Legally Blonde

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

High energy, fizzing with fabulousness and full of heart Legally Blonde bursts onto the Palace theatre stage this week for the final stop of the current UK tour.

Based on the 2001 film starring Reece Witherspoon which later became an award winning Broadway musical, Legally Blonde continues to be a massive crowd pleaser with every audience member up on their feet by the end of the show.

Dumped by law student boyfriend Warner for not being a serious enough girlfriend, Elle decides to take matters into her own hands and sets about gaining a place of her own at Harvard Law School in a bid to prove she is the perfect accessory.

The tongue-in-cheek innocence of the story ensure this camp, bright and fluffy production raises smile after smile while never taking itself too seriously.

Lucie Jones bursts with personality as the Malibu marvel, with great comedic timing and a voice that packs a punch her goofy but smart Elle proves her status as a musical theatre star is secured.

Rita Simons excels as Paulette, fun and feisty she ensures the loveable hairdresser gets her moment of glory with snake-hipped UPS guy Kyle, played superbly by Ben Harlow.

Special mention must also go to Laura Harrison as Vivienne and Helen Petrovna as Brooke Wyndham, both shine in their respective roles, with Petrovna’s skills with a skipping rope during Whipped Into Shape simply mind-boggling!

Director and choreographer Anthony Williams ensures this is a production bursting with energy, enthusiasm and most of all fun. There! Right There! Being a real highlight of Act II and further cementing Legally Blonde as a kitsch, camp couple of hours of perfectly pink uplifting escapism.

With a winning energy this pink princess succeeds against the odds to find her own perfect prince and sends a reminder about the importance of sisterhood that is more than just skin-deep.

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 30th June tickets available here.

The Play That Goes Wrong

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer: Matt Forrest

With the World Cup in full swing, the whole nation seems to have gone football crazy: we’ve seen great goals, controversial refereeing decisions and some calamitous howlers, however not even the biggest goal keeping blunder would compare to the chaos that goes into The Play That Goes Wrong.

Now in its sixth year, this Tony award-winner sees the plucky but flawed local Am-dram group ‘The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’ stage a classic ‘whodunit’, with their production of Murder at Haversham Manor. However the production is blighted from the outset: there is a missing dog, a misplaced Duran Duran CD, and a faulty shelf hampering proceedings and all this before the house lights have gone down and the show has begun.

Chris Bean (Jake Curran) the stressed director head of the drama society, and lead role of Inspector Carter, welcomes us to the show and informs us of some of the society’s less successful productions which include James and his Peach, and The Lion and the Wardrobe. It’s the perfect setup to introduce a hilarious evening of mirth and mayhem.

Along the way we are introduced to the various society players which include Max Bennett, who plays Cecil Haversham, (Bobby Hirston) a first time performer milking his role for all it’s worth, Sandra Wilkinson as Florence Colleymoore (Elena Valentine) somewhat over-egging her part in a desperate bid to steal the show, and Dennis Tyde as Perkins (Benjamin McMahon) clearly nervous and not very good at learning his lines. In addition they are supported by the technical crew of Trevor (Gabriel Paul) and Annie (Catherine Dryden) who try to fight the flames of disaster (quite literally) and will play bigger roles then either would have envisaged.

As the action continues we see the play go from one catastrophe to another, taking a mental and physical toll on all the cast and crew, just thankful it’s over and that they all survived… even if not entirely in one piece.

This is the third time I’ve watched this production within the last year and I’m not ashamed to say I love it. It seems to get better and better with every viewing; you notice things you missed the first time and second time around as a result of laughing so much. Director Mark Bell has crafted a night of pure unadulterated fun and frolics. The production pokes fun at the self-important, pompous world of amateur dramatics, with a biting, scathing pitch perfect script by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields.

The cast certainly put in a shift, with an endless barrage of slapstick and physical comedy very much in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy or Michael Crawford from classic BBC sitcom Some Mother’s Do Have ‘em.

All of the cast do exceptionally well but the stand out performance goes to David Kristopher-Brown, as Robert and Thomas Colleymoore, whose performance at one point had audience members howling with laughter, with a little a hint of fear for the actors safety, made all the more impressive by the fact that Brown is the understudy for this touring production, and certainly highlights the depth of quality this production company has at its disposal. In addition, Steven Rostance as Jonathan, and Charles Haversham who plays the least convincing dead body you are likely to see and really should change his name to Lazarus!

There are a few minor issues: at times there is so much going on that it is hard to keep track of the action. In addition, because of all the turmoil, some of the dialogue is lost and hard to hear adding to the chaos and confusion

Overall this fantastically fun night at the theatre that will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear, and aching sides to boot. At the close of the show the cast let us know that their next production: The Comedy About a Bank Robbery will be going to the Lowry in September: hopefully I’ll have recovered from this performance by the time that comes around!

They Play That Goes Wrong is on at the Manchester Opera House till 30th June tickets available here.

Awful Auntie

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewers Eve and Maisy Powell

Following their award-winning production Gangsta Granny, Birmingham Stage Company return to Manchester with their newest David Walliams adaptation, Awful Auntie. This enormously entertaining tale of friendship, fights and not to mention frights is on at the Opera House until Sunday 24th June.

We sent our mini-reviewers Eve age 10 and Maisy age 7 and a half to give the show that’s been thrilling audiences around the UK their verdict.

Eve Powell

I really, really enjoyed it, I thought it was really inventive and cleverly created, very funny and also very child friendly as the story was easy to follow.

I loved how they changed the scenery, I thought it was amazing. One of my favourite things was Wagner the owl puppet who was operated by Roberta Bellekom, it was so realistic and looked just like a real owl.

I would absolutely recommend Awful Auntie, it is great fun.

Maisy Powell

I really enjoyed Awful Auntie, my favourite part of the show was the little puppets, I loved them.

Aunt Alberta really made me laugh especially when Stella and Soot played tricks on her.

I would definitely recommend Awful Auntie to everyone especially children.

AA

Packed with laugh out loud moments, a superb storyline chock-full of colourful characters brought brilliantly to life by a talented cast Awful Auntie is a perfect family show. With a running time of just over 2 hours including an interval this is another stonking hit for Birmingham Stage Company.

Awful Auntie is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Sunday 24th June tickets available here.

Further information on Birmingham Stage Company can be found here.

The Crucible

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

First performed back in 1953, the themes raised in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible continue to speak true today, illustrated to gripping and dramatic effect in this bold and atmospheric production from director Geraldine Alexander.

When Arthur Miller wrote the play back in the 1950’s he used the Salem witch trials as a metaphor for the rife anti-communism which was gripping the United States at the time. Liberal thinking was seen as a challenge to American society and authorities acted quickly to stamp it out, something we see ever-present in the political climate of today.

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The Crucible transports us to 1692, where a small farming town has been gripped by a frenzied paranoia as witchcraft rumours swiftly circulate and fear takes hold. As accusations rise innocent women and the men who defend them are led to the gallows, their only hope of surviving, confessing the unthinkable. Catastrophic events unfold as a frenzied and fearful hysteria grips the town.

Jess Curtis’ atmospheric set & costume design is clear and uncluttered, inventive as well as interesting, allowing the themes to speak loudly as the madness unfolds. The trust staging is used to great effect, as an audience you feel at the centre of the action, the intensity and claustrophobic nature of the piece is striking and in your face, from the hysterical girls to the heartbreak of the Proctors, we feel every ounce of emotion. Chris Davey’s lighting design is exceptional, casting shafts of light on proceedings, highlighting the oppression of the innocents accompanied perfectly by Simon Slater’s chilling sound design.

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The cast deliver Miller’s words with Northern voices giving an authentic and relatable feel. The ensemble are impressively strong, coming together in the courtroom scene to dramatic effect. Freddy Elletson makes for an impressive Reverend Hale, attempting to bring calmness to the madness, devout and fair he becomes increasingly disturbed by the injustice and absurdity he it witness to.

Matthew Flynn and Mary Doherty as John and Elizabeth Proctor add poignant emotion to the piece. Their arrests proving this witch hunt has gone way past the point of no return. Leigh Quinn shines as mary Warren, troubled, tormented and ripe for dangerous manipulation from Eleanor Sutton’s determined and defiant Abigail Williams.

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Director Geraldine Alexander’s production succeeds entirely in delivering a powerful warning of how the anxiety and fear of the masses can be taken advantage of in the pursuit of personal power to the most devastating effect. The powers that be using exclusion, lies, fear and isolation to maintain the status quo of the community, sound familiar?

Gripping, emotive theatre, impressively staged and powerfully delivered. On at the StoryHouse until Saturday 7th July, tickets available here.

West End Live preview

Trafalgar Square during West End Live 2017 (c) Pamela Raith

The most unmissable event on any theatre’s fans calendar returns to London’s Trafalgar Square this weekend where an impressive 200,000 theatre fans will enjoy performances from some of the best of the London theatre scene and even better, it’s all for free!

A jam-packed schedule of performances will include popular crowd-pleasers The Lion King, Wicked, Les Misérables, Mamma Mia!, The Phantom Of The Opera, Disney’s Aladdin, Dreamgirls, Bat Out Of Hell The Musical, Kinky Boots, Matilda The Musical, Motown The Musical, Everybody’s Talking about Jamie and Thriller Live, phew! If that’s not enough excitement for you the weekend will also see several new arrivals to London’s West End making their West End LIVE debuts, including Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, Strictly Ballroom The Musical, Brief Encounter, Eugenius!, Little Shop Of Horrors, Chicago, Heathers The Musical, Kiss Me, Kate, Knights Of The Rose, Six, Circolombia and Madagascar – A Musical Adventure.

Cast of Bat Out Of Hell performing at West End Live 2017 (c) Pamela Raith

The vibrant showcase will culminate in a performance from chart-topping Britain’s Got Talent winners Collabro on Saturday 16 June, and an exclusive cabaret of West End stars on Sunday 17 June.

Produced and organised by Westminster City Council and Society of London Theatre (SOLT), with support from the Mayor of London, West End LIVE is an annual highlight of London’s cultural calendar, with performances, fun photo opportunities, meet-and-greets, merchandise stalls, refreshments and sing-alongs attracting thousands of theatre fans young and old across the weekend.

Crowds at West End Live 2017 (c) Pamela Raith

With such an exciting and varied programme there is something for everyone in this sensational showcase from theatre’s finest stars. A full performance schedule can be found here.

See you there!

War Horse

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

War Horse, the most successful play in the National Theatre’s history, seen by over 7 million people worldwide returned to the Lowry last night to a thunderous and well deserved standing ovation.

Adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel which was then given the Stephen Speilberg treatment in 2011, War Horse depicts the experience of World War I via the differing journeys of young soldier Albert Narracott (Thomas Dennis) and his beloved horse, Joey.

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Albert’s father (Jasper William Cartwright) drunkenly buys Joey to be used as a farm horse, realising he is unsuited to work plans are made to sell him; Albert however who has quickly created the deepest of bonds with the horse commits himself to teaching him to plough within one week, the reward being keeping his friend on the farm.

Life however changes dramatically when war is declared as deeply treasured Joey is requisitioned to the cavalry and shipped to the battlefields of France. Devastated Albert, too young to fight flees from home, lying about his age in a bid to sign up, find Joey and bring him home. What follows is a story of epic proportions as Joey is passed through the hands of soldiers on opposing sides in a breath-taking tale of resilience, determination and incredible courage.

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From first meeting Joey as a foal he entirely captivates, the brilliance of Handspring Puppet Company exceeds every expectation. The relationship between Albert and Joey is an absolute joy to watch. Joey is brought to snorting and stomping life in the most striking and creative of ways by incredibly talented puppeteers. The portrayal of not just Joey but the rest of the animals is so convincing, you soon forget that they aren’t real animals as every single heartstring is pulled, knotted and stretched a little bit more as their traumatic experiences on the battlefield unfold.

Thomas Dennis is superb as Albert Narracott playful and determined as young Albert, the journey he goes on demonstrating with striking clarity just how absurd the notion of war is. Peter Becker gives a strong performance as German captain Friedrich Muller, a man defeated by the nonsense of war who just wants to return to his family and forget the horrors he has seen.

War Horse

Poignant songs by John Tams delivered beautifully by singing narrator Bob Fox, drive the story on as we travel from the green fields of Devon to the desolate fields of No Man’s Land.

Through clever puppetry and stunning acting important messages are delivered, hope, courage under duress and the unfathomable futility of war. Genuine devastation for the plight of the men and the horses is palpable throughout the audience as the harrowing sounds of war ring out, with atmospheric lighting design from Paule Constable and superb sound design from Christopher Shutt cementing this as a multi-sensory theatrical experience.

War Horse is nothing short of epic. Emotive, powerful theatre, exquisitely delivered that will stay with you long after the curtain falls.

War Horse is on at The Lowry until Saturday 30th June, tickets available here.

The Wasp

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Matt Forrest

Hope Mill Theatre is gaining quite the reputation for both staging and hosting bold, daring and unique productions: the latest offering from The Theatre Collective, The Wasp is no different.

When Heather (Charlie Young) contacts old school friend Carla (Debbie Brannan) for a brew and a catch up, Carla has no idea what to expect. In the early stages of high school, the two were the best of friends, however that friendship soon turned sour with Carla turning on her friend, taking every opportunity to extract pain and misery on Heather. In the present-day Carla is in an unhappy marriage with four children and a fifth on the way. Heather on the other hand likes the finer things life has to offer, she has a nice house and money to burn. So, what possible reason could Heather have for meeting up with Carla?  Heather has a proposal for Carla that will change both of their lives for ever.

This daring two hander has a delicious evil streak running through it with a pitch black comedic script at its centre, sure there are some plot contrivances which at times push the boundaries of credibility but if you are prepared to go along for the ride then you won’t be disappointed.

I won’t go in too much narrative detail, so as not to spoil anything, (the less you know the better) however the plot is packed full of twists and turns as we see the balance of power between the two shifts throughout and just when you think you have the answer the questions get changed.

The two leads are outstanding: Young as the straight-laced seemingly well to do Heather turns in a captivating and riveting performance, whilst Brannan is terrific as the desperate Carla, willing to doing anything for a better life for her and her children. The two clearly relish sparring together, as they sling cutting remarks and stinging barbs throughout.

In addition, there is haunting, claustrophobic sound design by Dan Pyke that really ratchets up the tension. Throw all this into the mix and you have all the ingredients for a taut psychological thriller that will shock and captivate.

The Wasp is on at Hope Mill Theatre till 16th June. Tickets are available here.