Pepperland

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First performed in Liverpool in 2017 to mark the city’s Sgt. Pepper at 50 Festival, Mark Morris’ unique tribute to the iconic album is a joyful explosion of music and movement painted with the most vibrant of colour pallets.

Referencing several of Sgt. Peppers most memorable songs as well as the exuberant Penny Lane, Pepperland is an uplifting celebration with its airy choreography & clever interpretations.

Ethan Iverson’s bold score reimagines each of the much-loved songs; the rich sounds of the piano are accompanied by the electronica of the theremin which marries beautifully with Morris’ playful choreography.

Elizabeth Kutzman’s swinging sixties inspired costumes offer a rainbow of Carnaby St inspired colour while the 17 dancers navigate their way through joyous jives to dreamy hippy vibes. The mood is playful, fun and free.

While there are some pieces which are fairly abstract it’s those with live vocals from Clinton Curtis which really engage the audience. The wit of Morris’ choreography during When I’m 64 clearly an audience favourite as the dancers interpret the out of kilter music with comedic consequence.

Morris’ decision to have his dancers stand and sing along to A Day in the Life is particularly striking with just the right amount of nostalgia.

At just over an hour long Pepperland is the perfect show to bring Sgt. Pepper to vibrant life for modern dance audiences. The fluidity of the choreography a fine example of the quality of Mark Morris’s innovative work while the precision of his dancers will inspire and enthral.

On at the Lowry until Saturday 30th March tickets available here.

Interview | Jenny May Morgan talks eVULVAlution

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In tackling that difficult 29th erotic fiction novel, author Pamela DeMenthe has hit a stumbling block, her time travelling prehistoric erotic fiction romp, set in Hull, eVULVAlution needs a little help; luckily for Pamela Lowry audiences’ creativity is there to be called on in this brand new comedy.

Following on from her hugely successful debut show ‘Pamela DeMenthe presents: Sticky Digits, Jenny May Morgan returns to The Lowry her brand new show eVULVAlution. We caught up with Jenny to hear a little more about the show, her involvement with The Lowry’s Artist Development programme and inappropriate offerings from her audiences.

Opening Night: For anyone unfamiliar with Pamela can you tell us a little bit about her?

Jenny: Pamela is a self-published erotic fiction author; she started writing erotic fiction a few years ago writing 28 books in the first year and then brought out Sticky Digits which is the title of my original show. Now a year on she’s writing her new book eVULVAlution which is a pre-historic erotic fiction story with time travel set in Hull, so far it’s been a bit of a stumbling block for her and she has a bit of writers block .

ON: I read that Pamela might be seeking help from her loyal readers; does this mean some audience interaction?

Jenny: Definitely, in the original show there was a bit of audience interaction, the original show was hosted a little bit like a TED Talk/Audience With… this one has a similar sort of premise but the audience will be expected to help Pamela complete the book as she’s left the book a little bit open-ended. I don’t get anyone up on stage or anything like that but there are definitely opportunities for audience interaction.

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ON: Are you fully prepared for a wild variety of offerings from the audience?

Jenny: Ha ha oh yes, to be honest when audiences say things you maybe don’t expect it can be a bit of a gift and you end up getting something hilarious. It’s amazing how many people actually come up with the same kind of suggestions. When I did the original show I did a part with a bespoke original erotic fiction story and asked people to come up with a body part, I’d say around 80% of people said elbow, which was bizarre. I did around 25 shows up in Edinburgh and almost always they said elbow. So who knows what will happen this time around.

ON: Have you ever been thrown by any suggestions?

Jenny: I have been yes, I’m not sure I should say ha ha; in Edinburgh there was an older couple in the audience and at one point I ask the audience if they have any questions and the guy asked when was the last time Pamela had an orgasm and his wife just shot him a look, it was just so unexpected he went bright red!

ON: You’ve toured the show in different areas do you notice different responses around the country?

Jenny: There are definitely different reactions, some people enjoy the cruder aspects of the show, some audiences enjoy more of the storytelling nature of the show. I don’t know if you could draw any geographical comparisons to that; I did the show in Bristol at the end of last year and that was really interesting as Pamela the character is from South Gloucestershire so there’s lots of references to Gloustershire that are a little bit obscure and funny if you don’t know it but even funnier if you do know it so doing the show where people really get the references is a lot of fun.

ON: When you’ve had such a successful first show how do you find your starting point for show number 2?

Jenny: I’ve been thinking about the show for quite a long time so I’ve been slowly writing it in my head for the last couple of years. There is a pressure to deliver something funny, that’s remains true to the character but also you want to do something a little different to the last show. I quite like the fact that not only do I have that pressure but Pamela has that pressure so part of the show is about the follow-up and the pressure on her to write a new novel and the struggles with that. I guess it’s a bit of an analogy of my situation and the pressure writing a new show; I like those things colliding a little bit.

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ON: How did you get involved with The Lowry’s Artist Development Programme?

Jenny: I live in Manchester so I know The Lowry well; I’ve been involved in their studio programmes as a performer engaging with workshops for quite a number of years. I invited them to come and see the original show and they kindly then programmed the original show last April. I was aware of the development programme so put an application in and luckily they agreed that they could develop me. It’s been fantastic, they create a bespoke package of support to help further your career, that’s exactly what I’m getting at the moment and it’s just lovely.

ON: As a female comedian, are doors harder to open or are things shifting now?

Jenny: I think it’s definitely changing, I think how things are for women in general are changing, the last few years certainly feels like there have been huge changes across the board. In the bigger cities there feels like there are more opportunities and you definitely see more female comedians about, I have done a few gigs in more remote places where you feel a little like you’re the token woman and the audience can be a little ‘Right come on then, make me laugh’ but I don’t actually mind that; I see it as a challenge. It’s still a male dominated industry but things are definitely changing, when you go to Edinburgh there are loads of brilliant females creating and that’s a wonderful atmosphere to experience.

ON: Will you be heading to Edinburgh Fringe this year?

Jenny: Not this year, but I’m hoping to take eVULVAlution up there summer 2020 so really looking forward to that.

ON: What do you think Pamela would make of online dating apps?

Jenny: Well she’s been married for 10 years so hasn’t been participating in that sort of world; I would say Pamela hasn’t got the most straight forward of private lives with her husband. There’s a slightly complicated relationship going on there in the background so I’d say a lot of her erotic fiction is perhaps wish fulfilment coming out through her writing. I don’t want to give too much away but there’s definitely been a bit of a development in her personal relationship with her husband, there’s been some talk about maybe becoming polyamorous so I think she might have to start engaging with the dating world which I think will be a bit of a whole new world for Pamela.

ON: So we need to book our tickets and see what happens next for Pamela then don’t we?

Jenny: That would be wonderful!

Catch eVULVAlution at The Lowry on Thursday 4th and Friday 5th of April tickets available here.

 

Wise Children

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Adapted from Angela Carter’s book of the same name Wise Children tells the captivating story of Nora and Dora Chance, elderly twins and former chorus girls from the wrong side of the tracks; Brixton more specifically. On the day of their 75th birthday they unexpectedly receive an invitation from their absent father Melchoir Hazard who turns 100 that very same day. It’s an opportunity to ‘cross the river’ and may also offer a chance to answer some questions about life, love and the meaning of family.

The scene is set, but if we’re going to answer any questions surely we need to know where it all began? So begins a glorious journey through the life and times of the charismatic twins all told in a series of flashbacks via a vibrant feast of song, dance, colour, music and pure storytelling magic.

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Vicki Mortimer’s stunning set and costume design is a visual feast, a quirky vintage caravan, billowing silk kimono’s and bountiful butterflies all vying for attention indicate from the off that this is going to be quite a ride.

Emma Rice’s vision for this production ensures this flamboyant and fabulous piece is so packed full of joyous theatricality it enthralls from the very first moment. The cast work together so beautifully bringing mischief, mayhem, sex and of course scandal to life, this really feels like an uninhibited celebration of theatre. The characterisation is excellent, all wrapped up in a joyful sense of community where ‘family ‘is made up of whomever makes you feel whole. The cast working together exquisitely to demonstrate just how enthralling theatre can be.

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Tender moments are woven delicately into the tapestry of this story while the darker elements act as a reminder of the more sinister side of life. Songs are used in support of the story and bring a real and on occasion unexpected joy to proceedings; the use of Eddie Grant’s Electric Avenue is pure genius, while Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want To Have Fun becomes touchingly poetic.

This is a true ensemble piece, no scene would work without each cast member delivering as they do; further adding to the sense of family and rich community. The Nora’s and Dora’s through the years are played to perfection, each as captivating as the next. From puppets through to pigtailed girls, to bobbed showgirls to the aged performers acting as narrators telling their story they play their parts to perfection.

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There is gender-swapping, bawdy humour and brilliance throughout as Rice pokes fun at the aging ‘thesp’ in the form of the twins father Melchior and Shakespearean references are cleverly littered. Special mention must go to Katy Owen as Grandma Chance and Paul Hunter as Gorgeous George, the comedic timing of both adding laugh out loud humour to the piece with their double entendres and physical comedy.

Wise Children is an inventive and jubilant romp of a production; there is razzmatazz, thrills and spills in this enormously inventive and visually captivating production. As the first production from Emma’s Rice’s newly formed theatre company also called Wise Children this production rubber stamps the fact that Emma Rice is without doubt one of the most exciting and visionary theatre makers out there, an absolute must-see.

Wise Children is on at Chester’s Storyhouse until Saturday 23rd March tickets available here.

Further information about The Wise Children Club, Emma Rice’s initiative to make theatre training more accessible can be found here.

 

Into The Light

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Hijinx Theatre and Teatro la Ribalta’s international collaboration Into the Light directed by Frantic Assembly’s Scott Graham and Krista Vuori, is a joyful, physical & visual exploration of performance & what it means to be seen, heard and importantly understood.

In an age where we strive for validation from those who observe us via clicks and likes the importance of physical human connection can never be underestimated. Into The Light brings together a group of individual performers some with and some without a learning disability and fuses their energies into a collaborative and visually dynamic piece.

Performers are thrust into the limelight, relishing the feeling of centre stage adoration, one moment stealing the spotlight from one another then the next insecurities threaten as they are pulled back into the darkness.

Being in the ‘light’ represents interaction, connection and validation. The spotlight offers an opportunity for freedom of expression in this inventive and delicately crafted piece of theatre.

There is very little spoken word from the actors on stage instead interview style recordings are played out during the performances detailing individuals hopes, dreams, fears, how performing makes them feel and their thoughts on how they are perceived when they’re both on and off the stage. This audio adds depth and personality to the piece as each individual voice rings out through the theatre.

The storytelling is done so cleverly through movement with each performer clearly finely tuned in their art, at times they toy with the audience, the slightest of movements decides what we see and what we don’t see.

Andy Purves’ atmospheric lighting is excellent and could almost be classed as a member of the cast while Ian Barnard’s music adds to the pace and flow of the piece with some perfectly chosen tracks ranging from The Mamas And The Papas, Dream A Little Dream Of Me to The Beastie Boys, Sabotage.

The inclusivity of this piece is refreshing to see, each actor with a learning disability plays a genuine and meaningful part in the production and is rightfully treated as an equal to every other member of the company. Each performance is thoughtfully considered and beautifully delivered.

Hijinx Theatre and Teatro la Ribalta’s succeed wonderfully in delivering dynamic and innovative theatre. The partnering with Frantic Assembly ensures there is humour as well as intensity in this lovingly crafted piece. Bold and inspiring theatre.

Further information can be found here.

 

 

Rain Man

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Based on the Oscar winning 80’s movie starring Dustin Hoffman & Tom Cruise, Rain Man introduces us to Brothers Charlie and Raymond Babbitt who are returned to each other’s lives following the death of their father.

Hard-nosed hustler Charlie is unaffected by the loss of his Dad, a cold-hearted man he fell out with years ago; he is however disturbed to discover the sizeable estate left behind has not been gifted to him but an unknown benefactor. Upon investigation he discovers this mystery trustee sitting on a cool $3 million is actually the institution which houses his older brother Raymond, an autistic savant sibling he has no knowledge nor memory of.

Determined to get what he deems as his half of the estate Charlie takes Raymond from the institution on what begins as a quest for his own gain but actually becomes an unexpected journey of self-discovery and brotherly bonding as Charlie starts to realise just how special and unique his forgotten sibling is.

Adam Lilley’s portrayal of Raymond is committed and convincing, complete with awkward shuffle, avoidance of eye contact and frequent ticks he remains consistently strong both physically and vocally. Chris Fountain proves what a talented actor he is as he journeys from loathsome self-centred brat to emotionally affected & touchingly tender sibling. The chemistry between the two is outstanding and becomes increasingly moving as their relationship deepens.

It’s clear Dan Gordon’s stage adaptation of Barry Morrow’s screenplay is intended to please fans of the original film and that it absolutely does, there is however no updating nor reworking of the 1988 movie which was made at a time when understanding and knowledge of autism was very different to what it is now.

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While both actors give superb performances as Raymond and Charlie the story feels outdated and at times is uncomfortable to watch. There are moments particularly in Act I when Raymond’s disability is used for nothing more than to give the audience a cheap laugh, most glaringly during the hotel scene where Raymond hears brother Charlie and girlfriend Susan (Elizabeth Carter) having sex. It does nothing to drive the story forward in any way & would benefit from being cut all together. I found this scene in particular an unpleasant reminder of the narrow-minded attitudes disability rights campaigners and people with autism have worked so hard to overcome, to sit in a packed audience & hear gleeful laughter at the characters expense felt like a massive backwards step.

Delivering this show in a large theatre like the lyric is also a challenge in itself; a smaller theatre may have offered the opportunity for a more subtle intimate production, albeit with a hefty reworking of the outdated script.

There are moments of brilliance as we see the genuine connection develop between the two leads most notably when Charlie teaches Raymond to dance; both actors execute this poignant moment beautifully however the script dictates that these joyful moments are few and far between.

At a time where difference and diversity is increasingly celebrated Rain Main feels like it missed the 2019 memo. Although the cast deliver excellent performances the script is just too outdated to guarantee another decade of success and unfortunately displays an enormously out-dated depiction of autism which should be left in the eighties.

Rain Man is on at The Lowry until Saturday 16th March tickets available here.

The Stretch

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Following on from its success as part of JB Shorts 19, MAP Productions have reworked and extended The Stretch from its original 15 minutes into an hour-long piece as they examine the lasting & devastating impact one moment of madness can have.

We follow Lee (James Lewis) through his long 10 years in prison, joining him on a brutal and soul-destroying journey as he visually charges before us from strong self-assured new kid on the block to defeated & destroyed shadow of his former self, broken by the brutality of life on the inside.

Through atmospheric lighting & inspired design the arches of 53Two have been transformed into a menacing & moody environment adding an almost immersive feel to proceedings. The cast make full use of the multi-layered set, lurking in the shadows as new boy Lee is led in to serve his time before powerfully making their presence known.

Joe Ainsworth’s script is melodic and pacy as with each year that passes hope fades and survival instinct takes hold before the reality of abandonment & isolation takes over.

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James Lewis gives a superb performance as Lee, honest and real in his portrayal he takes us on an incredibly raw and deeply poignant journey. His measured performance transitions from witty and light to heartbreakingly raw as he becomes increasingly broken by the failing prison system.

The ensemble add depth and authenticity to this production, taking on various roles depicting individuals on both the inside and outside of the prison walls and the impact Lee’s one monumental mistake has on them.

Simon Naylor’s fluid direction creates pace and adds poignancy to the quieter more emotional moments allowing them the impact they deserve.

The Stretch offers powerful performances which movingly highlight the tragic repetitive cycles happening daily in prisons around the country if not the world. A brave and honest account of one man’s devastating descent into hopeless institutionalisation. Affecting and important theatre.

The Stretch is on at 53Two until Friday 15th March, tickets available here

Tickets £10 with unwaged tickets available for every performance. Please bring proof of being in receipt of Universal Credit, Job Seekers Allowance or Income Support to the box office when collecting tickets.
Tuesday 12th March performance is BSL interpreted

 

 

 

 

RAGS

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Aria Entertainment and Hope Mill Theatre are never ones to shy away from a challenge; turning a former cotton mill into an award-winning producing house a clear testament to their drive and determination; so it comes as no surprise that not only have they taken on the challenge of reimaging lesser known musical RAGS but have the added coup of legendary Broadway composer Stephen Schartz’s invaluable presence in the rehearsal rooms.

With a book by Joseph Stein (Fiddler On The Roof) music by Charles Strouse (Annie) and lyrics from Stephen Schwarz (Wicked) RAGS seems like it should have always been a hit yet the success never quite came. This UK premiere of a new version with a revised book by David Thompson directed by Hope Mill regular Bronagh Lagan sets about altering the destiny of RAGS and ensuring this relatively unknown musical is given the platform it deserves.

The joyful wit and melodic dialogue of Joseph Stein remain however David Thompson’s revisions allow the story to be told anew as we follow Jewish immigrant Rebecca (Rebecca Trehearn) as she bids to find a new life and a secure future for her and son David (Lochlan White) in America. Their penniless arrival at Ellis Island looks set to dictate their fate until kind-hearted Bella (Lydia White) whom Rebecca strikes up a friendship with on the journey convinces her father Avram (Michael S. Siegel) to vouch for the desperate pair. Rebecca and David are given a place to stay and her skills as a seamstress soon secure her employment however she is never far from rough seas as although the American dream may seem within reach it certainly won’t be without sacrifice leading to a battle of identity amidst a struggle of cultural assimilation.

The subject matter may sound heavy but it is treated with such love and warmth that light and dark marry beautifully with comedic and heart-warming moments shining through the emotional and poignant.

Rebecca Trehearn is pure star quality; she captures the gut-wrenching anguish of Rebecca with perfection and her determination to succeed in this hostile new world is profoundly moving. Her vocals are pitch perfect throughout while her stunning rendition of Children Of The Wind would melt the coldest of hearts, to see it delivered in such an intimate setting as Hope Mill is breath-taking.

Lydia White is superbly cast as Bella, her friendship with Rebecca feels believable and pure while her thrill at the prospect of the new life within her grasp is inspiring. Sam Peggs plays Bella’s love interest Ben with an innocent joy while Robert Tripolino as Italian trade unionist Sal makes for a wonderfully dramatic and entirely committed champion of both workers and human rights.

Heartening comedy is injected by the pairing of savvy widow Rachel (Valda Aviks) and Bella’s world-weary father Avram (Michael S. Siegel) the duo making for a wonderful comic double act. Special mention must also go to Lochlan White who at this evening’s performance played Rebecca’s son David, confident and charismatic as the young Jewish boy.

This is a real ensemble piece with praise being deserved by each and every member of the cast who bring this story to vibrant life with their stunning vocals and heartfelt performances, several doubling up as on stage musicians. Stephen Schwartz’s soaring score offers a real feast of fusion, in effect a melting pot of styles just like New York City both then and now.

Gregor Donnelly’s suitcase stacked set design and Derek Anderson’s atmospheric lighting combine perfectly to further bring this emotional story to life.

RAGS is beautifully executed theatre which will sweep you away with its gritty and poignant storytelling. The themes feel current and entirely relatable, the cast could easily be singing Make America Great Again rather than Take Our Country Back as the characters battle for acceptance and a sense of belonging in a hostile and at times cruel new world.  The team have got this new version just right with the talented cast doing total justice to the cleverly crafted piece. Important and affecting theatre delivered with genuine heart.

RAGS is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 6th April tickets available here.