The Game of Love and Chai

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Nigel Planer creatively reimagines Pierre de Marivaux’s 1730 play The Game of Love and Chance in this modern day, fun and farcical incarnation, The Game of Love and Chai.

There is still a central love story, duplicity, mistaken identity, class system and buckets of laughs while modern themes and Bollywood beats are introduced as well as an Uber driver and a delight in Primark purchases.

Swapping 18th-century French nobility for modern-day British Asians makes for a fresh take on a traditional classic. The plot is a fairly simple one, wealthy widow Kamala-Ji (Goldy Notay) wants to see her daughter Rani (Sharon Singh) marry successful local businessman Raj (Adam Samuel-Bal), head-strong solicitor Rani however is unimpressed at the convention of marriage so decides to take some control of the situation switching places with her nice-but-dim cousin Sita (Kiren Jogi) ahead of Raj’s visit, little does she realise that Raj has had the same idea and his Uber driver, Nitin (Ronny Jhutti) will be stepping into Raj’s shoes for the occasion.

The cast are clearly having a lot of fun in this colourful and creative production. Adam Samuel-Bal and Sharon Singh make for a believable coupling, caught up in their own plotting their chemistry is genuine and joyful. Ronny Jhutti, wide-boy and Uber driver extraordinaire and Kiren Jogi, the beautician with a bigger personality than her luscious lashes treat the audience to plenty of laughs as the chaos and comedy ensues. The addition of Bollywood music lifts the production while Goldy Notay as Kamala-Ji presides over affairs with authority, prosecco in hand.

Not all the jokes land but the all-round theme of this production is farcical fun with a capital F, in that it succeeds. The last-minute change to 18th-century dress seems unnecessary and out of place in this modern reimagining. All in all the scamming, scheming and big personalities in this production will entertain with some great comedic timing delivered to hilariously dramatic effect.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 31st March tickets available here.

Interview | Hairspray cast

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After watching smash-hit musical Hairspray on Monday, we simply couldn’t get enough of this fantastic feel-good show so when we heard the cast would be down at Manchester’s All Star Lanes for an afternoon of bowling, milkshakes and backstage gossip we simply couldn’t say no!

Rebecca Mendoza, who plays the show’s heroine Tracy Turnblad, Edward Chitticks (the dreamy Link Larkin), Monifa James (Little Inez) and Aimee Moore (Amber Von Tussle) took a break between strikes to tell us a little more about the show that brought Manchester audiences to their feet on Monday, the first night of a two week run at the city’s Opera House.

Aimee Moore, currently thrilling audiences as love to hate Amber Von Tussle describes the show as ‘A fabulous feel-good show set in the 1960’s, as well as great singing, great dancing, great comedy and great acting the show also tackles some really important issues such as segregation, equality and body image, it’s a wonderful show in which we see people come together and unite despite their differences”.

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Monifa James who plays super talented Little Inez added ‘We love that with this show an audience can come and have an amazing time but also go away having learnt something, no one is telling you what should think or feel but that message of equality gets delivered in a really fun and entertaining way’.

The response from Monday’s opening night audience was one of the loudest we’ve heard in a long time, Edward Chitticks described it as ‘Sounding like a roar, the response was just epic, it’s made us even more excited for the next two weeks in Manchester, we just know we’re going to have the most amazing time in the city, the audience last night were just spectacular! Edwards added, ‘It’s an absolutely brilliant bubble-gum show, the music is brilliantly catchy, the songs are incredible, the cast and their voices are amazing, everyone is so full of such energy and power, there’s so much style across the board, moments of real comedy, then behind all of that important messages challenging everyone and asking them to tackle important messages such as racism, prejudice, it’s like a present that’s beautifully gift wrapped and inside it has something of incredible worth’.

Rebecca Mendoza feels strongly that Hairspray is a real message of love, ‘The story is told through love, Tracy’s love for Link, Tracy’s love for dancing, the love she has for all of her friends, it’s told through so much joy that you leave at the end having had so much fun but also having learned about equality and acceptance and I think that’s a really beautiful thing’.

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Rebeecca Mendoza came straight to the show from the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, and told us a little more about how it feels to make her professional debut in such a spectacular and much loved production, ‘I can’t even find words to describe how incredible it’s been, I literally graduated a week before we started rehearsals, I went from one week standing in my cap and gown to the next week playing the lead in a musical, it’s just been incredible, I’ve learnt so so much, it’s been the most amazing time, I couldn’t have dreamt of a better role than Tracy’.

Fellow recent graduate Monifa James who also graduated from the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts explained how it feels coming into a new cast of experienced actors, ‘It’s so rewarding working with different actors with different levels of experience, I’ve learnt so much from my fellow cast members we all very quickly felt like one big family, I’ve enjoyed bringing enthusiasm and energy and also been grateful for the support and advice I’ve received off fellow cast members, Brenda Edwards who plays my Mum, Motormouth Maybell has helped me so much, she’s returned to the show and so has given me great advice and guidance’.

Featuring the iconic music and lyrics of Academy Award, Tony and Emmy-winning duo Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, this multi-layered musical also boasts choreography from Olivier Award-winning Drew McOnie. Aimee shared that ‘Drew Maconie has been so amazing to work with, I can’t sing his praises highly enough, it’s an absolute joy to dance his choreography every night, he is fabulous, the audience response is incredible every night, it’s so intricate and so interesting it will literally blow you away’.

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When asked about mixing Drew McOnie’s stunning choreography with fast-paced vocal tracks such as You Can’t Stop the Beat Edward explained ‘We barely breathed in the rehearsal rooms! It’s almost like training for a marathon; you have to build your stamina and your strength to sing live then match it up with the choreography ready to perform eight times a week and give the same energy for every performance’.

Now we know the one thing that cast simply couldn’t live without on stage is Hairspray but we were keen to find out if there’s anything they have to have with them when touring. Both Monifa and Aimee revealed their top 2 items when packing for the tour are a massage tool in the form of a foam roller and a portable speaker, Aimee explained ‘We couldn’t live without our rollers, we use them to iron out any muscle pain to ensure we’re in the best condition we can be in ahead of each show’. Monifa added ‘I absolutely have to have music in the dressing room so I always make sure I have a portable speaker, it doesn’t even matter what music just as long as there is something playing’.

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Rebecca revealed she has a pillow with her dogs face on that she’s be lost without while Edward confessed mints and porridge oats are a must! ‘I have to start my day with a bowl of oats, whatever the day it starts with a bowl of Scottish oats, I also have to have mints, I’ve got this huge thing about fresh breath, maybe it’s because I do so much kissing in the show with both Amber and Tracy but I always have to have them, even one of our wigs ladies has our some handy for me, I have them in my dressing room, I’ve even got some with me now!’

When asked why audiences should come Rebecca and Edward described the show as; Full of fun, stylish, energetic, powerful, great messages, great fun for young and old, the hottest seat in town with slick fast-paced tunes, slick fast-paced choreography amazing talent and if that’s not enough Edward challenges all audience members to try and count just how many times he winks during the show, challenge accepted!

For you fabulous feel-good and feisty fix with the nicest kids in town click here tickets. On at the Opera House until Saturday 7th April

 

 

 

Liza Pulman sings Streisand

 

Liza sings Streisand The Regent Christchurch Sunday 15th October 2017

Liverpool Philharmonic Hall will play host to a unique collaboration of one of the finest voices and one of the finest brass bands in the UK on Sunday 29th April. Acclaimed singer, comedienne and one third of the satirical and much-loved comedy trio Fascinating Aida, Liza Pulman takes to the stage to sing Streisand with her band alongside the world-famous Brighouse & Rastrick Band.

Liza’s 18 date UK tour pays homage to the great Barbra Streisand, one of the finest singers of all time and for 2 dates only (including Liverpool) she collaborates with the very special Brighouse & Rastrick Band. Liza’s mother, the actress Barbra Young was born in Brighouse and Liza travelled to the town to record with the band in their famous bandroom.

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Liza Pulman said “I am so excited to bring this very special evening of entertainment to the beautiful Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, which I have played in many times before. This concert is going to mean a lot to me, not only for my love of Barbara Streisand, but also to perform with this world-famous band. Liverpool audiences are in for a very special treat.”

Tickets for this critically-acclaimed show can be found here.

Interview | Darragh Cowley & Jabez Sykes | Spring Awakening

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Ground-breaking pop-rock Broadway musical Spring Awakeningwith it’s emotive and important themes of sexuality, religion, gender and self-discovery opens in Manchester’s Award winning Hope Mill theatre this week. The UK revival of Duncan Sheik and Steven Slater’s musical set in the late nineteenth-century has themes which resonate heavily today as we follow a group of young teenagers on a journey of self-discovery in a environment of censorship and silence.

The production which opens for previews on Thursday 29th March is the second of five in-house musicals this year from the enormously successful collaboration between Hope Mill Theatre’s founders Joseph Houston and William Whelton and co-artistic director and resident producer Katy Lipson. Directed by Luke Sheppard the defining musical of the last decade has created a buzz on social media since the moment it was first announced.

We spoke to Manchester cast members Darragh Cowley who plays Melchior and Jabez Sykes who takes on the role of Moritz to find out a little more about the production and hear how it feels to be performing something so hotly anticipated on home soil.

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Opening Night: For those unfamiliar with the show can you give us a brief outline and tell us a little about your characters?

Darragh Cowley: I play Melchoir, who is a very forward thinking young teenager, very clever, very intelligent. Spring Awakening is a real pop, rock, rah rah against the system really, it’s the youth trying to defy the system in which they have been brought up and to break the traditions that they don’t really think are right. It covers themes of teen pregnancy, child abuse, mental health and youung persons suicide but then the overall theme towards the end is about growth and rebuild and how people can get back from that sort of thing, it’s a beautiful, beautiful piece it’s gorgeous.

Jabez Sykes: I play Mortiz, there’s a lot going on for Moritz at this time, he’s dealing with a lot of pressure, his mental health maybe isn’t the best that it could be, which has been quite a daunting task really to take on, it’s such a sensitive subject and such a hot subject right now but I really think we’ve done it justice, working with the cast, our director Luke Sheppard, choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves and musical director Gareth Bretherton it’s been a real collaborative experience and I think we’ve really got there with tackling the important issues in the piece.

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How as a cast do you work on developing trust and chemistry?

JS: From day one we were all so comfortable with each other, it was almost like we knew each other from another life.

DC: There was such a nice feeling in the room, it was immediately really comfortable.

JS: It really was lovely, I think no one is scared of getting anything wrong, everyone is so supportive of each other, which makes for a really great working environment.

DC: Luke Sheppard our director has made it very much a collaborative process so before we do any scene we’ll sit and talk through it so we can all put our ideas in, even a few weeks into the rehearsal process we might say, actually Luke can I try this idea, can I still play with it? And he just tells us to go for it and see what it’s like, it might be terrible idea and he’ll say ‘Darragh what were you thinking?’ But if not he is more than welcome to accommodate and include our ideas.

JS: In terms of trust a lot of the subjects are very delicate and everyone is fighting their own personal battles so something might affect somebody in a way that doesn’t affect somebody else, but one of the things we’ve all learned is that you have to be patient with everybody, you have to have respect for each other and I think with that comes a natural trust.

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There is a real online buzz about the show, is that felt by the cast and does it add any pressure?

JS: I think there’s always that little bit of your head that’s saying oh my God so many people are really excited about this and I think because it’s such a special and quite a cult show for some people but I feel confident that what we have produced is a really, really beautiful piece and we’re excited now and ready for audiences to see it.

DC: The buzz online about the show has really put some wind behind our sails, I’ve never been in something of this scale, we’ve been rehearsing now for six weeks or so and I feel ready to stat beginning to share it, I’m excited, there’s a pressure but there’s an excitement too, I just feel right now let’s go, let’s do it!

JS: We really feel that everyone who has been tweeting about the show is really positive and really behind us and are coming to support us because they love the show and they want it to be as brilliant as we know it is.

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Are you looking forward to performing at Hope Mill Theatre?

DC: It’s a dream, I started my theatre career doing amateur dramatics at the plaza in Stockport, went through Manchester Musical Youth then went to Guilford to train for 3 years, finished two weeks ago and it’s literally a dream to come back to the city where it all started, where I grew up, went to school, it’s just gorgeous to be able to come back and say ‘Hi I’m an actor now, look I did it!’ It really is an absolute dream to be back in the city where I’m from.

JS: I’m so excited, I just can’t wait, it feels really special, I feel like things have gone full circle for me, I went to watch Parade at Hope Mill which was their first in-house musical, and I knew the moment it finished I wanted to work at Hope Mill and now here I am, I’m so grateful and so excited for this opportunity and I really cannot wait to get started.

Spring Awakening begins previews at Hope Mill Theatre on Thursday 29th March and runs until Thursday 3rd May tickets available here.

Art

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

It’s nearly 25 years since the Yasmina Reza short play Art made its theatrical debut in Paris and judging by the anticipation and buzz around the Lyric theatre this evening, it would appear the play still has a huge drawing power. However, the big question is, is it still worth the hype and praise? Or is it a bit like the Cecilia Giménez restoration of the Fresco, and doesn’t deliver what is promised?

The plot focuses on three life- long friends, Serge, Marc and Yvan. Serge, a wealthy divorcee with a supposed penchant for modern art, decides to spend £200,000 on a painting of a white canvas. His friend Marc takes great offense by this show of extravagance.  Marc believes Serge is, either going mad, having a sly dig at him, or is just plain foolish for making such an inane purchase. Marc  enlists the help of Yvan, their down trodden people-pleasing friend to either get to the bottom of their friend’s behaviour, or at least get him onside with his assessment that the painting “is shit”.

As the debate rages between Serge and Marc, and Yvan’s piggy-in-the-middle stance on proceedings, it would appear that this rather bland, neutral piece of art exposes some home truths and harsh realities that threatens to blow the lid off their friendship once and for all.

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Art proved to be a bitter-sweet night at the theatre, with more to say about the insecurities and foibles of middle-class-white men than a critique of modern art. The script is razor-sharp, filled with stinging- barbs and some cracking set pieces that include possibly the funniest olive eating scene I have witnessed and a finale that drew loud, audible gasps from the assembled audience. The trouble is that the 2 of the 3 characters are quite loathsome and that you really don’t care about them, their friendship or the painting.

That said there is no shortage of star-power on display here: Dennis Lawson is clearly having a ball as cantankerous Marc, delivering most of the plays most venomous lines with real gusto. Nigel Havers does what he does best as the suave, extravagant Serge, a role we are all too familiar with seeing him play, but he does it so well. However the biggest applause for the night was saved for Stephen Tompkinson, whose speech mid-way through is comedy gold, and his turn as the well -meaning wet blanket Yvan very nearly steals the shows.

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Mark Thomas has created simple but effective beige set with only a few paintings and different style chairs used to show off the personality of our protagonists.

I suppose, as all Art, the idea is to challenge and debate. This piece of Art certainly does that; love it or hate you won’t forget it in a hurry that’s for sure!

Art is on at the Lowry until the 31st March tickets available here

Hairspray

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ever popular audience favourite Hairspray burst into Manchester last night for a fun, feisty and feel-good two week stop at the city’s Opera House theatre.

Multi-coloured and multi-layered this is an uplifting and vibrant production with a serious and important message at its heart. Based on the 1988 John Waters film, Hairspray follows Baltimore teenager, Tracy Turnblad’s dream to dance on The Corny Collins Show. Tracy isn’t as conventionally looking as the show’s usual crew and faces an uphill battle from the start. What begins as a burning ambition to win a role on her favourite teen show soon becomes a campaign for social change which sees Tracy crusade to promote racial integration as she battles not only bigots but body shamers too.

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Newcomer Rebecca Mendoza makes her professional debut and as the bright, bold and beautiful Tracy Turnblad with a big voice and personality to match her buoyant bouffant she perfectly embodies the impassioned teen. Her comedic acting really raises her performance from excellent to exceptional and she puff and pants to perfection every time teen idol Link Larkin (Edward Chitticks) comes near.

Annalise Liard-Bailey smashes her professional debut as Penny Pingleton, the stunning pairing of Liard-Bailey and Layton Williams being a real highlight of the show, Williams shines as Seaweed, ensuring all eyes are upon him as he twists and flips across the stage, both are an absolute joy to watch.

Brenda Edwards returns as the mighty Motormouth Maybelle and raises the roof with her soulful and emotional rendition of I know where I’ve been. While theatre has a job to entertain it also has important role in educating audiences, which Edwards and cast do so with gusto.

Matt Rixton (Edna) and Graham MacDuff (tonight covering the role of Wilbur) solidify their status as audience favourites with each outrageous and hilarious scene, they’re clearly having just as much fun on stage as the audience off stage as they delight and deliver in style.

While it promotes a message of equality and inclusion Hairspray does it with such wit and charm it is anything but preachy. Drew McOnie’s punchy choreography ensures the pace always remains high while Takis’ sets and costumes are bright, blingy and whisk us straight back to the sixties.

With a vibrant and memorable score including numbers such as You Can’t Stop the Beat, Welcome to the Sixities and Good Morning Baltimore Hairspray never fails to entertain as the audience leapt to their feet in approval. Empowering, uplifting and most of all enormously entertaining!

On at the Opera House until Saturday 7th April tickets available here.

Miss Saigon

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Based on Pucci’s heart-breaking 1903 opera, Madama Butterfly, Miss Saigon remains one of the most powerful and deeply moving musicals of all time, bold in its subject matter, this gritty and gut-wrenching story packs a punch as it carries you along on an epic and emotional journey.

Set during the final days of the Vietnam War, naive 17 year old Kim who tragically lost her family in the bloody battles is forced to take a job in a sleazy Saigon bar, managed by notorious pimp ‘The Engineer’ who revels in selling his girls to the highest bidder. GI John buys Kim for the night for his buddy Chris in a bid to take his pals mind off the horrors of war, resulting in a life-changing 24 hours that see Chris and Kim fall hopelessly in love. Tragedy however is ever present as Chris is ripped away from tragic lover Kim who finds herself cast out and desolate but never losing hope that one day Chris will return and meet the young son he doesn’t know he has fathered.

The themes of war, displacement and a warped almost grotesque American dream resonate strongly and are scarily poignant as gritty and emotive numbers playout beside glitzy showstopper “American Dream”. This revised 25th anniversary production loses nothing from the original 1990’s production which ran at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane for over 10 years and indeed is enhanced by advances in technology and added depth to the story. The helicopter scene is even more breath-taking as the desperate scenes below unfold and the misery of those left behind feels more urgent and hopeless.

Sooha Kim captures perfectly the trusting innocence of Kim; the changes she goes through are dramatic and desperately tragic. From giddy and gleefully in love to a woman shattered by desperation and the grief of abandonment, she remains hopeful and strong to the end, fiercely determined to give her son the life she knows he truly deserves.

Ashley Gilmour makes for a strong and entirely convincing Chris, dependable and sure his steely attitude turns to mush in the presence of Kim who captures his heart entirely. Their duets together are perfection and offer a beacon of hope in the midst of the desperate scenes to follow.

Red Conceptión’s commitment to the role of the Engineer is impressive, sleezy, sneering yet full of charm his cheeky winks and witty quips ensure the audience love to hate him as his eternal optimism he’ll make it to the USA drives him through.

Zoë Doano’s portrayal of Ellen is sensitive and believable. The addition of Ellen’s song ‘Maybe’ allows the audience to see her as more than just Chris’ new wife (who lets be honest we all kind of hated) and gives a new empathy and understanding of the impossible situation she finds herself in.

As with all Cameron Mackintosh productions the quality shines through, touring productions can often feel a little pinched compared to their West End equivalents however there is no such worry here. The sets are as lavish as Claude-Michel Schöenberg and Alan Boubill’s score is sublime, in this gripping and heartbreakingly beautiful show packed full of passionate emotion. While there are scenes to warm your heart there are those which will also smash it into pieces and leave you barely able to take a breath as you reach for the tissues while this sensationally spine-tingling and unforgettable story unfolds. Has Manchester already seen the best production of 2018? Quite possibly, get yourselves to the Palace theatre to find out!

On at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 12th May tickets available here.