The Secret of Christmas Eve

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

After the huge success of last year’s festive fairy-tale Hansel and Gretel Oldham Theatre Workshop return with an original Christmas musical which promises to be the perfect family treat.

The Secret of Christmas Eve introduces us to a very special little girl called Eve (Natasha Davidson) who is about to experience the most magical of adventures which sees elves brough to bright and brilliant life, adventures on flying carpets and a whole host of colourful characters as she’s tasked with the small job saving Christmas!

Brian the elf (Jabez Sykes) is bereft, this year’s Christmas wish letters have failed to reach the North Pole and without them the elves are redundant, there will be no presents and no Christmas! Thankfully and although she may not yet know it, Eve is the perfect person for the job.

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The intimate studio space at Oldham Library feels cosy and inviting as the small performance space is transformed into a welcoming home, grumpy Mrs Grimble’s Post Office and Nula Nu’s Shop of Lost Things throughout this enchanting production.

Creatives Sarah Nelson and James Atherton have worked together to create a piece of theatre which wouldn’t be out of place on a West End stage. Their imaginative storytelling is both poetic and utterly joyful capturing the Christmas spirit with warmth and wit. They have a unique ability to interweave heartfelt and important messages into seemingly simple stories packing them with an emotional depth you don’t often find in family shows.

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Audiences of all ages will take away something special from this show with its themes of family, hope, adoption and belonging all beautifully wrapped up in a feel-good story that will stay with you long after the Christmas decorations have come down.

The clever and catchy original songs are teamed with a melodic score and a hugely witty script which is delivered to perfection by a committed cast. Natasha Davidson captures entirely the wide-eyed wonder of Eve, fiercely determined to succeed despite the challenges life has given her. Jabez Sykes is a joy as Brian the Elf with bucketloads of charisma and a great gift for comedy he lights up the stage as the ever-so dramatic Elf.

Laura England is gloriously grumpy as Mrs Grimble while also displaying a wonderful warmth as Eve’s foster Mother Suzia. Purvi Parmar breathes life into the adorable Digby the Dog and is great fun as Eve’s friend Nisha while Madeleine Edmondson captivates as the mysterious and magical Nula Nu.

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Collectively the cast take on multiple roles whist also acting as narrators leading you through this delightful tale, delivering faultless harmonies with ease. There’s also an appearance from several members of the young company who add additional festive magic to this heart-warming production.

If you’ve yet to find your festive cheer then I prescribe a visit to The Secret of Christmas Eve immediately! This beautiful show packed full of heart and humour is a piece of theatrical magic. A truly enchanting Christmas adventure that will leave you feeling merry and bright well into the New Year. A truly wonderful production from Oldham Theatre Workshop and at an accessible £8 per ticket an absolute gift to us all.

The Secret of Christmas Eve is on at Oldham Library until Saturday 28th December tickets available here, you can also call the Box Office on 0161 770 3240.

 

How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If there’s one thing we all need right now it’s a hefty dose of Christmas cheer, thankfully there are whovilations a plenty at The Lowry with their festive family show, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical.

Based on the much loved book by Dr Seuss, we’re transported to the whimsical world of Whoville. A joyful place where its inhabitants the Whos are continually bursting with holiday cheer much to the despair of the grumpy Grinch. With a heart two sizes too small the mere thought of festive merriment fills him with immeasurable dread. A confirmed Christmas hater until a chance meeting with mini Who Cindy Lou whom innocently proves to him that being a Who isn’t so bad after all.

The story is told by Max the dog, an on form Griff Rhys Jones, who narrates whilst watching his younger self portrayed by an enthusiastic Matt Terry.

Taking on the role of the ghastly greenie is an outstanding Edward Baker-Duly he embodies the Grinch completely from his petulant pouting to his clever quips he is absolute perfection. Delighting the audience with his entrance and keeping them roaring with laughter throughout, he is an absolute whoot, (sorry) with his perfect delivery ticking every box.

The Whos are a loud excitable bunch with some scenes in Act 1 feeling quite hectic, you almost feel yourself sympathising with the Grinch as their sickly sweet songs repeatedly ring out. Act 2 when the genuine heart of the story is given space to breathe is where this production really shines. The scenes between The Grinch and Cindy Lou are an absolute joy and will warm even the coldest of hearts.

Isla Gie who played Cindy Lou at tonight’s performance is a delight, with impressive acting skills and the sweetest of voices she captivates entirely, she may be the smallest person on stage but her impact is huge.

Both fans of the book and film will find much to love about this production which remains true to the Dr Seuss original. John Lee Beatty’s cartoon-like set paired with Robert Morgan’s stunning costumes bring Dr Seuss’s world to magical life and are visually impressive with every last detail in-keeping with the Whoville fans know and love.

This sparkling production offers sack loads of Christmas cheer and will lift the spirits of those looking for a Christmas spectacle with its wit and warmth. The songs aside from You’re A Mean One, Mr Grinch are quite forgettable but this brightly packaged production hits the spot for those looking for escapist festive fun.

At two hours including an interval it is the perfect length for little ones and a great introduction to theatre for first timers. It’s festive, feel-good family fun which will make the biggest of Grinch’s smile.

The Grinch is on at The Lowry until Sunday 5th January tickets available here.

The Bodyguard

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Over the last few years there have been a spate of Hollywood blockbusters that have been given the West End / Broadway treatment. Some have made little impact whilst others have become huge! The Bodyguard: The Musical, unquestionably falls into the successful camp. It opened in the West End in 2012, and has since toured the UK on numerous occasions as well as several international tours.

Now the pop musical extravaganza arrives in Manchester, as the Palace Theatre’s big production for the festive period, bringing with it the glitz, glamour, and some absolute classic tunes.

Following the plot of the 1992 Hollywood film, music megastar Rachel Marron (Alexandra Burke) has attracted the unwelcome attention of a deranged stalker: he has stolen one of her dresses, as well as sent her numerous death threats. Marron’s worried manager Bill Devaney (Neil Reidman), seeks out former secret service agent Frank Farmer (Ben Lewis) to be part of Rachel’s protection team.

The spoilt singer and her bodyguard soon clash, as Rachel is not happy with Frank’s over cautious approach, as well as the day-to-day impact he is having on her life. In addition, Farmer is less than impressed with his new clients ‘diva’ like attitude.

For Farmer the job isn’t just about protecting Rachel, but her family as well, which includes Rachel’s sister, Nicki (Emmy Willow), who develops feelings for Farmer. However, following an incident at a nightclub concert where Farmer protects Rachel from an unruly class, the two begin to fall for each other. As the romance blossoms between the the two, the threat intensifies to Rachel and her family, can Farmer maintain a relationship and stay sharp enough in order to catch the deranged stalker?

The undoubted star of the show is Alexandra Burke, she is without a doubt is the headline act and heart of this performance and quite rightly so. She has the star quality needed for the role and the voice to match. She certainly does justice to crowd favourites Queen of the Night and One Moment in Time giving an outstanding performance.

It’s not just Burke who deserves plaudits, equally impressive is Emmy Willow, who also has a tremendous voice. She absolutely nails Saving All My Love for You and duet with Burke on I have Nothing is beautiful. Willow brings a warmth and vulnerability to the overshadowed Nicki.

Ben Lewis is solid as Farmer, a believable reluctant action hero, and he also gives a great comedic version of I Will Always Love You.  There is an undoubted chemistry between him and Burke, however the romantic element of the story seems rushed, with both let down by some some clunky dialogue.

The ensemble cast work their socks off throughout, with some fantastic choreographed routines, whilst one of the biggest cheers of the night came with the introduction of the show’s villain, the stalker (Phil Atkinson), complete with a bare chest and abs you could grate cheese on (during the interval I heard one lady say, “he can stalk me any time”, judging audience reactions, stalking is ok if it’s done by a hunk!)

This production, as you would expect, has some high-end production values, pyrotechnics, dry ice, an ever-changing stage, and some gorgeous costumes, from tailored suits to glamourous dresses adding to the glitz and razzmatazz, creating the world of this global superstar.

The finale is of course a spine-tingling rendition of I will Always Love You, which is almost ruined by a giant projected image of our Bodyguard hero, it’s corny and as cheesy as a large pan of fondue, and an unwelcome distraction for the shows big closing moment.

There is of course time for one more feel good moment, as the entire cast nail a fun rendition of I wanna Dance with Somebody which had everybody up on their feet and dancing in the isles.

This is escapism theatre at its finest and the perfect way to forget your trouble for a few hours and get away from the hustle and bustle of Christmas, a decent excuse (like you need one) to have sing and dance.

The Bodyguard The Musical is at the Palace Theatre until the 4th January. Tickets can be found here.

Aladdin

Aladdin 1 - Photo by David Munn

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Firm favourites on the calendar all year round thanks to their well-established half term pantos, Regal Entertainments have pulled out all the stops with their 2019 Christmas offering; a sparkling and strictly spectacular production of family favourite, Aladdin.

There are lavish sets, colourful costumes, super soakers, a spectacular scare-tastic 3D section as well as none stop gags and impressive dance numbers in this festive family friendly production.

Aladdin 2 - Photo by David Munn

Strictly star Robin Windsor takes on the role of Aladdin, replacing the previously cast Kelvin Fletcher who waltzed off to the BBC when the glitterball came calling but, do not fear he hasn’t been entirely erased as the ingeniously names ‘Kelvin the carpet’ joins Robin centre stage for a boogie!

Windsor is clearly having lots of fun performing, frequently treating the audience to showcases of his sensational footwork while leading a strong company of senior and juvenile dancers in some magnificent numbers. His warmth and likability matched with his impressive skills make him a huge hit with the audience.

Aladdin 5 - Photo by David Munn

Playing Wishee Washer, brother to Aladdin is the hilarious Scott Gallagher, a talented performer he has the audience roaring with laughter throughout. A natural comedian he takes full advantage of being centre stage at the end of Act 2 when several children are invited up to ‘Boss The Floss’ his interactions and observations have the audience crying with laughter while the children relish their memorable moment in the spotlight.

Timothy Lucas seals himself as an audience favourite in the role of PC Noodle and has a brilliantly inventive musical battle with evil Abanazer (Philip Shaun McGuinness) complete with dance moves that would absolutley get a 10 from Len.

Aladdin 3 - Photo by David Munn

Writer Si Foster who also stars as Widow Twankey has kept true to the real spirit of Panto with lots of slapstick silliness for the kids as well as cheeky gags for the grownups. There’s ample opportunity for many a ‘ITS BEHIND YOU’ while Panto favourite ‘We’ll have to sing it again then won’t we’ makes an appearance within the Monster Mash.

Choreographer Nazene Langfield has created some spectacular numbers which really allow Robin Windsor to show off his dazzling footwork while Olivia Sloyan, Kai Jolley and Jenna Sian O’Hara all make the most of their supporting roles.

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Act 1 stutters occasionally and could benefit from a little trim however Act 2 is where this production really finds its feet and absolutely soars from opening number Dancing Fool right through to the glittering and gorgeous finale.

The final transformation scene will ensure audiences have the time of their lives as the cast mambo their way through the Dirty Dancing classic. This is a feel-good family friendly production packed with laughs and lots of them, another Christmas cracker from Regal Entertainments!

Catch Aladdin at St Helens Theatre Royal until Sunday 12th January tickets available here.

 

 

Cinderella

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Epstein Theatre’s Christmas panto is now a staple part of my festive schedule; it has become as much a part of Christmas as a turkey dinner, a drink with friends on Christmas Eve and avoiding the Queen’s speech. The Epstein’s festive extravaganza has never failed  to put a smile on my face and get me in the holiday spirit and I’m happy to say this year’s production of Cinderella is no different.

It’s a story we all know, that of the kind-hearted but downtrodden, Cinderella (Sammy Winward) who is a skivvy for her wicked sisters, Megan and Kate (Chrissy Rock and Sarah White). Cinderella’s only friend in the world is Buttons (Lewis Devine), who is secretly in love with Cinderella.

Cinderella 14a - photo by David Munn

However, fate, or more accurately the Fairy Godmother (Samantha Palin) has a plan to help Cinder’s find her true love, in the form of Prince Charming (Andrew Geater). A chance meeting between Cinderella and the Prince sets sparks a flying and soon the Prince and his ever-faithful companion, Dandini (Warren Donnelly) decide to host a ball in order for the Prince to find his Princess.

Despite an initial slow start, this production has something for everyone, great songs and dance routines, with numbers including, Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, and George Ezra’s Shotgun.  A fantastic, hard working cast, and  some great visual and verbal gags some for the younger audience members and a few adults in attendance too.

Cinderella 12a - photo by David Munn

It is hard to believe that this is Sammy Winward’s first Pantomime but she has taken to it like a duck to water and makes the perfect princess. Lewis Devine is the show’s lynchpin, full of charisma; he certainly knows how to work the crowd. Whilst Chrissy Rock and Sarah White are having a ball as the ugly sisters, suitably vile throughout, the pair get the lion’s share of the best lines and are clearly relishing their roles.

There are some great set pieces throughout, a meeting between Cinderella and Prince Charming, which Button’s tries to ruin, is great fun. In addition, the scene at the ball is filled with beautiful costumes, and solid dance routines. However, unquestionably the highlight of the show is the fantastic 3D projection, which is a treat to see and had the younger audience members very excited, I don’t want to say too much but certainly gives a unique slant on the “he’s behind you!” trope so familiar with panto.

Cinderella 01a - photo by David Munn

This is a great fun, family show, with a wonderful ensemble cast, that will have you grinning throughout. Based on the reaction from the children in attendance for tonight’s show this is the perfect way to escape the winter weather, a festive treat for all the family!

Cinderella is on at The Epstein theatre until Sunday 5th January tickets available here.

 

Snow White

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When it comes to family fun Qdos Entertainment don’t do things by halves. Delivering Manchester Opera House’s pantomime for the third successive year they give audiences another Christmas cracker of a show in which no expense is spared; a glittering and gaaawwwjus production of Snow White starring Strictly’s very own Craig Revel Horwood.

This festive extravaganza has everything you’d want from a Panto, lavish sets, elaborate costumes and lots and lots of laughs. Writer Alan McHugh (with additional material from Ben Nickless) ensures the script is teaming with Mancunian references from the wonderful opening number playing homage to the Opera House to the tune of The Lambeth Walk to the ‘mad for it!’ Magnificent Seven who are ready to ‘ave it!’ all night long!

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 2019

Revel Horwood makes for a deliciously devilish baddie, fabulously theatrical and outrageously naughty as wicked Queen Lurcretia he commands the stage throughout. Strutting, preening and pouting before belting out his several solos with style and some serious sass proving what an incredibly talented all-rounder he truly is.

There is strong support from audience favourite Ben Nickless who returns for the second year running, this time playing the hapless Muddles along with a welcome return for Manchester’s favourite Dame, Eric Potts who makes for a magnificent Nora Crumble. The two bounce off each other brilliantly, their silly humour and cheeky charm is measured just right for this family audience. They bring this classic story bang up to date with hilarious mentions of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and there’s even a scene with a over keen Alexa!

Zoë George and Joshua St Clair make for a perfect pairing as Snow White and the dashing Prince Harry. Although a little underused when we do hear from them their vocals are superb and they both have bucketloads of charm.

The ensemble cast and young company add to the spectacle of the lavish numbers with slick delivery of Ashley Nottingham’s choreography, great to see some same-sex pairings on stage during the dance numbers too.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 2019

Of course as to be expected with Panto there are some cheeky moments with a few close to the bone one-liners however the innuendo never goes too far & is pitched at just the right level to give the adults a giggle while the kids laugh along with the slapstick and physical comedy that’s so brilliantly delivered.

Revel Horwood, Potts, Nickless & St Clare’s riotous version of The Twelve Days of Christmas brings the house down quite literally, it is pure panto perfection!

The combination of impressive special effects, classic panto entertainment and a wonderfully talented cast result in another hit for Qdos.

Snow White is a riotous romp of camp, colourful, comedy, a FAB-U-LOUS night out for all the family.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 2019

Snow White is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Sunday 29th December tickets available here.

 

Hope Mill Theatre launches ‘FIRST CURTAIN’ free ticketing scheme for young people

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Hope Mill Theatre launches ‘First Curtain’ scheme to help fund tickets for young people to the UK theatrical premiere of the Broadway version of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella which opens in Manchester on Saturday 9th May.

Tickets are now on sale for Cinderella which will be the first musical produced by A Factory of Creativity – the charity recently formed to take over the running of Hope Mill Theatre. Co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre Joseph Houston and William Whelton will direct and choreograph Cinderella, respectively.

To coincide with Cinderella tickets going on sale, Hope Mill Theatre is launching its new ‘First Curtain’ scheme. The scheme allows customers to purchase an additional ticket at checkout with the extra tickets purchased helping fund a first trip to the theatre for local young people. Hope Mill Theatre will be working with local primary schools and community groups within Greater Manchester to help welcome children of all ages to the show.

Joseph Houston and William Whelton at Hope Mill Theatre. Photo Phil Tragen Photography 2

Joseph Houston, Artistic Director, said: “At Hope Mill Theatre we are passionate about making theatre accessible and instilling at a young age the magic, escapism and education which live theatre can offer – as well as nurturing theatregoers of the future.

“I recently visited a local primary school and spoke to many children who said that they loved acting and performing at school but had never actually seen a piece of live theatre – many families do not have spare funds to visit the theatre. We believe in the importance of young people feeling that arts are accessible and so wanted to help give some children the chance to have their first theatre experience in a smaller more intimate setting.

“Our ‘First Curtain’ scheme will allow us to work with schools within Greater Manchester as well as local community groups to fund trips to our production of Cinderella as well as running workshops.”  

Cinderella will be the first show staged at Hope Mill Theatre to have allocated seating – meaning early booking is advised, tickets are available here.