Mamma Mia!

Opening night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Chock-full of classic Abba anthems, witty one-liners that will have you roaring with laughter and more feel-good factor than you could shake your Fernando at, Mamma Mia! arrives at Manchester’s Palace Theatre for a 2 week stop as part of its current UK tour.

The popularity of the global smash-hit, written by British playwright Catherine Johnson, based on the classic songs penned by Benny and Bjorn shows no signs of waning and nor should it. The joyful party atmosphere is infectious, as each song is greeted with affectionate sighs of recognition and a spontaneous audience clap-along…and that’s just during the overture!

Lucy May Barker returns to the role of Sophie, a naive twenty year old on the verge of getting married to her sweetheart Sky (Phillip Ryan). Having never known her real father Sophie is desperate to have him at her wedding. She takes matters into her own hands and through some stealth investigation narrows it down to three potential candidates, unbeknown of course to Sophie’s fiercely independent, free-spirited mother Donna (Shona White). So, what’s the best way to work out which of her Mum’s ex-boyfriends is her birth father? Invite them all of course!

White is superb as Donna, hugely comedic with also a great ability to play the more tender heartfelt scenes beautifully, her performance during The Winner Takes It All no better evidence of this as she belts out the big notes with real heart and vulnerability.

Laughs are delivered in bucket loads by Donna’s two best mates Rosie (Nicky Swift) and Tanya (Helen Anker) who together are hilarious and individually deliver hugely entertaining solo performances. Rosie, during a lightbulb moment sets her sights firmly on Aussie adventurer Bill (Matthew Rutherford) and makes sure he knows it through her outrageous delivery of Take a Chance on Me, whilst Tanya teaches wannabe toyboy Pepper (Matt Jordan-Pidgeon) more than a thing or two about women during her fab rendition of Does Your Mother Know.

Daniel Crowder, Matthew Rutherford and Tamlyn Henderson who play Harry, Bill and Sam respectively are perfectly cast in their roles. Each very different from the next, adding a entertaining injection of charisma to proceedings.

The ensemble are superb, their delivery of Anthony Van Laast’s choreography is slick as they literally burst with energy in every scene offering some of the real stand-out moments in this glorious campfest full of fun and sprinkled with sparkle.

Mamma Mia will undoubtedly release your inner dancing queen; laugh out loud funny, touchingly tender, immensely uplifting feel-good theatre at its absolute finest!

On at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 14th July tickets available here.

The Last Ship

img_1659

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

It’s rather fitting The Last Ship should wind up its UK tour in Salford: sure, they never built ships there, but the Lowry now stands on a site that up until 1972 was a working port. However soon like so many British industries the Salford/Manchester docks closed with 3000 people losing their jobs. So, it seems rather fitting then that for one last time (well on this tour at least), The Last Ship sets sail.

The story revolves around the return of local boy Gideon Fletcher, (Richard Fleeshman) who 17 years prior fled the town and joined the navy: he could see the writing was on the wall even back then for the shipyard and wanted to avoid the seemingly inevitable indoctrination into that way of life. However, on his return he now finds his town in potential ruin from the proposed closure of the ship yard. To make matter worse he receives a frosty reception from his old-flame Meg Dawson, (Frances McNamee) the girl he left behind. These two may be the focal point, but this is story with a bigger tale to tell: one of community, hope and defiance.

41393319471_e7b795e749_b

The Last Ship is Sting’s love letter to a town he grew up in and a life he had once known. It fully acknowledges the pride and struggle that the people of Tyneside and other communities faced at the closure of not just the docks but coalmines and pits as well. Songs like “The Last Ship” the “Shipyard” swell with pride with the latter being a foot stamping statement of intent.

The cast are on fine form, Richard Fleeshman makes for engaging, charismatic lead, who at times doesn’t half sound like Sting when singing. Joe McGann and Penelope White as shipyard foreman Jackie White and his wife Peggy, make for a heart-warming, strong couple, who have each other’s and the rest of the communities backs at all times. The show is packed full of spirited and strong performances throughout that certainly do the source material full credit.

40180113185_50c5efaa81_k

The production design by 59 Productions is outstanding: one minute you’re in a dockyard the next a church complete with stain glass windows and eerie echo. Above we have the claustrophobic grey clouds, and magnificent tower cranes: the visuals take this production to another level, never ‘showy’ or flash, just simply stunning.

Anyone expecting an all singing, all dancing musical affair complete with ‘jazz-hands’ need look elsewhere, for this is production filled heart, soul and an unashamed political agenda. It calls out Margret Thatcher and the government of the day for the pain and suffering they caused so many at that time. The production highlights the mistakes of the past a warning to make sure these mistakes aren’t repeated in the future, especially regarding the NHS: It certainly has some something to say, and it says it loud and unashamedly proud.

26522555607_19526a519b_b

At the close of the production the cast took a well-earned standing ovation and gave us one last song: joined by Sting for an unannounced, unassuming blink and you’ll miss it cameo for the Last Ships final week of shows, judging by this performance lets hope there are plenty more voyages to come!

The Last Ship is at the Lowry until 7th July tickets available here.