Aspects of Love | Cast and Creatives announced


An exciting cast and creative team has been announced for Hope Mill Theatre and Aria productions hotly-anticipated, intimate revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s romantic classic Aspects of Love, which runs as the award-winning Ancoats theatre from Thursday 5th July until Thursday 9th August.

The talented company of 10 includes both Olivier Award nominees and West End regulars as well as young talent making their professional debuts will be directed by Jonathan O’Boyle whose recent credits include Pippin (Hope Mill Theatre/ Southwark Playhouse, London), Hair (Hope Mill Theatre/The Vaults, London) and Resident Director of An American in Paris (Dominion Theatre, London).

Making up the cast is Kimberly Blake (Half a Sixpence, Barnum) who plays Giulietta, Jason Kajdi (Our House, Assassins), in the role of Hugo, Felix Mosse (The Rocky Horror Show) as Alex, Julia J Nagle (An American in Paris) as Elizabeth/ensemble, Minal Patel (The Secret Garden, Bend it Like Beckham) as Marcel, Jerome Pradon (Jesus Christ Superstar, Pacific Overtures – Olivier Award Nominee 2003) as George and Kelly Price (That Day We Sang, A Little Night Music – Olivier Award Nominee 2010) in the role of Rose. Making their professional debuts in the production are Rosie Cava-Beale, ensemble, Jack Churms, as Jerome/ensemble and Eleanor Walsh as Jenny/ensemble.

Following Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre is The Return of the Soldier that runs from Thursday 6 to Saturday 29 September and A Christmas Story The Musical that runs from Friday 26 October to Saturday 1 December.

Tickets available here.


Interview | Natasha Hodgson | Kill the Beast


Lowry associate artists Kill the Beast return to the Salford venue next week with their new show Director’s Cut before they head off to Edinburgh Fringe for a summer of hilarious and a teeny bit haunting comedy japes.

Opening Night caught up with one fifth of the ‘Beast’s’ Natasha Hodgson to hear a little more about their latest offering and what exactly Lowry audiences can expect from the award-winning troop when Director’s Cut opens in the Aldridge Studio on 7th June.

Welcome to the worst film never made. Thankfully, there’s only one scene left to shoot… 

The fire has been contained, the wigs have been sterilised, and the star has been replaced after “The Accident”. Surely, nothing else can be waiting in the dark…

Director’s Cut, a madcap mash-up with a generous sprinkling of spoof horror introduces us to a 1970’s lead actress determined to take her revenge from beyond the grave, will she manage to stop filming on the most truly terrible and blisteringly bad movie she ever made?

Natasha Hodgson described to us where the idea for Director’s Cut came from. “We were chatting in a lovely sunny garden one day about our favourite horror films (classic sunshine chat) and how amazing, iconic films never seem to manage iconic sequels. We started talking about Rosemary’s Baby (one of our favourites) and imagining what a terrible sequel to Rosemary’s Baby – Rosemary’s Toddler? – might look like. And what if, whilst filming this terrible sequel, the spirit of the original film came back to wreak vengeance on this terrible follow up!”

Like previous shows The Boy Who Kicked Pigs, He Had Hairy Hands and Don’t Wake The Damp, Kill the Beast’s signature style of fast-paced action, original music and brilliantly bonkers comedy will lend itself perfectly to this silly yet sinister escapade. Natasha explained “I play a couple of characters, but my favourite is an older actor called Judy Goose, she’s been in the industry forever, and although she’s done a whole host of arthouse films, she’s always most excited about her adverts for Simpkin’s Soapy Scrubbers (“for wives and for mothers”) because of their big, fat pay-cheques. You’ll also learn that she’s a dab-hand at dealing with a dead body. But you’ll have to see the show to find out which one…”


Here at Opening Night we are enormous fans of Kill the Beast’s deliciously dark humour and inventive staging, Natasha confirmed while the humour remains there will be some new and rather exciting changes to the staging of this new production, “Our hearts belong to ridiculous, dark and silly jokes, and that’s always going to be at the forefront of everything we make. However, we’re ditching the projections this time around, in favour of actual AV screens – it makes ghost trickery a lot more fun. We’ve done three shows with projected sets, and this time around we wanted to build something solid from scratch – we’ve got a real life 70s film set on stage, and we can’t wait to cause catastrophes within it.”

Now in their sixth year as Lowry associate artists Natasha explained just how important the support from The Lowry has been, “We feel so, so lucky to be supported by them, and if more theatres provided the sort of 360 care and help that they do, the emerging theatre scene would be able to take a lot more risks, and make a lot more fantastic stuff. But hell, it’s a hard time for the arts. It’s a hard time for a lot of stuff. Best thing we can recommend? Come see a silly, fast-paced comedy about a vengeful, opinionated ghost. That will probably sort everything out.”

Director’s Cut opens at The Lowry on Thursday 7th June and runs until Saturday 9th tickets priced at £12 (£10 for concessions) can be found here. here.




Play Your Gender


Writer Matt Forrest

The Doc ‘N Roll festival is well under way this bank holiday weekend, and we were fortunate to attend one of the 11 documentary film premiers being held this weekend: Play Your Gender from  Canadian director Stephanie Clattenburg. Arguably more intriguing than the film, was the Q & A after the screening with film/theatre producer Alison Surtees, musician Jaheda Choudhury, Dr Katie Mikestone (a sociology lecturer at MMU), and sound engineer Yvonne Ellis.

The film takes a look at the under-representation of women in the music industry: from producers to sound engineers, there is a clear discrepancy between men and women with just 5% of women working as producers today.

Award winning producer Kinnie Starr aims to find out what the barriers are preventing women succeeding in this area. The film offers a great deal of insight into this area, with interviews from various female musicians who offer their opinions and what they are doing to change this.

A key scene in the film is a moment when the line-up of various festivals are shown and then decimated when only the female singers/musicians are shown. The film certainly has good intentions and hopes to engineer change. It is well worth catching for anyone with not just an interest in music but also a passion for equality.

However, for me, the highlight of the night was the Q & A with the panel who offered their experience on subject matter. They discussed and challenged aspects of the documentary which led to a lively, engaging and insightful discussion.

This has certainly set the bench mark high for the festival and if all the other sessions live up to this high standard, then those lucky enough to attend are in for a treat. Thought provoking, insightful and highly entertaining, you really couldn’t find a better way to spend your bank holiday.

Ticket details can be found here:


Doc’n Roll Festival

Writer Matt Forrest

The Bank holiday weekend is upon us once more: with the inevitable heavy bank holiday traffic threatening to spoil our precious long weekend, it may be worth avoiding the jams and going for a different sort of ‘jam’ by taking in some great films packed with killer tunes!

From the 23rd May through to the 28th May, the great city of Manchester will host the Doc’n Roll film festival for the first time ever. This is a film festival like no other as it highlights some tremendous music documentaries from across the globe, regardless of your taste in music, the festival promises something for everyone.

Boasting 11 premiers at three venues across the city, this festival will provide music lovers not only with a chance to see some insightful and groundbreaking films, but also offer opportunities to quiz the musicians and directors behind the projects with several post screening Q & A sessions.

Unlike most music festivals, there are no headliners here, just an eclectic mix of films and artists spanning various musical genres: from Ella Fitzgerald to Badly Drawn Boy, Iranian Techno to Heavy Metal, the festival promises to leave you informed and entertained. There are also films taking a look at the vibrant 1960’s Liverpool music scene which gave birth to The Beatles, as well as a look at the infamous Ealing Club in London, a venue nicknamed “The Cradle of British Rock”.

Opening night will be attending several screenings throughout the weekend, one that we are certainly looking forward to is Play Your Gender, an insightful look at the lack of female representation in music production.

So this bank holiday why not get yourself down to HOME, Gulliver’s, and Plant Noma and catch some amazing films featuring some interesting stories, talented musicians, and some great music! Here is a full list of the all the events and where they are happening:

19:00 WEDNESDAY 23RD MAY – 3MT – 39 Oldham St, M1 1JG

** Manchester Premiere **

Walking In The Opposite Direction: Adrian Borland & The Sound

Director Marc Waltman, Netherlands, 2016, 96 mins


** Manchester Premiere **

L7: Pretend We’re Dead

Dir. Sarah Price US, 2016, 82 mins

18:30 FRIDAY 25TH MAY – PLANT NOMA – Dantzic St, M60 0AB

** Manchester Premiere **

Raving Iran

Dir. Susanne Regina Meures, 2016, Switzerland, 84mins



** Manchester Premiere **

Play Your Gender + Q&A Your

Dir. Stephanie Clattenburg, Canada, 2017, 80mins

Q&A (music industry panelists TBA)


*** World Premiere ***

About A Badly Drawn Boy + Q&A

Dir. THE MITCHAM SUBMARINE, 2018, UK, 72mins

Q&A with the director


** Manchester Premiere **

Manchester Keeps On Dancing + Q&A, plus After-Party

Dir. Javi Senz, 2017, UK, 90mins


** Manchester Premiere **

Suburban Steps to Rockland: The Story of The Ealing Club

Dir. Giorgio Guernier, 2017, UK, 89mins


**Manchester Premiere**

The Doom Doc

Dir. Connor Matheson, UK, 2017, 90mins


** Manchester Premiere **

DEATH by Metal

Dir. Felipe Belalcazar, 2016, Canada, 109mins

16:00 MONDAY 28 MAY – HOME

** Manchester Premiere **

Pure Love: The Voice of Ella Fitzgerald

Dir. Katja Duregger, 2017, Germany, 52mins

Tickets for all shows available at:

Brighton Rock

BR 1

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s 80 years since Graham Greene’s novel Bright Rock first saw the light of day. It spawned two film adaptations, one in 1947 launching the career of Richard Attenborough and the other coming in 2010 featuring Helen Mirren. It has become something of a cult classic and a much-loved staple of British literature and film.

Director Esther Richardson and the Pilot Theatre company have brought a fresh and unique version to the stage, that despite a few plot niggles, is hugely entertaining and well worth a watch. The plot focuses on the murder of Charles ‘Fred’ Hale, who arrives in Brighton on a special assignment from a newspaper. It’s in the resort that ‘Fred’ bumps into local gangster Pinkie, a teenage sociopath with a grudge to settle. As Fred tries to survive the day in Brighton, he encounters the kind-hearted Ida Arnold, who takes a shine to Fred, however Pinkie catches up with his prey and soon Fred is no more.

BR 2

However what Pinkie doesn’t reckon on is not just the determination of Ida to find out the truth, but also the involvement of Rose, a sweet natured, innocent waitress who holds the key to Fred’s demise. An encounter between Pinkie and Rose leads to a somewhat unconventional love and eventual marriage but will this be enough to save Pinkie from the long arm long arm of the law, but himself as well.

There is a great deal to admire in this production. Jacob James Beswick, is outstanding as Pinkie; he has a swagger full of menace, as he prowls around the stage like a Jackal and his performance really anchors the production. In addition, he is supported by a fine cast with Sarah Middleton as Rose, and Gloria Onitiri as Ida, with the latter demonstrating a beautiful singing voice.  In addition, there is a hard working ensemble cast who play various roles and work their socks off.

BR 4

The play explores numerous themes including right and wrong, as several characters’ moral compasses go off in various directions. What is interesting is the relationship between Rose and Pinkie, and how they try to remain truthful to their Roman Catholic upbringings. However, one plot strand that I feel is underdeveloped is the relationship between Ida and Fred, this isn’t explored nearly enough for you to invest and believe in Ida’s crusade to seek justice for a man she hardly knew.

What stood out for me was the look and feel of the show. The set design by Sara Perks looks fantastic, this in conjunction with a truly atmospheric musical arrangement from Hannah Peel, adds a sense of danger to proceedings. In addition, the production contains some intricate fascinating choreography from movement director Jenifer Jackson, which again leaves a feeling of menace, as various cast members linger around the pier and emerge from the shadows, it really does create an intimidating foreboding atmosphere.


This is a bold, slick production that certainly looks fantastic with a central performance that will linger in the memory for some time to come.

Brighton Rock part of the Week 53 festival is on at the Lowry till 26th May tickets available here.


After debuting their verbatim piece about the extraordinary Martyn Hett last October, Hope Theatre Company return on the anniversary of the Manchester bombing with a reworked and powerful piece of theatre that celebrates this special men and also asks the question, what does #BeMoreMartyn mean?

Eight of Martyn’s closest friends were interviewed by Hope Theatre Company for this celebratory piece of theatre, the exact words spoken were then constructed into a compelling and insightful piece offering a real and in depth view into the life of Martyn Hett whose exceptional life was cut short a year ago today when he was killed in the Manchester Arena bombing.

The show is littered with heart-warming and hilarious stories of Martyn’s antics including wild nights out on Canal St, Martyn’s annual Eurovision party which he took VERY seriously and stories of his joy at all things Coronation Street including a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Gail Platt which lived in his in-house bar The Frig.

These up-lifting and joyful memories are beautifully intertwined with more reflective and at times deeply emotional recollections. Director Adam Zane pacing the piece perfectly allowing each character time to share emotive stories before breaking into another outrageous or hilarious tale that will leave you belly laughing and a little bit more inspired once again by this incredible man.

Each section is cleverly interspersed with video clips featuring or made by Martyn including the hilarious Audrey Roberts noise, his appearance on Tattoo fixers getting his infamous Deirdre Barlow tattoo and a hilarious appearance on Couples Come Dine with Me with boyfriend Russell.

The content of the entire piece is so well judged by creative Adam Zane and Mike Lee ensuring each audience member gains a real knowledge and understanding of just why Martyn meant so much to people. The generosity of his friends in sharing their memories and private thoughts a real credit to the friendships they all had. Hope Theatre Company haven’t painted Martyn as an untouchable angel, this is a real, honest, inspiring and increadibly funny piece of theatre, an entirely fitting tribute and the perfect way to continue the legacy of Martyn Hett. The strong cast deliver the words of Martyn’s friends with sensitivity, real emotion and undoubtedly love.

The #BeMoreMartyn message is powerful and generously open for interpretation by each individual whose lives he touched and continues to do so. Have the courage to live for the moment, be fabulous, have fun, make a positive difference, laugh hard, be fearless and proud of what and who you love and most of all always and unashamedly be yourself.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 26th May tickets available here.

*Photo credit Lee Baxter


Shrek 1

Reviewed by Casey Gwilliam

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Shrek came bounding into the opera house this week (literally) stealing the audiences hearts along the way.

In his quest to win back the rights to his swamp, Shrek encounters fairy-tale creatures, princesses and even a talking donkey. Following the same narrative of the 2001 Shrek movie, the stage musical includes many of the iconic lines you’ll remember from the movie, like ‘Not my gumdrop buttons’ and ‘that’ll do, Donkey.’

Shrek proves to be brilliant family entertainment as children were grinning from ear to ear, laughing along with their parents, as well as a few subtle nods to the innuendos Dreamworks are famous for, Shrek proves to be just as popular on stage as it was in cinemas.

Shrek 2

Among audience favourites were Marcus Ayton as the iconic ‘Donkey’ whose performance had everybody in stitches with his incredibly witty portrayal. Samuel Holmes as Lord Farquaad provided comic relief for the adult audience, with references to Brexit and Blackpool that raised more than a few smiles.

‘Story of My Life’ performed by the talented ensemble, was a real stand out moment, with the fairy-tale characters expressing their disappointment at their lot in life, expressing that being a creature “sucks” and dancing around in comical costumes around the swamp.

Shrek 4

‘Morning Person’ was also a huge audience favourite, as the dazzling tap and vocals wowed the audience even featuring some fabulous dancing rats.

The costume and set transported the audience into Shrek’s fabulous fairy-tale world taking every audience member on a magical journey watching Shrek run down the aisle to save his bride, Fiona, had everybody saying , I’m a Believer!

Shrek is a monster hit for all the family, creating just the perfect mix of fairy-tale and real life lessons we could all learn from.

On at the Blackpool Opera House until Sunday 27th May tickets available here.

Interview | Adam Zane | #BeMoreMartyn

Be More Martyn

On the first anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing, Hope Theatre Company return to award-winning Hope Mill Theatre to celebrate the life of Martyn Hett, with their empowering and inspiring play, #BeMoreMartyn.

First performed in October 2017 to sell-out audiences, Hope Theatre Company have developed the play further to create a unique piece of verbatim theatre using the words and stories of eight of Martyn’s closest friends taking a closer look at what exactly it means to #BeMoreMartyn.

We visited rehearsals where we spoke to writer and director Adam Zane who took us back to last May when he first became aware of Martyn Hett, “When people started to share statuses and tweets that Martyn was missing I started to see his face so much and realised he knew so many of my friends and I soon started realising how things are connected and feel that connection myself, as the days went on I realised in that past year I’d been watching his videos and sharing them on Facebook. I was on the train going down to Brighton as we had a show on at the fringe when I got a message confirming Martyn had been found and I remember just crying on the train but thinking this is ridiculous to be crying over someone you don’t know but I think for me as a gay man who lives in Manchester, who goes to the gay village, he was someone who was obviously loved by so many different people and it really got to me, I felt like we’d lost someone from our community.”

It was when Adam arrived in Brighton for a show that evening he really felt as a Manchester theatre company it was important to mark the heart-breaking news of Martyn’s passing somehow, “A minutes silence just didn’t feel appropriate so we led the audience in a minutes round of applause, because we strongly felt he absolutely deserved celebrating.”

Adam attended Martyn’s funeral in support of his friends and was incredibly touched by just how important Martyn was to so many people, “That’s when I started to hear the most amazing stories; there was a lot of laughter. Michelle McManus was amazing, his boss from Rumpus PR told the most amazing account of Martyn, we were crying with laughter at these incredible stories and I just thought these stories and these incredible memories of Martyn would be beautiful on stage.”

The question what does #BeMoreMartyn mean was the thing that hooked Adam and seeing it trending on Twitter confirmed to him that was what the play needed to be about, “#BeMoreMartyn was trending worldwide and that made me really wonder, what does that mean? What was it about this young man that we should be so inspired by? I was so overwhelmed by the stories Martyn’s friends have told me, how personally they were transformed by this man, it sounds like a really over the top thing to say but he really did do that to people.”

Adam describes how he quickly began forming a picture of Martyn through the generosity of his friends and their willingness to share their own personal memories. “There’s a lovely story in the play where Hannah, Martyn’s roommate says she felt more validated as a human being by Martyn than anyone else in the world and I think that’s what he did, he never tried to change people he just always said ‘be yourself’. Another character says ‘he gave me my life in Manchester’ a lot of the time if people were having a bad time in another city he would say come to Manchester and they would, they would move their lives to be nearer to Martyn so there’s this huge circle of friends all connected via Martyn. To have that openness and generosity of spirit when most of us just go about our day to day lives is something I think about a lot.”

Adam has been mindful throughout the entire creative process to ensure every element of this project has been done with the utmost of respect for Martyn, his memory, his family and his friends and through his work with those closest to Martyn has gained a great knowledge of just how important Martyn was to so many. “We were so nervous about Martyn’s family and friends reaction and we just desperately wanted to do him justice and honour him, when they came out from the show in October they said it was like spending a couple of hours with Martyn again, that for me is what I wanted, I wanted people to feel like they’d had a night out on Canal St with Martyn and that they knew him a bit better. I said to Martyn’s Mum the other day although I never met him I now feel that he’s a really important part of my life. He is continuing to change people in many different ways, he’s absolutely changed me, this year has been all about Martyn really. I feel so honoured and was really amazed at the amount of trust Martyn’s friends and family put in us, they have been so generous in allowing us to continue his legacy.”

The show opens at Hope Mill Theatre on Monday 21st May and runs until Saturday 26th May; from here it heads to Brighton Fringe then to London’s Southwalk Playhouse on 3rd June. Beyond this Hope Theatre Company have great ambitions for the play which celebrates both friendship and living life to its absolute fullest. “We have huge ambitions for this play, for us this is just the beginning, we want to take it across the country, we want to take it internationally, the dream would be to take it to New York, for me the play is also about how a city stands up to a terrorist attack. I think it would be really interesting for New Yorkers to see how a group of Mancunians dealt with such a terrible event and also how they dealt with their grief and of course separate to that can you imagine Martyn Hett’s name in lights on Broadway, how amazing.”

The clear message from #BeMoreMartyn is absolutely celebrating and living life to the full, while being proud of who you are, something Martyn undoubtedly was, Adam explained, “I knew very early on there were so many things to celebrate about Martyn, some things that people may even think are quite small but I feel really are a joy for example how much he unashamedly loved things, he loved Corrie, he loved Michelle McManus, he loved Mariah and he was so proud of the things that he loved. I remember as a child, as a teenager and even sometimes as an adult not admitting to things I like because I don’t know what people might think of that and how ridiculous is that? Why not scream loud and proud about the things that you love. As a gay man and someone who works with you LGBT children in schools I see every month children who are struggling, I know that they can watch this play and think if Martyn could do it then so could I, he can continue to inspire people to be more confident about themselves and I really hope feel empowered by his message.”

Following on from the original production performed at Hope Mill Theatre back in October Adam and fellow producer Mike Lee went back and re-interviewed Martyn’s friends, while the first interviews were very raw the second round of interviews allowed Martyn’s friend an opportunity to reflect, while it’s not a case of moving on, there has been an opportunity for moving forward and a feeling that the message of #BeMoreMartyn is even stronger now, “A character in the play says ‘you couldn’t help but be happy around him and there’s not enough people in the world like that’ that’s why he’s missed so much, he brought so much happiness to so many people and of course he wasn’t always an angel, we’ve got a scene called ‘Sod’ some of the things he did to his friends are hysterically funny. Things he would call them, things he would do to them, living with him, Mariah Carey on at 5am in the morning but they all absolutely adored him.”

People have talked to Adam about Manchester’s incredible response to the Arena attack and are including Hope Theatre Company as part of that inspiring response, Adam feels that “It’s an artist response to something tragic, our aim is for our audiences to leave stronger, inspired, empowered and take away something really, really positive from something that was, really, really terrible.”

#BeMoreMartyn opens on Monday 21st May at Hope Mill Theatre tickets available

Interview | The Charlatans | North By Northwich


By Matt Forrest

If you were to retell the story of The Charlatans, it would rival that of any of the great tragic musicals.  They formed in 1988 and have seen a career with a great deal of incredible highs and crushing lows: sell out tours, 13 albums, several of which went to number 1. Then there’s a story of heartbreak with the tragic passing of founding members Rob Collins and Jon Brookes, and this just scratches the surface. It would be fair to say that the band has faced adversity on several occasions and still managed to not just keep going but stay fresh and relevant.

One area the band have excelled in is there unique approach to self-promotion. Lead singer Tim Burgess is a constant force on Twitter, interacting with fans, holding album parties and hosting competitions and give-aways. Then of course there are the special events hosted by the band. Last year they took over Manchester’s Oldham St and the Lowry Theatre to promote their critically acclaimed album Different Days. This time around they have gone one better rather than a street, the band have taken over an entire town that being Northwich, their very own home town. North by Northwich will see the band play 4 intimate gigs, as well several other events that include: an exhibition of Charlatans memorabilia, various Q & A sessions with Tim Burgess and Gary Neville, in addition there are performances from Galleon Blast and Slow Readers Club.

Today we popped along to a unique opportunity to interview the band where we had 4 minutes 4 seconds, or the length of North Country Boy in which to have a chat.  With the smell of chips in the air, as the event took place at local Northwich fish and chip shop, The Seafarer, it was our chance to see what this event was all about.

First up was keyboardist Tony Rogers.

Opening Night: How are things? Are you enjoying the delights of sunny Northwich?

Tony Rogers: It’s brilliant – a bit like a holiday! Just wandering around, the sun’s out, you get to do what you love in the evening and then get to wander around in the sunshine. A bit like going away for Easter.

ON: Well you certainly brought the weather with you.

TR: Thanks, yeah I hope it stays.

ON: So how much planning goes into an event like this?

TR: An awful lot of planning has gone into this, and I’ve got to be honest I haven’t done any of it! (Laughs)

ON: So, you just turned up to take the credit (laughs)?

TR: Tim (Burgess) and Nick Frasier, you’ve got to give them all the credit and praise because they have done everything from start to finish. I mean, all I’ve done is give them a few bits and pieces for the exhibition, rehearsed a few songs and got some things in order, and that’s it. It’s been easy for me! Hats off to the lads, they’ve done a really good job of it.

ON: It seems each year the band are doing something fresh and unique to promote themselves: Last year the Oldham St take over (Manchester) and now this.

TR: I think when you have been going for as long as we have, (laughs), you find new ways and I think it’s down to the bands to find new ways to promote themselves because record companies are limited. You need them and they’re a necessary evil, but they kind of have a set way of doing things. Record companies use other people’s ideas on their artists and acts. We have always been looking at different ways to promote ourselves. I don’t think we’re a band, which would let them (sic) make all the decisions, because we’ve been going long enough to know what’s needed to be done.

ON: It’s not just a Charlatans gig. This is a mini festival, so what are you looking forward to seeing?

TR: To be honest with you, I’m just looking forward to wandering around and seeing other bands and things like that, but mostly I’m looking forward to playing live, that’s my thing. But I’ll make it to the Salty Dog (a pub in Northwich which is part of the festival) and a few other places.

ON: So, you’re doing 4 nights, with the promise of Thursday and Friday nights having completely different sets. How have you chosen which songs you’re going to play?

TR: We have our usual favourites, and then the first we are going to add in is two new songs. The new EP, Totally Eclipsing had its first play yesterday.

ON: Which is fantastic by the way.

TR: Thank you. Then we had a few requests throughout the years to play some songs that we’ve never ever played.

ON: Would it be too late to get one in? (Laughs)

TR: Not at all. So, there are songs from the very beginning, right through to the latest, so it’s a big mixture really and we’ll just jumble it up each night and add new ones, take older ones out and that’s it. There are a lot of songs; 32 songs we’ve got down to play. So, it’s easy to chose 19 or 20 songs for a set.

ON: What is your favourite to play?

TR: We’re doing I Never Want an Easy Life If Me and He Were Ever to Get There, and I’m loving that.

ON: Well I’m seeing you tomorrow, so I hope you do that.

TR: Good man, I hope we do it for you.

ON: Cheers Tony, it was nice talking to you.

TR: You too.

Immediately after my 4 minutes were up with Tony Rogers, it was on to bass player Martin Blunt.

Opening Night: So, what’s it like to be back home for a week full of gigs?

Martin Blunt: It’s good. I moved here in 1991 and left last year, so I had 26, 27 years living in Northwich – I thoroughly enjoy it.

ON: A great deal of planning has gone into this event. How much of this have you been involved with?

MB: Just the gigs and the exhibition. What happened was, we had the idea back in February to do the 4 shows, and then before you know it other events started to get connected with it and before you know it there’s another 4 venues, some new bands and some older bands. It sort of took on a life of its own.

ON: There’s so much going on, is there anything you’re looking forward to seeing other than your gigs?

MB: My dj-ing on Wednesday.

ON: Well I was going to bring that up. I caught your DJ set at the Lowry, when you did the Oldham St take over, some banging tunes in that.

MB: Cheers, thank you

ON: What tunes doing you like throwing in?

MB: Well you know, you put a few classics in there, and then you put some other good shit around it. (Laughs)

ON: You’re doing 4 nights here, and 2 of the nights you’re doing different sets.

MB: Well saying that Monday and Wednesday, we’re gonna mix it up: it’s The Charlatans juke box over the next 4 concerts.

ON: How do you pick which songs you want to throw in?

MB: By democracy, we talk about it for half hour then I get to choose the songs.

ON (Laughs) So when I found out I was doing this, I thought I’d try something a bit different. So, I asked my girlfriend (who is a school teacher) to ask some of her kids for some questions. They came up with the best question which is, what is like to be a rock star?

MB: You get an extra half hour in bed!

ON: (Laughs) ha ha they’ll love that. Another question they asked was how many instruments do you own?

MB: I used to own quite a lot and then I got divorced, so a lot of those got sold on. I’ve got about 12 basses, I think Mark Collins has got about 34 guitars, but you can only play one at a time can’t you, unless it’s a double neck.

ON: So, the memorabilia for the exhibition, how much is the band’s and how much is fan donation?

MB: There has been some fan donation, but at our studio, Big Mushroom, there was always a far-flung corner, where over the years we used to put some stuff there that’s never really seen the light of day. So, we thought it’s about time it did see the light of day, and then after this it will probably get flung back in the corner of the studio for another 10 years!

ON: I noticed Gary Neville seems to be doing a lot of stuff with the band.

MB: He’s just our stalker. No, its good Gary’s doing that, with all the profits going to the local hospice St Luke’s so fair do’s to the guy.

ON: Have you got any favourite songs you like to play?

MB: We played Bullet Comes and Easy Life on  Monday, which sounded really good.

ON: I’m coming tomorrow night and noticed Forever on the set from last night so hoping for that Wednesday.

MB: Sorry Matt think you’re gonna be disappointed, you should have come Monday.

ON: Fair enough, just made up to have a ticket. Pleasure meeting you.

MB: No problem cheers Matt.

After that it should have been my turn with lead singer Tim Burgess, but like some speed dating events time was against us and I didn’t get my 4 minutes 4 seconds with the mastermind of this unique festival. Just a few complimentary words, a quick picture for the photo album and rather interestingly, I was asked to take part in a documentary about the event. Here’s hoping I don’t get left on the cutting room floor.

For 10 days at least, this sleepy town in the heart of Cheshire is the place to be: even if you don’t have a ticket for one of the four Charlatans gigs there is so much going on that it would be well worth a visit. I finish my day off with a trip to the exhibition and finally a trip to Sprosten Green, because like many a Charlatans gig it was the perfect way to finish!

Blood Brothers

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Running at Manchester’s Palace Theatre for the next two weeks, Blood Brother’s remains as deeply moving and powerfully relevant as ever.

Willy Russell’s award-winning epic tale tells the tragic story of twin boys separated at birth only to be reunited by a twist of fate, a mother haunted by a dark secret and the heart-breaking reality of social depression. As they boys grow up on opposite side of the track the draw the timeless themes of inequality, social class and mental health struggles remain sadly as relevant today as the day it was written. Despite the though subject matter, Blood Brothers is by far one of the wittiest scripts of any musical with laugh out loud moments perfectly measured against the heartache.

Taking on the lead role is Lyn Paul, who first stepped into Mrs Johnstone’s shoes back in 1997 when she made her musical theatre debut in the West End production. She makes for a compelling and impressive Mrs Johnstone, with a depth of emotion that tugs on your heart strings, making you feel every ounce of her heartfelt pain.

Matthew Craig is exceptional as the ever-present and ominous narrator, a dark and menacing reminder of the shady deeds of the mother’s pact; he has a strong and foreboding presence on stage. With just the right amount of Scouse rasp his harmonies with Lyn Paul are simply beautiful.

Veterans of their respective roles as ill-fated twins Mickey and Eddie, Sean Jones and Mark Hutchinson captivate the audience with performances that will have you howling with laughter one moment and reaching for the tissues the next. Sean Jones gives a masterclass in character acting, lighting up the stay as care-free young Mickey making the journey he goes on, to broken and defeated young man in Act II all the more devastating.

The ensemble cast are impressively strong, delivering Willy Russell’s witty script with fresh energy as they take on multiple roles with gusto. Special mention must go to Sarah Jane Buckley, Danielle Corlass and Daniel Taylor who each shine as Mrs Lyons, Linda and Sammy respectively.

Blood Brothers has the ability to take you on a roller coaster of emotion from joyful highs to heart aching lows. The tear filled finale one of the most moving fifteen minutes of any musical, repeatedly followed night after night by a full standing ovation, a testament to the enduring appeal of this powerful production.

It is a story that will stay with you long after the final curtain, a timeless classic which no doubts cements Will Russell as one of Britain’s best loved and most talented storytellers. It is a show that appeals to all ages from eager school groups to audiences returning for the second, third, fourth visit and more, each and every audience member stunned into silence. The phrase ‘must-see’ is often banded about but in the case of Blood Brothers it is entirely true, a powerful, captivating and entirely moving production.

On at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 26th May rickets available here.

Interview | Michael Peavoy & Eleanor Brown talk Summer Holiday

The Octagon Theatre Bolton is all set for a spectacular summer of joyful adventure as they bring a very special site-specific production of the classic 1960’s feel good musical, Summer Holiday to life.

Telling the story of Don and his buddies as they leave a wet and miserable England behind to head to Europe for a summer of adventure on a double-decker bus, Summer Holiday is an up-lifting celebration of friendship and most importantly fun. There are ups and downs, scrapes and shenanigans and even an American stowaway picked up for the ride.

Co-directed by the Octagon Theatre’s Artistic Director Elizabeth Newman and associate director Ben Occhipinti the production will begin at Bolton’s new interchange before audiences board double-decker buses for a thrilling musical journey ending with a final stop at the Octagon theatre where Don and his pals fun-filled escapades across Europe will conclude in a wonderful celebration of music, friendship and all out adventure.

We caught up with cast members Michael Peavoy  (who plays Don in the production) and Eleanor Brown (who takes on the role of Barbara) during rehearsals to hear a little more about this highly anticipated production which sees the traditional London setting seen at the start of the original film relocated to the familiar streets of Bolton.

Michael explained, “It’s a piece of theatre in Bolton, for Bolton, what happens around the show and the audience watching will influence and be a part of what makes each and every show special. Even in a regular theatre space, unexpected things happen and you’ve always got to be alive to that, it’s what makes going to the theatre so exciting, I guess when you’re doing that outside of a traditional theatre space it makes it even more exciting and unpredictable and so so much fun.”

Both Michael and Eleanor are enormously excited about the unique staging of this innovative production. Eleanor said “We’re so excited, we’ve been out to the interchange to see where the performance space will be it made us realise that while we’ll be performing the interchange will still of course be open and functioning as normal so the people of Bolton will be wandering round and seeing what we’re doing, which will be really, really lovely.” Eleanor added, “The unexpected is the best thing about theatre and with this production we can absolutely expect the unexpected along with a whole lot of fun.”

Eleanor describes her character as ‘a product of the American pop world’. She is desperate to experience real life, she feels her life is orchestrated and engineered by her pushy mother, escaping from her oppressive upbringing she becomes a stowaway on the bus disguising herself as a young boy in order to avoid detection, we then see her go on a real journey, experiencing life and love to the fullest.

In describing Don, the character made famous by Cliff Richard in the 1963 film, Michael defines him as ‘a working class dreamer, who just wants to take his mates on a holiday, he’s a fixer-upper and a problem solver’. Don goes on a similar journey to Barbara, Michael explained there’s so much more to Don, “He really doesn’t know what love is, he’s lived in the generation where people would say things like ‘boys don’t cry’ while maintaining a stiff upper lip, I think he’s fighting against that, he recognises that there’s a big world out there, he’s carrying round the baggage of his family and their ideals for him but he’s really ready to break out of that.”

The cast are now deep into rehearsals with just two weeks until opening night. In reflecting on the process so far Michael explained, “Every single day is just fun and joyful, the music is amazing, the cast are fantastic, all so talented, everyone is just brilliant; we’re all so excited about doing this show. It has a real community feel about it, usually we get to the stitzprobe and that’s when we meet the band but we’ve got live music right from the start from the cast on stage in this production. It’s like you’re in a rock band for a few hours, then you’re in a jazz band for a few hours, then you’re in a musical, it’s awesome.”

Alexander Bean, Michael Peavoy, Barbara Hockday, Luke Thorn and David Heywood -Summer Holiday rehearsal photos taken by Ray%

Eleanor agrees “We are having the absolute best time, the core of the story is the same but there’s some differences in our production, there’s a lot more music in the show, I think there’s something so special about having the music played live, I think it’s something audiences will really, really enjoy.” Michael added, “While the film was a real vehicle for Cliff back in the 60’s and he did large parts of the singing alone, our stage production changes those songs so they become much more ensemble pieces, with different cast members playing instruments as well as singing, it makes for a really beautiful sound and give a real community feel to the piece.”

Summer Holiday featuring classic songs such as Bachelor BoyLiving DollThe Young Ones and, of course, the title track Summer Holiday opens at the Octagon theatre, Bolton on Thursday 31st May and runs until Saturday 23rd June tickets available here.

*Photo credit Ray Jefferson, Bolton Camera Club

The Visitor’s Book

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Written by Sarah Nelson and Oldham Theatre Workshop’s Artistic Director James Atherton. New Musical The Visitor’s Book is an uplifting exploration on the impact of loss, abandonment and ultimately the importance of family and forgiveness.

Mum (Sophie Ellicott) holidays annually with children Jack, Sophie and Betty at Cathy’s (Jo Gerard) Cumbrian cottage. A sanctuary away from the city with clean air, green fields and an endless supply of fresh brews in the pot, problems however travel too and tensions soon rise as grief and confusion take hold.

Eldest in the family Jack is desperate for answers, a chance discovery however leads him to search for something else entirely when a strangers message in the Visitor’s book captures his imagination, offering a much-needed focus for his grief.

The play spans several years with scenes and stories beautifully interwoven. Younger and older versions of the children seamlessly move in and out of scenes as lies are uncovered and truths are told. The static set, a cosy living room within the holiday cottage allows the cast to move freely from one scene to the next, often inhabiting the stage at the same time to great effect. Slick direction ensures the clear narratives develop at just the right pace to both engage and entertain.

Sarah Nelson and James Atherton’s excellent writing ensures each character is entirely believable, from the moody teenager to the ‘holding everything together’ Mum to the baby of the family who entertains and amuses with her adorably quirky ways. There are many laugh out loud moments, moments you’ll entirely relate too as well as moments you’ll be gulping away the lump in your throat.

In Hope Mill’s intimate space there is no room for error and this hugely talented cast demonstrate superbly just how powerful and incredibly entertaining honest and heartfelt theatre can be. Each and every cast member giving their all.

Sophie Ellicott delivers a strong performance as Mum, warm and loving she embodies the role perfectly. Young and older Jack, Tommy Douglas and Jabez Sykes are both exceptional as anger and frustration is channelled into hopeful determination. The score is excellent allowing for some beautiful harmonies wrapped up in incredibly well observed lyrics delivered note perfect by the cast. Madeleine Edmondson and Poppy O’Brien shine performing their hilarious duet, big voices and even bigger personalities.

The Visitor’s Book is ultimately a story of hope, forgiveness and the real importance of family. This hugely entertaining production has the ability to both touch you deeply and entertain you enormously. Full of heart, deeply moving, beautifully told and superbly delivered, a joyous success.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Friday 11th May, tonight’s performance is SOLD OUT but follow @Visitor_Book and @OTWOldham for further information.