Interview | MOJO Cast

 

Newly formed Theatre Company WonderIfTheatre bring Jez Butterworth’s slick, black comedy MOJO to The Met, Bury this week as part of Greater Manchester Fringe Festival.

Director Jennie Fairclough shifts the action from SOHO to 1990’s Madchester, “I grew up in Madchester, ‘Sankey’s’ and ‘Academy’ flyers graced my walls and the Hacienda was at its peak of popularity, in many ways it was a rite of passage for my friends and me. But even as naive teenagers, we were always aware of a seedier side.”

Opening Night were lucky enough to chat to cast members Scott Harrison, Oliver Baines and Leigh Manning to hear a little more about their involvement in the production and what audiences can expect from the play.

Scott Harrison (SH) – Baby

Oliver Baines (OB) – Skinny

Leigh Manning (LM) – Sweets

 

Whats the story of Mojo and without giving too much away where does

your character sit in this piece?

OB: Mojo is a story about 6 men battling for power in the 90s clubs scene. Think

Hacienda and Acid house and you’re on the right track. Skinny is the runt who has very little going for him.

LM: I play Sweets, the ‘Bez’ of the group. He’s A joyous, energetic, ball of weird and

the sidekick to Potts played by Paul Jennings. The pair of them form a little Del Boy/

Rodney double act.

SH: My character, Baby, is the son of Ezra who is the owner of the Atlantic club where the play is set. By rights, Baby believes he should be next in line for top position. However, his wild and erratic nature unnerves the other characters who, instead, initially see Mickey as Ezra’s next in line. Baby is a complex character with many layers and is a joy to play!

 

What’s your biggest challenge for this piece?

OB: My biggest challenge for this piece, and I’m sure others may agree with me, is the pace and keeping up the energy of the script because I’ve never performed something so fast in my life.

SH: Definitely the challenge is nailing the tempo rhythms.

LM: Learning Jez Butterworth’s machine gun dialogue is one challenge but then

delivering it at a razor sharp pace is a complete other.

 

Have you taken part in Greater Manchester Fringe before?

LM: I was part of the GM fringe back when I co-starred and coproduced an original

comedy called ALL OR PEANUTS back in 2015. The fringe is so accessible and

welcoming, bringing together an array of talent from diverse backgrounds – it’s a

pleasure to be a part of it again.

SH: This is my first time taking part in a piece for Greater Manchester Fringe Festival. It’s been brilliant getting to know other creatives taking part in the fringe and to see such a united support of Fringe theatre throughout the Greater Manchester region.

 

Tell us about your acting career thus far…

OB: I’m relatively new to acting and performance in general to be honest, only starting once I joined college 2 years ago, and have worked on a variety of college

productions since then. That’s when our director Jennie approached me about Mojo I

couldn’t believe it and I am very excited to be a part of it.

LM: I started acting, like many, at a young age after being encouraged by my

teachers. I was lucky enough to be accepted to be apart of the Royal Exchanges young company in its first year of forming and had amazing opportunities with the theatre including performing professionally in the main theatre as part of the Christmas production directed by Melly Still. After leaving college, I began working full time as an actor, performing in productions such as Kes, Punk Rock and A Midsummer Nights Dream at some of the best north west theatres. I have also self-produced pieces of original independent theatre for fringe venues in Manchester and Liverpool

SH: I studied at East 15 Acting School on a one year foundation course and then went to LIPA in Liverpool to study on the 3 year Acting course there. Following graduation, I did a summer tour of a new play called ‘You Boy’ by Joshua Meredith. I’m really

excited about doing ‘MOJO’ this July. It’s a great bunch of people i’m working with

and the material is fantastic to play with.

 

In a world where there is so much theatre on offer, what specifically do

you think is the pull for audiences to go see Mojo?

LM: There’s nothing more Mancunian than this production in the fringe. It’s got it all;

an iconic soundtrack, a slick cast and its proper funny! If you lived through the 90s or

want a taste of what it was like, then MOJO is the ticket you need to get.

OB: Our Mojo brings a fresh wave of banter and hilarity to the stage. In recent times in theatre and on TV a lot of time is spent on dark and heavy subject matter that’s

uncomfortable to watch and that’s all well and good but I think Mojo cuts through the

middle of all that giving an audience something to really get invested in and laugh their bums off at.

SH: I feel that WonderIf’s re-setting of ‘MOJO’ in early 90s Manchester will resonate

with and appeal to a lot of people around Greater Manchester who can remember

that era for its music and vibrancy. Moreover, I think Jez Butterworth’s skilled crafting

of a play with so much high level suspense would grip an audience from start to finish.

 📷 Paul Wright

MOJO plays at The Met, Bury on July 17th, 21st and 22nd.

Tickets available here.

@WonderIfTheatre

Lea Salonga

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Theatrical royalty and original Miss Saigon Lea Salonga brought her sensational one-woman show to Manchester’s Opera House over the weekend as part of her current UK tour. Rescheduled from February due to an unfortunate skiing accident Salonga quickly proved to an excited Manchester audience that she was more than worth the wait.

Opening with the Nina Simone classic Feeling Good Salonga sets the tone for the evening, slick, sharp and effortlessly brilliant. Accompanied by a six-piece band which includes Musical Director Larry Yurman whom worked with Salonga back in her Les Misérables Broadway days the talented musicians accompany her beautifully. Each piece is perfectly paced while the incredible acoustics within the Opera House make it feel as though she is singing directly to each and every person there. The impressive lighting design adds to the visual appeal of the show while Salonga’s vocals really do speak for themselves.

Incredibly warm and charismatic her frequent exchanges with the audience between numbers further add to the charm of her incredible performance, already enraptured with her judging from the enthusiastic applause even before the first note was sung Salonga further seals the deal when she announces “Manchester, you are giving me life right now”.

The varied set list caters wonderfully for all tastes; there’s lashings of musical theatre numbers including Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Company and Hamilton as well as a brilliant selection of contemporary songs ranging from Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car to perhaps rather surprisingly One Direction’s Story Of My Life which is delivered with warm emotion.

Of course no performance would be complete without Salonga treating audiences to pieces from the Disney productions she famously voiced. Her performance of Reflection from Disney’s Mulan allows for a significant introductory speech about the importance of representation and visibility and how honoured she feels to represent not just Asian women on stage but an ‘badass Asian warrior’.

From Reflection Salonga moves poignantly into Train’s Drops of Jupiter which she dedicates to all those who have been affected by cancer after revealing that the Grammy award-winning song was written by lead singer Pat Monahan after the loss of his mother.

Act 1 comes to a close with an absolute fan favourite which Salonga describes as ‘the gift that keeps on giving’; a song she has sung many hundreds of times but one which walloped her emotionally the first time she sang it after the birth of her now 13 year old daughter. I’d Give My Life For You sounds as fresh and as devastating today as it did 30 years on from those first days of Miss Saigon rehearsals.

Act 2 opens with a lively delivery of Another Hundred People from Stephen Sondheim’s Company swiftly followed by a spectacular rendition of Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen which Salonga wittily describes as a song ‘you simply can’t escape from’ while inviting the eager audience to join in with the chorus to which they happily oblige.

The addition of a stripped back acoustic version of A-ha’s Take On Me is a real highlight of the show, showcasing not only Salonga’s incredible range and control but also the sheer talent of guitarist Chris Allard. Next comes a haunting rendition of Burn from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash-hit Hamilton a work she describes as ‘absolute genius’ and a show she has seen three times.

Salonga’s first stint as a Disney Princess was voicing Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine which resulted in one of the most successful duets in cinematic history, A Whole New World. Salonga takes this opportunity to ask for a volunteer to join her on stage in delivering the iconic song. Audience member Mark Cunningham, a dedicated fan since he first saw Salonga in Miss Saigon back in 1989 when he was just 14 is the lucky person chosen and delivers an impressive rendition of the much loved piece, complementing Salonga wonderfully. The pair thrill the audience with the duet receiving one of the warmest responses of the evening; an unforgettable opportunity for Mark as well as a heart-warming moment for the watching audience.

Salonga brings the show to a close with a medley of Les Misérables numbers I Dreamed A Dream and On My Own. The first Asian actress to play the roles of Eponine and Fantine on Broadway Salonga leaves the audience speechless with her goose bump inducing, note perfect delivery.

Salonga thankfully sticks with the tradition of delivering an encore and reappears to thunderous applause as she bursts into a celebratory performance of This Is Me from The Greatest Showman followed by her final song for the night, Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love of All.

Salonga thrills effortlessly from start to finish, her voice smooth as honey is as powerful as it is perfect. Thirty years of entertaining audiences have cemented her as without doubt one of the most extraordinary talents in the world today. Her warmth and talent combined with a varied and accessible set list ensures her appeal endures while she no doubt gains new fans along the way.

With limited dates left on this current tour we suggest you summon your inner badass and get booking tickets ASAP!

Further information and tour dates for Lea Salonga can be found here.