Mrs Lowry & Son

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Mention Salford to anyone and it’s highly likely that legendary local artist L.S. Lowry will soon get a mention; so ingrained in the city is he that not only is there an award-winning arts venue (in which tonight’s Gala Premiere is fittingly held) but also a luxury hotel and even an outlet mall all named in his honour.

Such an important figure in British art history it’s astonishing really to learn that Lowry didn’t receive any form of recognition until he was in his early fifties; interestingly the very same year his overbearing mother with whom he lived passed away.

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It is this intriguing relationship that Mrs Lowry & Son focuses on, detailing the daily fights and frustrations which ultimately defined the industrial impressionist.

Adapted from a 2013 stage play by Martin Hesford, Mrs Lowry & Son is a moving, at times wonderfully witty, often deeply dark yet beautifully crafted two-hander acted to perfection by Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Spall.

Mostly set within a two-up-two-down terraced house in Pendlbury in 1934, the relationship is intricately explored and examined by director Adrian Noble. The majority of the action takes place within Elizabeth Lowry’s (Vanessa Redgrave) bedroom, well versed is she in using her illness to secure the attention of her son whose escape from the daily tyranny is found within the attic of the house where he paints into the small hours. Bitterness and resentment have long since taken hold of Elizabeth Lowry, she loathes living in Salford yearning to be back in the leafy suburbs of Manchester’s Victoria Park. The smog of the factory chimneys and the sights and sounds of Salford’s textile mills do not fit in with her middleclass aspirations.

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Resolutely loyal to his controlling mother Lowry (Timothy Spall) battles with her beliefs as he sees beauty in the things she hates the most, the mill workers dashing home at the end of the day, the smoke that billows across the industrial landscape and the working class neighbours he mixed with daily in his job as a rent collector. He absorbs himself in life documenting his observations on canvas in the sanctity of his attic, a space his bed-ridden mother is unable to infiltrate.

This simmering observation of the brittle but vital relationship between the two is punctuated with sharp humour and delightful moments as both Spall and Redgrave give a masterclass in acting. Both successfully portraying the importance of Lowry’s desperation to make his mother happy in ultimately securing himself as one of the most iconic artists of all time.

Mrs Lowry & Son opens at cinemas across the UK on Friday 30th August further information can be found here.

Interview | & Juliet | Miriam-Teak Lee

Here at Opening Night there are a few things we really, really love: 1 of them is Shakespeare another is pop music, especially if said pop music is written by the legend that is Max Martin. Our interest was well and truly peaked when we heard another of our favourites, director Luke Sheppard would be at the helm of a brand new musical which would combine these two mediums and better still it would officially open in Manchester!

Now with less than two weeks until the first hotly anticipated performance of & Juliet we were lucky enough to join the cast during rehearsals to get a feel for this innovative production; hearing a little more about what audiences can expect from key members of the talented cast as they prepare to wow Manchester ahead of an autumn West End run.

Taking on the iconic role of Juliet is award-winning musical theatre superstar Miriam-Teak Lee who gave us some inside information on the starting point for this epic new production.

“We know how the ending is supposed to go but in this production we reimagine the ending and wonder what would happen if Juliet doesn’t kill herself? She looks up to the stars and asks that there must be something else for her destiny, she just knows that this final path isn’t it for her.”

We learn quite early on that Juliet realises there’s more to life than first love (thank goodness) and so the story develops with the use of much-loved Max Martin songs placed throughout the production cleverly moving the narrative along. “It’s really a story of empowerment” said Miriam-Teak “Anne Hathaway who is played by Cassidy Janson is basically taking the quill off Shakespeare and leading us in a new narrative, saying ‘Actually I think this would be a much better ending to that play.’ With all musicals I think songs are used at the point where speaking is no longer enough, you can’t express what you are trying to say so you take it into a different forum, that being music.”

The production is literally teaming with hit after hit from legendary songwriter 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, Miriam-Teak told us about one of her favourites. “Hit Me Baby One More Time as Juliet’s first song it’s amazing to sing, I think it’s just perfect for Juliet, there are beautiful strings, and it’s been done in such a creative way which makes it sooooo dramatic. Juliet sings the song in the moment she is potentially going to kill herself to join Romeo, she is literally looking to the heavens saying ‘give me a sign’ it’s so clever, these songs that we know so well take on a totally different meaning.”

Recreating an iconic character could be quite a daunting task but Miriam-Teak looks at playing Juliet in this new production as something to embrace. “At first I thought this is really huge how am I going to do this? But then I realised in originating the role within this new piece I don’t have to live up to anything else and I have an opportunity to breathe new life into who she is. Taking what we already know about Juliet onto a brand new journey actually feels amazing so it’s definitely excitement I’m feeling rather than pressure.”

Intrigued by the combination of contemporary Max Martin songs and the works of Shakespeare Miriam-Teak gave us a little insight into what we can expect from the costumes, “Oh wow they are amazing, Paloma Young is doing such an incredible job on them. It’s a world in-between the Renaissance period so we have corsets but then then we have more modern elements too so we’re placed between today and several centuries ago. The colour palette is absolutely beautiful too, audiences will love them. Add in Jennifer Webber’s choreography and it feels like a world in-between a musical and a concert, Jen does such a great job of bringing those two worlds together.”

The overwhelming feeling we get from spending time with the cast in rehearsals are that of real joy and empowerment, Miriam-Teak tells us what she hopes audiences will take away from this new musical. “I think the story really is about self-discovery and finding love within yourself which I think is just so important especially in this day and age with the social media era that we’re in and how many people look to others to find the love they are unable to find within. I think it’s so great that we can bring that message of finding your power within yourself to other people.”

Miriam-Teak summed up perfectly why Manchester audiences should be booking their & Juliet tickets asap, “If you want to see a complete spectacle of excitement and energy featuring songs that you know done in a completely different way you won’t even be ready but you will LOVE it!”

& Juliet opens at Manchester’s Opera House on Tuesday 10th September and runs until Saturday 12th October tickets available here

 

New dance fusion collective The Z Bo Jackson Company to hold Gala Night in Manchester

Z Bo Jackson Company. Photo Garry Lake @theaboutstudio

Z Bo Jackson, in partnership with the Palace Theatre, Manchester, are proud to announce a gala night of dance – hosted by Kimberly Wyatt – to launch The Z Bo Jackson Company – the UK’s new dance fusion theatre company.

From free runners to hip hop, ballet to street dance, the Z Bo Jackson Company will combine a diverse mix of dance styles with compelling storytelling and magnetic physicality.

The mix of dance styles on display, combined with stunning visuals, means the company’s performances will appeal to dance fans and musical theatre-lovers alike, as well as today’s YouTube and Insta-audiences.

The company launches on Tuesday 10th September with a star-studded gala night of dance at the Palace Theatre, Manchester.

Z Bo Jackson Company 5. Photo Garry Lake @theaboutstudio

Hosted by the amazing Got to Dance judge and Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt, with guest artists Flawless (Britain’s Got Talent and Street Dance 2), ballet star Brandon Lawrence (Principal Dancer with the Birmingham Royal Ballet) and West End star Chrissy Brooke (winner of ITV’s Dance Dance Dance.)

Singer, dancer and choreographer Kimberly Wyatt will perform alongside Flawless in one number, while BRB’s Brandon Lawrence will perform a solo choreographed by the award-winning George Williamson. Chrissy Brooke will perform with the Z Company ensemble.

Innovative and respected choreographer and director Bo Jackson has created the vision behind the thrilling new company and is excited to launch in Manchester at the Palace Theatre.

Opening Night spoke to Bo who said: “Manchester is the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and as such the perfect international city in which to launch a new dawn in dance for the 21st Century. The gala will provide a taste of Z’s future ambitions and celebrate Manchester’s unique placement as a Northern Powerhouse in theatre and dance.”

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Host of the gala, Kimberley Wyatt, said: “I’m very excited to be part of this unique evening of dance in Manchester to celebrate the launch of Z Bo Jackson Company. It will be a spectacular night of celebrating all things dance, with street dance superstars Flawless, principal dancer of the Birmingham Royal Ballet Brandon Lawrence and Dance, Dance, Dance Star Chrissy Brooke. Prepare to be amazed!”

Get ready for an explosive night of entertainment at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on Tuesday 10th September at 7.30pm. Tickets from £13 are available here.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

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Reviewed by Kate Goerner

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Micheal Rosen’s 1989 picture book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is rightly considered a children’s classic – it’s been a bedroom staple in our house since my son was a baby.

It has all the necessary ingredients – beautiful illustrations by Helen Oxenbury, fun repetitive rhyming language to read-along to, and not forgetting a dash of mild peril!

So how would it translate to the stage? Thankfully, brilliantly (phew!). This is up there with the best kids book-to-stage adaptations we’ve seen (an opinion confirmed by my 4-year-old, who said it was “as good as What The Ladybird Heard” – which is the highest of praise, believe me!)

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The staging is ingenious. Set against a backdrop of am evocative watercolour paint splodge, the much-loved elements of the book (Mud! Grass! Snow storm!) are brought to life by the cast using stuff you’d find at home – washing up bowls, bed sheets, paint and paper. Using familiar elements of messy play that the little ones in the audience will recognise, and indeed be able to recreate at home was very clever, and incredibly effective.

The brilliant cast of four (well technically 5 if we include the titular bear!) show fantastic energy throughout, individually and as an ensemble.

Tim Hibberd’s sardonic dad has just the right amount of wry humour to get the adults in the audience on board, but with boundless energy and warmth to get the kids on side too.

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Hannah Donelon and Artie Godden as the young girl and boy display great comic timing and physical comedy and Benjamin Hills as the family dog is great fun! He only says the occasion,y ‘woof’ but plays a multitude of instruments, bringing Benji Bower’s score to life.

My little co-reviewer’s favourite bit? Obviously the obligatory waterpistols that brought the splashy-sploshy river to life and to the audience! But he laughed out loud throughout, clutched my arm whenever he heard the bear ‘roar’ and said it was a “nice” surprise when the eventually-found bear didn’t turn out to be scary AT ALL.

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is at The Lowry, Salford Quays, until August 31st and is the perfect summer holiday treat for your little bear cub. (And if you want to prolong the fun there’s an accompanying bear hunt themed trail across the Lowry and the neighbouring outlet mall – collect a fun sheet from the customer service desk in the mall).

In a word, roarsome!

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is on at The Lowry until Saturday 31st August, tickets available here.

Something About Simon

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Gary Edward Jones has one of those rich, warm voices you could happily listen to for hours; gentle, melodic and comforting he is a natural storyteller who has channeled his passion for performance into a real labour of love.

Often told he bears a resemblance to the legend that is Paul Simon, Jones decided three years ago there could be something special for audiences in an evening of music and storytelling punctuated with well crafted delivery and so Something About Simon was born.

Partnering up with musical director Jon Fellowes and communications director Bill Elms the trio have produced a piece that’s been touring the UK to great acclaim ahead of its current Edinburgh Fringe run.

Elfin Bow’s simple set sets the scene nicely, there are two microphones and four large black and white cut-outs: a reel to reel tape recorder, a gramma phone, an ABC TV camera and a railway bench.

Jones launches into the instantly recognisable Sound of Silence to open the show; from the off he delivers a masterclass in musicianship as he interweaves anecdotes and stories about the legendary singer with beautifully delivered pitch perfect renditions of fan favourites as well as offering audiences an opportunity to hear some lesser known pieces.

Jones expertly guides us through Paul Simon’s musical journey from learning his craft in the folk clubs of North West England, his strained relationship with long term musical partner Art Garfunkel as well as his turbulent marriage to Carrie Fisher. Witty and warm Jones drops in little nuggets about his own life and love for music along the way.

With each different song comes a guitar change allowing further opportunity for Jones’ musical talents to shine as he strums and plucks complex rhythms with ease.

The second mic which has remained unused for the majority of the show: a nod perhaps to Art Garfunkel takes centre stage during final song ‘Wristband’ which Jones delivers with his own unique twist giving a fascinating example of how he uses technology to build up layers of the song through recording rhythms, beats and beautiful harmonies.

Something About Simon is a hour of great entertainment, beautifully delivered music paired with Jones’ natural warmth and clear affection for the songs translates into an uplifting and engaging piece. It feels a little like a big hug on a cold day, comforting, welcoming and entirely uplifting.

Catch Something About Simon at Edinburgh’s Assembly George Square Studios until 26th August tickets available here.

Jerry Springer The Opera

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Newly formed theatrical company Northern Ricochet – made up of James Baker, Tom Chester and Bill Elms – don’t do things by halves. Taking the bold step of reviving controversial musical Jerry Springer The Opera as their first company production, they’re sending a clear message to the theatre world that there is a new, ambitious, creative and proudly Northern kid on the block.

Auditions were held in the North – including an open-call casting whilst the opportunity for local in-training actors to make up the onstage choir was offered. The result of this is a sensational piece of theatre packed full of humour, hilarity and genuine heart.

Written by Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee, Jerry Springer The Opera debuted at the National Theatre in 2003 – winning four Olivier Awards including Best New Musical and courting controversy at every turn. This revived production staged in the intimate Hope Mill Theatre allows the audience for Jerry Springer The Opera and Jerry Springer the talk show to become one as audience members sit on opposite sides of the theatre while the cast perform in-between them – giving this production an immersive and atmospheric feel.

James Baker directs the show in such a bold way that as an audience we’re whipped into a “Go Jerry” frenzy before the main man has even stepped foot on stage. The company do an excellent job of building the bubbling excitement ahead of our host’s grand arrival – led brilliantly by Warm Up Man Tom Lloyd, who whets our appetites for what’s to come: reminding us exactly who are the good guys and who we should be reserving our biggest boos for.

Once the infamous Jerry (Michael Howe) makes his grand entrance, we see him play host to three sets of guests who are all too willing to reveal their deepest darkest secrets via soaring profanity-laden arias and wickedly brilliant ballads. Bickering bubbles into bitch fights – leaving security guard Steve (Kai Jolley) to step in and calm the chaos.

Amidst the snarling and sniping Jerry expertly stirs the pot – gently probing his simmering guests and pushing them that little bit further… giving the audience that extra bit more. Things go a tad too far and Act II finds Jerry hosting the ultimate showdown: the Devil versus Jesus. Should Jerry refuse to host this clash of the titans, he’ll burn in Hell forever in a most uncomfortable and ‘barb-baric’ way!

This cast is without doubt one of the most impressive you’re ever likely to see. The ensemble pieces literally raise the roof off Hope Mill Theatre. Each voice is sheer perfection – coming together to create the most beautiful of sounds. Add to this perfectly judged comedic timing delivered with vibrant energy and you have an irresistibly entertaining piece of theatre. Every member of this cast gives their all – each offering something uniquely special and truly memorable.

Michael Howe embodies Jerry Springer perfectly, with every knowing shake of the head, contemplative hand on the chin and nuanced raise of an eyebrow; he is Jerry to a T.

Tom Lloyd makes for a fabulously extra Warm Up Guy while his Satan in Act II is deliciously devilish. David Burilin’s Jesus is pouty and petulant while Matt Bond’s God really hasn’t got time for this shit.

Cici Howells’ voice is sublime as both Shawntel and Eve while Andrew Patrick-Walker has moves Ru Paul herself would be proud of.

With such strong voices and powerful performances the score could easily become lost; however, Tom Chester ensures his band of six are perfectly pitched. The music – together with the rich mix of voices – really is heavenly.

This production has been brought bang up to date and feels frighteningly in-line with the chaotic times we live in. Hillbilly Chucky wears a ‘Make America Great Again’ cap while gun control statements are made alongside caricatures of Trump. The desire to feel superior and the joy in public humiliation raises questions about just how civilised we really are.

Yes it’s profane, yes it’s irreverent but every profanity is worth it for the absolute pleasure this production brings. You’ll shriek with laughter one minute and be stunned into silence by the sheer talent on display the next in this joyful and vivid piece. Cleverly crafted and outrageously naughty, this wild romp of a production will both amuse and impress as once again Jerry reminds us all to “Take care of yourself and each other”.

Jerry Springer The Opera is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 31st August tickets available here.

Amélie

Reviewed by Alex Broadley

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Amélie The Musical has the unenviable task of bringing the award winning French film Amélie (or, to give it its full name, Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain) to life. And it does this with gusto, whimsy and fabulous savoir faire.

Amélie tells the story of young Amélie Poulain (played fabulously by Audrey Brisson). Brought up by neurotic and unusual parents, Amélie’s father (Jez Unwin) misdiagnoses a heart condition and her mother (Rachel Dawson) decides Amélie is too delicate to be in contact with others. Isolated and lonely, Amélie’s only childhood friend is a goldfish….who we later say ‘au revoir’ to.  After the early death of her Mother, Amélie is brought up by her emotionally distant Father, who has attached all his emotions to a garden gnome.

As a young woman, Amélie escapes to bon Paris and although she makes acquaintances, she is still very much alone until she finds a long forgotten box which will send her life in a different direction entirely. Amélie decides to help others in their quests for happiness, but can her own loneliness and unwillingness to interact with others be overcome?

The film is known for being full of whimsy and the musical delivers this and more. Amélie has been adapted for the stage by a fantastic team of writers and directors. With a book by Craig Lucas, the musical sticks closely to the film and in many ways is less sugary-sweet and more fun than the original screen-play.

One of the special things about the show for me, was the hard-working actor musicians. Many of the talented cast play multiple parts seamlessly. The instruments are weaved into the narrative and the music (composed by Daniel Messé) and lyrics (Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé) have a magical folky feel. This all works well with the playful feel of the production. There are no particular stand-out songs, however there doesn’t need to be; Amélie’s story is episodic and shifts from story to story within it. The gentle and harmonic melodies weave their way into the narrative in a way which is genuinely wonderful. Although there are no traditional dance numbers, the sense of movement as Amélie moves through busy platforms, streets and trains is done brilliantly.

Audrey Brisson is fantastic as Amélie. She plays her perfectly, with just the right amount of naïve vulnerability and hope. Audrey has a fantastic voice and is a genuine tour de force of the show. The character of Amélie is complicated, as we all are, and Audrey shows the different sides of Amélie perfectly. Danny Mac plays Amélie’s love interest Nino and his performance showcases a warm voice and the final scene is genuinely touching.

Madeleine Girling’s set design deserves to be mentioned. A lampshade serves as a magical way of transporting Amélie to her flat and who knew that a photo-booth could be a confessional, a shop front and a market stall? The set transports us to what is undeniably Paris. The art nouveau style detail is beautiful and reminiscent of Parisian cafés, walks along the Seine and croissants. The hard-working cast almost blend into the set, waiting around the corners.

Special mention should also be given to the puppets (designed by Dik Downey). Adding to the sense of fun in the production, the appearance of a giant gnome and goldfish are definitely memorable moments! The appearance of Elton John (Caolan McCarthy) leaves the audience in stitches.

The show was packed but the audience was completely silent during the final scene; testament to how far we were drawn into our heroine’s plight. We desperately want our lonely Amélie to accept the love which is offered.

Amélie the Musical is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 10th August tickets available here.