Matilda announce tour cast

25 - Royal Shakespeare Companys Matilda The Musical. Credit Manuel Harlan

 

Today, the Royal Shakespeare Company announced the full adult casting for the first five venues of the Matilda The Musical 2018/19 UK and Ireland Tour, which includes a visit to Manchester’s Palace Theatre from Mon 18 September – Fri 24 November 2018.

Craige Els will reprise the role of Miss Trunchbull, having received rave reviews playing her in the West End for three years between 2014 and 2017. Craige will be joined by Carly Thoms as Miss Honey and Sebastien Torkia as Mr Wormwood as well as former West End cast-mate Rebecca Thornhill as Mrs Wormwood.

The rest of the adult cast are Joe Atkinson, Peter Bindloss, Oliver Bingham, Emily Bull, Matthew Caputo, Samara Casteallo, Matt Gillett, Michelle Chantelle Hopewell, Sam Lathwood, Steffan Lloyd-Evans, Charlie Martin, Anu Ogunmefun, Taylor Walker, Adam Vaughan and Dawn Williams.

The tour of Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly’s award-winning show will begin at Leicester Curve on 5 March 2018 before heading to Dublin, Sunderland, Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff. Further dates will be announced in due course.

Tickets can be booked for Manchester dates here www.atgtickets.com/shows/matilda/palace-theatre-manchester/ Tuesday 18 September – Saturday 24 November 2018

The Threepenny Opera

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Opening with a snarling and solo rendition of the much loved Mack the Kinfe, David Thacker’s version of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s 1928 anti-capitalist ‘play with songs’ packs a re-energised and impressive punch.

Set in the near future where Queen Elizabeth is dead the country is awaiting the coronation of King Charles III, the powers that be work together to oppress the poor. Corrupt police are in cahoots with criminals while ruthless capitalists getting richer by the day by keeping the working classes down, making fat profits from the work they tie them to. Macheath (David Birrell) runs rings around both the corrupt authorities and the ever plotting underworld, with women, his only weakness in life seemingly being the only people who might be able get the better of him.

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James Cotterill’s set is industrial and inventive; levels of scaffold add height to the Octagon’s performance space offering the actor/musicians full involvement in the production.

The themes in David Thacker’s version resonate deeply as corrupt police, dodgy politicians, seemingly inexplicable fires and benefit cuts all get a mention bringing this Threepenny Opera bang up to date. Macheath’s treatment of women mirrors the injustice and exploitation seen so frequently in society, no more so than this last two weeks, it is a production which speaks powerfully about the times we’re living in. As always where there is social commentary there is sophisticated satire as the cast deliver this script with genuine wit and great style.

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Birrell is exceptional as Macheath, dangerous and manipulative; his brooding presence has just the right amount of menace about it, his voice rich, strong and powerful. Eric Potts as the odious Jonathan Peachum is superb, full-on and incredibly funny his paring with wife Celia (Sue Devaney) offers genuine laugh out loud moments throughout. Anna Wheatley as Polly Peachum is outstanding, sassy and strong she throws herself heart and soul into the character and has the audience in the palm of her hand.

Packed full with live music and incredibly clever and catchy lyrics The Threepenny Opera is a show that will entertain hugely yet send you away contemplating life and the injustices within it, powerfully politically and enormously entertaining David Thacker has got the balance just right in this slick, snarling and incredibly entertaining production.

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On at the Bolton Octagon until Saturday 4th November https://octagonbolton.co.uk/whats-on/theatre/the-threepenny-opera/#tickets

Behind the Scenes of Elf – The Musical, Part 2

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Ben Forster as Buddy in Elf – The Musical

In the first part of our behind the scenes we chatted to the lovely Liz McClarnon who stars as Jovie in Elf – The Musical, which comes to The Lowry from 24th November 2017 – 14th January 2018.

Opening Night also got the chance to grab the ‘Elf’ man himself, Ben Forster, who takes on the lead role of Buddy.

Now you might remember Ben from winning the ITV talent show Superstar back in 2012 when he beat off thousands of hopefuls to play the role of Jesus in a revamped version of Andrew Lloyd Webbers Jesus Christ Superstar. In this show however Ben casts off the Jesus robes and instead dons an elf costume. It’s a part he made his own playing Buddy in the West End and now is taking it on the road with a short stint in Plymouth before spending Christmas at the Lowry.

At the show’s launch Ben gave us a festive treat, singing a preview of one of the key numbers, ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ (you can still watch that back on our Facebook page if you missed it). We grabbed him afterwards for a lowdown on what it’s like to star in a show based on one of the most iconic Christmas movies of all time…

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Ben sings ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ from Elf – The Musical at the show’s press launch

ON (Opening Night): So Ben what did you think when you were first approached about Elf – The Musical?

Ben: “What I really first thought was it’s going to be an awful pantomime version and I’m gonna be standing there singing ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen in an elf costume. Then I was sent the script and the music and I realised it is an incredible show. The musical score is unbelievable, it’s really big band Broadway music complete with a 16-piece orchestra in the theatre.  It’s really classy and it’s also really beautiful. I think after that I was just like ‘Oh my god I’ve got to try and give a version of what everyone loves about Will Ferrell’! The pressure to make around two thousand people laugh and deliver all those one liners that are so famous everyone has already laughed at them 100 times is a difficult thing but as soon as we got in front of a crowd I was like ‘Ah this is gonna be fine, the audience is so welcoming.’ It’s such a brilliant show, people love it and the movie has been in their lives for so many years it’s like a firm Christmas classic.

ON: Have you been tempted to watch the movie a few times to remind yourself of what it’s like?

Ben: I’ve consciously not watched the film since getting the part, it’s really important for me not to do an impression of Will Ferrell because it wouldn’t be the right thing to do. If you were watching the show and thinking he’s doing a good ‘Will’ impression then it’s not as fun or heartwarming plus you don’t connect fully to the character. I look at it as a part I have to act and take the honesty out of it. Essentially Buddy is a man who would have grown up with elves, lives in the North Pole and thinks it’s Christmas every day. If anyone would have had that reality and then come into normal life it would be hysterical, so I just play it like that – open and honest.

ON: Can fans expect a carbon copy of the movie though?

Ben: There’s a few tiny differences, but the story is exactly the same as it is in the movie – the moral, the message – it’s all there. It will still make you laugh, and it will still make you cry at the end because you’ll feel the Christmas spirit plus it reminds you what Christmas is about. For most people Christmas is about being with your family, travelling wherever you might be just to have that one special night with people you love to give them a present. To feel the love, to give love – that is what the musical is all about.

ON: With you doing this tour over Christmas will you miss out on seeing your family?

Ben: No not at all, just the opposite as I’m from the North East and my Mum and Dad now live in the North West. As soon as I finish the show at Christmas I’m gonna do exactly what Buddy did and trawl across the country and be back with my family. I want to be with my nephews and see them all opening their presents because that is the magic of Christmas time.

 

Well after that sneak preview and chat we can’t wait for Ben and the cast to arrive in the city for Elf – The Musical at The Lowry…is it too early for mulled wine and mince pies?? 

Grab yourself a ticket whilst you can as this show is guaranteed to make even Ebenezer Scrooge feel in the Christmas spirit!

https://www.thelowry.com/events/elf-the-musical

 

 

 

The Wipers Times – Ian Hislop & Nick Newman interview

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By Matt Forrest

It’s hard to imagine that one of darkest days and bloodiest conflicts the world has ever known could lead to the creation of something as funny as The Wipers Times. Born from the trenches of the Somme this satirical swipe at army life was produced during the 1st World War and helped thousands of serving soldiers smile on whilst all around was going to hell.

However, upon till now little was known of ‘The Wipers’ until writers Ian Hislop and Nick Newman 2013 BBC film about the magazine. Based on this film the two have adapted their script for the stage bringing The Wipers Times to the Manchester Opera House, as part of its current nationwide tour, following huge acclaim and sell-out shows on the West End.

Ahead of opening on 31st October,  Opening Night met up with Ian Hislop and Nick Newman to discuss the origins of the play, the writing process,  what the audience can expect, as well as the state of satire, Trump and Ian’s multitasking running the Private Eye office.

Opening Night (ON): How did the idea come about for the play?

Nick Newman: “Ian discovered this story about 15 years ago doing a documentary for Radio 4: we’re always on the lookout for new ideas and he came back with this trench newspaper he had discovered, which we knew nothing about, which is amazing because it looked and had the same feel of an early version of Private Eye.”

Ian Hislop: “I thought how do we not know this? I mean Nick and I are meant to know about our own industry, and I’m meant to know about the First World War, I’ve done programmes about it, but I’d never come across the story and I thought that this A) fantastic, and B) if no one knows this, this is for us. Here is a great real-life story that you don’t have to make anything up and a magazine which is so funny, we could take loads of it and put it on stage.

Nick: Because I come from a military background, I was familiar with squadron newspapers and things like that (Nick’s Father was a serving officer in RAF). All units have their own version of the Wipers Times, but they’re all full of in jokes, “its Pongo did this”, and full of jokes about people in the unit: whereas these are timeless jokes that work today as they did a hundred years ago.

ON: Would the Wipers Times have worked during more modern-day conflicts?

Ian: There is an army website called ARSE, amusingly Army Rumour Service, which is pretty funny, and the spirit of that still goes on today. But the thing about ‘Wipers’ was that it was so popular and probably the first time that anyone had seen that, which makes it so distinct.

Nick: It also turned on its head our experience of what First World War literature was all about: because up until we read ‘The Wipers Times’, you just thought that nobody laughed ever, there was no jokes. You can watch All Quiet on the Western Front, Journey’s End and it’s sombre, it’s about loss and futility. These chaps were living it on a day-to-day basis. ‘The Wipers’ was produced throughout the war as they were moving around France, and were in Flanders actually fighting, going ‘over the top’, surviving the Somme, being sent back to the Somme, going over the top at Passchendaele, they did this and still managed to keep their sense of humour and that is an amazing story in itself.

Did any of the copies make it back to the UK?

Ian: Yes. They started off producing just 100 and then producing more and more, as it became very popular on the front. And then copies started getting back home and there were reports that they featured in The Tatler of all papers, by 1918 someone had put together a collection to be published, so it’s all the more amazing that this has been forgotten. So yes they did make it back home.

ON: So when I was reading the synopsis for ‘The Wiper Times’, it reminded me of Ripping Yarns. Is that something that has influenced the writing process?

Ian: (Chuckles) Yes

Nick: We’re greatly influenced by everything we’ve seen. We did feel there was a real ‘pythonesque’ element to all of this. There’s a joke which we haven’t used but it could be a Spike Milligan joke: an officer sees a soldier digging holes in No Man’s Land and he thinks he’s sending signals to the Germans by aerial reconnaissance and he says to the soldier, “What the hell are you doing?” and the soldier says “I’m trying to save you money sir…the way I see it, the artillery fires a shell which costs £5 and all the shell does is make a bloody big hole. If I just make the bloody big hole, then they don’t have to fire the shell.” And that’s just a fantastic Spike Milligan joke.

Ian: So your answer is yes. Milligan, Goons, Python, there’s a lot of it in them. But I think it may well be because “they” did it first and that sort of British comic tradition, I think they’re firmly in it. We got Michael Palin to be in the film, which is about as good as it gets if you’re fans of all that, which we are.

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ON: Being friends and writing partners for such a long time, do you argue over jokes etc?

Nick: We both share the same sense of humour so if one of us finds it funny, the chances are that both of us will. I don’t think we had any disagreements about what material from the Wipers Times should go in. We generated much more stuff than could possibly go in and left it to others to decide. There were odd snatches of the Flammen werfer sketch and things like that where we thought it was that or that; let somebody else decide. Luckily we have a good producer, a good director whose judgement we trust. So where it’s a question of we’re just undecided what would work better on stage…

Ian: But if we’ve agreed something when we write the script, we say this is what we think it should be, it’s because we’ve agreed it already so we can argue it; rather than argue for your own stuff. Look, we both think this is funny, there’s lots of stuff which will have fallen along the way. With either Nick going “well that’s not very funny”, or me going “you’re kidding, that’s pathetic!”So we edit quickly as we’re going. And that’s the benefit of old friends.

So it’s not a case of being precious?

Ian: No, maybe when we were nineteen!

Nick: I’ve worked in writing rooms where the star of the show will dissect your joke and publicly humiliate you in front of other people. Luckily we don’t do that with each other – it either hits, or it doesn’t!

Ian: And because Nick’s a cartoonist, I always say that he has a very strong visual sense, which helps hugely.

Nick: I do keep saying, what are we looking at? (Laughter) It’s tough to know, even with The Wipers, even though you’re restricted by the set and the locations, there are visual elements to it all the time and you have to think, how can we make this more interesting for an audience?

Ian: I mean, two people talking in a room, great, the dialogue’s great, what else? That’s the dimension that you mustn’t forget.

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To create the right aesthetic, are there high production values for the play?

Nick: It’s astounded us. When we first wrote it, we imagined it’d be done on a bare stage and people would conjure up the world by their acting. But little did we know that our producers had other plans in mind and would bring in Dora, a brilliant production designer, Dora Schweitzer who has created this magical set which is trenches, dugout, it’s a sort of fantasy land beyond No Man’s Land. It is quite magical; there are stars in the sky, there are moving images and all kinds of things. The production values are much higher than we ever anticipated.

Ian: It’s rounded off with a soundscape, which makes you feel in the middle of it – the bombs are going off nearly the whole way through. As the audience, you just have to get used to that. It’s inescapable. And all that is great because it means you’re stuck like they were.

I suppose you want it to be as realistic as possible?

Nick: Yes. Steve Mayo, our sound engineer has created these enormous base amplifiers so that your seat shakes. You’re ear drums aren’t going to bleed, don’t worry about that! Hopefully you’ll get a sense of, and the reviews so far agree, what it might have been like in the trenches.

Ian, did you not fancy treading the boards after your acting debut?

Ian: I fancied it hugely, however unfortunately I’m very bad! Which is a drawback as an actor, so no!

Nick: Also Ian is far too old to be brutally honest! Mitford’s Granddad! He’s too old to even play a general!

Ian: Even the generals were in their forties! No I’m completely past it!

Nick: Our cast is about the right age. Most of them are straight out of drama school, so it’s their first job in their early twenties.

Ian: And you believe it. Our lads have spent a lot of time together on tour, they feel like a platoon.

Like a Pals Regiment?

Ian: Exactly that.

(ON) With all that is going on in the world at the moment and with you both being satirists: Is difficult to come up with material that isn’t dated an hour later?

Nick: There are various people saying that satire is dead because you can’t beat the real world: well we can jolly well try.

Ian: If the world gets more ridiculous then you have to try harder. I think the thing with someone like Trump , yes you can say he’s got stupid hair and he’s funny a colour, that’s a start. In the end he’s quite used to that, but if you can say your businesses all failed and the one thing you claim to be good at your absolutely useless at, that hurts, and there are things that do undermine him and wound him. I l love the fact that he tweets about Saturday Night Live, it’s not clever it’s not funny. Good they’ve got you.

British politics is pretty bonkers at the moment, but that’s not new either.

Nick: You always say that Juvenal was saying that satire is dead.

Ian: Yes, 1st century AD Roman satirist: well what can you do you exaggerate how ludicrous Rome is, anyway he made a perfectly good living out of it. We’re an old game.

(ON) I think more than ever it’s so important with all that’s going on in the world you need something to have a good laugh at I suppose. I don’t know if you saw about an hour ago someone handed Teresa May a P45 at the Tory party conference? With people doing stuff like that it must be quite difficult.

Ian: Yes someone landed her a perfectly good joke: I think we have done it. I think we did what would make me more popular… just resign. We had done the joke I don’t mind the public getting a bit late. (laughing)

ON: Finally it would be remissive if I didn’t mention this: My Girlfriend’s Dad is a subscriber to Private Eye. I don’t see him that often but whenever I meet up with him he always tells me that he once rang the Private Eye office because his subscription was late, and when he did he got you on the phone. He was made up. He’s dinned out on that story for years.

Nick: (Laughs) You didn’t say fuck off to your readers.

ON: He didn’t say that he said you were more than polite.

Ian: (Laughs) You see, wish him my best and that’s the sort of organisation we are. The editor deals with the subs, and we can’t afford staff.

Nick: Ian is the designer, chief journalist, sub writer.

ON: I don’t know how far back that goes, but he loves that story

Ian: That’s very funny, well say hello. Thank you.

ON: Well it’s a pleasure meeting you both and can’t wait to see the show.

Nick: On the 31st (October) we’re doing a Q and A come along to that if you’ve not bored of hearing us.

ON: I will do it would be my pleasure.

Directed Caroline Leslie, produced by Bob Benton and David Parfitt. The Wipers Times is on at the Manchester Opera House from the 31st October till 4th November.  In addition the play is touring the UK throughout the autumn.

Tickets for Manchester can be purchased here: www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-wipers-times/opera-house-manchester/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acosta Danza – Debut

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By Nikki Cotter

Internationally acclaimed star of the ballet world Carlos Acosta bring his ballet company Acosta Danza to the Lowry this week as part of the new Cuban Companies first ever UK tour. Under his artistic directorship, Acosta Danza offers audiences an opportunity to experience an engaging mixture of the finest ballet and contemporary dancers Cuba has to offer.

Act One opens with a revival of Marianela Boán’s The Crossing Over Niagara, inspired by the tightrope walker Charles Blondin who famously crossed Niagara Falls carrying a man on his back, this is a breath-taking and astonishingly controlled piece. Two male dancers move slowly and perfectly together, seemingly naked their measured flow and symmetry allows audiences to see the stress and strain such controlled movement places on the human body in this hypnotising piece. Accompanied by the music of Olivier Messiaen, the two male dancers capture the intensity of the experience perfectly, their stretch, balance and absolute trust in each other is mesmerising.

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Next comes New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer Justin Peck’s Belles-Lettres, performed largely en pointe the four pairs are dislodged from their loving duets by a lone figure, enigmatic and impish he disrupts the status quo forcing couples to let loose and shake off the uniformity. The piece showcases the most beautiful of classical ballet techniques, technically brilliant the dancers move effortlessly with grace and polished elegance.

Act Two opens with Award-winning Spanish choreographer Goyo Montero’s new work Imponderable inspired by Cuban folk musician Silvio Rodriguez, known colloquially as the Cuban John Lennon. Imponderable is a bold and lively abstract piece created for twelve dancers. Making full use of the Lowry’s expansive Lyric stage, the dancers, back-lit, immerse themselves in dry ice as they writhe and thrash in the mist, showing a real strength and power in their movements, later in the piece they add torch light, which allows each dancer their own spotlight as the stage lights dim.

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Next we have the much anticipated arrival of Carlos Acosta on stage. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist has created a classic duet, Mermaid, especially for Acosta who is joined by contemporary dancer Marta Ortega. The two glide beautifully across the Lowry’s lyric stage in this mesmerising and enchanting piece as we see Acosta fall in love with the mythical sea creature, Ortega largely en pointe is deeply expressive as she displays delicately her discomfort at being a ‘fish out of water’ while Acosta reminds the audience of his strength and sublime dance ability in a powerful and moving performance.

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Final piece of the evening is UK-based Spanish choreographer Jorge Crecis’ ‘Twelve’ This is a fun and immensely physical piece as dancers move athletically whilst throwing water bottles to each other from all corners of the stage, at some points incredibly frenzied yet at all times perfectly measured. This is a astonishing piece showcasing not only the talent and discipline of the company but also their incredible fitness and agility.

Acosta Danza deliver a disciplined and daring evening, undoubtedly a debut to be proud of.

On at The Lowry until Saturday, for tickets head to https://www.thelowry.com/events/-acosta-danza

 

Family Panto Offer!

Sleeping Beauty

GET £10 OFF A FAMILY TICKET*

Using the code CARABOSSE

This half-term Regal Entertainments present the most spellbinding panto of them all, the enchanting Sleeping Beauty.

Featuring a star-studded cast including TV and West End Star Claire Sweeney as the evil fairy Carabosse, Shameless’s Warren Donnelly as The King, the hilarious Tam Ryan as Chester the Jester, the incredibly talented Laura Gregory as Princess Aurora and St Helens’ resident Dame, Si Foster as Dame Queenie.

Sleeping Beauty tells the enchanting tale of Princess Aurora, who is cursed by the evil fairy Carabosse after failing to receive an invite to the Royal Christening. Aurora is tricked into piercing her finger on a spinning wheel on her 16th birthday by the evil fairy, and is destined to eternal slumber unless a handsome prince can break the curse with true loves kiss.

SLEEPING BEAUTY
ST HELENS THEATRE ROYAL
Date: Sat 21 – Sun 29 Oct
Time: 1pm & 5pm
Tickets: Family Tickets £31 & £45 with this offer

* Offer is valid for online, telephone and in person bookings. Offer DOES NOT apply to Sat and Sun 1pm performances, and CANNOT be used for Golden Seats. The offer will allow customer to receive £10 off a Family Ticket. Cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer, or redeemed against tickets already purchased. Offer expires at midnight on Sunday 15th October 2017

 

 

English National Ballet | Song of the Earth/La Sylphide

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By Nikki Cotter

English National Ballet delivered a spectacular double bill at Manchester’s Palace Theatre last night, the two works, both new to the company offered dance fans an opportunity to see both Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s, Song of the Earth and August Bournonville’s La Sylphide recreated by Frank Andersen and Eva Kloborg in one delightful evening of dance.

First performed in 1965, MacMillan’s choreography for Song of the Earth features three central figures, a man, a woman and a messenger, ‘the messenger of death’. The trio are supported beautifully by the corps de ballet in this powerful and emotive exploration of the journey of life and the ever present looming of death. Beautifully set to Mahler’s haunting song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde and performed live by the stunning English National Ballet Philharmonic with accompanying operatic performers Rhonda Browne and Samuel Sakker. Each of the six songs are delivered with precision and impressive sculptural beauty. Dressed in simple greys, whites and blacks the dancers make full use of the Palace’s expansive stage, as the messenger of death Jeffery Cirio tenderly seduces firstly the solid and strong man Joseph Caley then draws in the stunning woman Tamara Rojo until she is left with no other choice than to accept the relentless call of death.


Song of the Earth allows ENB to showcase their strengths in this captivating piece, the two male leads deliver a dramatic and engaging opposition with Joseph Caley’s light and optimistic demeanour challenged by Jeffery Cirio’s dark and seductive dance of death. Tamara Rojo’s transition through the piece from playful innocence to tormented resignation is superb.


Part two in this captivating double bill is August Bournonville’s classic romantic ballet La Sylphide. Frank Anderson and Eva Kloborg stay faithful to Bournonville’s 1830s choreography as this charming piece introduces us to themes of love, infatuation and ultimately tragedy. In this engaging and joyous production we meet James (Issac Hernandez) on the morning of his wedding to Effy (Anjuli Hudson) as he wakes from a dream to see a mysterious and beguiling Sylphide standing before him, this sets off a fateful sequence of events which ultimately leads to tragedy and heartbreak.


With stunning design from Mikael Melbye we are transported by the corps de ballet to a jubilant wedding celebration in the Scottish Highlands. The festivities however are continually interrupted, firstly by the Sylph (Jurgita Dronina) who mesmerises and draws groom James (Issac Hernandez) in with her captivating beauty and secondly by the cackling and calculating witch Madge, portrayed wonderfully by Jane Haworth. The choreography is fast and perfectly precise, mixing classical steps with Scottish folk dance superbly. The Character acting is exceptional as this story is clearly and engagingly told. Moving from the thrilling scenes in the Higlands to the beauty of the enchanted forest La Sylphide captivates the audience entirely. Issac Hernandez is thrilling as James, strong and powerful he leaps elegantly from fling to forest. Jurgita Dronina enchants as the Sylph, mysterious yet magical.


These two exhilarating works allow English National Ballet to really shine and will undoubtedly delight both classic ballet lovers first timers alike, their commitment to making ballet accessible continues to impress, bold, dynamic and hugely entertaining.

 

Behind the Scenes of Elf the Musical – Part 1

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Based on the much loved 2003 film starring Will Ferrell, Elf the musical heads to The Lowry next month as part of their spectacular Autumn/Winter programme and promises to be the must see show of the festive season.

With a book by Tony Award winners Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) and songs by Tony Award nominees Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer), Elf’s much anticipated arrival will spread Christmas cheer far and wide as we follow Buddy the Elf in his hilarious quest to find his birth-father.

Ahead of opening on Friday 24th November we headed to Hamley’s in the Trafford Centre for the Lowry’s official Elf launch, as well as making our own Christmas baubles and tucking into the most incredible Elf celebration cake we caught up with the shows stars Liz McClarnon who plays Jovi and Ben Forster who reprises the role of Buddy after an enormously popular run in London’s West End.

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Part One of our ‘Behind the Scenes at Elf’ is out chat with the lovely Liz McClarnon, founding member of Atomic Kitten and experienced musical theatre star, Liz gave us the inside information on what audiences can expect from this magical production.

Opening Night (ON): Jovi isn’t exactly full of Christmas cheer but we know you’re an eternal optimist who loves Christmas so how will you balance the two?

Liz: I’m so obsessed with Christmas, if I could start talking about it in April that would be fine with me, everyone around me is like ‘Please chill, just stop’ but I think what I really like is that Jovi has that dark, sarcastic humour and actually being a Scouser I feel I’ve lived that my whole life, so when I read for the part I added a few little bits and they were really well received so I think I’ve definitely got the dark humour but I’ve also got the Christmas love at the end.

ON: How did you become involved in the show?

Liz: I was sent the a song to audition with and when I heard it I realised it was in my perfect key, so I got really excited about it, so I went to the audition, sang and they were really happy with me, it’s like the song was made for me. I think we were all happy with the situation coz basically three hours later I got a phone call telling me I’d got the part; it’s never been that fast before. Singing musical theatre feels so natural for me, I’m so excited to be part of this show.

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ON: Are you looking forward to working with Ben?

Liz: Absolutely, I’ve actually known Ben for years, we’ve got lots of the same friends, I went to see him in Phantom and I already knew we had a few mutual friends and I brought one of my friends with me and Ben already knew her too so for me I know already it’s going to be so much fun.

ON: Are you ready for the ice skating/rollerblading in the show?

Liz: I am honestly the clumsiest person ever, I probably should have said that in the audition to be fair, ha ha, but I will absolutely be rollerblading/ice skating. I’m really excited about starting rehearsals but also a little bit petrified so will be taking every opportunity to practice.

ON: Elf has become such a Christmas classic, is there a pressure in taking on something so iconic to deliver?

Liz: Yes, of course, it’s come from the West End, Ben has already done it in the West End, Kimberley Walsh was amazing in it, so yes absolutely. When I did Legally Blonde that had come straight from the West End as well so you really have a sense of don’t mess it up! But it honestly feels so right doing it that I’m more excited than scared. I can’t play Jovi like Kimberley’s done I will absolutely have to play her my way and put my own stamp on it, which I’m really excited to do.

Elf Cake

ON: Are you looking forward to performing at the Lowry?

Liz: Absolutely, I’ve been a few times to see different shows, I’ve taken my Mum to watch ballets there before, I love it there, I think it’s a beautiful theatre, it’s bigger than I realised too which is exciting and a little bit daunting. It’s funny just before I go on stage performing I get a real feeling nerves and fear and I think ‘why do I do this job?’ then three seconds in and I’m there performing on stage I think ‘THIS is why I do it’ it’s the BEST feeling ever!

ON: Do you have any superstitions or rituals you have to do before a show?

Liz: Yes, but different superstitions for different shows. For Legally Blonde my character Paulette had a lot of earrings and massive shoes, so the left earring had to go on first, then the left shoe had to go on because that’s how I did it on opening night, so then I felt like I had to do it like that the whole time. So generally it’s something that happens and then I remember I’ve done it and then I have to then do it every show, so we’ll have to see what it is for Elf.

ON: When do rehearsals start?

Liz: We start rehearsals on 16th October, so we’ve got about a month of rehearsals. It’s funny on the first day you think ‘argh a month’s never enough time’ but it always is, I’ve done shows with only two weeks rehearsals and you think no way is that enough time but it always is. I’ve got my script already and I’ve highlighted all my bits so I’m ready to go.

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ON: What is it about Elf that makes it so appealing to audiences?

Liz: I think it not only delivers that magical Christmas feeling but you also get funny, you get sarcastic, you get to laugh at Buddy at first but then you do really fall in love with him and go through this magical adventure with him. The magic that happens on stage I’ve been told is incredible and I can’t wait to be part of that, I’m gonna have to try and contain my own excitement, it sounds like it really does have to be seen to be believed.

ON: Do you have any Christmas traditions within your family?

Liz: Oh yes lots! A few drinks on Christmas Eve is definitely one coming from a big Irish family, we also always have about three or four different meats with our Christmas dinner coz everyone like different things, my Mum has the posh meat, my boyfriend has the lamb, I like Chicken, my brother likes beef, my Dad likes beef, my Mum opts for goose or pheasant so there’s all sorts going on.

ON: Are you family coming down to see the show?

Liz: Absolutely, I’m getting messages from people claiming to be family members I didn’t even know I had, that’s how excited everyone is about this show. Everyone is going nuts about this show, my family are genuinely very, very supportive, my immediate family especially, they will come and see me in a show eight or ten times, I’m very lucky knowing they’re very proud of me.

Elf The Musical runs at The Lowry from Fri 24 November 2017 – Sun 14 January 2018, tickets available here https://www.thelowry.com/events/elf-the-musical

 

 

The Kite Runner

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Based on Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 international best-selling novel which was adapted for the screen in 2007 and following a hugely successful West-End run, The Kite Runner arrives at the Lowry this week, its second stop as part of an extensive UK tour.

First produced in the United States back in 2009, Matthew Spangler’s adaptation is as beautiful and breath-taking as fans of the book would have hoped, with rich storytelling via lead character Amir’s non-stop narrative, Director Giles Croft ensures The Kite Runner is a powerful and cleverly delivered theatrical experience.

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There are no gimmicks needed as the compelling and haunting story is sensitivly told. Amir and Hassan are opposites in every way, Amir is privileged, Hassan his servant, poor, illiterate yet fiercely loyal. As Afghanistan their homeland is about to be torn apart by war, so too is their unique friendship.

While there are many elements which make up this unforgettable piece it is ultimately a story about a young boy’s guilt and later journey towards redemption. After witnessing a tragedy as a child which impacts profoundly on the lives of the core characters, Amir is forever burdened by his guilty secret, knowing he chose not to speak up to stop the heart-breaking act. Even moving to the other side of the world to start a new life doesn’t enable him to escape the dark and crippling secret. As we follow his journey, his plea for forgiveness captures the true heart of this incredibly rich and utterly captivating production.

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David Ahmad as Amir delivers a powerful and extremely moving performance, on stage for the entire production his clear narration allows the piece to flow gently and build dramatically as tragedy unfolds and secrets are revealed. Emilio Doorgasingh is perfectly cast as Baba, Amir’s Father, he embodies the character entirely, from strong proud, privileged Pashtun to elderly and infirm immigrant, Doorgasingh is superb. Jo Ben Ayed’s portrayal of both Hassan and Sorab is deeply touching and incredibly powerful, mild and submissive yet unshakeably loyal to his friend Amir.

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The set is simple yet hugely effective, dominated by a fan-shaped kite and evocative screen projections from William Simpson, guiding the audience softly from Kabul to San Francisco. The whole production is gently underscored by live tabla player, Hanif Khan, whose music stirs emotion and adds further authenticity to the piece.

Emotional, deeply moving and beautifully staged, The Kite Runner runs at The Lowry until Saturday 7th October tickets available here www.thelowry.com/events/the-kite-runner

Manchester Theatre Awards 2018

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The Manchester Theatre Awards in association with Target Live will be held at The Lowry’s Quays Theatre on Friday 9 March 2018, hosted once again by Manchester favourite, comedian and actor, Justin Moorhouse.

The annual awards seen by many as the most important theatrical awards outside of London has been an important fixture of the North West cultural calendar since it first began back in 1981 and is an opportunity to honour productions seen in Greater Manchester during 2017

From big receiving venues like The Lowry and the Palace Theatre and Opera House, via acclaimed producing houses such as HOME and the Royal Exchange to exciting fringe spaces like Hope Mill Theatre, over 20 awards categories recognise the exciting array of theatre on offer to audiences in the region and beyond.

In recent years the Awards have expanded to include a group of enthusiastic young critics who also choose an annual award from the city’s youth theatre productions.

Coronation Street and Broadchurch actress Julie Hesmondhalgh, herself a previous multiple MTA winner, paid tribute to the awards and the importance of the Greater Manchester theatre scene, saying: “I love the Manchester Theatre Awards. It’s always such a lovely coming together of our artistic community in the best city in the world, and is a celebration of all things theatrical here: From the emerging raw talent of the burgeoning fringe scene to the bobby dazzler spectaculars in our main houses and from the internationally acclaimed cultural highlights of MIF to a couple of people in a tiny space above a Salford pub.”

Kevin Bourke, chair of the Manchester Theatre Awards, said: “Helping to celebrate the tremendous, passionate and creative work in the Manchester theatre world is not only a huge honour and privilege for my colleagues and me, but also great fun and genuinely exciting – just like the shows we try to spotlight”.

Further information on the awards can be found at www.manchestertheatreawards.com and @MTAwards

 

Stick Man

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“Stick Man, I’m Stick Man, I’m Stick Man, that’s me.”

Most likely most people who have or know young children will be familiar with the heart-warming and witty work of Julia Donaldson and her illustrator Alex Scheffler (The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom)

One of the duo’s most popular works, Stick Man – the 2008 tale of a good natured wooden fellow separated from his home and family (which will be extra familiar to many thanks to the recent hit Christmas TV version) – has been brought alive on stage by Scamp Theatre, and is back at the Lowry this weekend.

For anyone yet to experience the bittersweet tale of Stickman, it centres around our eponymous hero who lives in his Family’s tree with his “stick lady love and his stick children three.”

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Upon waking early one morning, Stick Man goes for a jog, before being caught up in a serious of misadventures involving dogs, swans, children and the elements, which serve only to take him further from home.

“Will I ever get back to the family tree?” He wonders? (If only he’d hit the snooze button instead! 

The wonderfully inventive production sees three talented performers play all the roles, along with a mixture of puppets and props – everything from wellies to umbrellas, beach balls and rolls of cardboard are pressed into action to tell the tale on stage.

Christopher Currie brings a nice sense of bewilderment and frustration to the title role, while Euan Wilson and Kate Maylon have great fun bringing all the other characters to life. All three give a masterclass in physical and vocal comedy.

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There’s live music and clever sound effects, and some witty and seriously catchy songs too – the opening number in particular is a total ear worm that I’m confident will be in my head for days.

Absolutely not a panto, there’s still a bit of audience participation and forays into the auditorium by the cast.

And there’s just the right amount of peril without being too worrying for little ones – my almost three year old Godson did slide off his booster seat and onto my lap when Stick Man was caught up in the choppy ocean, but that was as scary as things got.

And being the only one of Donaldson and Scheffler’s tales that is set at Christmas, complete with a scene stealing cameo from the big red man himself, the production has a gloriously festive feel, 

“Again” was the immediate verdict from my little reviewer, as the lights went up in the Quays Theatre.

This really is a beautiful and thoughtful piece of children’s theatre, which treats both the much-loved source material, and young audiences, with the respect they deserve.

For further tour dates head to http://www.scamptheatre.com