RSC | Hamlet

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Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

From it’s opening scenes showing Hamlet receiving his degree at Wittenberg University, it’s clear that the RSC are offering something very different, director Simon Godwin has painted this version of Hamlet with glorious technicolour and focuses firmly on a Prince who feels displaced, an outcast amongst his own people.

Making history back in 2016 when Paapa Essiedu became the first black actor to play Hamlet at the RSC he is undoubtedly the heart of this production with director Simon Godwin very much shaping it around him. Essiedu is of Ghanaian descent which has been used to influence the piece and shifted the coordinates offering a rich and absorbing West African flavour. Ripped away from his overseas education due to the death of his Father, Hamlet is struggling not only with his grief but also with a feeling of dislocation from his people as well as a confusion at the swiftness in which his mother has remarried. Seeing the haunting ghost of his dead father impacts him enormously, from here he begins a powerful psychological unravelling as he bids to seek revenge upon his uncle Claudius who murdered his father before stealing not only the throne but also Hamlet’s own mother for his wife. In Hamlet’s bid to expose the truth, lives and loves are lost as almighty tragedies unfold.

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Essiedu is a revelation as Hamlet, sardonic and unpredictable, charismatic and incredibly witty; he devours Shakespeare’s words and delivers them as if they were his own. His commanding presence fills the Lowry’s expansive Lyric theatre entirely, this riveting and contemporary Prince of Denmark is playful and beguiling with a unsettling element of danger that’s fascinating to watch. He questions, dissects, flips the expected on it’s head and offers an entirely new Hamlet.

This critically-acclaimed RSC production feels incredibly fresh, unlike any Hamlet I’ve seen before. The cultural richness and sheer brilliance of the ensemble brings an entirely new spin on this Shakespeare classic while playful, exuberant choreography casts light on the shade on Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy. While there is intensity there is also great humour with sharp performances from gossipy chief counsellor to the King, Polonius (Joseph Mydell) and matter of fact, take-each-day-as-it comes Gravedigger, Ewart James Walters. Mimi Ndiweni makes for a heartbreakingly tragic Ophelia partnered beautifully with a touching and honest performance from brother Laertes (Buom Tihngang).

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The vibrancy of designer Paul Wills staging breathes further life into this ground-breaking production, the staging reflecting the state of Hamlets grieving and maddening mind. Lighting designer Paul Anderson succeeds magnificently, from the hauntingly atmospheric to the blisteringly bold every scene lit to perfection and recreated for this tour by Matt Peel.

Part tragedy, park dark comedy Hamlet is a drum-thumping, high-energy, intoxicating triumph of theatre. The contemporary twist, perfectly paced & honest performances ensure the RSC succeed in delivering Shakespeare in an accessible and wholly captivating way. Paapa Essiedu captures not only the heart and soul of the character but makes the text seem new and original. I struggled to find any fault in this daring & dynamic production which will stay with me for some time. Inspired and inspiring theatre at its finest.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 3rd February tickets available here.

The Play That Goes Wrong

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

We’ve all had one of those days where nothing seems to go right for you: be it losing your car keys or locking yourself out of the house, or even that accidental fall when walking down a busy a street. You may want to go back to bed but soldier on you must. Well imagine your worst day multiply it by 100 add 50 and you’re not even close to the nightmare faced by the cast of The Play That Goes Wrong Now in its sixth year this Tony award winner sees the plucky but flawed local am-dram group ‘The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’ stage a classic ‘Cluedo’ style murder mystery. The production of Murder at Haversham Manor doesn’t get off to a great start with a missing dog, Duran Duran CD, and a faulty shelf hampering proceedings, and all this before the play even gets started!

Chris Bean (Jake Curran) the stressed director/head of the drama society, and lead role of inspector Carter welcome us to shows and informs us of some of the societies less successful endeavours, it provides the perfect set up for what promises to be a highly entertaining evening. Along the way we are introduced to the various society players which include Max Bennett, who plays Cecil Haversham, (Bobby Hirston) a first time performer milking his role for all it’s worth, Sandra Wilkinson as Florence Colleymoore (Elena Valentine) somewhat over egging her part in a desperate bid to steal the show, and Dennis Tyde as Perkins (Benjamin McMahon) clearly nervous and not very good at learning his lines. In addition they are supported by the technical crew of Trevor (Gabriel Paul) and Annie (Catherine Dryden) who try to fight the flames of disaster (quite literally) and with bigger roles then either would have envisaged. As the action continues we see the play go from one hilarious catastrophe to another, taking a mental and physical toll on all the cast and crew, just thankful it’s over and that they survived.

This is comedic theatre at it’s finest; director Mark Bell has crafted a night of pure unadulterated fun that I could watch over and over again. The cast work their socks off, with an endless barrage of slapstick and physical comedy very much in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy, or Buster Keaton, all of the cast do exceptionally well but the stand out performance goes to Kazeem Tosin Amore, as Robert and Thomas Colleymoore, whose performance at one point had audience members howling with laughter with a little a hint of fear for the actors safety. In addition Steven Rostance as Jonathan and Charles Haversham who plays the least convincing dead body you are likely to see.

The writing of Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields is bang on point firmly taking a swipe at the pompous nature of the theatre, there are moments when the action is so cringe worthy that you just want the play to stop so the cast can be put out of the misery, which is of course exactly the point of it all.

My only complaint (and this is being picky) is that show’s finale is a little over chaotic and needs to be reined in slightly as there genuinely is so much going that you become lost in the chaos so that the grand finale loses a little something, it may be hard to believe but less certainly could be more in this case.

Overall this fantastically fun night at the theatre that will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear with aching sides to boot. Be warned though if you are a vegan or vegetarian you may see more HAM then you could ever have thought possible!

They Play That Goes Wrong is on at the StoryHouse Chester till February 3rd tickets available here.

Interview | Sam Brady

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Edinburgh Fringe regular, comedian and story-maker Sam Brady brings his new show about the effect a life changing diagnosis has upon male relationships within a family to the Lowry this week.

Created as part of the Lowry’s ‘Developed With’ programme Things I Say When I Don’t Say I love You is a warm, witty and uplifting one man play about three generations within one family, granddad, father and son and the effect Alzheimer’s has upon their relationships. Sam explains that “Although the men talk a lot they don’t really communicate, Granddad Tommy, the alpha male of the family is diagnosed with dementia which completely alters the dynamic within the family as he has to get used to not always being the strong one and maybe now being looked after while Scott the 20 year old is trying to establish himself as an independent adult and Ian, the father, is trying to learn how to let his son go whilst also becoming a parent now to his own Dad. It’s about male ego’s, relationships, three people who love each other very much but also drive each other nuts and really aren’t very good at communicating their emotions.”

A real focus and driving force within Sam’s work is looking at how families cope in a crisis, when something comes along that completely changes things, how do families adapt to that change and how does this affect their relationships? While dementia is the catalyst for the play, it’s a piece that addresses how individuals deal with loss and change. While there is a lot of sadness surrounding dementia Sam found through his research that families shared a lot of humour and also found that people in the face of tragedy and change discover what’s important to them, “Crisis and loss often gives people almost a permission and an opportunity to say things that they’ve never been able to say before. While there may be loss and upset involved there is also opportunity to strengthen relationships. While researching for the play and specifically dementia it was described to me that we have our emotions and also our cognitive function and it’s the cognitive function that goes but your emotions are still there, so people may say ‘what’s the point in going to visit someone if they don’t even know you’re there’ although they may not know who you are emotionally they still know that they love you and they feel that and feel good because they’ve been in the presence of someone they love, this is something we’ve built into the play.”

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The importance of humour in helping people get through life’s challenges is something Sam feels strongly about after experiencing his own difficult times and personal loss, “The way people get through these times is often by laughing, it’s so important to have that light and shade, in my research for this play, meeting with families and people living with dementia we’ve had such a lot of laughs, the spirit and humour of the people I spoke to was incredible, people who know they’re facing a terminal illness, who are scared about what they might lose, scared they might forget their children, it’s genuinely terrifying but at the same time their ability to laugh at themselves and their situation is what gets them through, facing tragedy and still being able to laugh is so incredible, in the play I aim to reflect this, so while here are some sad moments it is also very warm, uplifting and also very humorous.”

The theme of kindness is something that runs through former Buddhist monk Sam’s work, his one-man stand up storytelling show Kindness toured successfully and after the Lowry expressed an interest in putting it on in the studio, Sam saw this as an opportunity to create a piece of theatre, arrangements were made and Sam created a double bill in which in the first half he delivered his show then in the second half delivered a work in progress of the story he was developing, “It got a really good response so on the back of that I was asked to joined the Developed With programme, it’s been absolutely amazing. I’ve watched so much great theatre in preparation for my show, I’ve learnt so much, I’ve been taking acting lessons, I’ve worked with a writing mentor to ensure I really bring out the best in me. It’s been the most fantastic opportunity.”

Audiences can see Things I Say When I Don’t Say I Love You at the Lowry on Thursday 1st and Friday 2nd February with 5 rural dates booked in in Cheshire and Lancashire and a full autumn tour also in the pipeline.

Further information and tickets can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

The Toyboy Diaries

The ToyBoy Diaries at Hope Mill Theatre. Credit Anthony Robling 2

Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

As part of their pledge to champion new musical theatre, the award-winning pairing of Aria Entertainment and Hope Mill Theatre deliver their first offering of 2018 in the form of The Toyboy Diaries, a new British Musical based on the best-selling memoirs of Wendy Salisbury.

Directed by Tania Azevedo with music & lyrics by Andy Collyer, The Toyboy Diaries is an sharp, fresh & outrageously funny musical. Twice-divorced Lily (Johanne Murdock) has reached a point in life where she yearns for adventure, her children have flown the nest, she’s been jilted by a younger lover and at forty something she’s entirely done with the mundane. So with the hilarious encouragement of friend and neighbour Penny (Nicola Blackman) Lily sets about placing a personal ad & is soon reaping the rewards and in some cases dodging the bullets of her broadsheet biog.

The ToyBoy Diaries at Hope MIll. Credit Anthony Robling 1

Spanning the chapters of her life over approximately 15 years between her early 40s and 50s we live out an animated & hugely entertaining series of sexual encounters as seen through Lily’s eyes, some shockingly funny, some seriously sexy and some downright dirty but all with one thing in common, our sassy heroine is loving and living life to the full.

While there are many tongue in cheek moments, the writing ensures while we laugh with Lily we also care deeply for her, she is a woman of a certain age who proves there’s no shame in seeking out new experiences and taking life by the balls (quite literally). Johanne Murdock is an absolute joy as Lily, strong, self-assured and utterly fearless she shines in the role and captivates entirely. Present on stage for the entirety of the production her energy and enthusiasm is infectious.

Sidekick to Lily is loyal friend and neighbour Penny played brilliantly by Nicola Blackman. Always on hand to offer advice, even if it’s not wanted, and quick with the witty one-liners, Penny goes on her own journey of self and indeed sex discovery.

Matt Beveridge, Sharif Afifi and Alistair Higgins take on the roles of the multiple and varied toyboys, all are exceptional, hugely versatile with great characterisation and impressive comedic performances they each give their all in this production, morphing into various lovers with ease and believability. Incredibly hardworking in addition to playing various lovers they pop up mid scene to cha cha and harmonise around Lily and Penny almost like a glorious Toyboy Greek chorus adding a little flamboyance to each scene.

The ToyBoy Diaries at Hope Mill Theatre 2. Credit Anthony Robling 3

Composer Andy Collyer has gifted the production with an immensely expressive and poetic score which has a beautiful Sondheim feel about it. The cast deliver the lyrics with heart and precision, accompanied by musical director Andrew Griffiths talented band. Designer Jason Denvir has transformed the intimate space at Hope Mill with his innovative and multi-functional set, allowing characters to move from scene to scene with ease.

The Toyboy Diaries is not Shakespere, nor is it trying to be, it’s a great fun night out and unquestionably wonderful to see a woman of a certain age showed in such a self-assured and refreshing way. I felt myself grinning from ear to ear the whole way through. The show paints women in a wonderfully strong and empowering light. Lily knows what she wants and is not afraid to go and grab it, as the character says herself her legs might be in the air but her feet are firmly on the ground. It feels liberating to see such a strong female lead unashamedly celebrating who she is and what she stands for. A perfect tonic to beat the January blues.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 10th February its sexy, sassy & will undoubtedly convince you to seize the day! Tickets available here.

The Weir

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

English Touring Theatre and Mercury Theatre Colchester’s revival of Conor McPherson’s Olivier award-winning play The Weir arrives at the Lowry’s Quays theatre this week, proving it is as fresh and as engaging as it was when it took the west-end by storm back in 1997.

Set in a rural in a rural Irish pub, vastly unvisited out of tourist season apart from by its entirely male regulars, conversations are familiar amongst Brendan (Sam O’Mahony) the happy-go-lucky landlord and middle aged locals cantankerous Jack (Sean Murray) and mild mannered Jim (John O’Dowd), both bachelors with their own crosses to bear. Tonight however something is different, Finbar (Louis Dempsey) the local fella turned successful businessman has been seen with a woman, not only has he been seen with a woman but he has been bold enough to bring her to the pub, and him a married man and all, changing the landscape of the status quo from the minute she arrives.

Weir 3 The Weir is a play based entirely round the art of storytelling in which writer Conor McPherson delivers the loneliness of small-town life in Ireland for his isolated characters with humanity and heart. Past and present intertwine as stories are shared and the ghosts of times gone by are reimagined and redelivered. Links to folklore litter the narratives as incidents and goings on become more peculiar and harder to explain, lives woven together by circumstance bonded over many years through the sharing of tales and the comfort of company now have a new source of narrative in the intriguing and attractive out of towner, Valerie (Natalie Radmall-Quirke).

The regaling of stories to entertain their visitor ultimately exposes their anxieties and loneliness, when finally it’s Valerie’s turn to share her chilling tale, unexpected and deeply powerful, the truth she calmly reveals bonds her to the group, comrades now in their complexities.

Weir 2 At approximately 90 minutes straight through The Weir captivates entirely, each actor on stage delivering a compelling and gripping performance, from the deadpan put downs to the infectious Irish charm. Director Adele Thomas is happily includes awkward silences, a taste of the daily norm in The Weir. While there is great poignancy there is also great wit in McPherson’s script, presented with impressive skill by this incredibly strong cast.

Just as important as the storytelling is the listening, director Adele Thomas ensures that each storyteller is the focus of their moment with fellow cast members their audience, perfectly placed around Madeline Girling’s set, while Lee Curran’s lighting design further adds depth, atmosphere and weight to each tale.

The Weir is a cleverly constructed and entirely compelling piece of theatre, goosebump chilling in parts with laugh out loud moments of deliciously sharp humour. Perfectly paced with an excellent cast and exceptional writing which will leave you longing to pull up a chair, grab a Guinness and revel in the delights of the storytellers.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 27th January tickets available here.

Jane Eyre – Octagon Theatre

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

170 years on from first publication, Janys Chambers and Lorna French’s new adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s, Jane Eyre proves the story of trailblazer Jane is as inspiring and as captivating as ever.

Telling the story of an orphan girl and baring striking similarities to Brontë’s own life, Jane Eyre is an arresting account of battling through monumental challenges at a time when women were largely seen but not heard. Northerner Jane (Jessica Baglow) is taken in by her Uncle after the tragic death of her parents, much to the disgust of his cruel wife, Jane’s Aunt, Mrs Reed (Claire Hackett). Mrs Reed promises to raise Jane as her own, yet sadly subjects her to a childhood of misery and abuse which both Jane’s aunt and cousins revel in. Aged just 10 she is sent off to Lowood, a boarding school for orphaned girls, where she continues to experience a cruel and enormously unforgiving life at the hands of school tyrant Brocklehurst who delights in mistreating and humiliating his subjects. Despite this intolerable life, Jane makes a great friend in Helen Burns, a fellow pupil, tragedy however lingers close by as Jane suffers more heart-breaking loss.

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Jane eventually becomes a teacher at Lowood but after two years yearns for change and adventure; she advertises herself as a Governess and is summoned to Thornfield Hall where Jane is granted the position and takes on the responsibility of educating Edward Rochester’s (Michael Peavoy) French ward Adele. As we see the developing friendship between Jane and Rochester build strange and unexplained happenings within the hall begin to occur risking both the safety and the future of the entire household.

The small cast take on multiple roles with each and every actor delivering clear and intelligent characterisation; the additional young company shine, particularly Jasmine De Goede and Coco Jones as young Jane and Adele respectively. Staged in the round, director Elizabeth Newman ensures the focus of this piece lies entirely upon the talented cast on stage. Full use is made of designer Amanda Stoodley’s cage like frame and the full height of the Octagon theatre is used to great effect when paired with Chris Davey’s dynamic lighting which creates and changes atmospheres beautifully.

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The production feels bold and inspired as the pace dances swiftly through Jane’s early childhood to adult life. Baglow makes for an enormously charismatic Jane, strong of spirit, intelligent and witty, her search for fulfilment strikingly pure, she remains fiercely true to herself as painful as this may be. Convincing and confident Baglow embodies Jane superbly.

Michael Peavoy plays the brooding Rochester to Baglow’s Jane, he is forceful and intense in his attempts to get to know Jane who greets her masters unique ways with intelligence and smart humour, proving Jane to be an equal to Rochester in mind if not in stature. Peavoy’s ability to switch from deeply intense to light and playful perfectly embodies the complexity of Rochester’s bruised soul. There is an endearing playfulness between the two as their complex relationship grows and develops you find yourself willing for these two damaged hearts to heal each other.

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Leah Walker as the ‘mad woman in the attic’ is creatively delivered, making exceptional use of the Octagon’s intimate space and designer Amanda Stoodley’s innovative staging.

Writers French and Chambers focus more on the humour within the novel in this production than any I’ve seen previously making for an innovative and fresh feel, allowing audiences to see Brontë’s characters perhaps differently than in previous incarnations. The pace is quick and sometimes the emotional depth is brushed over in favour of humour, it is none the less an enormously engaging and entertaining production. The focus feels less on Jane’s need for liberty and adventure and more on her relationships and longing to feel loved. Her search to create her own unique family, something she never had is heart-warming as she bids to prove she is loveable and equal in heart and mind to Rochester when society would deem her beneath him. Jane is a woman of enormous character, who is tested to the point of almost betraying herself entirely but her belief in love and the fierceness of her own integrity saves her. Bolton Octagon once again succeeds in creating engaging, relevant and inspiring theatre.

Jane Eyre on at the Octagon until Saturday 10th February tickets available here.

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads

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Opening Night verdict –

It was, of course, the immortal allure of David Bowie that drew us like a siren’s call to ‘From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads’… an irresistible opportunity to hear his music; to listen to his voice (albeit brilliantly mimicked by comedian Rob Newman); to see his otherworldly face projected front and centre stage…

So, inhabiting protagonist Martin’s world – where Bowie shines perpetually like an ephemeral ‘Diamond Dog’ – takes no leap of the imagination at all. We first encounter him aged seventeen, and he is a broken bird of a boy: gripped by an eating disorder, he is prone to occasional self-harm and leads a reclusive, dead-end existence with his alcoholic mother.

Martin’s father left the family home when he was two years old, so when he stumbles across his estranged patriarch’s treasured collection of Bowie albums and memorabilia, an obsession is born.

On the morning of Martin’s eighteenth birthday, he is gifted an envelope; left to him by his erstwhile father, it contains a map of London that treads in Bowie’s footsteps.

Galvanised by the hope that it may ultimately lead to his father’s whereabouts, Martin scrapes together enough money to head to the capital – beginning his quest outside the wrought-iron gates of Stockwell Infants School, where David Robert Jones was the small boy with anisocoria eyes and a huge future…

First thing’s first, this is a ‘one-man show’ in the truest sense – a tour de force solo performance by the impressive Alex Walton [After the Blue, ISM, London Calling, Macbeth], who is seemingly inhabited by a cast of thousands. You see him morph from all-knowing narrator to angst-ridden teenager to wizened record store owner within seconds. Each character is as fully formed and believable as the last – leaving you with the impression of having been entertained by a whole company, rather than a single performer.

Walton’s emotional range is vast – taking him from an overexcited karaoke performer in a rough pub to the victim of an all-too-real panic attack in a greasy kebab house within minutes. (Anyone who has experienced crippling fear and breathlessness when anxiety strikes could find this a particularly triggering scene, although credit must be paid to him for a startlingly accurate portrayal.)

Curiously, although Bowie’s spectre engulfs the production from start to finish, anyone expecting a musical of smash hits is going to be sorely disappointed. His music is purely incidental – utilised to hint at Martin’s mental state, rather than a succession of rousing choruses taken from the hit parade. (Expect to hear snippets from Bowie’s more experimental side of his oeuvre.) Likewise, Set & Costume Designer Andie Scott delivers a pared-back aesthetic, which merely hints at Bowie – providing no more than window dressing to Walton’s considerable talent.

Writer & Director Adrian Berry (Artistic Director of Jacksons Lane Theatre in London) is to be especially praised for delivering a truly innovative narrative and production that is heart-breaking and humorous in equal measure, as well as avoiding all temptation to conclude with a definitive ending. Part of the great joy of this experience is walking away from the theatre and ruminating over what the final scenes mean for Martin, his father and the Thin White Duke himself.

Hugely acclaimed at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – playing to sell-out audiences – the show is currently on tour nationally, with concluding performances at Jacksons Lane Theatre (6-10 March 2018). For tickets, click here.

Reviewed by Michelle Ewen