Lennon’s Banjo

Lennon's Banjo cast in costume - credit Dave Jones

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Lennon’s Banjo aims to shed some light on one of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll mysteries of all time, where on earth is the Holy Grail of pop memorabilia which John Lennon learnt his trade on that’s been missing since 1958?

The whereabouts of the mother of pearl backed banjo have never been revealed but one thing is certain, whoever discovers this missing musical treasure which without we may never have heard the Beatles would guarantee themselves instant fortune.

Writer Rob Fennah aims to shed some light on this missing part of Beatles history in his new comedy play, aptly titled, Lennon’s Banjo. The story follows Beatles tour guide Barry, a fab four fanatic who delights in sharing his knowledge to anyone who will listen but especially tourists who roll up for his magical mystery tour. One day he stumbles upon an unopened letter sent from John Lennon to Stuart Sutcliffe detailing where the missing banjo is stashed. Ever the artist the language in John’s letter is flowery and littered with jabberwocky style riddles which will need deciphering before the precious pop memorabilia can be located. Unfortunately for Barry he’s overheard discussing the letter by a double crossing, dodgy dealing Texan who fancies finding the infamous banjo for himself. Cue comedy capers galore as the race to discover the whereabouts of Lennon’s priceless relic begins.

Eric Potts heads up a strong cast at the loveable Barry, happy in his Beatles bubble he is trusting in nature which could very easily become his undoing. Potts is a superb comedy actor, he excels in the role and portrays Barry with such heart you find yourself willing him to succeed from the off.

Mark Moraghan and Jake Abraham as Joe and Steve, Barry’s begrudging buddies and local Beatles memorabilia shop owners add depth to the piece as they team up with hapless Barry in the race to find the musical treasure. There’s mickey taking a plenty and despite their apparent irritation with Barry and his endless Beatles facts the genuine affection for their pal shines through. The scenes between the three being a real highlight of the show as the banter and the put downs flow they are likeable, relatable and enormously entertaining.

Villains of the piece Travis and Cheryl portrayed brilliantly by Danny O’Brien and Stephanie Dooley add another layer to the story as their desperate and debt driven search for the illusive banjo becomes increasingly complex while the consequences of not delivering it get higher. The two have great chemistry and despite attempting to double cross an unwitting Barry are enormously likeable.

The strong cast deliver Rob Fennah’s witty script to perfection in this laugh out loud production, with wonderfully clear storytelling littered with humorous local references. Lennon’s Banjo is a fun and fast paced comedy romp. With bucket loads of scouse charm, enough Beatles facts to keep you entertained for days and appearances from Pete Best in certain performances Lennon’s Banjo will leave you grinning from ear to ear while considering lessons in jabberwocky.

On at the Epstein Theatre until Saturday 5th May tickets available here.

This House

This House 2

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Following sell out runs at the National Theatre and in the West End, James Graham’s critically acclaimed political drama has come to visit constituents, canvassing audiences across the country as part of a new national tour.

Inspired by real and incredibly dramatic political events which took place in the houses of parliament between the turbulent years of 1974-1979, This House lifts the lid on the frenzied activities at the height of a hung parliament where every vote counts as the Government attempt at all costs to operate successfully without the safety of a working majority.

Writer James Graham places the action at the very beating heart of Westminster, the Government and oppositions whips offices. These pressured hubs and the entire backbone of the palace as deals are struck, ears are bent and promises made.

This House The born to rule attitude of the Tories is displayed superbly by opposition whips William Chubb, Matthew Pidgeon and Giles Cooper, sneering and entitled for whose Boys club loyalty and a great suit is a must.

The working class roots of the Labour party are perfectly embodied by Martin Marquez, James Gaddas, Tony Turner, David Hounslow and Natalie Grady, for whom compromise is betrayal and defeat is not an option.

The frantic scenes are dominated by boisterous alpha males, bolstering for position with the exception of Natalie Grady taking on the role of Ann Taylor, Grady delivers her role to perfection, strong and sure in what was very much at the time a man’s world.

James Graham’s superb writing highlights frequently the laugh out loud absurdity of the political world, as monumental decisions impacting the lives of the masses are made amid point scoring, archaic and ancient traditions.

This House 1 This House is a true ensemble piece with a fine display of character acting, there is game playing, childishness, flamboyance, passion and genuinely moving moments all wrapped up in an enormously funny script. Jeremy Herrin and Jonathan O’Boyle’s innovative direction ensures the piece is slick and packs the intended political punch. The inclusion of an on stage band adds further depths and pace of the piece ensuring smooth, sharp scene transitions.

Designer Rae Smith’s set combined with Paule Constable’s atmospheric lighting both highlight and mirror the drama on stage. The crumbling & fractured Government being watched by the looming face of Big Ben, forever constant and predictable until one day when like the Government the clock splutters and stops.

This House 3 This House is an inspired and engaging production, the eccentricities of Westminster acted out by the enormously talented cast is genius. Where there is plotting and scheming there is also camaraderie and genuine affection. The superbly crafted characters have exactly the same demons we see today, do they put principles before party in the battle of idealism versus reality? This beautifully scripted piece could so easily be set in 2018, scarily relevant and a sobering testament to the fact that despite the stakes being so high nothing ever really changes.

This House will make you laugh out loud and possibly cry at the state of modern day politics but undoubtedly will entertain. It’s a pacy, penetrating examination of the political world as differences and similarities are thrillingly exposed. A must-see.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 28th April tickets available here. For those who may fancy themselves as a back bencher there a limited on stage tickets available.

Mary Stuart

40713315724_84da3bbc2e_k

Credit: Manuel Harlan

Opening Night rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Guest reviewer: Carmel Thomason

At the toss of a coin the company decides on stage which of two actors will take the crown as Elizabeth I and who will lose her head as Mary Stuart.

This device, more a spin than a flip, is magnified on screens around the auditorium, while Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams stand in front of the royal courtiers, face-to-face at either side of the stage, dressed in identical costumes of trouser-suit and white shirt.

It is both a simple and remarkable theatrical device. Simple for the element of suspense it injects from the start, and remarkable in the layers it adds to the characterisation, and more so the skill and depth of acting it demands from its leading actors.

On Tuesday night at The Lowry, Stevenson called heads and won the role of Elizabeth, while Williams played her prisoner, Mary. It is testament to the tremendous performances, that it’s hard to imagine the roles reversed, and more astonishing to imagine either actor going on stage not knowing which of these two huge parts they are going to perform.

Stevenson is imposing, angular and at times ferocious as England’s Queen, whereas Williams smaller frame and fluidity of movement make her a more sympathetic victim of fate as Mary, stripped of her royal title and any privileges that ever came with it. In this play she wins the moral if not the physical victory and history too has restored her position as most will know her as Mary Queen of Scots and mother to King James I of England, also James VI of Scotland.

Of course, this is drama and much dramatic license is used to create an absorbing, political thriller, which at its highest stakes plays with life and death. There is a fictional meeting between the two which dissolves into a kind of cat fight. There is an uncomfortable level of misogyny throughout that no doubt existed to a greater degree in the sixteenth century, which makes these two women more remarkable. However, the often overt sexualisation, references to their looks and the deep rivalry over Leicester (John Light), did leave me wondering how the story would play out had it been written and interpreted by a woman.

40713313244_e75f344cca_k.jpg

The action plays out on an almost bare circular stage, enclosed by two brick walls, with effective use of sound adding to the tension by Paul Arditti and a beautiful composition by Laura Manning running up to Mary’s execution. The only extravagance in the staging is the final costume of Elizabeth – a white painted face and the restrictive regalia we’ve come to recognise her for in portraits – as she circles almost like a clown playing to the will of her subjects.

Creating an absorbing thriller when the audience knows the ending is a masterstroke in craftsmanship. Issues of political infighting, international relations, isolation at the top, fights for justice, shifting blame and responsibility onto others and often onto a higher power, and the fickle hand of fate, are as pertinent today as they ever were.

It’s a gripping three-hours that hits you from the start and never stops – don’t miss it.

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Mary Stuart

Inbox x

carmelthomason@aol.com

11:08 (4 hours ago)
to me

Hi Michelle,

Sorry, I realised I’d left a ? in the copy.

Here it is:

At the toss of a coin the company decides on stage which of two actors will take the crown as Elizabeth I and who will lose her head as Mary Stuart.

This device, more a spin than a flip, is magnified on screens around the auditorium, while Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams stand in front of the royal courtiers, face-to-face at either side of the stage, dressed in identical costumes of trouser-suit and white shirt.

It is both a simple and remarkable theatrical device. Simple for the element of suspense it injects from the start, and remarkable in the layers it adds to the characterisation, and more so the skill and depth of acting it demands from its leading actors.

On Tuesday night at The Lowry, Stevenson called heads and won the role of Elizabeth, while Williams played her prisoner, Mary. It is testament to the tremendous performances, that it’s hard to imagine the roles reversed, and more astonishing to imagine either actor going on stage not knowing which of these two huge parts they are going to perform.

Stevenson is imposing, angular and at times ferocious as England’s Queen, whereas Williams smaller frame and fluidity of movement make her a more sympathetic victim of fate as Mary, stripped of her royal title and any privileges that ever came with it. In this play she wins the moral if not the physical victory and history too has restored her position as most will know her as Mary Queen of Scots and mother to King James I of England, also James VI of Scotland.

Of course, this is drama and much dramatic license is used to create an absorbing, political thriller, which at its highest stakes plays with life and death. There is a fictional meeting between the two which dissolves into a kind of cat fight. There is an uncomfortable level of misogyny throughout that no doubt existed to a greater degree in the sixteenth century, which makes these two women more remarkable. However, the often overt sexualisation, references to their looks and the deep rivalry over Leicester (John Light), did leave me wondering how the story would play out had it been written and interpreted by a woman.

The action plays out on an almost bare circular stage, enclosed by two brick walls, with effective use of sound adding to the tension by Paul Arditti and a beautiful composition by Laura Manning running up to Mary’s execution. The only extravagance in the staging is the final costume of Elizabeth – a white painted face and the restrictive regalia we’ve come to recognise her for in portraits – as she circles almost like a clown playing to the will of her subjects.

Creating an absorbing thriller when the audience knows the ending is a masterstroke in craftsmanship. Issues of political infighting, international relations, isolation at the top, fights for justice, shifting blame and responsibility onto others and often onto a higher power, and the fickle hand of fate, are as pertinent today as they ever were.

It’s a gripping three-hours that hits you from the start and never stops – don’t miss it.

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Little Mermaid

LM 2

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Lowry Theatre takes to the sea for its latest show at the Quays Theatre the Little Mermaid. Running until Saturday 14th April this brand new version, by the award-winning Metta Theatre, tells Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale with awe-inspiring acrobatics and hauntingly beautiful music. Through spectacular circus and spellbinding original folk songs, this much loved fable is reimagined for the whole family and Opening Night sent along our mini-reviewer Daisy Eagleton, aged 7 (and a half) to give it her verdict.

Daisy

Daisy:

The Little Mermaid comes to The Lowry theatre and it is inspired by the circus!

There’s not one but two actresses playing the Little Mermaid on different nights because the role is really physical and hard work. Rosie Rowlands and Tilly Lee-Kronick share the role.

The set is fabulous and has an anchor at the front of the stage to represent the sea. There’s colourful costumes and amazing sound effect with gulping seagulls and everything!

LM 1

I loved the acrobatics and the way the actors on stage also played their own musical instruments. The hoop work was spectacular and the cast didn’t run out of energy or get sweaty despite all of the incredible work they were doing.

There were so many different talents on display from trapeze, hoop spinning, dance, singing…the list goes on and on.

My favourite bit was the part when the Prince (Matt Knight) jumped from his balcony to go after the Little Mermaid and was caught by the actors below playing her sisters. The balcony was really high so there was a lot of trust in them to catch up. It was very exciting and made me gasp.

Daisy 2

Daisy chats with Matt King who plays the Prince in Little Mermaid

 

I would totally recommend this production. It was really enjoyable and great entertainment for all the family.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 14th April, tickets available here.

Interview | Eric Potts | Lennon’s Banjo

Eric Potts High Res

The race for the holy grail of pop memorabilia is well and truly on in hilarious new comedy, Lennon’s Banjo which opens at Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre on Tuesday 24th April.

Set in present day Liverpool where Beatles tour guide Barry Seddon played by Eric Potts stumbles on a letter written by John Lennon, he unearths a clue to the solving the greatest mystery in pop history – the whereabouts of Lennon’s priceless first musical instrument which has been missing for a whopping 60 years! Cue comedy capers galore as we soon realise it’s not just Barry who is interested in the whereabouts of the infamous banjo!

We caught up with Eric Potts ahead of the show’s opening to hear a little more about this new play from the writer of the stage play adaptation of Helen Forrester’s Twopence to Cross the Mersey.

ON: Can you tell us a little about the show and also your character Barry?

EP: The show is based on the fact that the banjo which belonged to John Lennon’s mother and is the instrument on which he learnt to play music is missing, it’s a real story, nobody knows where this banjo which has a huge significance in musical history is.

The show is a very funny and very credible story about the potential discovery of the banjo, my character Barry is a real Beatles fanatic, beyond geekdom, her works as a tour guide on a Beatles tour in Liverpool and collects all the memorabilia he can. Having bought a few copies of a Beatles magazine at a car boot sale he discovers a very significant air mail letter inside which contains some very interesting information. Without giving too much away, someone else also hears this information who has slightly darker intentions so the race is on to discover the banjo.

Lennon's Banjo cast in costume - credit Dave Jones

ON: Is there something quite liberating about being the first person to play a role?

EP: Yes, absolutely, we did a 20 minute trailer a few years ago based on a film script that Rob Fennah had written which was really great and at the time I thought it was a really fantastic story, now Rob’s written the stage play and asked me to play Barry again as I did in the trailer so I was thrilled as we now get to tell the whole story. The stage play is very funny, I think whether audiences are Beatles fans or not they will really enjoy this play as a really entertaining piece of theatre which I’m thrilled to be part of and really looking forward to introducing audiences to Barry.

ON: What were your thoughts when you heard Pete Best was going to be involved?

EP: It’s absolutely phenomenal to have him involved, he is mentioned in the script and now we have him doing three performances with us we’re all very excited. To talk to Pete Best about Pete Best really is absolutely fantastic and a little surreal, all credit to him for taking part. In addition to Pete Best we have such a great and enormously talented cast who will really bring this great story to life.

ON: Can you relate to Barry’s love of the Beatles?

EP: I am absolutely; I’ve always had many albums, I just love the Beatles music and often go back to it. I’d say I’m not quite as geeky as Barry is but their music certainly was a significant part certainly of my teenage years, there’s just such a wide range to enjoy from the early years through to when they split, they covered so many varied styles and listening to that sound development is fantastic.

lennon's Banjo

ON: You’ve recently finished playing Polonius in Hamlet and very shortly open in Lennon’s Banjo, do you still have time for you own writing?

EP: I do, I’ve been working on my writing in between finishing in Hamlet at the Octagon theatre in Bolton and before starting rehearsals for Lennon’s Banjo. I’ve enjoyed some time in my caravan writing panto’s, with a few scripts on the go, I’ve done a photoshoot down in London for the panto I’m doing this Christmas in Darlington so it’s been very full on before opening with this show but I like it that way.

ON: Finally if you found Lennon’s banjo yourself what would you do with it?

EP: Oh gosh, I think it would have to go to a museum, it wouldn’t feel right to just hang it up on my wall, as wonderful as it would be to have it, it wouldn’t reach the audience that I think it would need to reach, I think people particularly fans would just be so desperate to see it that it would be wrong not to share it, so I’d sell it on at a very reasonable rate of course ha ha! I think the best place to display it would absolutely be in Liverpool, for the fans and the city, that would be wonderful.

Lennon’s Banjo is on at the Epstein Theatre from Tuesday 24 April 2018 – Saturday 5 May 2018 tickets available here.

 

 

 

 

Birdsong

Birdsong 3

Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

It’s a bold move by anyone’s standards to take a 503-page novel and attempt to turn into a 2 ½ hour play: especially one the scale and volume of Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong, so a great deal of credit must go to writer Rachel Wagstaff for this brave choice.

The story shifts back and forth between 1910 and 1916 and focuses on three central characters. First there is Jack Firebrace (Tim Treloar), a loving husband and father out on the frontline of the Somme, digging underground tunnels for the British in an attempt to gain the element of surprise on the German soldiers. Jack is like a Father figure to his troops: however when news reaches him from back home that his own son his unwell, he wants leave to go and visit. However a chance encounter and near death experience with Lieutenant Stephen Wrayford (Tom Key) would see the two men strike an unusual bond and friendship: Firebrace the warm hearted working man and Wrayford, the cold, distant serving officer.

Birdsong 2

But what made him so distant in the first place? The answer to this lies in 1910, France, where Wrayford is starting life in the textiles business. Wrayford is staying with a wealthy but cruel factory owner, his wife Isabelle (Madeline Knight) and family. It is here that Wrayford can see that the marriage is an unhappy one, and soon he and Isabelle fall in love and thus a passionate affair ensues.

Back in 1916, we see Wrayford begin to recover from his ordeal, however still haunted by images of Isabelle, we zig-zag between 1910 and 1916 to find out what really happened to him to make him the way he is now.

From the moment the lights come up, and you see Victoria Spearing’s fantastically haunting set design: complete with barbed-wire fence resembling a cross, you know you are in for a roller-coaster ride of emotions, one that will leave you with a smile on your face one moment and shocked to your core the next. The near deafening sound design my Dominic Bilkey creeps up on you and throws you headlong into the full horrors of war: however always in the chaos and calm is the haunting sound of Birdsong: the only true constant of the play.

Birdsong 1

The cast are exceptional throughout with most playing dual roles. They must barely get time to breathe with constant costume and set changes: it really is a team effort like a band of brothers/sisters off to war that you cannot help but be bowled over by the warmth, humour and pathos each one brings to their roles. There are a few mis-placed accents here and there, but these are very minor quibbles in what is a truly and engrossing piece of theatre.

The relationship between both Stephen and Isabelle, and then Jack and Stephen is what drives this production forward. You firmly invest in the love/obsession Stephen and Isabelle have for each other, as well as the moving friendship between Jack and Stephen and this is firmly down to the impassioned performances of the leads who all give captivating performances.

Birdsong

This is what theatre should be: engaging, entertaining, leaving you shocked and entertained: after the curtain call and the applause had died down and the audience shuffled silently out of the Quays Theatre: that said more about the impact this play had then any reviewer ever could.

Birdsong as the Quays Theatre Lowry until Saturday 7th April, tickets Available here.

 

 

Spring Awakening

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Since the announcement in November that award-winning creative pairing Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Entertainment would be staging a revival of acclaimed Broadway hit Spring Awakening, interest was pricked and momentum has quickly gathered. The additional news that both DEM Productions and director Luke Sheppard (In The Heights, Working and Jersey Boys) were also on board has cemented Spring Awakening as Hope Mill Theatre’s most highly anticipated show to date.

Both exhilarating and touchingly poetic, Spring Awakening is an in your face, provocative and exquisitely beautiful production. With music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Steven Sater the story follows a group of teenagers in 19th Century Germany on a voyage of sexual discovery in a world where communication and education from the adults who should be guiding them is none existent. In fact almost all adults in the story play a significant part in damaging the teenagers in this thrilling, adrenaline-charged and deeply moving piece.

Whilst the story may be set in 19th-century Germany, award-winning director Luke Sheppard’s characters speak and sing in 21st-century Mancunian accents, which makes the angst and frustration all the more real adding a cheeky humour to the sharp script.

As gut-wrenching tragedies unfold the ingenious way in which they’re delivered offers delicious moments of escapism and fantasy before we’re snapped back into the grim reality of this firmly censored and deeply troubled world.

Darragh Cowley making his professional debut is exceptional as the head-strong, charismatic rebel Melchior. He commands attention every minute he is on stage, seizing each moment with enthusiasm, commitment and confidence. Enigmatic and immensely likeable, the soon to be Guildford School of Acting graduate secures himself undoubtedly as one to watch.

Nikita Johal makes for the most sublime Wendla, she evokes both strength and honest vulnerability while her innocent queries on the origins of babies acts as the catalyst for the key events within the production. With stunning pin-sharp vocals and a brave innocence she carries you along on her journey of self-discovery with fluidity and conviction.

Jabez Sykes gives the most heartbreaking performance as the intense and emotionally pressured Moritz, stuck in the most helpless of places his desperate acceptance during Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind is perfectly judged and achingly brilliant.

The architecture of Hope Mill theatre offers the perfect backdrop for Gabriella Slade’s stunning set, the effect when paired with Nic Farman’s intensely atmospheric lighting design is quite simply spectacular, culminating in an immersive and unforgettable theatrical experience.

Tom Jackson Greaves’ choreography is slick and innovative performed to precise perfection by the sensational ensemble cast whose electric delivery of Totally Fucked fizzes with defiant joy, screaming to be watched again and again. There is so much talent in this one cast, every performance packed with power and passion.

Sharp-edged, visually stunning and intensely beautiful Spring Awakening is a one of a kind musical that should be seen all the year through.

Unashamedly bold and dynamically brilliant, with phenomenal storytelling & an unforgettable score Spring Awakening is another sure fire hit which screams London transfer.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until 3rd May tickets available here.