Early Doors

Early Doors 2

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Some 14 years ago, Stockport’s most famous pub The Grapes closed its doors for the last time. This was the setting of the much-cherished Craig Cash and Phil Mealey penned sitcom. While only spanning 12 episodes, the show garnered huge critical success and developed a loyal fan base. When the show wasn’t recommisioned in 2004 it came as a bit of a shock.

Last year saw The Grapes fling its doors open again for a series of live theatre and arena shows, which started with a sell-out residency at the Quays theatre at the Lowry. Such was the strength of the production; the show won the best theatre production at the City Life awards.

Early Doors 3

Well the live show has returned to the Lowry this time with a 10-night run in the Lyric theatre. This is very much a continuation of the TV series as we are reacquainted with much-loved characters and introduced to some new, albeit familiar characters. It is to the show’s credit that many of the original cast have returned to the show; however, I doubt that they needed much persuading.

This is not just a nostalgia trip trotting out old gags and catchphrases. Cash and Mealey have created a new show which see’s Grapes landlord Ken (John Henshaw) plucking up the courage to propose to part-time barmaid Tanya (Susan Cookson). However, things don’t go to plan, with the intervention of Ken’s mum: Jean (Judith Barker), and also some big-mouthed if well meaning locals, newcomers Freddie and June (Vicky Binns and Neil Hurst) who upset Ken’s plan. In addition, best friends Duffy (Mealey) and Joe (Cash), have their own problems, with the former delving into the world of online dating, and the latter having a few family issues. In addition, local bent coppers: Phil (James Quinn) and Nige (Peter Wight) are struggling with rules and regulations like “evidence” getting in the way of good honest coppering!

Early Doors 1

If you are a diehard fan, or coming to Early Doors Live fresh, this show will leave you entertained and with a huge grin on your face. Packed full of stingy one-liners, pathos and a great deal of heart the show continues to focus on the same themes that made the series a success: love, loneliness, friendship and family, because no mistake the regulars in the Grapes are one big family not to dissimilar to another Cash and Mealey project: The Royale Family.

The cast are on great form: Melissa Sinden as the sharp tongued Winnie, instantly makes you forget about the shows 14 year absence while newcomers Vicky Binns, Neil Hurst, and Nick Birkinshaw as skinflint Tommy, fit in like Grapes regulars. Cash and Mealy don’t miss the chance to poke fun at our new PM; each gag had them and the audience in stitches.

Early Doors

The surprising sing-along finale is an unexpected treat and a fittingly joyous end to a highly entertaining evening. As the show closed, the cast are given a well-deserved standing ovation. Get yourself down to the Lowry and join the regiment, you won’t be disappointed.

Early Doors is on the Lowry until Saturday 3rd August then heads out on a nationwide tour; tickets are available here.

 

PROM! The Musical

DSCF8572

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Billed as a modern day Cinderella story, Oldham Theatre Workshop have reimagined writer Sarah Nelson and composer James Atherton’s PROM! The Musical for a 2019 audience; the result is an uplifting, vibrant and enormously entertaining piece of musical theatre which feels fresh, original and timely.

Taking inspiration from High School Musical as well as Harry Potter this production sees ordinary and magical worlds collide resulting in an enchanting production with spellbinding storytelling.

Georgia Conlan takes on the role of Prom’s Cinderella style character; ill treated by her self obsessed step sisters Lisette (Millie Gibson) and Noushka (Ella Marshall) life for her is pretty grim. If she’s not doing their homework she’s cleaning the house for overbearing stepmum Clarissa who firmly believes her precious little darlings Lisette and Noushka can do no wrong. Life gets even worse when Clarissa rocks up at school calling the shots and taking it upon herself to decide who will be belle of the ball…(prom).

If ever divine intervention was needed it’s now and thankfully there’s a Fairy Godmother at the other realm high school, Defixus Academy just waiting for a person who is worthy enough for their assistance in order for them to both graduate and save their magical academy from closure.

Georgia Conlan is outstanding as Ester, her voice is sheer perfection while she has a sweet sass which embodies the character perfectly. Her performance is entirely captivating, she wins the audience over from the start with a genuine charm and an abundance of talent.

Millie Gibson and Ella Marshall succeed convincingly in portraying the loathsome, spoilt Lisette and Noushka while Sophie Elliott gives a hugely entertaining performance as the outlandish Clarissa, her comedic timing and character acting is a joy to watch.

Billy Barlow and Sajata Dey make for a great pairing as Fairy Godmother’s in training Rayden and Effie while Poppy O’Brien and Niamh Palmer both give scene stealing performances as Miranda and Little Fairy.

Noah Valentine makes for a great high school hearthrob and is without doubt another one to watch for the future.

Director James Atherton ensures each and every cast member has the opportunity to shine with vibrant ensemble pieces and the clever use of individual characters ‘vote for me’ campaigns we especially loved Nathan Horrocks’ ‘Boris’.

It really is a credit to the sheer talent within OTW that it feels almost unfair to single out individuals as each and every cast member gives their all in this production and every one is worthy of praise.

The audition scene is a wonderful showcase for the talent in this cast as each friendship group within the school takes their turn to deliver their own unique take on prom entertainment. The song sung by The Notes is a real highlight written and performed by Noah Valentine, Megan Meakin, Amelia Taylor, Kendra Marshall, Seb Lowe and Lewis Green, showing not only the quality of the cast but of their writing too, both catchy and contemporary.

Joseph Ed Thomas’ atmospheric lighting design compliments the simple yet effective set beautifully. The use of a mix of microphones and projection resulted in some dialogue being very occasionally missed but this really is a minor quibble in what is a fantastic piece of theatre.

This vibrant piece of theatre is well written and superbly delivered. The strong characterisation allowing several intricate storylines to develop clearly while at all times remaining engaging and entertaining. An outstanding piece of theatre which deserves to be seen by many. PROM! is a slick, stylish production, magical fun from start to finish.

PROM! The Musical is on at Oldham Coliseum until Saturday 27th July tickets available here.

 

Preview | PROM! The Musical

Royal-Slider-700x394

After an enormously successful run back in 2010, Oldham Theatre Workshop is reviving contemporary, feel-good musical PROM!

The teenage take on the Cinderella story is will be performed by some of Oldham Theatre Workshop’s finest young performers.

The story is set in two schools in two parallel worlds: the magical school for Fairy Godmothers (Defixus) and the real-world school (Delawick); both are under serious threat of closure. As we see both schools head towards graduation and Prom night the two worlds are about to collide in a wonderful explosion of magic and music.

GEORGIA CONLAN NEW CAST

Georgia Conlan, whose recent credits include Closets the Musical (Hope Mill Theatre) will be playing one of the leads Esther, she said, “I am so excited to have been cast as Esther in this production. I feel lucky to be a part of Oldham Theatre Workshop this year and cast in an incredible role. I’m looking forward to seeing it all come together and performing it at Oldham Coliseum, which is such a beautiful venue.”

If you love the cheery energy of High School Musical, the magical essence of Harry Potter, and the irresistible joy of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, then you’ll love PROM!

Suitable for everyone (recommended age 7+) PROM! The Musical is on at the Oldham Coliseum from Wednesday 24th until Saturday 27th July tickets available here.

 

Applications Now Open For Hope Aria Academy September Intake

William Whelton, Katy Lipson and Joseph Houston. Founders of Hope Aria Academy in Manchester

Following a hugely successful inaugural 12-week programme Hope Aria Academy have now opened applications for their Autumn/Winter intake.

The Manchester based part-time drama course focuses on acting, singing and dancing with students able to choose to take classes in all three disciplines or opt for single modules in one specific area.

Hope Aria Academy founders Katy Lipson, Joseph Houston and William Whelton all have backgrounds in Musical Theatre training and are currently full time producers and theatre owners.

The second course which will begin in September is tailored for individuals who have either already trained professionally and are looking for a fresh approach to training within a smaller more focused atmosphere, individuals who are not yet ready to make the leap to full time drama training and require further tuition, and mature students who have experience in musical theatre and want to re-skill to return to the industry.

Students will also be introduced to the wider creative industry with regular guest teachers in all three disciplines of acting, singing and dance. There will be one full scholarship place available, funded by Hope Aria Academy, with auditions for this taking place in August, date TBC.

Patron of Hope Aria Academy, actress Hayley Tamaddon

Stage and screen actress Hayley Tamaddon is patron of Hope Aria Academy and taught a workshop as part of the last programme.

Hayley said: “I’m thrilled to be a patron of Hope Aria Academy. The work they produce is outstanding. Ranging from dance to musical theatre to tv acting, the students here are taught everything to do with this wonderful profession we call show business! And I’ll look forward to doing a spot more teaching there myself in the new term!”

Hope Aria Academy’s next intake will launch on Monday 16th September 2019 and run on Monday (dance), Tuesday (singing) and Wednesday (acting) evenings from 6.30pm to 9.30pm at Hope Aria House, Unit 15 Wellington House, Manchester, M40 7FS. Students can take the full course or can opt for single modules.

More information on Hope Aria Academy, fees and how to apply can be found here.

 

Mojo

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

With the super talented Jez Butterworth’s latest offering The Ferryman currently wowing audiences and critics on Broadway, it’s always worth paying a visit to some of his earlier work and the WonderIf production of Butterworth’s first play, Mojo.

Originally set in the 1950s seedy club scene of Soho, this version sees the action shift to the ecstasy-fuelled club scene of 1990’s Manchester.  Manchester at the time resembled a Western, as rival gangs battled for control of the doors and of course the drug scene, so this narrative shift works perfectly.

The first act opens at the Atlantic club and certainly belongsto Potts (Paul Jennings) and Sweets (Leigh Manning) as the pair muse about how the good times are coming back, especially with the potential success of Silver Johnny (Edrine Spencer), a local singer/dancer the boys helped to discover things are certainly on the up.

Later club skivvy Skinny (Oliver Baines) and Baby (Scott Harrison) join the party. Early doors we can see cracks in the relationship of these four, as Baby’s toxic masculinity oozes out of him especially as it relates to his treatment of Skinny.  However, the situation takes a more sinister turn with the arrival of the club manager Mickey (Miles Mooney) who informs the gang that club owner, and Baby’s father, Ezra has been murdered and is in the bins outside the club.

In addition,their golden goose Silver  Johnny is missing. The gang decide to lay low in the club to see how the situation plays out and defend their territory, but with tensions running high, personal vendettas, bruised egos, and certain group members manipulating the situation for their own gain, it’s pretty clear that not everything will end well for this dysfunctional quintet.

This is pitch black comedy that looks at the battle for supremacy and the pecking order of a group of wanna be tough guys: there is always a hierarchy in place. The script is packed with stinging dialogue and cutting one liners, with a plenty of dark humour to boot.

All six performers work well as an ensemble, demonstrating who their character is and just where they  fit into in the group’s structure, I do think some of the performances could be reined in a touch and played less for laughs as it loses sight of the more dramatic elements of the play. In addition, there are still references to the action taking place in London rather than it’s new setting of Manchester which did get a little confusing.

Overall this is an entertaining, engaging night at the theatre, with numerous twists and turns that will leave you guessing how it will end. In addition, the show has a killer soundtrack, featuring the likes of New Order, Joy Division and Happy Monday’s, that you really can’t go far wrong. This is a must for fans of the gangster genre, and anyone who likes their dialogue sharp and stinging, cutting straight to the bone!

Mojo is on at the Met Bar on the 21st and 22nd of July. Tickets available at here.

Twelfth Night

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Twelfth Night has long been known as one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies; in celebration of their 10th birthday Grosvenor Open Air Theatre are happy to prove why.

Locating the action in the Bohemian Balkans the celebratory festival vibe is strong, there’s flowers in hair while the drink is free flowing. The abundance of music and laughter indicate that Director Julia Thomas is prepared embrace the fun of this comedic and jubilant production.

This is an ode to the joyful and silly; there’s mistaken identities, unrequited love, a shipwreck, subterfuge as well as a whole host of entertaining characters.

The talented cast deliver Shakespeare’s verse with clear conviction while their enthusiasm and wit gives the piece both a light and accessible feel.

Separated twins Viola (Whitney Kehinde) and Sebastian (Marc Benga) each arrive on the shores of Illyria after a shipwreck; Viola first, allowing her 3 days of getting acquainted with the locals, enough time for two to fall in love with her while another two attempt to fight her albeit while she’s now dressed as as a man (Cesario) in a bid to keep the spirit of the brother she believes to be dead alive.

Kehinde is excellent as Viola/Cesario, cool and commanding she handles the confusion and complexities of life in Illyria with sass and style.

Sarah-Jane Potts shines as Olivia, hot in pursuit of her happy ending while Samuel Collings brings the house down as the put upon Malvolio whose transformation from stiff upper lipped steward to stocking wearing, downward dog facing smiler is pure genius.

Mitesh Soni is an absolute joy as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. His physical comedy, facial expressions and nice but dim personality really bringing this piece to life. Kudos to Soni for successfully delivering Shakespeare’s prose whilst flossing, impressive!

Jessica Dives as Feste takes on the form of a modern day wandering minstrel, offering an almost narrator like musical accompaniment while adding a wonderfully melodic energy to proceedings.

Director Julia Thomas isn’t afraid to embrace the silly or the slapstick and is greatly rewarded for her choices. Her cast embrace the opportunity, having a lot of fun with the piece while the audience reap the benefits.

A stand out moment which really embodies the playful nature of the production is the hilarious fight scene, outrageously farcical and absolute comedy perfection. The frequent witty exchanges between cast and audience further add to the playfulness and accessibility of this piece.

A highlight of Chester’s summer season for ten years now with productions as strong as this there is no doubt the Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre will be celebrating birthdays for many years to come.

Outrageously good fun for all the family.

Twelfth Night is being performed at various dates over the summer further information and tickets can be found here.

Interview | & Juliet | Miriam-Teak Lee

and_juliet_title_1920x1080

Something VERY exciting is heading our way this September; brand new musical & Juliet opens at Manchester’s Opera House ahead of a West End run and will aim to prove that there is life after Romeo when instead of giving up on life Juliet decides it’s time for her to get a life!

This vibrant new musical will feature not only songs from legendary writer Max Martin (Britney Spears’ “Oops… I Did It Again”, Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody”, Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do”, and The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face to name but a few) but also boasts a cast that literally reads like a who’s who of musical theatre including Miriam-Teak Lee (Hamilton, On The Town), Oliver Tompsett (Wicked, We Will Rock You, Kinky Boots), Cassidy Janson (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Chess) and Jordan Luke Gage (Bat Out Of Hell).

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 2019

This timely and innovative new musical is directed by Luke Sheppard (In the Heights) with a book by David West Read (Netflix’s Schitt’s Creek) and choreography from the internationally renowned Jennifer Weber.

& Juliet looks set to be an iconic new production which best of all Manchester gets first!

Former Hamilton star and award-winning actress Miriam-Teak Lee will take on the role of Juliet as she escapes to Paris with her best pals in a bid to choose her own ending. We were lucky enough to catch up with Miriam-Teak Lee ahead of the show’s opening in Manchester to hear a little more about this revolutionary musical and what we can expect from this new kind of Juliet. 

news-body-image_23932

How is the classic story of Romeo & Juliet reimagined in & Juliet and how where does it start in terms of the original play?

& Juliet reimagines the ending to Romeo and Juliet and asks, what if this was just the beginning for Juliet. & Juliet is a play within a play so it starts with Shakespeare (Oliver Tompsett) telling his fellow actors the ending to his new play Romeo and Juliet, when Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife (Cassidy Janson) hears, she asks why don’t we rewrite that ending… and continue on. She explains that Juliet is still young and has her whole life ahead of her, so why would she kill herself because of one boyfriend. So as she takes the quill and begins to write, we see Juliet at Romeo’s tomb, distraught and contemplating with the dagger. At which point she sings “Hit Me Baby One More Time” as she looks to the stars to “give her a sign”.

Juliet sounds like a strong, independent character and a really inspiring role model to women. What does it feel like to play such an exciting lead role in a brand new musical?

It feels incredible to play such a strong character. I genuinely believe that Juliet has always had strength but that isn’t necessarily explored in depth in the original Romeo and Juliet, so it is amazing to be able to tell a story that puts a magnifying glass on Juliet’s inner power and journey to self discovery. It’s important that young girls have someone to look up to, to be influenced by, and I really feel that Juliet could really be the inspiration that they need. To know that they can do anything they put their mind to, that they can be in the driving seat of their own life and that there is no limit to their greatness!

Performing in Hamilton must have been an incredible experience. Was this your West End debut and how did this role help prepare you for playing Juliet?

My actual first West End Debut was playing Claire DeLoone in Leonard Bernstein’s On The Town at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in Summer 2017. And I was awarded Best Actress in a Musical for that role at The Stage Debut Awards which was incredible. So that role, coupled with being a cover of all the Schuyler Sisters in Hamilton really did prepare me for playing Juliet. It taught me about constantly being aware of all the actors on stage, using my initiative when things went wrong, bouncing off people’s energy, staying true to my character but allowing myself to discover new nuances and relationships, even in the moments when I’m not speaking or singing. And it taught me that the power of whatever you feel on that stage is whatever the audience feel, so never deprive them of the truth.

The musical features an incredible score from prolific songwriter Max Martin. What is your favourite track to perform on stage and why?

With the public performances we have been doing recently, I have been performing Roar quite a lot and that is such a powerful moment in the show for Juliet. I love performing that song because it is the pinnacle moment for Juliet in her search for self discovery. She literally realises in real time the kind of person she used to be, how she used to “bite her tongue and hold her breathe” constantly trying to please others, and this is a moment where she says I am going to do as I please and you are all going to watch me succeed! It’s such an empowering moment in the show and the audience will feel that too!

What can you tell us about what your costume style in & Juliet?

I LOVE the costume designs by Paloma Young, I cannot wait for everyone to see them. It’s a very clever mix of Renaissance and modern day. We have included use of the tight bodices with corsets but shorter skirts and a sporty flare. It’s iconic!

How much choreography can we expect to see in & Juliet and what kind of dance genres have the creative team drawn upon to create a fresh new musical style?

There is so much choreography in this show by the incredible Jennifer Weber! There is definitely a hip hop/commercial/new age style to the choreography that works so effortlessly with Luke Sheppard’s brilliant direction to further the story, to transport us and to absolutely engulf us in this world of wonder!

Why do you think Manchester audiences in particular will love the musical?

Manchester is the home of music, seeing so many great artists go there and perform there. I think Manchester will receive the show incredibly and we can’t wait for them to see it first!

What three words would you use to describe & Juliet?

Revolutionary! Spectacle! Inspiring!

Shakespeare and pop music are a unique combination! How do the two blend together?

It combines the greatest pop writer of the 16th/17th century with one of the greatest pop writers of the 20th/21st century. So I think it’s a pretty iconic blend and one that will stick in people’s minds for years to come!

Finally, what can audiences expect when they come and see & Juliet?

They can expect to see a whole new outlook on Juliet Capulet, they can expect to have an incredible night, they can expect to laugh their socks off and go on a journey filled with all their favourite songs, sung in a completely different way with a whole new meaning. It’s a show not to be missed!

& Juliet plays at the Manchester Opera House from Tuesday 10th September until Saturday 12th October tickets available here.