An Evening of Eric and Ern

Eric 2

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

There are so many iconic images associated with Christmas: a piping hot turkey with all the trimmings, presents under the tree, pictures of drunken revellers plastered across the national press, and of course Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise dancing a merry jig. The Morecambe and Wise Christmas specials have been engraved into the festive TV listing since 1969 the reason simply being that they’re just bloody funny!

Well if you need your Eric and Ernie fix this Christmas you can go one better and see the pair in the flesh as An Evening of Eric & Ern comes to the Lowry for the festive season. Staring the Olivier nominated Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel as the comedy duo, they treat us to an evening of cabaret and familiar sketches which include, Eric’s Mr Memory, the pairs take on ventriloquism and the iconic Greig’s Piano concerto sketch.

Eric 3

Adding a touch of glamour, as well as acting as a comedic foil to the pair is super talented singer Becky Neale who pops up throughout the evening, at one point belting out a fantastic version of the Mariah Carey hit All I Want for Christmas is You.

Despite an initial slow start, this is a hugely fun, trip down memory lane. All the classic gags are there, including those infamous well aimed barbs at Des O Connor. Stand out sketches include are of course the ventriloquist dummy which is brilliant in its simplicity and a beautiful rendition of the Stephen Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns by Neale which Eric and Ernie do there best to ruin.

Eric

The main strength of the show comes in the performances of Stephens and Ashpitel. The physical resemblance is clearly noticeable from the outset, but it’s more about how the mannerisms and facial tics are matched to perfection. You can see the two actors have analysed their heroes to give a genuine, authentic performance which sucks you in. Add to that the undoubted chemistry between the two as well as some exceptional choreography from Nicola Keen and you have all the parts for a heart-warming night of comedy and nostalgia.

Eric 1

The show inevitably closes with a rendition of Bring Me Sunshine, from all three performers as well as the audience; and like a nice mug of hot mulled wine, it sends you out into the cold winter’s night with a nice warm glow, a spring in your step, and the perfect way to start the Christmas celebrations.

An Evening with Eric and Ern is at the Lowry till 6th January. Tickets available here.

Hansel & Gretel

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Following on from the huge success of last year’s Peter Pan, Oldham Theatre Workshop bring another classic to life with their spin on the much-loved fairy tale Hansel & Gretel.

The intimate performance space at Oldham Library is transformed into an atmospheric wintry wood as we follow Hansel & Gretel on their unexpected journey; cruelly abandoned in the forest at the request of their wicked Stepmother they think their luck has changed when they stumble upon a little house made of gingerbread and sweets, how wrong they are!

Creatives Sarah Nelson and James Atherton once again prove to be a formidable team with this joyful and poetic production; the use of songs, puppets and imaginative storytelling all marrying beautifully to bring this Brothers Grimm tale to vivid and vibrant life. The original songs are both inventive and enormously catchy….munch, munch, nibble, nibble and combined with a melodic score add humour and depth to this wonderful piece.

The strong cast deliver the story with real style and delightful conviction. Natasha Davidson and Sam Winterbottom are excellent as Hansel & Gretel whose childlike innocence develops into strength and determination when the going gets tough as this story becomes a great example of good triumphing over evil.

Daniel Harkshead makes for a strong and loving father, battling between the love for his children and the manipulating ways of his bitter wife. Sophie Ellicot is outstanding as both the stepmother and the calculating witch; clearly having great fun with both parts and proving once again what a fine character actor she is.

Madeleine Edmondson quite literally shines as the moon, doubling up as narrator she guides us through this enchanting story beautifully, young and old enthralled with every line. While the addition of three young performers playing the woodland animals brings extra cute factor to this charming production.

Oldham Theatre Workshop once again excels at delivering accessible and enthralling theatre. This magical production will enchant people of all ages, taking you on a feel-good, heart-warming festive adventure which at only £8 per ticket proves to be a festive treat for the pocket too.

Magical storytelling delivered with real heart, a delight for all the family.

Catch Hansel & Gretel at Oldham Library until 29th December tickets available here.

Släpstick

 

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

Its traditional this time of the year to take in a family show to keep young and old alike entertained for a couple of hours or so, with pantos a plenty and musicals on mass, you may want something a little quirky, a bit different: step forward Släpstick.

 

Släpstick are a Dutch musical theatre troupe who present a love letter to the golden age of silent cinema: Buster Keaton, Spike Jones, Laurel & Hardy, to name but a few, are all represented here. The five–man group create a musical hall experience like no other, playing well over a 100 instruments between them: all this mixed together creates a unique and original experience that will have you grinning from ear-to-ear.

 

 

The show begins when you’re queuing to get into the theatre as you meet some of the cast members in various guises. However when the show starts properly, we are introduced to a wide range of colourful comedy characters, from a fast talking American showman to an injured swan and a barbershop quintet whose numbers reduce throughout the night due to a series of unfortunate accidents. There are German versions of Bohemian Rhapsody and Up Town Funkwhich are inexplicably hilarious. 

 

The show is like an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, absurd, silly and packed full of great physical and visual gags: you’re never sure where it will take you. There are call backs to previous jokes, there quite literally is something for everyone.

All five performers are super talented musicians and entertainers: there isn’t a musical instrument that these guys don’t play: from a flying double bass, to the swan egg whistle (yes you have read that correctly) – if it can make a sound, they’ll play it.

 

 

It’s not just music that makes the show but the art of playing the clown, with each member of the group involved in some fantastic physical set pieces, from an unflattering seduction scene using Italian and Spanish loves songs that pretty much turns into an episode of the much loved and much missed BBC sitcom Bottom.

 

Some routines do out-stay their welcome a little bit too much and the show could do with a slight trim off its running time, but these are minor quibbles for what is a clever, at times touching and often astonishing piece of work that will entertain young and old alike, and is the perfect Christmas show for those who fancy something a little different. The shows finale quite literally brings the house down and ends the show with a standing ovation and a huge audience pillow fight: well I did say this was something a little different!

 

Släpstick is at Home till the 22nd December tickets available here.  

 

Peter Pan

Reviewed by Kate Goerner

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Following on from last Christmas’s terrific Snow White, Regal Entertainments 2018 festive pantomime is a high-flying production of the classic children’s tale Peter Pan, directed by Chantelle Nolan.

From the colourful costumes and sets to special effects including a lovely flying sequence complete with impressive projections and a scream-inducing underwater 3D section (word of warning, younger children may find the shark a bit too scary!), it felt like this was St Helen’s most lavish panto to date.

The theatre’s resident comic Lewis Devine takes on the role of Peter Pan, a slight departure from his usual comedy sidekick role, although he does bring in plenty of comic touches regular audiences will recognise.

Clearly relishing the chance to play the leading man, a relaxed Devine enjoys easy rapport with the cast and audience alike. And as always he is great with the kids who come up on stage at the end of the show.
One thing Peter Pan does have is a brilliant baddie in the nefarious Captain James Hook – here played by Brookside favourite and theatre regular Louis Emerick.
Emerick is probably too likeable and charming to ever be a really bad baddie – but that’s ok. The audience loved his easy manner on stage and his Scouse gags got plenty of laughs.
He shows great chemistry with the Theatre Royal’s popular resident dame Si Foster who plays a warm and witty Mrs Smee (as well as writing the show).
It’s a delight watching them together on stage and if you thought you saw the year’s best version of ABBA’s Fernando in Mamma Mia 2 – think again!
In fact all the songs hit the mark, with musicals fans in particular sure to be delighted with some lovely company numbers including Revolting Children from Matilda, and Wicked’s Dancing Through Life. And the reworking of Nativity’s Nazareth into Neverland to open the show was inspired!
2018’s cult hit Baby Shark is included and the only disappointment on the music front was the absence of a number from The Greatest Showman, which seems to a staple of many pantos this year.
Strictly Come Dancing’s Kristina Rihanoff has lots of fun as a stubborn and sulky Tinkerbell – and it was a treat getting to see her show off some ballroom moves – while Georgina Parkinson (Wendy) and Abigail Middleton (Tiger Lily) made the most of their supporting roles and both showed off fine voices. A large juvenile cast ably supported the principles, as did the ensemble.
The only real criticism is possibly one of Peter Pan as a panto as a whole, rather than particularly in relation to this production. With no real love story, or an out and out comic ‘Buttons-esque’ character, the show did lack romance, and laughs – while plenty (the running Peter’s Camp gag was a real winner!) – were not as constant compared to previous pantos here, particularly the sort of slapstick humour that has kids in hysterics!
But that aside, this is a highly-enjoyable, warm, family friendly version of a much-loved story brought to life by a cast clearly enjoying every minute.And as usual, tickets are commendably good value and affordable for families – starting at just £11.
Until Sunday 13th January 2019 tickets available here.

The Wizard of Oz | Blackpool Opera House

Wizard Of Oz_Production Shots_Mark Dawson Photography_DSC_6413

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Following on from the magical Peter Pan last year Selladoor Family return to Blackpool for their second festive season with firm family favourite, The Wizard of Oz.

This iconic musical adventure sees Dorothy (Holly Tandy) swept up out of Kansas landing with a bump in the enchanting land of Oz. Dorothy’s abrupt arrival marks the end of the Wicked Witch of the East and the start of Dorothy’s journey to the mystical Emerald City in a bid to meet the Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Katie Milner-Evans) and ask for her help to return to her family back in Kansas.

Wizard Of Oz_Production Shots_Mark Dawson Photography_DSC_7322

Selladoor have gone all out in this lavish production, Steve Howell’s sets are stunning and combined with Sarah Mercade’s beautiful costume design and Jack Weir’s atmospheric lighting offer some real wow moments; not only does the Wicked Witch fly through the sky but Glinda the good witch even arrives via floating golden bubble!

All the classic songs from the instantly recognisable score are there including We’re Off To See The Wizard, Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead! and Over The Rainbow which is delivered note perfect by X Factor sensation Holly Tandy who makes a strong musical theatre debut.

Wizard Of Oz_Production Shots_Mark Dawson Photography__DSC9534

Tandy is joined by a superb trio of friends as she journeys through Oz; Kieran McGinn makes for an exceptional Scarecrow, full of heart and charisma he brings an innocent charm to the role. Emmerdale favourite Kelvin Fletcher impresses as the Tin Man, proving to be a strong character actor who switches from farmhand to Oz resident with ease while Radio Wave’s Scott Gallagher is a delight as the Cowardly Lion, funny, engaging and undoubtedly the King of the Forrest.

Chloe Carrington covered the roles of Miss Gulch and The Wicked Witch in the particular performance we saw, owning the stage with every shrill cackle she is clearly having lots of fun with the part and more than rises to the challenge.

Wizard Of Oz_Production Shots_Mark Dawson Photography__DSC9411

No Wizard of Oz would be complete without a host of colourful Ozians and vibrant indeed they are with both the ensemble and the young company delivering outstanding performances; adding depth and richness to this impressive production with a slick delivery of Khiley Williams’ striking choreography.

If you’re looking for a festive treat then look no further, click your heels together three times and whisper, ‘there’s no place like the Blackpool Opera House’. This wonderful adaptation of an all-time classic will not disappoint, great cast, superb sets and stunning costumes ensure that this Wizard of Oz is wonderful indeed!

The Wizard of Oz is on at the Blackpool Opera House until Sunday 30th December tickets available here.

*Photography by Mark Dawson

Doctor Dolittle

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

At a time when talking to the animals seems much more appealing than talking current affairs, Doctor Dolittle’s arrival at the Lowry for the festive period couldn’t be more perfectly timed.

Writer Leslie Bricusse at the rip age of 87 has reworked his original book to bring the show more up to date adding relevance to the times we’re living in and also added an additional plot twist when it comes to the classic love story element of this tale; no spoilers here though, you’ll have to buy a ticket!

From the start Tom Piper’s bold set design transports us into the pages of a book as Dolittle’s magical journey begins. Larger than life books make for the basis of each scene as the story flows from page to stage and even across the seas.

After being taught to speak ‘animal’ by his trusty sidekick Polynesia (Vicky Entwistle), Doctor Dolittle (Mark Williams) sets sail on a nautical rescue mission in a bid to find and save the Giant pink Sea Snail. There are a few minor bumps along the way with things not quite appearing as they seem but nothing our determined Doctor can’t handle.

DDo

Mark Williams brings an enormous warmth to the Doctor and carries off the role with great charm and charisma. Vicky Entwistle gives Polynesia a delightful Northern twang and gifts our feathered friend with heaps and heaps of personality.

Mollie Melia-Redgrave is a delight as Emma Fairfax while Patrick Sullivan has a star quality magnetism which ensures their scenes together are an absolute joy.

Special mention must also go to Thom Ryan who takes on the role of young Tommy Stubbins, he shines on stage and brings a real youthful energy to proceedings.

The puppetry work here really is the star of the show with each and every scene bringing something bigger, bolder, more colourful and even more unbelievable than the last. Puppetry designer Nick Barnes really has pulled out all the stops while kudos must also go to puppetry director Jimmy Grimes and the incredibly hard-working ensemble cast who beautifully bring each fabulous creature to life; their skill as both performers and puppeteers highly impressive.

While the book has been updated and the score includes several new songs there are still occasions where the show stutters as the pace falls a little flat, some of the big numbers feeling like they need a little more oomph; luckily these dips are only temporary and before you know it another visual treat is playing out before you.

Doctor Dolittle is a charming piece of theatre with some breathtakingly magical moments while the message of protecting and learning from the animals remains strong throughout. A traditional and visually stunning production with an important message at it’s heart, delivered in an engaging and entertaining way.

Catch Doctor Dolittle at the Lowry until Saturday 5th January tickets available here.

Cinderella | Opera House

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First staged in 2016 at the London Palladium then last year at Birmingham’s legendary Hippodrome Qdos Entertainment’s Cinderella has been brought bang up to date by writer Alan McHugh with Corrie jokes a plenty and hilarious local references a go-go. Both Ben Nickles who plays Buttons and Ugly Sister Les Dennis adding material to the laugh a minute script ensuring a riotous night out is guaranteed.

All the stops have been pulled out in this spectacular production; lavish sets, colourful costumes, catchy songs and a superb cast ensuring the Opera House panto remains at the top of theatre goers agenda for another festive season.

Our Ugly Sisters Phelina (Connor McIntyre) and Michaela (Les Dennis) are mad for it as they blend the silly with the slapstick and throw in some cheeky charm for good measure, the pairing is genius as panto pro Les leads the way, reminding us all just why he’s one of the best in the business.

Rochdale comedian Ben Nickless quickly becomes an audience favourite as Buttons; he laps up the applause and delights with outrageously funny comedy capers and hilarious impressions, a born entertainer who comes very close to stealing the show.

Gareth Gates and Shannon Flynn make for a perfect pairing as the dashing Prince Charming and the down on her luck Cinderella proving that they’re not afraid of getting stuck in with the slapstick when their romantic meeting turns into a hilarious battle of wills with lovesick Buttons.

Hayley-Ria Christian makes for a super sassy Fairy Godmother while Jack Wilcox is a commanding and charismatic Dandini.

The ensemble cast and young company, always a favourite of mine in panto add vibrancy with slick delivery of Fabian Aloise’s choreography adding additional charm to this feel-good family show.

Qdos Entertainment has got Cinderella just right in terms of pitch, the script is jam-packed with hilarious gags and witty one–liners while the innuendo we all expect from panto never tips into crudeness, its good old cheeky fun and plenty of it.

The transformation scene at the end of Act I really has to be seen to be believed and is worth the ticket price alone as the gasps of delight from the audience both young and old are heard loud and clear. While panto may one of theatre’s oldest traditions this production feels fresh and vibrant.

Cinderella really is the perfect package; it’s lavish, sparkly, sequined fun suitable for all the family. This extravagant production is everything panto should be and more.

Guaranteed to entertain from start to finish leaving you feeling suitably festive and full of Christmas cheer. Big, bold and brilliant!

Cinderella is on until Sunday 30th December tickets available here.