Preview | Disney on Ice

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Writer Kate Goerner

The ever-popular Disney on Ice spectacular returns to the rink at Manchester Arena next month – offering a timely opportunity to get a bit of Disney magic in your life in these unsettled times!
So why not grab those Mickey Ears and prepare to celebrate 100 Years of Magic in this all-new arena show that’s led by the Mouse-ter of Ceremonies (ahem, sorry!) Mickey Mouse with Minnie and lots of other pals and princesses alongside him.
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The family friendly production will be skating into Manchester from the 9th to 13th October and features more than 50 performers, a sing-along score of Disney musical masterpieces, exhilarating choreography and beautiful costumes and sets.
The show is packed with iconic Disney characters from much-loved films that Disney fans young and old will love seeing in the flesh – with added ice theatrics!
Audiences will travel to the heart of Africa with Disney’s The Lion King, come along for an adventure in friendship with the gang from DisneyPixar’s Toy Story, and watch as Belle breaks the Beast’s curse in the tale of Beauty & The Beast.
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And OR COURSE no Disney on Ice show would be complete without a trip to the kingdom of Arendelle from Disney’s Frozen and journey up the North Mountain with adorable snowman Olaf and hunky Kristoff, as they help royal sisters Anna and Elsa discover that true love conquers all.
Over 14 tales are featured, with some absolute classic songs like Hakuna Matata, You’ve Got A Friend in Me, Let It Go, At Last I See The Light, A Whole New World and loads more.
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Producer Kenneth Feld said: “This is a show, more than any other, which is truly for everybody. When I sit with the audience, I see those that are grandparents, like I am, enjoying a lot of the classic Disney stories, while young kids and parents really respond to modern day favourites like Frozen.”

Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Magic is produced by live family entertainment specialists Feld Entertainment.

Tickets and more information are available here.

Beryl

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The sport of cycling is currently in the midst of a golden age here in the UK.  Through their exploits at the Olympics and the Tour du France, cyclists such as Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Laura Kenny (was Trott) have become household names and an  inspiration to thousands of people across the land. However, way before any of these came along, Britain had Beryl Burton and Beryl was every bit a hero as these fine riders.

Beryl is the fascinating true story of a strong independent Yorkshire lass, who  refused to be beaten and did things her way. She won countless championships, set records, broke records, and managed to stay at the top of her game for 25 years. 

Flora Spencer-Longhurst and Vicky Binns bring Beryl to life, with Longhurst as the child Beryl who contracts St Vitus’s Dance aged 10. The illness caused a weakening of the heart and a loss of control of the limbs. The infection saw the young girl confined to hospital for nine months, as well as having a huge impact on her confidence. 

When she leaves school, Beryl meets Charlie Burton (Chris Jack), a local lad with an interest in cycling. Charlie’s passion becomes Beryl’s obsession and soon she is competing in races, first at county level,  then nationally, and inevitablycompeting at the cycling world championships, all this whilst holding down a full time job and raising a family. 

At first glance this is the classic underdog story we are so familiar with, but dig a little deeper and you couldn’t be further from the truth. This woman was always going to be a success through hard work, guts, determination and sheer bloody mindedness: success was never in doubt.  Maxine Peake’s script is a love letter to this unique, amazing lady filled with warmth, humour and plenty of charm. It ditches the usual sporting clichés in favour of celebrating its subject and having fun.

Under the excellent direction of Kimberley Sykes, the cast of four are in fine form, injecting plenty of spirit into the production and all showing a gift for comedy. Vicky Binns puts in a strong, feisty turn as the adult Beryl  she really gets to the heart of what spurs her on. 

Chris Jack is equally fine as Charlie, turning in a warm, heartfelt performance as the devoted Charlie. Flora Spencer-Longhurst is clearly having fun as the young Beryl and later Beryl’s daughter Denise: her facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission. Finally, Matthew Heywood plays pretty much every other character in the play including an overzealous German fan and a rather dour Yorkshire copper. Heywood like his fellow cast members puts a great comedic performance.

All four should be commended for their work as this is a physically demanding show, with lots (and I do mean lots) of cycling, think a spin class with a plot and you’re on the right track! As each cast member dart about the theatre and hop on the strategic placed bikes around the theatre you become immersed in their world.

There is very much a ‘punk’ vibe to the production, cast members often break the fourth wall, coming out of character to address the audience and each other. The use of contemporary pop songs despite not being of that era, and the cast’s DIY approach to special effects creating their own inclement weather using a leather blower and some water pistols give the production a carefree, easy going charm.

This is an inspirational story delivered in a funny, touching but never sentimental fashion. Old and young alike will find something to admire about the show which will certainly leave you wanting to find out more about Beryl and her extraordinary achievements, whilst it may inspire you to dig out your Raleigh Chopper from the shed. Beryl’s story is ripe for a silver screen adaptation so catch it Bolton whilst you can.

Beryl is at the Bolton Library and Museum till the 19thOctober. Tickets available here.

A Taste of Honey

Reviewed by Michelle Eagleton

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When one of Salford’s most iconic plays comes back home to its birthplace, there’s bound to be a huge weight on the company performing it to get it right. The National Theatre set itself the challenge of doing just that by making one of the first stops on its UK Tour of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey, The Lowry. 

Director Bijan Sheibani, who is at the helm of this production, has managed to rise to the challenge though, as it received an encouraging reaction from the audience on press night.

Sheibani takes the play back to its roots in this bold incarnation, which echoes how it was originally performed, adding the incorporation of music. There’s a live band onstage throughout, which accompanies the characters in solo numbers and plays underneath some of the dialogue, which helps evoke the mood of the piece.

For those who are unaware of the story behind the Shelagh Delaney classic, A Taste of Honey is essentially a gritty norther tale of the love-hate relationship between a working-class single mother Helen and her  daughter Jo, set against the stark backdrop of 1950s Salford. The play was penned by 19-year-old Shelagh back in 1958 and it’s hard to believe that at such a young age the local girl, who had very little experience of seeing shows let alone writing them, could produce such prolific work which would resonate with generations to come. 

Lancashire born theatre and TV star Jodie Prenger puts in a solid performance as northern matriarch Helen making the most of the acid tongue humour gifted  from Delaney and her natural comedic delivery, prompting huge amounts of  laughter from the audience. We also get the chance to see Prenger put her impressive  vocal chords to good use as she packs  a punch with the opening number ‘A Good Man’ (a soulful track reminiscent of some of the late Amy Winehouse’s repertoire).

Gemma Dobson’s portrayal of Jo creates a character that’s like marmite  you love her vulnerability one minute but want to throttle her for her outbursts the next. Dobson’s whining edge to Jo gets a little tedious in the second half of the play but overall her sweet scenes with Jimmie (her sailor love interest) and Geof make up for it and we see her performance of the troubled teen really come into its own.

Despite the play being primarily focused around the two main female roles, Jo and Helen, the stand out performance comes from one of the males in the cast, Stuart Thompson as Geof. Thompson is a delight to watch and displays a natural  sensitivity  as Jo’s gay best friend. Thompson manages to find a balance of campness and caring in the role of Geof, who struggles with his worries of being an outcast in the 1950s society whilst looking after his pregnant friend.

Elsewhere, Hildegard Bechtler’s contemporary design of the production  adds to the bleakness of the piece with a minimalist set complete with stark and dingy lighting. Everything seems shabby and in need of TLC, except for Helen’s brash and glam outfits which extenuate her desire to appear better than she is in reality – which you could say epitomises  the phrase ‘all fur coat and no knickers’.

There have been numerous productions of A Taste of Honey since it opened on stage over 60 years ago and the National present a good version here, which really highlights the comedy and pathos of Delaney’s work.

A Taste of Honey is on at The Lowry until Saturday 21st September then begins a UK tour, further information can be found here.

Macbeth

Reviewed by Michelle Ewen

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“Double, double toil and trouble…”

In an era when the mere suggestion of a female Bond is enough to break the Internet, the Royal Exchange enters the fray with possibly the first ever mixed-gender professional production of MACBETH to have cast a woman in the lead.

That’s right, hang on to your coronets… Shakespeare’s titular character is played by a FEMALE. And what a woman she is! Dressed in combats, shaven-headed and brandishing assorted weaponry, Lucy Ellinson’s Macbeth is decorated for her valour; gripped by murderous ambition; and then strung up for her sins.

She parties in a blood-red ballgown, assassinates her Queen and shares her bed with a strong woman of colour, who prays: “Unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe topfull of direst cruelty”. (It’s enough to make your average Daily Mail reader’s head spin!)

In a further gender reversal, Duncan is played by Alexandra Mathie. It is an arresting moment when she enters the stage – a sharp bob framing a face that would usually bristle with whiskers.

Let us be clear, however… this is not about watching an inclusive ‘woke’ production. Every actor has earned their place and, with gender politics swept off the table, you’re free to focus on characterisation.

Macbeth is presented as an ambitious, conniving and deceitful person – not a woman breaking stereotypical convention – and in a major departure from classic portrayals, Lady Macbeth (Ony Uhiara) relies on scorn and reason instead of her womanly wiles.

They are part of an ensemble that is a tour de force. Each character is carefully etched and singularly memorable – delivering classic scenes with admirable gusto.

As brave and noble Banquo, Theo Ogundipe makes for a tender father and terrifying ghost, whilst Nima Taleghani and Rachel Denning bring comic relief as Lennox and the Porter/Lady Macduff.

Witches Nicola May-Taylor, Charlotte Merriam and Bryony Davies are scene-stealers whenever they appear – as “foul and fair” a motley crew as you could ever hope to encounter.

Christopher Haydon’s direction is spectacular, with the arrival of Banquo’s ghost at the feast his pièce de résistance. (Playful and sinister, think heads on platters, giant teddy bears and a malevolent game of musical chairs!)

Here, a special mention also to Designer Oli Townsend, Lighting Designer Colin Grenfell and Sound Designer Elena Pena, who infuse the whole production with a post-modern, industrial and militaristic feel.

Balloons, gunshots and strobe lights puncture the interior of ‘the round’ as – under the tutelage of Movement Director Lucy Hind – the players hurtle in through doors, drop down on ropes and swing from ladders with knife blades pointing venomously.

With no seat no more than 9m from the stage, MACBETH makes full use of the 360-degree performance space, which is a feat of engineering in itself. Suspended in the Grade II listed building, it is the perfect metaphor for this thrillingly entertaining show – a thoroughly modern offering rooted in the classic tradition of the theatre.

MACBETH is on at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 19 October. Ticket information can be found here.

9 to 5 the Musical

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

As Dolly Parton bursts onto a screen introducing us to the musical adaptation of the hit 80’s movie she starred in it’s clear that this Manchester audience is up for fun and lots of it, lucky for them that’s exactly what this new touring production delivers.

As a song 9 to 5 has gained a life of its own, no party is complete without a blast of it so it comes as no surprise that the film in which it originated would be given the musical treatment. Writer Patricia Resnick along with music and lyric writer Dolly Parton prove that 9 to 5 the musical is much more than one killer song, it’s witty, cheeky and isn’t afraid to tackle important themes in its own unique and hugely entertaining style.

Our three leads Violet (Louise Redknapp), Judy (Amber Davies) and Doralee (Georgina Castle) are living in a hideously sexist world, there’s gender politics, not a hope of equal pay not to mention their overbearing, oversexed boss Mr Hart (Sean Needham). Continually overlooked for and undermined by most of their male colleagues the trio soon realise that it’s time for these sassy sisters to start doing it for themselves resulting in a comical revenge plot which will hopefully lead them to the illusive equality they so richly deserve.

Louise Redknapp is perfectly cast as Violet, strong and assured she has a commanding presence on stage, Georgina Castle captures Doralee’s genuine likeability to perfection while Love Island winner Amber Davies absolutely shines on stage; her delivery of Get Out and Stay Out brings the house down, quickly silencing any casting sceptics. The three each bring something uniquely special to the stage while their harmonies are heavenly.

The subplot about spinster Roz although delivered to great comedic effect by Lucinda Lawrence seems a little at odds with the rest of the fabulous female empowerment playing out on stage nevertheless the audience lap up her show-stealing number and she receives some of the biggest laughs of the night.

With slick staging and costume design from Tom Rogers as well as vibrant ensemble choreography from Lisa Stevens 9 to 5 has the audience toe-tapping from the start. Add to this superb performances, lots of laughs and a timely uplifting tale you’d be mad not to tumble out of bed and head to Manchester’s Palace Theatre to catch this Dolly good show! Fabulous, feel-good fun.

Catch 9 to 5 the Musical at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 21st September tickets available here.

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Written in 1984 by John Patrick Stanley, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is a intensely compelling study of two lonely lives, both trapped in desperate and destructive spirals of self-loathing who come together in search of both companionship and redemption.

Volatile Danny (Danny Solomon) speaks with his fists, lashing out at anyone and everyone in a bid to protect his fractured self. He is unpredictable and alarming yet somehow Roberta (Hannah Ellis Ryan) is not afraid. Burdened by her own trauma she is riddled with self-hatred and a warped sense of a need for punishment for her abusive past.

A simple set of scattered bar furniture and an old mattress complete with crumpled bedclothes make to the set. A glimmer of moonlight seeps in from above while a porcelain doll dressed in white offers a hint of Roberta’s past.

As the barbed bickering deepens into aggressive exchanges a sharing of secrets begins allowing both characters to develop unpredictably. Danny’s vulnerability begins to show as his defences slip while their fleeting post-coital redemption shows their shared desperation for elusive love and happiness. They are messed up, bad, burdened and bruised yet touchingly real and heart-achingly raw.

Both Danny Solomon and Hannah Ellis Ryan convince entirely in their roles. As an audience member you are in that bar in the Bronx with them, you feel every moment of heartache in the bedroom and share in their despair and awkward humour. Director Daniel Bradford ensures the emotional charge of both performances slaps you in the face keeping you guessing throughout, never knowing where these tormented souls will take you next. Drowning in despair one moment while gleefully flinging arms around each other the next. Powerful and affecting theatre once again from Play With Fire Productions.

Catch Danny and the Deep Blue Sea until Thursday 12th September at Hope Mill Theatre tickets available here.

Writer Henry Filloux-Bennett talks TOAST

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When Nigel Slater released his 2004 autobiography TOAST: The Story of a Boys Hunger, it’s doubtful he ever imagined it would be made into a BBC film let alone become a critically-award winning play which after wowing the West End is now touring the country to packed audiences every night.

Here at Opening Night we were lucky enough to catch up with writer Henry Filloux-Bennett ahead of the shows return to The Lowry to hear a little more about the process of taking the book from page to stage as well as what audiences can expect from this heart-warming adaptation which critics have described as ‘delicious’.

Opening Night: “How did you first become aware of the autobiography and did you read it with the intention of adapting it for the stage?”

Henry Felloux-Bennett: “I was a cook working in London, weirdly in the same hotel that Nigel works in at the end of the book, I was knackered as kitchen hours are stupidly long and I didn’t have any money so I had to live outside of London and commute in. To keep me awake, I would read a book. I was given TOAST one Christmas and it was the first book I picked up as I left one day. I just started reading it on the bus back and forth from the kitchen not only did the story resonate because he has an interesting upbringing and then goes into cooking and I thought – ‘Oh that’s like me’, but also I didn’t have anything to do with theatre but I sort of wanted to do something in theatre, and I thought: ah, that could be the show.”

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ON: “Once you’d decided to create the piece was it an instant yes from Nigel?”

HFB: “I tried originally to get the rights for a show in Edinburgh but Nigel said no, thank God because ten years later, the play became much more of a considered thing. Back then, I would have just done it in two hours and hoped for the best. It would have been rubbish so thank God he did say no.”

ON: “Your perseverance clearly paid of as 10 years later Nigel finally gave his backing to the adaptation.”

HFB: “Yes, the Lowry was doing a festival called Week 53 and it was about coming-of-age, Nigel also turned 60 the year it started so I think that had something to do with it. I think also it was something to do with this festival because it wasn’t a big glamorous West End show. We were trying to create this small experience for a very limited number of people that I hoped showed I genuinely wanted to do it. I think a lot of adaptations happen because it’s going to make money – I think he worried about that, not that it would be a big cash cow but that it was cynical. I just thought, oh we can get some foodies to come and see this.”

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ON: “What is the starting point when taking a book from page to stage?”

HFB: “I think one of the big challenges of adapting any book to stage is how you a make it interesting to watch. Obviously if you’re reading a book you can be totally absorbed in it. You can enjoy the characters and you can enjoy the plot, but actually when you’re faced with watching something that sort of takes it in a different direction. The challenge with TOAST is that it’s not a narrative-based book, it skips around quite a lot. Finding a journey to go on, from start to finish, was a massive challenge because it doesn’t flow in a linear way. But that’s what made it more fun as well because I didn’t have to stick to normal storytelling rules.”

ON: “Did Nigel have an absolute veto on anything?”

HFB: “Mainly language. There is a bit where they go to Bournemouth on holiday and there is a line about looking out on the sea and the guy who used to play Nigel once said ocean instead of sea. Apparently, that is a massive no-no because Nigel would never have said ocean in the 60s. It’s the details – like making the labels for the damson jam props. He made a lot of props. The general shape of the play he’s always been quite happy with because he understands that you send a book out into the world and it’s up to everyone else how they deal with it”.

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ON: “Were you worried about Nigel Slater’s reaction to what you had produced?”

HFB: “I was terrified about Nigel’s response. I think you always think that what you’re doing you quite like but then you have to present it to people who’ve never read it before and you have to present it to the person who it’s about, who wrote the thing itself – that’s terrifying. He was very nice about it. He said he wouldn’t read it until I was happy with it, which was a massive bonus because we didn’t know each other. I might’ve massacred his memoir, which would’ve been awful. Touch wood, I haven’t done that. But he was very generous in saying do whatever you need to do. When I was writing it, I read an interview with Lee Hall, who wrote the screen play for the film. And Lee Hall basically said that you can’t care the person is still alive and you can’t care about the person reading it. You have to write the thing you need to write. If the person hates it you can change it, which he did a little bit, but you have to write the thing that you want to write and don’t worry that there’s a real-life Nigel Slater who will be there at some point. It was great advice, which I followed.”

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ON: “Why do you think the tastes and smells are so important in both the autobiography and the play?”

HFB: “If you read the book, which you absolutely should, you’ll know that all the chapters are named after food, like Apple Pie, Marshmallows or Digestive Biscuits. Angel Delight was what I responded to when I read it. Butterscotch Angel Delight is probably the best thing ever invented, it’s an amazing pudding and it takes five minutes to make – who wouldn’t love it? It’s those memories – and the smells. Everyone knows the smell of certain things. If you open a packet of digestives, you know that smell. The same with toast. If you think about it, everyone can tell what toast smells like, just when it’s just starting to burn a little bit. All of those things are in his chapters so we had to respond to that in the play.”

ON: “How involved has Nigel been in the process?”

HFB: “He was literally involved from day one. He was there for the workshop week with The Lowry six months before we made the show and then he was there for every step of the way with the food. I think the tech period for him was the most exciting bit because he works in TV so he’s not used to being involved with how the sets get made. At The Lowry, he made half the props with us. He was literally in the dressing room making labels. I’ve still got the label he made for the Damson Jam bottle, it’s my favourite thing. Oliver, who is the Executive Chef at The Lowry’s Pier Eight, worked very closely with Nigel and James [Thompson], our Food Director, to create things that everyone would get to taste. Nigel came up for tastings and was like ‘this bit needs this’ and ‘it needs a bit more sharpness in the lemon meringue tarts’ so he was really involved.”

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ON: “Does any cooking take place on stage?”

HFB: “Yes, I’m not going to tell you what. But there is a scene when we cook on stage. Have you ever seen Billy Elliot? In the script I wanted to copy the bit where he does the angry dance and he can’t express himself any other way. There’s a moment in the play when Nigel gets told something and he doesn’t know how to respond. In my head the only way he could’ve responded was to cook and so it’s meant to be the angry dance for Nigel. It’s a really interesting thing because there is no talking for nearly five minutes. It’s quite intense and Giles had to learn how to cook that dish perfectly. Hopefully it resonates and you’ll find it interesting, but for some people it’s the only bit that I didn’t write and it’s the bit that people cry at. That bit certainly gets people because they can smell and see. The sound of food cooking in a frying pan is amazing, especially in a theatre”.

TOAST returns to The Lowry where it first premiered in 2018 on Monday 11th November for a limited one week run until Saturday 16th November. Tickets available here.