The Tiger Who Came to Tea

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Judith Kerr’s children’s book The Tiger Who Came to Tea has been delighting youngsters since it was first published in 1968 and now the story has been brought to life on stage. Following a successful West End season the Olivier Award nominated production is on a UK tour providing a summer holiday treat for families up and down the country.

The three strong cast, who look like they have just popped out of the storybook itself, ignite the excitement of the mini theatre goers from the start by walking down the aisles past them waving and saying ‘hello’ before taking their places on stage. Children in the audience from age 3 upwards were totally mesmerised by Mummy (Ashley Tucker), Daddy (Harry Howle) and their little girl Sophie (Abby Norman) as they re-enacted the tale of The Tiger Who Came to Tea complete with a number of jolly sing-along songs.

Adapted and directed by David Wood this production doesn’t disappoint the small fans of the book, who have either read it with parents or at school, and at 55 minutes long (without interval) it’s just enough time to keep them all engaged.

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The energy levels are at a maximum from the cast and they are rewarded with squeals of glee from the youngsters for their performances. The show stealer of course has to be the Tiger (also played by Harry Howle) and the excitement definitely goes up a number of levels when he sets his paws on stage. The Tiger is naughty, funny, cuddly AND he wiggles his bum when he dances – who could not love him!

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Great fun for all the family this tale of teatime mayhem is a sure fire hit with kids and adults alike. I defy you not to come out of there smiling!

Runs at The Lowry until 30TH July.

https://www.thelowry.com/events/the-tiger-who-came-to-tea

 

Mini Reviewer’s Verdict – Daisy aged (just) 7

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My favourite bit was when the Tiger ate all the food and my favourite song was the ‘sausage, chips and ice cream’! I would recommend the show as it was very good and so funny, all the other children loved it too. I think people aged 5 to 8 years old should watch it as it is so enjoyable to shout out and join in the action. At the end of the show I was sad because it was over but then the Tiger came back out and made me laugh again.

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Sasha Regan’s All Male The Mikado

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Set in the 1950s on a private school camping trip Sasha Regan’s All Male The Mikado presents us with a new twist on an old classic. The famous Gilbert & Sullivan musical is freshened up in this touring production which makes Salford’s Lowry Theatre its last stop, running until July 29.

 

As with her previous all-male Gilbert & Sullivan productions, such as HMS Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance, Regan delights in ramping up the cheekiness and playful tone of the show with antics which wouldn’t be amiss in a Monty Python film. The show starts with a balletic overture to set the scene for what is to come with boys who wouldn’t look out of place in a Famous Five novel playing pranks on each other, perfectly choreographed by Holly Hughes.

 

For those unfamiliar with The Mikado it follows the story of travelling musician Nanki-Poo (Richard Munday)who is searching for the love of his life Yum-Yum (Alan Richardson) who is betrothed and about to marry her cousin Ko-Ko (David McKechnie). Ko-Ko however has just been saved from a beheading for flirting and in a crazy turn of events has appointed Lord High Executioner. When Nanki-Poo arrives in the town of Titipu to claim Yum-Yum he has not only has Ko-Ko to face but also has a secret to reveal.

 

Admittedly this Gilbert and Sullivan has a number of twists and turns which make it hard to keep up but with Regan’s additional changes to boot it proves a tricky first watch for newcomers to G & S. Regan’s switch from the standard Japan setting and kimono wearing cast to a quintessentially English woods with a group of ‘jolly hockey sticks’ boys in vests and shorts takes a while to get used to but by Act Two you are able to just sit back and enjoy the thoroughly entertaining action. Yes, Regan’s move is brave but it works. It’s camp, clever and extremely witty.

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There’s some simple devices used to full effect- those in the cast playing female roles rolling up their shorts to turn them into girls and ramping up their feminine mannerisms. Playing on the ‘twee’ English theme there’s also the use of cricket bats to symbolise an axe and straw hats loaded on top of each other to display a persons’ rank. It may tick lots of school boy boxes but by no means does it have the feel of a school production, this version of The Mikado is polished and well thought out. The frequent use of innuendo has the audience tittering away with the hanging of signs outside the boys’ tents saying phrases like ‘no ball games’ and the ‘nod-nod wink-wink’ timing of the bicycle pumping from Alex Weatherhill’s Katisha.

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The cast are made up of a variety of voices from baritones, to sopranoes, working in unison to produce a lovely sound. Alan Richardson has a glass shattering falsetto which beggars belief that it comes out of a male body. His facial expressions as Yum-Yum are hilarious and Richardson makes the most of every line adding an extra bit of comedy on to each one.

 

David McKechnie is also brilliant as the scheming Ko Ko, his cockney wise guy act has a real feel of Fagin about it which makes you think he might burst into You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two at any minute. McKechnie commands the stage and makes it hard for you not to adore the loveable rogue by the end.

 

Elsewhere Richard Russell Edwards as Peep-Bo and Jamie Jukes as Pitti-Sing raise the camp levels with their fabulous portrayals of Yum-Yum’s friends and a special mention must go to Musical Director Richard Baker who does a sterling job playing the solo piano throughout, tinkling the ivories through a massive 26 Gilbert & Sullivan songs whilst also conducting the cast.

 

A rapturous applause at the jovial finale showed the seal of approval from the audience, made up of what looked to be a number of G & S devotees, proving Sasha Regan’s latest offering is yet another success to add to her list.

If you want a Gilbert and Sullivan for 2017 then you should definitely give Sasha Regan’s All Male The Mikado a try.

 

Runs at The Lowry until 29th July

http://www.thelowry.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Railway Children

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Exeter Northcott Theatre’s charming production of E. Nesbit’s much loved classic The Railway Children arrives at the Lowry Theatre this week.

Directed by Paul Jepson, the play brings together a well-adapted screenplay, outstanding acting and technical wizardry to create a highly atmospheric and snappily-paced adaptation of the children’s novel.

The production is mostly true to the original story of a mother and three children forced to abandon their comfortable London home for a small cottage in the country following the wrongful conviction of their father. The twists and turns in the plot are cleverly adapted from the original to suit the stage with Perks (the excellent Stewart Wright) as the omnipotent observer who fills in the gaps of the lengthy novel without ever losing an opportunity to show off his excellent comic timing.

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The quality of the directing is clear in the naturalness of the dialogue, particularly between the three children Phyllis (Katherine Carlton), Roberta (an outstanding Millie Turner) and Peter (Vinay Lad). Callum Goulden as young John Perks is an excellent comic foil to his more earnest peers; it was a shame not to see a bit more of a highly amiable Andrea Davy as Mrs. Perks. Joy Brook as Mother gives an emotional performance, and the excellent portrayal of family drama is lightened and enlivened by the visits of an increasingly frayed Andrew Josh as the family doctor.

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The stage is often transformed into a sepia-toned 19th century by the beautiful semi-transparent backdrops and there are also very effective video projections which give the big moments a cinematic immediacy. There was some evidence of first-night nerves (a banner went up at the wrong time, and the show started somewhat late) but these could not distract a rapt audience. This excellent production runs until Sunday, July 30th and is not to be missed.

Tickets can be found at http://www.thelowry.com/events/the-railway-children

 

Reviewed by Deirdre Warr

White is the new Black

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Last seen at the Anthony Burgess Foundation in the hilarious self-penned ‘The Community Centre’ Nicola Gardner returns to Manchester with fellow actress Jennifer Banks to deliver two very different yet hugely poignant plays, in the double bill, White is the new Black.

Piece one, The Last Appointment, written by Nicola as a commission for Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre sees black middle class GP Jo (Nicola Gardner) confronted by white Black Lives Matter activist Aretha (Jennifer Banks) who arrives at her surgery for the last appointment of the day. Things quickly become heated and increasingly personal as Aretha struggles to understand why Jo would not want to protest and take up the front line at rallies like Aretha, she tells her to “Get with the programme” and challenges Jo’s position of privilege, aghast that being the only black girl in her school didn’t leave her traumatised and angry at the injustice Aretha feels Jo faced. Whereas Jo wants to forget the struggles and the strife and aspires to succeed, holding people like the Obamas in high esteem and admiring their achievements in life, she wants to look forward not back.

There are some highly entertaining moments delivered beautifully by both actresses, Aretha strives to make Jo believe she too has lived a persecuted life due to being a Scouser, she knows how it feels to be targeted and treated badly, resulting in dramatic and hilarious eye rolls from Jo. Aretha challenges Jo’s attitude just as much as Jo challenges Aretha’s motives, ultimately boiling down to that fact that both just want what they feel is right and is fair despite going about things in dramatically different ways, both ladies show how ultimately despite our choices and actions we aren’t so very different after all.

Piece two in contrast to The Last Appointment reverses the roles of our two actresses, in Florence – The Fight of her Life written by Maurice Bessman, we meet African asylum seeker Florence (Nicola Gardner) as she comes face to face with seemingly cold-hearted Immigration Officer Mrs Lewis (Jennifer Banks). Florence is literally pleading for her life during the cold and demeaning immigration test as Mrs Lewis digs for detail despite the deeply upsetting and heartbreakingly sad reality of the life Florence has escaped from, boxes are ticked and devastating accounts disregarded as Florence fails to provide hard, factual evidence of the stories that she tells. The immigration office want physical proof explains Mrs Lewis and without that she must simply press on and get her job done, detaching herself from the emotion of the story, she simply sees herself as a woman just doing a job. The coldness and reality of the test is hard-hitting and sensitively delivered by both actresses, our characters have a task to complete and both are driven by achieving the best outcome, for Florence it is a life-changing and potentially devastating outcome should she be refused, for Mrs Lewis it’s just another work-placed task that she needs to complete efficiently. Florence has to relive painful and devastating memories, which are cruelly brushed away by Mrs Lewis due to not being documented anywhere as proof they ever happened.

While the two pieces are very different, they both ultimately highlight the same themes, despite colour and differences in race, we are essentially all one, we share so much in life that ties us together and bonds us, we love, we live and we all strive to succeed. While we may differ in our attitudes, choices and approaches, there are many more similarities that draw us together. The two plays both powerfully demonstrate how deep down we really are one, our diversities should be embraced and celebrated as the melting pot we come together in grows in richness and diversity. Emotive, powerful, and beautifully delivered theatre, highly recommended.

White is the new Black has one final performance tonight at the Anthony Burgees Foundation, tickets available here; http://www.greatermanchesterfringe.co.uk

 

The Loves of Others


We’ve all been there, that awkward moment when you witness a couple have blazing row, it could be  friends of yours, or complete strangers, I once saw a couple verbally massacre each other in the snacks and nibbles isle at Tesco  the night before Christmas Eve, it was embarrassing, crass, but most of all entertaining. Well imagine that multiplied by three and the genesis of the latest offering from play write Alex Keelan, The Loves of Others.

Set during two separate dinner parties held a year apart, we are treated to an insight in the lives of 3 couple’s lives: we have the host and hostess of the party Max (Dan Jefferies) Leanne (Alexandra Maxwell), he’s a boozy hangover from the ‘Loaded’ generation, and she’s Hyacinth Bucket only on Facebook. There are Tina (Amy Forrest) and her partner Dave (William J Holstead), she has a few confidence issues, and he’s a bit laid back to deal with them. Finally there is Vic (Alice Proctor) and Ike (Kyle Walker), she’s strong willed and feisty, he’s a people pleaser. As both dinner parties continue, relationships become more fractured, friendships and boundaries are pushed to the limit.


The script is a fine blend of acerbic put downs, and on point observations, whilst at times dealing with dark subjects including abuse, grief and prejudice Whilst some may feel dissatisfied with the rather abrupt ending, I rather enjoyed that the play left it’s characters dealing with their issues as opposed to resolving them: like a snapshot into their world.

There are fine solid performances throughout from all 6 actors: however I find that none of their characters were particular likeable, just as you begin warming to one of them, they’ll do or say something that will just grate on you. Director Kayleigh Hawkins certainly works her cast hard; with full costume and scene changes throughout neither which detract from the story. There is no interval either so the play never loses momentum allowing the lighter moments to shine through, whilst enabling the tension build and the mood to darken.


The promotional material claims The Loves of Others to be “A Modern Northern Abigail’s Party”, which will certainly draw in the punters, but may also mean that the two could be unfairly compared. This is a funny, brave, ambitious, and at times miserable look at modern British life, a hark back to the Great British kitchen sink dramas, only replacing the kitchen sink with a selfie, and a bottle of vino! 

Spelling Bee Preview

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Following on from last year’s success of Urinetown The Musical, Side by Side Productions return next week to Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre with a charming and funny production of the Tony Award-winning musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Ever wonder what’s going through the adolescent minds of those endearing, quirky Spelling Bee champs? Six awkward spellers learn that winning (and losing) isn’t everything as they vie for the spelling championship of a lifetime. In hilarious, touching, and catchy songs by William Finn, each speller reveals his/her hopes, struggles, and passions as they make their way through the competition. Even audience members are invited to challenge the six competitors!

Director Mal Wallace said “Spelling Bee is a fantastic musical which is rarely produced and the exceptionally talented cast and production team are a joy to work with. Judging by the hilarity that is constant through every rehearsal the audience are in for a real treat!”

Spelling Bee contains mature themes and language.

Follow Side by Side Productions on Twitter for futher info: @sbsprodutions #SpellingBeeMCR and head to www.ticketsource.co.uk/sidebysideproductions to book your tickets!

Hope Mill Theatre

Tue 25 – Fri 28 July 2017

Tickets from £13

Dirty Dancing

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Dirty Dancing is back (and we’re loving it)!

The famous Patrick Swayze film of the 80’s, waltzed back into Manchester last night, to a room filled with predominantly females, and all round die-hard Dirty Dancing fans, who certainly weren’t disappointed.

Set in the 60’s, the stage show sees 17-year-old Frances “Baby” Houseman at Kellerman’s holiday camp with her family. After befriending the staff, she quickly finds herself developing a crush on the gorgeous dance instructor, Johnny Castle (played famously by Patrick Swayze in the film). When Johnny’s dance partner, Penny, has to miss an important performance, Baby gets thrown in at the deep end and steps in. The rest is history.

Adapting a well-known classic such as this one onto stage seems like a mammoth task, but in this instance it certainly paid off. The show is an almost seamless copy of the film; from the music to the costumes and not forgetting those iconic film quotes.

From, ‘come here lover boy,’ to ‘I carried a watermelon,’ this show has it all. But nothing got a bigger reaction from the audience in Manchester than, ‘Nobody puts Baby in a corner’, which got more squeals of delight than the numerous times that Lewis Griffiths (Johnny) took his top off – it even had some people jumping out of their seats!

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Griffiths seriously was a force to be reckoned with throughout the entire show, as he played the moody, and at times mean, Johnny Castle. Leaping and spinning his way across the stage, the audience were exhausted just watching him. With his smoldering looks, and athletic body (that certainly didn’t go amiss), he was the perfect person for the role and lived up to the memory of Swayze.

Katie Eccles took on the lead role of “Baby,” skilfully portraying the character’s journey from a naïve teenager, that can barely put one foot in front of the other, to a mature and raunchy dancer. As suspected the dancing majorly outweighed the acting, but when you’re being flung into the air like a rag doll and your head is millimeters away from the ground, Eccles can be forgiven.

The show’s set design is very cleverly constructed with a revolving stage that allows each scene to flow seamlessly from one to the other. The use of lighting and sound effects were also key factors within the show – a clap of thunder and the use of strobe lighting transported us into a thunder storm, a clever device to lead us into the famous lake scene.

A projection of a lake is used for the scene were Johnny is teaching Baby that all important lift, a true moment in the film that captures the couple’s relationship. However, whether or not this was the intention, in the show this scene is turned into a more comical feature. Admittedly, it seems somewhat difficult to portray a lift in water, without there actually being any water.

The show is filled with all the iconic songs from the film’s soundtrack, including “Hungry Eyes”, “Hey! Baby” and “Love Man” with the powerhouse Sophia Mackay astounding the audience by belting out song after song with such ease. A special mention must also go to Carlie Milner who played a perfect Penny Johnson, with legs that seemed to go on for days and awe-inspiring flexibility that made the women in the audience green with envy.

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From catchy music that we all know and love, to thrilling dance moves, and sizzling sexiness, this show is the definition of a feel good show. There’s no doubt that you’ll leave with a smile on your face and humming the songs in your head for at least the next few days.

Rightfully greeted with a standing ovation, the entire cast really did look like they were having ‘the time of their lives!’

Dirty Dancing runs at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until 22nd July.

Review by Opening Night guest writer Francesca Eagleton