billy (John Currivan), and over 20 soul classics performed including Proud Mary, River Deep, Mountain High and I Heard It Through The Grapevine.

 Whilst on paper it sounds like entertainment to the max, in reality it falls short. The jokes seem tired and cheesy, the songs are hardly ever played in full and there’s a distinct lack of spark that the show so desperately needs.

Fans of the 1991 film, directed by Alan Parker, may be swayed by the nostalgia but the theatre version seems to lack the grit and wit of the original, despite being adapted for the stage by Doyle.

Former Coronation Street star Kevin Kennedy is back on home turf as The Commitments tour stops at the Palace Theatre and it’s clear there’s still an affection for him in Manchester years on since he played Curly Watts in the city’s famous soap. Many will forgive his dodgy Irish accent as he takes on the role of Jimmy’s cantankourous ‘Da’ but there’s no denying there’s some work needed for it not to stand out like a sore thumb in comparison to the other authentic voices on stage.

Commitments Credit Johan Persson (14)

Photo credit: Johan Persson

One actor who shines is Andrew Linnie in the lead role Jimmy. Linnie is engaging as the young and charistmatic music impersario, so too is Brian Gilligan as Deco who even manages to belt out the soul classics whilst eating a bag of chips!

Whilst The Commitments tries hard to be a juke-box musical it is unfortunately a vehicle which will never sit right in that role. Only when the show turns into a mini ‘Commitments concert’ after the curtain has fallen does it truly find its groove. Well-known hits such as Try A Little Tenderness and kareoke classic Mustang Sally finally have everyone up on their feet and dancing in the aisles, it’s just a shame they have only ten minutes before they have to ‘slow that mustang down’.

Runs at The Palace Theatre, Manchester until 8th April

 

 

Justin’s Party

IMG_2704

There’s hardly a parent or grandparent in the UK who doesn’t know the name Justin Fletcher. He’s been on CBeebies screens for around 10 years in a number of shows, including Gigglebiz, Something Special and Justin’s House, all of which have been a big hit with children. Now Justin is taking to the stage with his UK tour of Justin’s Party and it’s proving to be a sell-out. The show reached Salford’s Lowry Theatre on Mother’s Day, providing two packed out shows full of toddlers and young children bubbling with excitement as they waited for the main man to make his appearance.

When he did the atmosphere was electric, Justin can do no wrong and fizzes with energy as he sings, dances and generally entertains the transfixed ‘mini’ theatregoers. He’s not alone in the show though, like every good party he has invited his friends; an ensemble of lively and colourfully dressed performers along with CBeebies favourite Cat Sandion. The premise for the ‘party’ is to celebrate the arrival of Justin’s new puppy Engelbert – cue a number of kids singalong classics, the Hokey Cokey, Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes and If You Are Happy And You Know It.

IMG_2695

During the 1 hour 40 minutes there’s confetti cannons galore, a hilarious scene where the icing of Engelbert’s giant cake gets messy (much to the squeals of delight from the children) plus a surprise visit from one of Justin’s most famous characters, Mr Tumble!

IMG_2706

Justin’s Party is delicious fun from start to finish and will leave children in a state of hyper that no amount of e numbers could come close to. A brilliant show and well recommended for families everywhere.

www.thelowry.com

 

Boris – The Musical Preview

Main_BoristheMusical_HeatherIsobel

Established in June 2016 as a response to the Brexit referendum, Blowfish Theatre bring their 5* debut show ‘Boris – The Musical’ to Manchester’s Dance House theatre on Saturday 15th April. Made up of students, alumni, and staff from the University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University, the University of Huddersfield, the University of Kent, and East15 Acting School, Blowfish make politically engaged theatre on a shoestring budget, working with nothing but talent, determination, a dodgy wig, and a little help from their friends.

2_BoristheMusical_HeatherIsobel

Described by director Kyle Williams as “…a huge amount of fun to make, but mainly exhausting.” Boris – The Musical covers the rise, fall and (unfortunate) rise again of our current Foreign Secretary. Part biography, part farce, part songtastic satire, “Boris” is the 5* musical for people who don’t like musicals. There will be punk, pop, gospel and even a sexy tango called Me and My Johnson along with additional (soon to be smash hits) I’m talking about Brexit! and Posh Lads plus many more. In these troubling times, we all need something to laugh about and who better to laugh at than Britain’s finest politiclown.

Boris will be played by David Burchhardt, of the role David says “There’s a real skill in trying to capture BoJo’s “off the cuff” approach to public speaking. Every night I have to use all my training to get that spontaneous feel. Any rumours that I haven’t learnt my lines are completely untrue, no matter what the writer tells you.”

3_BoristheMusical_HeatherIsobel

The show will be returning to Manchester in July for three dates at the city’s Z-arts venue on 27th, 28th,& 29th July before heading up to the Edinburgh Fringe festival.

In the words of Blowfish Theatre, “Come along and laugh your socks off for an hour at the state of the world…before returning to your grim, unavoidable reality”.

Tickets available now via the following link: http://www.thedancehouse.co.uk/events/2017/115-boris-the-musical

 

The Woman in Black

WIB 1

It’s hard to believe that The Women in Black is celebrating its 30 year anniversary, such is its reputation and reverence it seems to have been around much longer. Doing for the horror genre what The Mousetrap has done for murder/mystery, the two plays are held in such high regard that seldom is mentioned of the shocks, frights, twists and turns: it is more just a case of take a seat and go along for the ride.

Based on the 1983 Novel by Susan Hill and adapted for the stage by the late Stephen Mallatratt, The Women in Black sees retired solicitor Arthur Kipps attempting to tell the terrifying story of his time at isolated and desolate Eel Marsh House, located in the market town of Crythin Gifford. To fully do justice to the horrors he encountered, Kipps enlists the assistance of an unnamed actor to help tell his tale. The two men are at odds with what they want from the experience: Kipps wants the courage to finally finish his story and put the nightmare behind him, whilst the keen actor wants to tell a fascinating tale using all the craft of theatre and performance at his disposal. What follows is a nightmarish journey filled with laughs and frights as we witness the full horror of Eel Marsh House and the sheer evil of The Women in Black.

WIB 3

Both leads are outstanding: Matthew Spencer plays the confident unnamed actor, and the younger Arthur Kipps to perfection seamlessly drifting between brash showmen and a man trapped in a situation that is spiralling out of control. David Acton plays the older vulnerable Kipps as well as a variety of roles, both act as narrators throughout. Acton certainly borrows from Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Cornets to help with his transformation which is high praise indeed.

I would argue that the play has a third performer: the theatre itself. Within the first minute of the play Spencer strides from the back of auditorium and thus lets us know that space you occupy is part of the play and by design as the narrative progresses you aren’t safe in your seat either! Throughout the play you find yourself scanning the room to see where the next fright is coming. This is aided and abetted by some fantastic sound and lighting design from Gareth Owen and Kevin Sleep respectively.

WIB 2

The script is surprisingly funny: punctured with humour, I laughed more in the first 15 minutes than I have at most supposed comedies; however this is a ploy, designed to sucker you in and make you complacent so that when the first scare comes it smacks you like a spade in the face. As the play progresses the laughs diminish and the frights more frequent.

It is a credit to not only the two leads: but Robin Herford’s direction that the play has the right balance of laughs, drama, and terror that keeps you keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It is a slow beginning but once it hits its stride and it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

WIB

I’m not going to spoil any frights or big scares, however what I will say is that the reaction of some patrons sat around said a great deal: one lady said she nearly lost her lunch (and later claimed she almost had an even worse accident than being sick), several people gasped our Lord and saviours name and my arm has some heavy bruises where my friend held on during some of the more terrifying scenes.

The Women in Black is what great theatre should do: take you on a rollercoaster ride of emotions, at times makes you laugh at the same time as scare the life out of you. This is a truly outstanding piece of theatre and one that will still be celebrated in another 30 years time. If I could give one piece of advice if you are going to see it may I suggest getting rid of that old rocking chair… it’ll be for the best.

WIB 4

The Women in Black is on at The Lowry until 25th March 2017, tickets are available here;

http://www.thelowry.com/events/woman-in-black

 

 

Bat Out of Hell the Musical- After Party interviews and ticket news!

Andrew Polec (Strat) & Christina Bennington (Raven) at First Night of Bat Out of Hell Manchester Opera House credit Phil Tragen

Andrew Polec (Strat) and Christina Bennington (Raven). Photo:Phil Tragen

Opening Night were privileged to have access all areas at the Bat Out of Hell the Musical’s aftershow party at Revolution Bar De Cuba last week.

After one helluva performance the cast and crew of the spectacular show were ready for some serious rockin’ to celebrate the amazing reception they received from the Manchester crowd.

We got to catch up with some of the stars of the show along with one of the producers and director. It was clear all were in great spirits and deservedly so,  producer David Sonenberg explained just how much the show meant to him and the audiences going to see it.

“To go to a musical that has these great songs and get chills, again it is a tribute to Steinman, his lyrics are just epic. I see people who these songs are important to-at our first preview we had people from Seattle, Japan, Australia, Germany Belgium and tonight some of the same people came back again and they have tickets for the London Coliseum in June, so there’s a passion for this stuff.

For me it was very rewarding, like a long childbirth.”

The world’s first look at Jim Steinman’s Bat Out Of Hell the Musical has been greeted by 5-star reviews across the board (check out ours on an earlier post) – now, due to overwhelming public demand the producers have extended its season at the Manchester Opera House by three weeks, until 29 April.

One of the cast who will be celebrating their extra time in Manchester is local lad Andrew Patrick-Walker. Originally one of the Swing team Andrew actually got to step into a role he was understudying on Gala Premiere night. When the original performer of  Blake fell ill earlier in the day he had just a few hours to prepare.

Andrew Patrick-Walker told us how it was a special moment to get an opportunity like that in his home town:

“It feels amazing, I had my Mam and Dad here tonight and I can’t really describe it. We all got a bottle of Moet from Meatloaf and Jim Steinman sent us all cards and he’s been watching rehearsals all the time, he’s really happy with it and the producers are making sure his visions going the right way.”

Meatloaf hasn’t just been generous with champagne, he’s given leading man Andrew Polec (Strat) a few wise words of advice along the way.

Andrew revealed to us:

“He (Meatloaf) said these songs take commitment and as long as you work hard on them and fully commit to them then you  can make them your own  and once you make them your own you can give them as a gift to the audience.

What’s wonderful about the Mancunian audience is not only did they get the first concert of Meatloaf way back when but they just give it right back every night.”

Director Jay Sheib & Designer Jon Bausor at First Night of Bat Out of Hell Manchester Opera House credit Phil Trage

Director Jay Scheib and Deigner Jon Bausor. Photo: Phil Tragen

Relative newcomer Andrew Polec wows the audiences in his role of Strat – and we thought it was very refreshing to see a production that doesn’t rely on ‘star’ names to carry the show but gives fresh talent a chance to shine. Director Jay Scheib told us:

“You know we decided not pursue ‘stars’ we  decided to audition as many people as possible and come up with an ensemble that were superskilled people no matter where they were and no matter what their experience so for many of them this is their first show. And there are some who are much more seasoned like Rob Fowler (Falco) and Sharon Sexton (Sloane).”

Rob Folwer (Falco) & Sharon Sexton (Sloane) at First Night of Bat Out of Hell Manchester Opera House credit Phil Tragen

Rob Fowler (Falco) and Sharon Sexton (Sloane). Photo: Phil Tragen

All of the cast should be commended for their fantastic performances, they are clearly out there 8 shows a week giving it their all. As Andrew Polec explains:

“It takes a lot of hard work and commitment-we’re sweating up there and it seems like the Mancunians are sweating with us and enjoying the whole party and together we create a whole different creature.

I feel like the first time we did this show for a preview audience we had no idea what we were going to expect- I said the first line ‘I remember everything’ and the audience went uproariously into applause and cheer.

We’ll see what London thinks, it’s gonna be an adventure!”

I think we can safely say it will be a smash in the West End and, if you haven’t got your tickets to see it in Manchester yet, the 3 week extension is a lifesaver. Extra performances are on sale now. Box Office: 0844 871 3018 (subject to booking/transaction fees)

http://www.BatOutOfHellMusical.com

FullSizeRender

Opening Night’s Nikki and Michelle rock out at the BOOH after show party!

 

 

 

 

Manchester Theatre Awards 2017

clip_image0022

The Royal Exchange will be celebrating tonight after taking home an impressive 10 awards, including best actress for Julie Hesmondhalgh for her role in Wit and best actor for Daniel Rigby in Breaking the Code which also won best production. There was an impressive three awards for Wish List including best studio production, and best actress and actor in a studio production, won by Erin Doherty and Joseph Quinn. Sweet Charity also saw success with Daniel Crossley winning best actor in a supporting role and the production winning best musical.

It was double celebrations for Julie Hesmondhalgh as collectivly with Rebakah Harrison & Grant Archer they won The Stage Door Foundation Award for Excellence for their political theatre collective, Take Back Theatre.

There was success for the Lowry with five productions taking awards including Rufus Hound winning best actor in a visiting production for The Wind In The Willows, best special entertainment going to The Peony Pavillion, Aoife Duffin took best actress in a visiting producion for A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, best opera went to Opera North’s Andrea Cheinier and best visiting production was won by The James Plays.

Home, where the awards were held won two awards including best new play and best newcomer for Norah Lopez Holden in Ghosts.

There were two awards for Hope Mill Theatre, The Trail which won best fringe production plus a hugely popular special recognition award for Joseph Houston and William Whelton, founders of Hope Mill Theatre.

Another popular winner was the Octagon theatre Bolton whose production of Singin’ in the Rain took home the awards for best design and best ensemble plus the young “Scout” cast were joint young newcomers along with the young “Michael” cast from Billy Elliot at the Palace Theatre, the latter providing one of the greatest speeches of the afternoon.

The 2017 winners in full

Best fringe performance
Joyce Branagh, Boomtown Gals

Best fringe production
The Trial, Hope Mill Theatre

Best musical
Sweet Charity, Royal Exchange

Best special entertainment
The Peony Pavilion, the Lowry

Best Dance
Akram Khan’s Giselle, Palace Theatre

Best actor in a studio production
Joseph Quinn for Wish List, Royal Exchange Studio

Best actress in a studio production
Erin Doherty for Wish List, Royal Exchange Studio

The Stage Door Foundation award for excellence
Take Back Theatre Collective

Best visiting production
The James Plays, the Lowry

Youth panel award
Nothing, Royal Exchange Theatre Young Company

Best opera
Andrea Chenier, Opera North at the Lowry

Best newcomer
Norah Lopez Holden for Ghosts, Home

Best young newcomers
Samuel Torpey, Henry Harmer and Elliot Stiff for Billy Elliot
Jasmine de Goede and Lucy Doyle Ryder for To Kill a Mockingbird

Best new play
The Emperor, Home

Best supporting actress
Natalie Dew for Breaking the Code, Royal Exchange

Best supporting actor
Daniel Crossley for Sweet Charity, Royal Exchange

Best actor in a visiting production
Rufus Hound for Wind in the Willows, the Lowry

Best actress in a visiting production
Aoife Duffin for A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, the Lowry

Best design
Singin’ in the Rain, Octagon Theatre

Best studio production
Wish List, Royal Exchange

Best ensemble
Singin’ in the Rain, Octagon Theatre

Best actress
Julie Hesmondhalgh for Wit, Royal Exchange

Best actor
Daniel Rigby for Breaking the Code, Royal Exchange

Best production
Breaking the Code, Royal Exchange

Special achievement award
Joseph Houston and William Whelton, founders of Hope Mill Theatre
Philip Radcliffe, critic and founder member of the Manchester Theatre Awards

Yank!

Yank! is a story which needs to be told, it teaches us about love, and shares a poignant and heartfelt message inspiring audiences to love freely and with no time to waste.

Yank! is the third in-house production born from the hugely successful paring of Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Entertainment, who together brought both Parade and cult classic Hair to Manchester audiences last year, with the addition of third producer Ben Millerman, Yank! further confirms their commitment to delivering new and innovative theatre as this beautiful production is brought to life by Director James Baker and his stellar cast.

IMG_4391

Based on the 2010 Off-Broadway production written by David Zellnik with a score created by brother Joseph, Yank pays homage to Rodgers and Hammerstein and charmingly evokes the time period of the unforgettable 1940’s. The scrip has both great humour and enormous heart as we follow the journey of Stu (Scott Hunter) after he is called up to serve for his country in a war he doesn’t fully understand. As a vulnerable and scared young recruit Stu meets and falls in love with macho and self-assured, all-American guy Mitch (Barnaby Hughes), the two merely want to survive the war so they too can live and love their own American dream, sadly such a simple wish proves to be more of a challenge than any military battle they face, and so an emotional and complex uphill battle just in trying to be true to themselves begins.

IMG_4392

Scott Hunter gives an exceptional performance as Stu, we see how love changes him from a fearful and weak new recruit into an assured and quietly confident man whose inner strength and belief in his right to love is unshakeable. The relationship between Hunter and Barnaby Hughes (Mitch) is heart-warming, delicate and pure with a strong on stage chemistry, you desperately want them to make it. The whole cast are superb, each character is delivered with colour and is strongly defined from the swaggering, larger than life, Czechowski (Kris Marc-Joseph) to the flamboyant and fabulous Rotelli (Tom Lloyd) every single cast member makes their mark. Special mention must go to both Chris Kiely who plays Atrie the toe-tapping photographer who takes Stu under his wing and Sarah-Louise Young who plays multiple female roles and delivers each and every one with style and sass.

IMG_4390

There is stunning choreography from Chris Cuming culminating in the most beautiful of dream sequences which is a real highlight of this lovingly crafted production and again shows the sheer level of talent in this small cast of twelve.

Yank! is a delight, full of emotion and performed with true heart and soul, at a time when division is so rife it is crucial we see the importance of love, are able to love whom we choose and be loved back without question or complication. A truly special piece of theatre which delivers a powerful and honest message, Yank! is absorbing, dynamic and deeply moving.

Tickets available via http://www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk