The Replacement Child

Reviewed by Angela Hazeldine

Abooo Theatre’s ‘The Replacement Child’ Directed by Martin Gibbons had its opening this week at the fabulous Hope Mill Theatre. Starring Rupert Hill, Clare Cameron, Julia Haworth and Caroline Read this a heart-braking story of child bereavement told from the Fathers perspective.

The set, designed by Sorcha Cocran and lighting by Adam Murdoch is stark and creates a somewhat eerie tableau when you enter the theatre which adds to the tension before the play has even started.

The play begins with an awkward meeting between father Oscar (Rupert Hill) and teenage daughter Grace (Caroline Read) shortly after her 18th birthday. Grace wants some answers about Jude (Clare Cameron), the mother she never met. It is difficult to tell from the off whether Oscar is going to be very likeable at all, he’s coarse, angry and there are hints towards an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. But, as one audience member declared to Rupert in the Q&A session afterwards ‘You made me like him!’. It does seem to be theme throughout the play where in one moment you are very much on a characters side and the next minute they do or say something which leaves you finding yourself trying to work out ‘who is the bad guy here?’ But there is no bad guy, this is a story of a breakdown of a relationship after possibly one of the most traumatic experiences a couple could experience.


At times, the language borders on poetic rather than naturalistic but once you’re used to it as an audience it flows beautifully. There are a few moments that are so powerful they take your breath away with audience members visibly gasping at points. The use of flashbacks and projections keep the story moving and the hour and ten minutes flies with so many emotional journeys in such a short space of time.

My companion and I couldn’t fault the performances, all of them powerful and heart wrenching. The chemistry the cast have is a testament to the supportive rehearsal process led by director Martin Gibbons and Clare Cameron who not only had her fabulous acting head on but who also founded Abooo Theatre. During the Q&A session we were treated to after the show, we discovered that the rehearsal process, along with everything Abooo Theatre do was very much geared towards making is easier for parents within the cast with rehearsals fitting around the school run and also being able to bring kids along to those very rehearsals. One cast member joked about having to come up with inventive alternatives to swear words having kids around.

I highly recommend this play and applaud Abooo Theatre, the cast, crew, director and producer Hannah Ellis Ryan on taking on this piece so beautifully written by Vittoria Caffola. Some would shy away from tackling such a sensitive, emotional subject but here it is done with heart, skill and sensitivity.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Friday 23rd February tickets available

The Rat Pack – Live From Las Vegas

THE RAT PACK - LIVE FROM LAS VEGAS 4 Garrett Phillips (Frank Sinatra) Nigel Casey (Dean Martin) Photo Betty Zapata

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

The last time I witnessed a Frank Sinatra tribute act was on a boozy night at the Edinburgh Fringe: it was an unorthodox interpretation of Ol’ Blue Eyes as on that occasion Sinatra had been crossed with Adolf Hitler, to give us Frank Sanazi… not the normal interpretation you’re used to seeing but one that left a lasting impression, believe you me. With that in mind, The Rat Pak – Live from Las Vegas would have to go along away to leave its mark, and by and large it succeeds.

The premise is a simple one: a recreation of the legendary Rat Pack shows from The Sand Hotel. In addition to Sinatra, we have Dean Martin (Nigel Casey) and Sammy Davis Junior (David Hayes). However to ensure that this isn’t an all ‘boys club’, we have the addition of the fictional Burrelli Sisters, (Amelia Adams-Pearce, Rebecca Parker, and Joanna Walters) and the welcome addition of The First Lady of Song Ella Fitzgerald (Nicola Emmanuel).

THE RAT PACK - LIVE FROM LAS VEGAS 2 Garrett Phillips (Frank Sinatra) Photo Betty Zapata

Opening with a cheeky dig at Sinatra’s alleged links to organised crime, we are introduced to Matthew Freeman and his 12 piece band, followed by Garret Philips as Sinatra. Instantly you can’t help but notice how Philips not only sounds like but also looks like him. Opening with versions of several Sinatra standards which include I’ve Got You Under My Skin and Goody Goody, Philips is in fine voice and commands every inch of the stage. What struck me was how clinical and cold his performance was, and I mean that as compliment because throughout the evening we see his persona begin to thaw as he begins to interact with his fellow ‘rat-packers’ and get into the swing of things, reminiscent of some of the concert footage I have seen of Sinatra.

Throughout the show, the cast all get their moment in the spotlight: Hayes does a remarkable job of Mr Bojangles, which drew audible approval from the audience, whilst Casey’s introduction as Martin adds some needed mirth and merriment to proceedings with a suitably laid back version of That’s Amore.

Both Hayes and Casey have difficult tasks for two different reasons: Hayes has to try and capture the energy and spirit of Davis Junior, whilst Casey has to embody the seemingly shambolic, slapstick side of Martin. Both achieve this perfectly, especially Casey who never fails to raise a smile every time he arrives on stage.

THE RAT PACK - LIVE FROM LAS VEGAS 3 David Hayes (Sammy Davis Jr) Photo Betty Zapata

Following the interval the show certainly takes a lighter turn, with more focus on humour and variety as the ‘rat pack’ boys perform duets with one another, as well as pull pranks and lark about. One area in which the show does have a few issues is that some of the humour, despite being of that time is certainly outdated: it could be argued that if you are going bring these shows to life then some of these childish, slightly racist and sexist ‘quips’ are needed, however the show would benefit if it found a different way of projecting humour into the show.

We are soon introduced to Emmanuel, as Fitzgerald who raised the roof off the Opera House with a fantastic rendition of Night and Day, followed up by a glorious rendition of The Lady Is A Tramp. Emmanuel has a cracking voice and certainly lights up the stage. The only real complaint I have is that more could have been made of her part in the show.

The show concludes with all the cast belting out Mack The Knife which is fabulous, somewhat inevitably it is left to Phillips to have the final world with a spine tingling version of My Way, which brings the house down and has everyone on their feet.

Overall a fun and hugely entertaining night out which will have you tapping your feet and clicking your fingers; alas upon leaving the theatre I wasn’t stepping out into the hot Las Vegas heat, but the cold Manchester air.

The Rat Pack-Live From Las Vegas is on at Manchester Opera House until 24th February, tickets available here.


Interview | Joyce Branagh | Vincent River

Joyce Branagh

Phillip Ridley’s thrilling and heart-breaking play Vincent River,, has been relocated to Manchester where it will receive its regional premiere at the award-winning Hope Mill Theatre next week.

Directed by John Young and starring Joyce Branagh and Dominic Holmes, Vincent River takes aim at homophobia and hate crime with a real and breath-taking honesty. This rousing modern classic, which premiered in London’s Hampstead Theatre back in 2000, slides under the surface of fear, hatred and love.

Davey has seen something he can’t forget. Anita has been forced to flee her home. These two have never met. Tonight their paths cross with devastating consequences.

We caught up with Joyce Branagh who plays Anita ahead of opening in Manchester to hear more about this exciting and intriguing piece of theatre.

ON – What attracted you to this production of Vincent River, and role?

JB – The play itself really. It’s been relocated by Philip Ridley to be set in Manchester, which means it feels like we’re doing a brand new play.   It’s a fantastic piece of writing – it manages to be naturalistic, but at the same time has lots of poetry within it.  It also has elements of a ‘whodunnit’ – we’re constantly trying to work out exactly what’s happening – and that gives it a huge amount of drive and drama too – which I think will be exciting to watch. Philip came to rehearsals on our first day, which was great – we got to pick his brains – but it also meant we had to do the first read through with the author in the room.  Dom and I were terrified! I play Anita – she’s a strong Mancunian matriarch – she could easily pop up on Corrie…straight talking, witty, sharp as a button, but because of the death of her son, she’s wounded and her vulnerability keeps surfacing.  She a really complex contradictory character – which is really intriguing to play.

ON – The subject matter of Vincent River is very hard hitting and emotional. Is it hard to shake that off at the end of the day’s rehearsals?

JB – It can be a bit pummelling doing this – especially at the end of a long day. But it only lasts for about 5 minutes.  Then you get back to real life.  And I think that because the play has a sort of cathartic element to it, that you have that too… you get it out of your system by doing it.  In a weird way, it’s kind of exhilarating.  We also tell each other a lot of bad jokes in the breaks.  (I have a huge supply).


ON – I imagine that chemistry between you and your co-star is very important for a piece like Vincent River – how are you and Dominic developing this and are you enjoying working together?

Dominic is a fab actor – I met him in the audition, and to be honest he’s another reason why I took the job. I thought – “Ooh he’s good.  I’ll have to be on my toes with him”.  I feel safe with him as an actor – which is great.  It means you can let the characters battle, but you don’t have to.  And that’s what the play needs – two people who are sparring with each other – trying to work each other out get what they want. He also buys lots of mini donuts for us all, which I find very important in a co-actor.

ON – Vincent River is to be performed for a month at Hope Mill Theatre – have you been to this venue before? Either as a performer or audience member?

I’ve never performed at Hope Mill, but I’ve seen lots of productions there. (I’m going in a couple of days to see The Replacement Child actually…)  Because of the versatility of the space, it’s feels very different every time.  I thought I’d seen every configuration – but I think we’re doing something different again!   I think our audiences are going to be surprised by our set-up actually… but I think it’ll help to intensify the experience – make everyone feel that they are actually in the room with us.

ON – You are a regular on the theatre scene in Greater Manchester – why do you think we have such a vibrant and varied arts scene up here?

Why? – I don’t know. But isn’t it fantastic?  I feel like this year things may even have gone up a notch.  There have been so many plays on that I’ve really wanted to see, and so many coming up that I’ve had to get my diary out and strategically plan when I can fit everything in – and I’ve still missed some productions that sounded fantastic.

ON – You’re a successful theatre director as well as actor. Do you have a preference and if so, why?

No preference. I love both – and I feel very lucky when I get the opportunity to hop between the two.  With this I know what a strong connection John Young our director has to the play, which means I can relax and let him take the strain!   I love directing – getting projects underway, bringing a great team together and crafting a show… but then it’s so lovely to leave all that stuff behind and just solely get into the head of a character and bring them to life.  Especially a character as juicy as Anita. She’s a belter. Thanks Philip Ridley!

Vincent River begins previews at Hope Mill Theatre on Tuesday 27th Feb before official opening night on Thursday 1st March and runs through until Saturday 24th March tickets available here. Standard tickets £15 concessions £12.




Thriller Live

Thriller cast production shots

Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Francesca Eagleton

The Thriller Live tour has moonwalked into Manchester, as it brought it’s all singing, all dancing soulful show back to the Palace Theatre.

You’d be wrong to think that Thriller Live is a biographical musical of Michael Jackson’s Life. Whilst there is potential for that to happen one day, director and choreographer Gary Lloyd very much focuses this show on Jackson’s iconic music and dance moves.

The lead vocalist and resident director, Britt Quentin proves that he’s certainly more than just a VERY uncanny lookalike to the great king of pop. From the outset, Quentin has his performance perfected, from pulling off the signature moonwalk to Jackson’s famous anti-gravity lean.

Thriller cast production shots

Thriller cast production shots

It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or White, or male or female in this case. Quentin is joined by five talented vocalists who perform some of Jackson’s classics including: Who’s Loving You, Smooth Criminal and Bad to name just a few.

Notably, amongst the performers Rory Taylor gives a chilling rendition of She’s Out Of My Life and Adriana Louise brings girl power to the show. As the only female vocalist, she proves that her vocals are just as powerful as the men’s, whilst providing pitch perfect harmonies and unique renditions to classics such as I Just Can’t Stop Loving You and Blame It On The Boogie.

Although, there isn’t a specific storyline the show begins in the Jackson 5 era with a set of Motown classics: I’ll Be There, I Want You Back and ABC performed by the incredible Ina Seido. This was quickly followed by Jackson’s 1972 hit Rockin’ Robin, but instead of being performed by a ‘younger Michael Jackson’ as it notably is in the West End version, there was a video clip of a young performer dancing and miming to the song displayed on a screen instead. This seemed a little out of place and dropped the energy of the show, as previous songs and the ones which followed were performed by live vocalists.

The cast is complete by a sensational group of dancers, who provide the energetic atmosphere that the show thrives from. They work tirelessly through every dance number without losing enthusiasm. A special mention must go to self taught dancer Antony Morgan, who brought humour and personality to various scenes throughout the show – notably during Adriana Louise’s seamless rendition of The Way You Make Me Feel.

Thriller cast production shots

It was expected that the cast would be receiving a standing ovation at the end of their opening night in Manchester. But the eagerly anticipated crowd were ahead of that game, as the opening of Jacksons 1982 hit Billie Jean began to play, the audience were straight up on their feet and dancing in the aisles for the remainder of the show.

Overall, Thriller Live feels very much like a concert rather than a musical, from the iconic set list to re-enactments of Jackson’s music videos.

But one thing’s for certain, you’ll leave singing, dancing and Shaking Your Body (Down to the Ground).

You’d have to be a Smooth Criminal to miss this Thriller of a show (sorry we couldn’t resist).

Thriller Live continues at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 24th February. For tickets and more information click here.


Brief Encounter


Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Widely hailed as one of the most romantic love stories of all time, Emma Rice’s Brief Encounter is a thrilling and visually stunning interpretation of the classic tale of forbidden love.

Taking inspiration from Still Life, the short play by Noël Coward which later became David Lean’s 1945 film Brief Encounter, the production offers more depth to the characters surrounding central lovers Alec (Jim Sturgeon ) and Laura (Isabel Pollen ) providing an opportunity to add multiple layers including a sharp injection of humour, music and dance, which takes this audience favourite to the next level.

Innovative director Emma Rice takes the best elements of both the play and the screenplay as she delivers a faithful and fresh take on the story of two middleclass married people who catch a glimpse of what could be should they dare to leap out of their predictable lives.


Upon entering the Lowry’s Lyric theatre, cast members mill about, dressed as 1930’s cinema ushers playing various instruments and singing harmonious ditties offering an instant glimpse into the musicality and originality of Emma Rice’s production and sending a clear message to the audience that we’re in for something a little different.

Multimedia elements are wonderfully woven into the exhilarating onstage action as the story of star-crossed lovers Laura and Alec unfolds. There is playfulness and passion as the tragedy of Laura and Alec’s forbidden love is interspersed with the comedy and joyful silliness of the two additional love stories within the production. Beverly Rudd and Jos Slovick as Beryl and Stanley deliver a perfectly judged interpretation of puppy love, all giggles, blushes and charming light-heartedness, Rudd providing a gorgeous version of Mad About The Boy while Slovick serenades his sweetheart throughout with his melodic observations on romance. Lucy Thackeray and Dean Nolan as Mrs Bagot and Albert are a delight, knowingly coy and completely hilarious, with the most impressively physical reprisal of Noël Coward’s I am no good at love you’re ever likely to see, sharp, witty and near acrobatic in delivery.


Being a Kneehigh production the physical theatre element is second to none, perfectly judged it offers light in the shade of the heart-breaking love story which continues apace. The angst of Alec and Laura’s attempts to control their passion for each other is contrasted beautifully with the elation they experience when together which further adds to the intensity of their scenes together, the on stage chemistry between Sturgeon and Pollen is a joy to watch as love blossoms from their initial innocent meeting at the station.


Designer Neil Murray, lightening designer Malcolm Rippeth and Sound Designer Simon Baker have worked in harmony to create something truly special as they manage to achieve the most striking of cinematic feels to this inventive production.

Innovative, deeply moving and impressively staged, Brief Encounter brings glorious technicolour to this most iconic of love stories.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 24th February here.


Hamlet Production Photos Photo Credit : The Other Richard


Opening Night Verdict

Often described as Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, Director David Thacker’s Hamlet is relocated to a gently suggested Soviet Block with it’s marbled walls and leaders portraits, a nod also perhaps to the troubled political times we find ourselves living today.

Upon entering the theatre James Cotterill and Ciaran Bagnall’s impressive set and lighting design looms large; making use of the full height of the Octagon it is dominant, multi-levelled and imposing. In the opening scenes at the funeral of Hamlet’s father we quickly get an idea of the style of this production, beautifully and dramatically lit, scenes change at a pace from bright and bold to soft and brooding.

Hamlet Production PhotosPhoto Credit : The Other Richard

Hamlet Production Photos Photo Credit : The Other Richard

Taking on the title role is the hugely impressive David Ricardo-Pearce, the tragic Prince, torn away from his studies abroad to a kingdom in turmoil, his Uncle taking not only the throne from Hamlet’s dead father but also Hamlet’s own mother to be his new bride. Overcome with confusion and grief the haunting sight of his dead father’s ghost sends Hamlet further into the depths of despair as he strives to find clarity in a world he feels increasingly uncertain.

Ricardo-Pearce delivers the multi-layered prince with conviction, playful yet proud, intense and sardonic. He takes of the task of avenging his father’s murder with fervour as he struggles to find an outlet for his grief, he is unflinching in his quest for retribution. At times addressing the audience directly, Ricardo-Pearce’s commitment to the role is exceptional as he questions, considers and confirms his plans.

Hamlet 1

The supporting cast are equally as impressive. Jessica Baglow captivates entirely as the broken and grief-stricken Ophelia, singing gently as she weeps for the loss of her love Hamlet and her father, her mind turns to madness. Eric Potts injects great humour amidst the intensity as the trusted Polonius while Brian Protheroe is impressive as the cold and composed Claudius. Marc Small makes for a loyal and committed Horatio while Michael Peavoy is a charismatic and dignified Laertes.

Thacker’s emphasis on the family tragedy of Hamlet reaps dramatic rewards, with the delivery of the script some of the clearest I’ve seen, this Hamlet is accessible and gripping, it feels fresh and inspired with the cast working together perfectly to deliver and engaging and enormously entertaining piece of theatre.

Hamlet Production Photos

Photo Credit : The Other Richard

A great Hamlet of course rests enormously on the lead, Ricardo –Pearce succeeds entirely in involving the audience in his journey as we experience and feel not only Hamlet’s broken and disillusioned heart but his manic and mesmerising mind. Fast-paced, gripping and utterly compelling.

On at the Octagon Theatre until Saturday 10th March tickets available here.

Dance Sampled

DS 2

Returning to The Lowry for a second year, Dance Sampled, a partnership programme between The Lowry, Sadler’s Wells and Birmingham Hippodrome, offers audiences an opportunity to see world class performers in an accessible and an affordable way in this dynamic, engaging & wonderfully varied celebration of dance in all its forms.

Transforming not only the Lyric theatre but the entire building into a vibrant hub of performance, Dance Sampled delivers not only a spectacular dance showcase but also introductory classes to several genres of dance from salsa to lindy hop as well as various drop-ins, post show discussions and even an chance to create your own unique signature dance move, it really is a day of discovery. The Salford quays venue was quite literally buzzing with movement and opportunity from the moment you stepped through The Lowry doors with its extensive and well planned programme of activities.

With an incredibly eclectic range of styles on offer, Dance Sampled strives to make dance more accessible and inclusive for all. Each of the 8 pieces in the main show are introduced by a short and beautifully crafted film, in which performers and creatives give clear and engaging information about the piece they are about to deliver. They also discuss their passion and love for their chosen form of dance, their drive, creativity and offer an insight into what dance means to them.


First up is the powerful and dynamic Uchenna Dance ‘The Head Wrap Diaries’, bursting with style and colour the all female troop were bold and rhythmic as they moved across the stage incorporating the wrapping and unwrapping of striking head wraps which are used creatively to take on the form of scarves, dresses, shawls and capes through this expressive and empowering piece.

Next we se Nafisah Baba, winner of 2017 BBC Young Dancer who performs ‘Near the place where your feet pass by’, fluid and contemporary, she is a perfect example of how engaging and entertaining a solo performer can be.

Third on the bill is a stunning performace from Scottish Ballet who treat audiences to the famous Grand pas de deux from The Nutcracker. Bethany Kingsley Garner and Evan Loudon glide effortlessly across the stage in a stunning display of strength, poise and elegance.

DS 1

Following on from the ballet is Humanhood with their contemporary and highly charged exploration into the connection between physics and dance they excite and engage in their highly physical and visually striking piece.

Final act before the interval is the internationally renowned flamenco bailaor Jesús Carmona. Passionate and proud Carmona thrills the audience with a preview of his full show, ‘7 Balcones’ which can be seen at the Lowry on 26th February.. Accompanied by singer Juan José Amador and Spanish guitar specialist Dani Jurado, Carmona’s performance is electric, full of passion, proud gesturing and Latin heat.

Act II offers three further pieces, all enormously different from the last. Opening with Far From The Norm and their piece 60 Secs, extremely physical and theatrical mixing hip hop with more contemporary styles this expressive piece is fast, thrilling and a whole lot of fun.

Next up is an absorbing and highly original piece from Scottish Ballet, the male duet from Sibilo is a playful and powerful celebration of dance as the two male performers deliver a witty and light piece using a suit jacket as their only prop.

DS 3

Ending the show is a contemporary and quirky performance from Gandini Juggling entitled Smashed, showing dance comes in many forms, the piece incorporates juggling, a heck of a lot of apples, several dinner services and nine performers, it soon becomes a tea party like no other!

Dance Sampled is a joyful celebration of dance in all its forms, an incredible opportunity to explore the diversity of world-class dance in an accessible and exciting way. With so much to discover we’re already counting down to Dance Sampled 2019!