Rebus: Long Shadows

Rebus_Cathy Tyson as Siobhan Clarke & Charles Lawson as Rebus_c Robert Day (2)

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

After appearing in 19 novels, numerous audio books, and a TV series, it seems long overdue for writer Ian Rankin’s most celebrated creation, Inspector Rebus to make it to the stage, and boy was it worth the wait.

Rankin and playwright Rona Munro have created a brand new case for the now retired Rebus (Charles Lawson). He spends his time trying to stay off the ‘fags and the booze’, but one drug he still cannot shake is that of good, old-fashioned policing. A chance encounter with Heather (Eleanor House), a young woman whose mother was murdered some 17 years ago brings up some ghosts of the past, forcing the ‘old gunslinger’ out of retirement and maybe a chance to exorcise some of his own personal demons as well.

Haunted by these past victims, this particular cold case takes Rebus back into Edinburgh’s criminal world, landing at the door of his old nemesis, crime kingpin ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty (John Stahl). In addition, Rebus must contend with Siobhan Clarke (Cathy Tyson), a friend and former colleague who wants to make sure a case from 25 years ago doesn’t come back to haunt them both.

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Rebus: Long Shadows  is almost the perfect storm of a production, fast paced, slick, and razor-sharp script with some stinging, pitch black dialogue. Lawson is excellent as the no nonsense troubled former detective, who will do anything to get the right result, even if it means breaking the rules. Stahl is on superb form as Cafferty, full of charm and menace; he certainly makes for a worthy adversary. The interactions between the two are natural and fully demonstrate the respect and loathing they have for one another.

Cathy Tyson is equally as good, if somewhat underutilized as Siobhan Clarke: her character seems the weakest in the triangular relationship between Rebus, Clarke and Cafferty. The supporting cast are on fine form with Eleanor House and Dani Heron as the ghosts of Rebus’s past plaguing him at every turn: whilst Neil McKinven morphs into every other character, from Barman to criminal low life, he plays them all: enjoyable are the scenes between Mckinven and Lawson, where Rebus is shaking him down for information: authentic, believable and filled with humour.

Rebus_Cathy Tyson as Siobhan Clarke & Charles Lawson as Rebus_c Robert Day

Occasionally the story becomes a little contrived, but there are a few neat twists and turns: this isn’t a ‘whodunnit’ in the traditional sense, more a tale of redemption, morality, and growing old in an ever-changing world.

Ti Green’s multi-purpose stage design is outstanding: it changes effortlessly from luxury apartment, to dingy back street boozer. It does a fine job of evoking images of Edinburgh’s snickets and passageways: if anything, you want it to be more dank, mysterious and atmospheric.

This is a first-class production with actors at the top of the game: Rebus may be long in the tooth, but this production could certainly teach other murder/mysteries a thing or two.

Rebus: Long Shadow is at the Manchester Opera House till 3rd November 2018. Tickets are available here.

Calendar Girls

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

There can’t be many people who don’t know the magnificent story of the Rylstone & District Women’s Institute and their impressively innovative way of raising funds; but, if there are then lucky for them writer Tim Firth and long-time friend Gary Barlow have worked their collective storytelling magic to create a musical about the ground-breaking WI ladies.

When Yorkshire lass and WI member Annie (Anna-Jane Casey) loses her beloved husband John (Phil Corbitt) to leukaemia a seed is planted by best pal Chris (Rebecca Storm) to raise funds for a comfy sofa for the visitor’s room at Skipton General. These funds won’t be raised with a traditional raffle or tasty bake sale, but by the girls creating their very own ‘alternative’ calendar for distribution across the Dales.

There are tender moments throughout this moving piece, where tears threaten as the cruelty of life is played out, none more so than during Anna-Jane Casey’s emotional delivery of Kilimanjaro. These poignant moments are interspersed wonderfully with witty laugh out loud moments which firmly remind us that in life if we want to experience the highs we must also accept the heart-breaking lows.

As the idea of the ladies baring all inches closer to becoming a reality we see them wrestle with their own insecurities and daily battles offering the realisation that we all face similar difficulties and obstacles in life.

Firth and Barlow’s pairing is an impressive one, the script is warm, genuinely funny and entirely relatable while accompanying songs flow seamlessly as lyrical extensions of the script.

The reworking of this piece from its original 2015 incarnation sees some notable changes. The decision to opt for a celebrity based cast works well in part with each actor enormously likeable and engaging however the multitude of accents robs the production of its down to earth, grass roots charm and at times is distracting from the story. As the Yorkshire grit and determination is lost so its authenticity is watered down.

Likewise designer Robert Jones has scaled back the previous touring set, the green drawers and cupboards which created the rolling Yorkshire hills now replaced with a regularly opened gate, effective still but its impact not comparable.

Despite these quibbles Firth and Barlow’s superb storytelling still shines through as the cast take us on an inspirational story which turns tragedy into triumph.

Anna-Jane Casey and Rebecca Storm as best friends Annie and Chris are hugely impressive, pals through thick and thin their pairing is convincing and genuinely touching.

Karen Dunbar as Cara is hilarious, add to this a superb turn from the legendary Ruth Madoc who delights in every opportunity to raise a laugh.

There’s also a wonderfully written comedy sub-plot in which the younger members of the cast fight their own battles of teenage angst, first love and the absolute worst….embarrassing parents. Isabel Caswell, Danny Howker and Tyler Dobbs as Jenny, Danny and Tommo respectively are joyful to watch.

Calendar Girls portrays the inspirational story of the courageous women of Yorkshire with wit and genuine warmth, while there is sadness the bloody-minded defiance of these strong Northern women is there for all to see. Heart-warming in its delivery and inspiring in its message.

Calendar Girls is on at The Lowry until Saturday 10th November tickets available here.

Putting It Together

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

While the West End enjoys a triumphant Sondheim revival in the form of Marianne Elliot’s gender-swap Company, us Northerners can also delight in a Sondheim sensation as Hope Mill Theatre, Aria Entertainment & Neil Eckersley bring us a fabulous festive treat with the cleverly constructed and enormously entertaining Putting It Together.

Set at a festive cocktail party in a Manhattan loft apartment, two couples socialise together while Andrew Gallo acting as narrator observes their interactions & anticipates their unraveling with a knowledgable word to the audience as the story develops.

The very first scene, Invocations and Instructions to the Audience from The Frogs clearly lays this out as a night of pure enjoyment, so sit back, relax & let the remarkable talent of this fine cast paired with the music and lyrics of the mighty Stephen Sondheim entertain you.

The construction of this show taking numbers from several different productions is absolute genius, as songs we know and love are given new meaning while some of the lesser known tracks are given a platform to be heard.

As the lives of the characters mixed with their human complexities intertwine songs are used to great effect to portray the emotional longing of each character.

Hello Little Girl from Into The Woods is given a whole new twist as Gavin Jones lusts after Simbi Akande in a daring attempt at seduction while Pretty Women (also from Sweeny Todd) becomes a gentle, tender and touching love song, delivered beautifully by Alex Cardall and Gavin James.

Described as a ‘musical review’ created to showcase Sondheim’s work the plot is never intended to thicken much but this really feels unimportant when you have the opportunity to sit and listen to five stunning actors at the absolute top of their game deliver the most brilliant, beautiful lyrics accompanied by sublime music played on-stage by the enormously talented Michael Webborn.

The pace is fast & once we start we gallop through, each piece thrilling in equal measure. Bronagh Lagan’s confident direction paired with William Whelton’s impressive choreography drives the piece from start to finish; Bang from A Little Night Music performed by Andrew Gallo, Simbi Akande and Alex Cardall perfectly illustrating this, punchy and powerful.

Special mention must go to Lauren James Ray whose delivery of Getting Married Today absolutely brings the house down, impressive throughout her wit and acting are both superb, she is a joy to watch.

Every member of this small cast delivers and then some as they work their way through each musical number; each track feels real, authentic and is honestly delivered. Sondheim’s lyrics so slick and witty ensuring we travel each emotional step with the characters.

Putting It Together is the festive treat you didn’t quite realise you needed but once you’ve sat and enjoyed a sublime evening in the company of this stellar cast you’ll be without doubt wanting to come back for more.

Joyfully entertaining from start to finish.

Putting It Together is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 24th November tickets available here.

The Damned United

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

In 2006 The Damned United hit the bookshelves, blending fact and fiction it told the story of charismatic, controversial football manager, Brian Clough and his ill-fated tenure at Leeds United. Author David Peace described it as “An English Fairy Story”. In 2009 it was turned into a film starring Michael Sheen, and now somewhat inevitably it has been adapted for the stage by the Red Ladder Theatre Company.

Following the same narrative structure of the book, we start with the end of Clough’s playing career due to injury. The demons, the nagging self-doubt are there for all to see from the onset, as well as the brash arrogant showman the world of football came to love or loath depending on your point a view. The action zigzags between him taking the helm at Leeds in 1974 and his successful but turbulent run as Derby County manager from 1967 through to 1973.

This is a fast paced, journey into the tortured mind of one man battling many enemies – unhappy players, interfering chairman, the bottle and rival manager Dom Revie. However, it’s Clough’s own insecurities and his relationship with his assistant manager and best friend Peter Taylor that is the heartbeat of the production.

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The time-hopping narrative structure can be a little confusing at times, but the production is anchored by two outstanding central performances: Luke Dickson puts in a nuanced, layered shift as Clough, filled with subtly traits and mannerisms: it would be easy to play this as a caricature but Dickson avoids this. David Chafer is also on fine form as Taylor, a man loyal and true to his friend but growing disillusioned by his treatment. Their relationship is what holds the production together. They are supported by James Smelt who morphs into all the other parts in the play.

The action is played against a corrugated fence backdrop: adding to the tension and authenticity of the surroundings, you can almost feel the deep-heat in the air. The fence doubles as a screen with various images projected on it throughout, pushing the drama along.

This is a fascinating look at obsession, addiction and self-loathing that is well worth a watch.

The Damned United is at the Lowry until the 27th October tickets can be found here.

Magical Christmas Movie Experience comes to Manchester

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Here at Opening Night we’ve started to feel a bit festive with the announcement of some Christmas movie classics being screened at a new pop up cinema launching next month – including Home Alone, Love Actually and Die Hard (and yes Die Hard IS a Crimbo movie – no debate!)

The Magical Christmas Movie Experience will showcase some of the best-loved Christmas movies in the surroundings of a beautifully transformed Mayfield Depot near Manchester Piccadilly.

Cinema goers will enter a magical kingdom through a secret wardrobe, finding themselves in an enchanted forest full of festive surprises.

Running over four long weekends from November 23 to December 16, the festive film programme includes The Greatest Showman, Love Actually Weekend and two Christmas Classics weeks.

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The phenomenon that is The Greatest Showman will be brought to life in colourful fashion with, stilt walkers, fire breathers and a fabulous choir creating a fully immersive experience. And there will also be sing-along screenings. Yeah ok it’s not really an Xmas movie – but we’re not complaining!

The Love Actually weekend takes the yuletide feelgood favourite, starring Hugh Grant, Martine McCutcheon, Martin Freeman, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley among other famous faces and adds the seasonal sound of a live gospel choir as well as some more surprises. We’re already welling up at the thought of THAT Emma Thompson scene (dammit where’s the tissues!)

And the Christmas Classics weeks features a host of heart-warming, thrilling and hilarious favourites including Home Alone, The Holiday, Elf, Die Hard, The Polar Express and Gremlins.

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There’s be plenty of food and drink to feast on too.

In the cinema, a range of seating will include giant bean bags, and while people are encouraged to dress warmly for the winter weather, there will also be blankets on offer to snuggle under which will keep audience’s toasty – and which will be donated to the city’s homeless after the final screening.

Steven Matthews Event Organiser said: “Last Christmas Love Actually appeared in the same location, that was huge and really well received.”

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“This is something new for Manchester – it’s the first experience of its kind with an enchanted forest and everyone’s favourite festive flicks. Audiences can expect loads of surprises, and a totally unique experience.”

Doors to the enchanted forest and food court open at 6pm on Thursdays, 5pm on Fridays and from noon at weekends.

Tickets for all the films start from £14.99.

For more details visit http://www.magicalchristmasmovieexperience.com

 

Let It Be

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Direct from London’s West End Let It Be, has been on a magical mystery tour across the UK for quite some time now, the final stop off is the Manchester Opera House.

Chronicling The Beatles meteoric rise from their humble beginnings at Liverpool’s now world-famous Cavern Club through to global superstardom. We taken on a journey through a 40 song back catalogue of some John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s finest works including legendary sets from The Royal Varity Show, Shea Stadium and the Apple roof top gig.

Opening rather cheekily with four analogue television sets placed in the corners of the stage: they’re playing adverts and songs from the era. ‘The Fab Four’ arrive on stage and immediately launch into She Loves You, followed by I Wanna’ Hold Your Hand, which immediately has the crowd singing along. As demonstrated in the Shea Stadium section The Beatles famously quit touring because they couldn’t hear themselves play, based on the audience reaction tonight I can see why: most the tunes played tonight had the audience belting them out as if they on stage with the band: the more up-tempo numbers seeing them dancing in the aisles.

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The cast are on great form: Emanuele Angeletti (Paul McCartney) John Brosnan, (George Harrison) Ben Cullingworth (Ringo Starr) and Michael Gagliano (John Lennon) do a fine job in brining the boys to life. Some would argue that this would be one of the easiest gigs on the planet but if you get it wrong I’m sure you’d know about It! Luckily these talented performers manage to not only bring the music to life but also show the personalities within the band off as well. From George Harrison’s shyness, Ringo’s playfulness, to Lennon’s over-the-top show man (which can be a little grating at times,) there are subtle character traits throughout, at one point Angeletti performs minus his shoes!

One minor quibble are the accents: they are a bit all over the place and can be a little distracting, but you cannot fault them on the vocals and musicianship. The Beatles had George Martin as their 5th member and the cast of ‘Let It Be’ are no different with musical director Daniel Weiss joining them on keyboards.

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Those expecting a slice of musical theatre or a musical jukebox show may need to temper their expectation: this show is a concert only with plenty of theatrical elements including some great authentic costumes, and high-end production values.

The second half poses a what if question: that being what if the band reformed to play live on John Lennon’s birthday. We are treated to more Beatles hits as well as few from their solo offerings which included: My Sweet Lord, a haunting version of Imagine and a full throttle rendition of Live and Let Die. For me I loved this bold attempt to freshen up the act, whilst some audience members weren’t as keen, maybe it was a lack of familiarity with the material. The show soon gets back on familiar territory with a blistering encore of Back in the USSR, Let It Be, and Hey Jude, which had everyone on their feet and rattling their jewellery.

Overall this was a great show what it lacks in emotional depth it makes up for in sheer entertainment. Let It Be will have you singing and toe-tapping away all night long.

Let It Be is on at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 27th October tickets available here.

Beauty and the Beast

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer Kate Goerner

Regal Entertainments and St Helens Theatre Royal continue their run of panto throughout the year by revisiting their well-received production of Beauty and the Beast from April 2017 – with a few cast changes.

The team has a reputation for putting on fast-paced and fun family pantomimes, at affordable prices (tickets start at £12) and Regal regulars will be pleased to see a host of familiar faces in the cast.

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Directed by Chantelle Nolan and written by Liam Mellor, Beauty and the Beast tells the famous tale of the prince cursed to live in the body of a beast until the love of a beautiful girl sets him free – think Disney but with a few panto twists!

Returning again as the comedy duo that steer the show are the Theatre Royal’s resident comic Lewis Devine and dame Simon Foster, here playing French Frank and Pretty Polly.

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The pair have fantastic chemistry together, and had the audience in the palm of their hands. My little reviewer loved the scene where Devine was turned into a frog, and seeing Devine interact with the youngsters invited on stage (always one of the best bits of panto and reliant on the comic in question being able to quickly improvise – as Devine could) was lovely.

Foster had some fabulous frocks and with his trademark ‘You-Hoo’ was clearly having a ball. His Prince Harry and Meghan Markle joke was the gag of the night.

This really is Foster and Devine’s show, so much so that the title characters definitely get less time on stage than their comedy counterparts.

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Milkshake’s Kiera-Nicola Brennan played a spirited Belle, with Andrew Geater (Dandini in Easter’s Cinderella) a fine-voiced Beast. Philip McGuinness reprised his crowd-pleasing turn as the vain Gaston, with award-winning panto performer Hannah Potter also returning as the Cruella De Ville-esque Madame Botox, Gaston’s scheming mum.

And BBC Pitch Battle’s Maddie Hope Coelho (Dorothy in Regal’s The Wizard of Oz) put in a highly polished and professional turn as Fairy Rose – her ‘When You Believe’ in the transformation scene was a delight.

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There were just enough references to the much-loved Disney animated version to keep the army of little yellow-dressed Belles in the audience, but don’t go expecting a carbon copy of that version – you do get to see Belle in a gorgeous yellow ball gown though- never fear.

(I did enjoy the gag by Foster and Devine about not having the rights to ‘THAT’ song from Disney’s version.)

And music is a massive part of the panto experience, and on this occasion the song choices – while well performed – were not particularly memorable, and some had lyrics changed – which was a bit confusing at times and not really effective. A few more hits from the past 12 months would have been welcome (no Greatest Showman?) although the all-conquering Baby Shark did make a hugely popular appearance.

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The storybook sets and costumes were charming and effective (although no costume changes for the wedding/finale?) and the adult and juvenile dancers supported the principle cast well.

So much to enjoy definitely, and at a commendable price, while perhaps not quite hitting the sparkly heights of previous pantos from Regal.

Up next for the team is the Christmas offering of Peter Pan, again starring Foster and Devine, with the starry additions of Liverpool favourite Louis Emerick (Captain Hook) and Strictly’s Kristina Rihanoff (Wendy). We’ll be there! (Oh yes we will!)

Beauty and the Beast runs until Sunday 28th October at St Helen’s Theatre Royal tickets available here.