Bloody Elle – A Gig Musical

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Sitting inside one of Manchester’s most beautiful buildings, the excitement and anticipation for what is for many the first time back inside a theatre in over fifteen months cannot be underplayed.

From front of house, to centre stage, you could see the effort, love and pure joy that has gone into this re-opening. The atmosphere was palpable, and that wasn’t because England had just beaten Germany in a knockout game of football for the first time in over fifty-five years (although that might have just added a little extra something). Being in the audience, for the Royal Exchange and Rebel Productions’ world premiere in the current climate felt like a secret special treat.

Bloody Elle isn’t like your usual Royal Exchange offering, immediately the audience barrier is not only broken but well and truly smashed, as Elle addresses the audience directly from the off, refreshingly introducing the sound and lighting operating team as if it were part of the set of her gig.

‘Bloody Elle – A gig Musical,’ is a one-woman-show, set to an original score, written and performed by the astonishing Lauryn Redding. The story is of self-professed ‘potty mouth’ Danielle (Elle) who has been brought up on ‘cloud rise,’ by her widowed mother. Elle or ‘Gobshiiiite’ as her mother calls her, works at Chips and Dips which is ‘pretty good craic…and you get free chips.’ Here she meets newbie Eve, and the rest as they say is…. a two and a half hour, hilarious, uncompromising, fresh, original, genre-breaking, ‘gig musical.’

Redding is a force of nature and you can’t take your eyes off her. Not only does she fully command the auditorium for two and a half hours, she has the audience firmly in the palm of her hand. Full of witty, punchy one-liners, and hard-hitting truths that make you laugh out loud, and your insides squirm simultaneously, Redding’s writing is sensational, and the audience not only clings on to Elle’s every word, but we feel it deeper than maybe we are comfortable admitting.

The way the piece takes a free-flowing route in and out of spoken word, prose and song is remarkable and as if performing a one-woman-show, playing an acoustic and an electric guitar whilst cleverly looping your whole set isn’t enough, Redding’s singing voice is equally sublime, effortlessly moving from northern busker vibes to more soulfully fueled riffs that really show off her excellent vocal capabilities. This original score is raw and current, yet also feels long-established and familiar as you find yourself nodding in enjoyment.

Bloody Elle’ is directed by the Royal Exchange’s joint Artistic Director Bryony Shanahan, who does a wonderful job here of bringing all the elements together seamlessly. Stoodley’s stripped back design, together with Webster’s atmospheric lighting, are both extremely effective. It makes the whole evening feel really intimate, almost like you’ve cheated your way inside a live gig and a theatre show all in the one ticket and it’s almost too good to be true.

Towards the end you can see Redding shedding her character’s layers and allowing the rawness and truth of the story to surface. Coming out isnt easy it cuts you open from the inside,’ this is a story of love, heartbreak, acceptance and everything in between and the poignancy of watching Elle’s story unfold whilst Pride is being celebrated throughout the world is certainly not lost.

The entire experience is a cathartic and hugely uplifting one at the same time.

Yes, ‘the gig’ could quite possibly have been condensed a little, but your eyes are never left wandering, and your attention doesn’t stray for that matter, either.

Shanahan admits in her Director’s note that without Covid this piece may not have even been written and it’s no mistaking that a piece like this would possibly never have been programmed on the main stage at the Royal Exchange; certainly a little nugget of joy to come out of this past year.

Bold, bright and brash, the Royal Exchange’s first socially distanced, re-opening offering certainly packs a hefty punch.

‘Bloody Elle- A Gig Musical’ runs until the 17th July tickets available via » Bloody Elle (royalexchange.co.uk)

Vignettes

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Following a hugely successful run back in February of 2020, HER Productions in conjunction with Alex Keenlan, return to Hope Mill Theatre with a new set of Vignettes: a series of short plays from some of Manchester’s finest writers.

With six stories showcased, there is something for everyone, from family drama to sci-fi, kitchen sink to sitcom, all sharing the common theme of humanity. All have something to say about the world we live in.

It’s a smart choice to open with Fresh Meat: a sharp, fun story of empowerment as Abbi (Carrie Crookall) takes the plunge to visit a strip club, where she meets sassy dancer Frankie (Shireen Ashton). Despite their initial difference, the two ladies have more in common than they think. The script is packed with some punchy dialogue and two really fun performances.

The next offering  is Wildfires, a story looking at discovery and being out of your comfort zone. Niamh (Amy Gavin) reluctantly joins a retreat in the hope of making new friends and seeking out some answers, but things don’t quite pan out as they should. Again, a sharp, witty script with some solid work from the ensemble cast.

Closing the first act is XYV, a dystopian science fiction drama, which explores themes of gender, power, and the consequences of our actions. Performed by Elaine McNicol and Emily Dowson, with terrific sound design from Andrew Glassford, this bold, daring piece attempts to pack a great deal into its short running time.

First up following the interval is To Have and to Hold, a beautifully written, directed and performed piece focusing on the relationship between Ange (Joanne Heywood) and Barry (Shaun Hennessy), a pair of championship winning ballroom dancers stopped from doing the thing they love by an oh so familiar enemy. Containing some great gags and more laugh-out-loud one-liners, this is the perfect way to start act two.

The penultimate offering is, It’s a Pea Picking Privilege, a bitter sweet slice of social realism, as Aggie (Sophie Ellicott) and her daughter, Alice (Carla Rowe) discuss identity, and life’s struggles in a not-too-distant past. With a script filled with humour and pathos, it certainly leaves you wanting to learn more about this fractured mother and daughter unit.

The show closes with Signs, a look at loss, grief and forgiveness. Spiritualist Eileen (Wendy Albiston) works with sisters Amanda (Francesca White) and Jess ( Liz Simmonds) as they both deal with their sister’s illness in very different ways. Packed with emotion and a sprinkling of humour, this dark comedy seems the fitting finale to bring the production to a close.

Vignettes will have something for everyone, containing a tale or two that we can all relate to and a timely reminder that whilst live entertainment has been decimated throughout this pandemic, there are still stories to be told, with talented creative’s ready to tell them by whatever means they can.  

Vignettes is on at Hope Mill Theatre till 3rd July

Tickets available from: https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/vignettes

Interview | Martin Kaye talks Elton John – It’s A Little Bit Funny

Elton John: It’s A Little Bit Funny tells the incredible story of Elton John’s rise and fall (and rise again) as one of the most successful singer/songwriters ever.

What would you do if you got the chance to meet your all-time hero? That’s exactly what crossed Martin Kaye’s mind when he found himself performing in Las Vegas at the same time as Elton John a few years go – Kaye as Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet and John in his The Million Dollar Piano show.

It’s this concept that has formed the basis for Elton John: It’s A Little Bit Funny, a new show starring Kaye that comes to The Bowdon Rooms in Altrincham from Monday 19th to Saturday 24th July 2021.

The show tells the (imagined) tale of one extraordinary night in Las Vegas when Elton superfan Kaye bumps into the bespectacled star and happens to spend the evening with him.

It’s a night of confessions, anecdotes, jokes and – of course – fabulous songs. And Kaye is the biggest Elton John fan ever – so who better to sing and play Elton’s greatest songs and narrate this tall tale of an unforgettable celebrity encounter. 

Here we learn a bit more about the show from writer and star Martin Kaye:

ON: Where did you get the idea for the show from?

Martin: “Well, I’m a massive Elton John fan, he’s the reason I play the piano and have done since I was a wee lad growing up in Manchester, so his music has always had a through line in my life. I was living and working in Las Vegas in ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ at Harrahs, and Elton John was also performing across the street at Caesars Palace, and I always wondered what it would be like if I ran into him, so… when I saw that Katy Lipson (one of my long time Mancunian friends) was creating so much incredible theatre in the UK, I told her I would love to work together on some kind of Elton show. She put me in touch with her script writer Chris Burgess, and the rest is history!”

 

ON: Can you tell us a bit more about the show and how it’s developed?

Martin: “Well, we firstly had to figure out how to tell a story without doing any kind of Elton John impersonation – I’m not a fan of those kinds of things, and I don’t sound or look anything like him anyway! (So anyone hoping for an Elton impersonator will be disappointed!) We wanted to just tell the story as earnestly as possible, and we thought “what better way than to tell it than through the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin themselves”. So that’s what we did! It’s got the ups and downs, musically and narratively speaking, weaving through the story of my and Elton’s life. I’m at the front on the piano, singing and playing my little heart away, backed by the most incredible three piece band, and we play all the hits, as well as some really great deep cuts and b-sides which, if you know Elton’s music well, you may know, but if you don’t, it’s an opportunity to hear some new music, which just happen to be really great brilliantly-written songs by one of the world’s most beloved writing partnerships.”

ON: Why do you think Elton John’s songs are so well-loved and still as popular now as when he first recorded them?

Martin: “In terms of Elton himself, I think that, at the time, he was just so incredible to watch. He was nothing like anyone had ever seen since the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard – it was even a step beyond that – so people latched on to that. But it wasn’t just the performance. Match that high-octane performance with amazing songs. Life-changing songs. Songs that people could sing along to. It’s just one of those magical collaborations, isn’t it?! The Lennon/McCartney of the 70s and beyond. And the music was so diverse, so broad. It stretched from country to rock to pop to jazz to orchestral, even to musical theatre. It covered so many genres that there was something for everyone. And those early albums – gosh, those songs were just so good. Beautiful and original melodies, but somehow familiar. And at the very root of it, Elton just knows how to write an amazing chord progression. It’s so simple, yet it’s also not! And it always works. It just… works.”

ON: Which is your favourite Elton John song and why? Is this also your favourite one to perform?

Martin: “As you discover early on in the show, ‘Your Song’ was the reason I fell in love with music, so it’s easily my favourite song because of its importance to my life. And yes, it’s definitely one of my favourites to perform. There are others, sure, coz I also love the high energy stuff – Saturday Night’s Alright is a belter!”

ON: What was performing in Las Vegas like?

Martin: “I can’t even put it into words. It was a dream come true. It was everything I imagined it to be, and so, so much more. As soon as Million Dollar Quartet arrived, we became celebrities there – it was so strange, and as I mentioned earlier, the local Vegas community is so tight and really gets behind its artists, it’s so unbelievably supportive. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. So while I was there, I worked on other projects, I performed at charity shows and other events, I made friends for life – and I got to go to work on the strip! As an entertainer, living and working in the entertainment capital of the world – yep, that’ll do!”

ON: Are you looking forward to bringing the show to the Bowdon Rooms? What can audiences expect?

Martin: “I can’t WAIT. To be able to bring any show to my hometown of Manchester is special, and to be able to perform a show that’s so close to my heart – it doesn’t get much better than that really! I don’t want the audiences to expect anything, except a really fun night of incredible music, performed by a really tight band, with a wild story told by a local bald bloke.”

Elton John: It’s a Little Bit Funny stars Martin Kaye and his band, directed by Ben Stock, written by Chris Burgess, musical arrangements by Andy Collyer, production design by Ben M. Rogers, produced by Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment.

Elton John: It’s a Little Bit Funny runs at the Bowdon Rooms, Altrincham from Monday 19th to Saturday 24th 2021. Please visit The Bowden Rooms for more information and tickets.

Listing Information

Elton John: It’s a Little Bit Funny

Monday 19th to Saturday 24th July 2021

The Bowdon Rooms, Altrincham

Tickets: £25.00 + Booking Fee 

Concessions: £22.00 + Booking Fee

For groups of 10+ please contact the venue direct on 0161 926 8992 http://www.thebowdonrooms.co.uk

Hushabye Mountain

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First performed at the Crewe Lyceum in 1999, Hope Mill Theatre’s streamed revival of Hushabye Mountain brings the Jonathan Harvey penned play to a new audience at a time when living through a pandemic is something we can all relate to.

The strong opening where we see Danny pass from his earthly life to the sounds of his mother Beryl singing one of his childhood favourites ‘Feed The Birds’ sets the scene for this heartfelt piece where the brutality of the HIV/AIDS epidemic rips through the very heart of each character, leaving its unflinching and tragic mark.

As Danny sits in limbo waiting for confirmation that he can officially ‘pass on’; his friends and family left behind reflect and reforge their relationships and lives without him.

Though the timeline moves about considerably from Danny’s life pre-diagnosis to after his passing Nick Bagnall’s strong direction ensures clarity allowing the audience to closely follow events as they unfold and reflect in real time with the characters.

Despite the heavy subject matter Harvey’s wit and skill for creating characters with true grit and huge heart shines through. This stellar cast pour themselves into this piece and the reward for the audience is deeply moving.

Nathan McMullen floods Danny with life, making his diagnosis all the more tragic. He draws you in & quickly establishes the character as someone you’d always have at the top of any guest list, fun, flirty and bursting with heart. His fears are displayed openly and honestly as reality hits and his dreams fade.

The scene between McMullen & Layton Williams where Danny makes plans for his funeral is devastating in its impact. Beautifully delivered by both and although heartbreaking is peppered with wit, genuine affection and buckets of love. Williams gives a superb performance as Connor, a role very different from what we’ve seen him in before, he convinces entirely.

Similarly the hospital scene between Matt Henry as Lee and McMullen as Connor is powerful in its poignancy as the reality of what is to come hits home.

Jodie Prenger as Beryl, Connor’s Mum gives a truly memorable performance. Through her seemingly manic ramblings we see a mother searching for atonement from the guilt she feels after Connor’s farther forced her to cut ties with Connor when he came out. Her mind has been destroyed by the overwhelming guilt she feels as she appears as Mary Poppins and Judy Garland, two of Connor’s favourite icons, we’re transported to a happier time for them both where we imagine them watching Hollywood classics accompanied by snuggles on the sofa. Not physically able to protect her baby anymore her song now gently sends him peacefully to sleep.

This strong cast lift Harvey’s words and deliver them with heartfelt commitment shining a light on the complexities of love and loss. There is also hope as combination therapies begin to make an impact while Jonathan Harvey’s wit is never far away, shining through the tension and tragedy.

Powerful theatre bursting with heaps of heart.

Streaming until 20th June tickets available https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/hushabye-mountain