Love n Stuff

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

‘…Thought your home was India?’ ‘No, it’s wherever you are.

Tanika Gupta hits the sweet spot and gets the right blend of heart-filled sentiment and outlandish laugh-out-loud humour to make ‘Love n stuff’ a warm and uplifting way to re-open the Coliseum after so long.

Love n Stuff which first premiered at Theatre Royal Stratford East in London in 2013, centres around the marriage of Bindi and Mansoor, played by Komal Amin and Maanuv Thiara respectively.

Beef with the missus?” “No she doesn’t eat beef. She’s Hindu.’ Its a story of marriage; the good, the bad and the everything in between. A story of the things that divide us and the things that unite us, but ultimately a story of (yep you guessed it) ‘love!’

As we take our seats waiting for the performance to start, we find ourselves inside a departure lounge at Heathrow Airport, the irony and nostalgia of which isn’t lost on us as we wait patiently after the last 18 months of travel restrictions, for a holiday… Oh and for the show to start!

Mansoor is waiting for his ‘delayed’ one-way flight to India, whilst his wife (and seemingly their entire neighbourhood) have other plans.

In-between the ‘Love’ there certainly is A LOT of other ‘Stuff’ going on. Amin and Thiara mutli-roleplay the entire show (13+ characters) themselves. It is indeed no mean feat that they are on stage and hold the audience’s attention for the entire 1 hour and 20 minutes. Their multi-roleplaying is of exceptional standard and range; from an over zealous duty-free assistant, to an erotic-obsessed temple guide. There is no limit as Amin cross-genders with the embodiment of the young South-Londoner ‘Baggy’ with panache. Both Amin and Thiara really do flourish in their portrayals of such a vast array of characters, whilst at the same time showcasing their ability to switch back and forth between each one, using mainly just their physicality and voice, with pin-point precision and great efficacy.

Although with so much going on it occasionally may feel a little challenging to connect emotionally with the piece, Buttoo’s direction ensures that whilst chaos ensues, its organised. Sibai’s slick, smart and simple, yet versatile set, allows the storytelling to unravel smoothly, equally aided by Sayeed and McCready’s culture-rich music and Taylor’s precise lighting design, the scenes are established and evolve quickly and effectively.

It’s hard to believe ‘Love n Stuff’ is the Coliseum’s first in-house produced show since February 2020. A joyful and poignant way to burst open the much loved doors of the Coliseum and the hearts of it’s audience, which on a side note, felt more diverse then ever. Kudos to the Coliseum for their continuous hard work engaging and connecting with different parts of it’s identity, culture and the outer community.

This Autumn, for a laugh-out-loud, heart warming theatrical experience, all you need is LOVE (n Stuff).

‘Love n Stuff’ runs at Oldham Coliseum until Saturday 2nd of October – here.

Love n Stuff also visits:

Watford Palace Theatre – Tuesday 5th – Saturday 9th October 2021 here.

Sheffield Crucible Studio- Wednesday 13th- Saturday 16th October here.

Glee & Me

Reviewed by Alison Ruck

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Oh, how wonderful it is to be back at The Royal Exchange Theatre, and what better timing than to be back on their 45th birthday! And what a way to celebrate with the world premiere of Glee & Me.

Let’s dive straight into the deep stuff – the eternal question…what is the meaning of life? A question I’m sure we’ve all pondered at some point in our lives… but the thought of it leads to some sort of existential dread. Well, that question is one that Lola seeks to find the answer to, after she gets the horrific news that she is terminally ill. So, she sets herself a promise to do two things: discover the meaning of life – and have all the sex!

Glee & Me is written by Stuart Slade and won The Bruntwood prize for playwriting in 2019. It tells the story of a sharp-witted, sixteen-year-old Lola, who is diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. Despite the way the title reads, it’s not at all a play filled with ‘glee’, on the contrary as glee stands for the shortened version of the particular brain tumour Lola is battling against, glioblastoma multiforme.

The one-woman play is as equally heart breaking as it is quick witted and humorous. Liv Hill as Lola is absolutely sensational. At no point did I believe I was watching an actress on stage: I was there with Lola, listening intently as she tells us her story. Raw, beautiful and poignant.

Slade’s story is a sad one, but its also one of love, hope and gratitude. There are some beautifully written lines, of an almost poetic nature, leaving you to ponder your own life and the love within it.  Contrasted with the sharp-witted character he has created, the humorous elements not only add light to what is a dark topic but draws you into Lola’s story even more, helping you relate to her relationships, her youthful nature and her troubles.

There is no better space for this production than The Royal Exchange, as the in-the round environment of the theatre only added to the conversational dimensions of the play. The stage and lighting design, by Anna Yates and Jess Bernberg, were carefully considered not only for the space but for the desolate moments with the play to draw you back to the painful reality that Lola was experiencing. The subtle lighting changes revealed and extenuated the pain and difficulties that Lola faced, becoming more frequent throughout the play and climaxing to a peaceful and enriching ending.

Yet even in these darkest moments of the play, you’re quickly snapped out of them back to the hilarious one liners and relatable topics that had the audience thoroughly amused. It’s an ode to a great writer and a great actress for a play such as this (and a relatively short 1 hour 25 minutes straight through), to make you both laugh out loud and then cry within minutes.

The heart wrenchingly beautiful play is one that needs to be experienced by audiences, and I hope and expect to see this production do great things in the future. Glee & Me is a reminder to us all to find joy even in the darkest of times, something which we have all strived for in the last year or so. As Lola says, “You’ve got to laugh, or it’ll destroy you”.

Glee & Me is on at The Royal Exchange until Saturday 30th October tickets available here.

Bat Out Of Hell

Reviewed by Michelle Ewen

Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The ‘Bat’ is back in town! Four long years since its world premiere at the Opera House Manchester in 2017, Bat Out of Hell – the award-winning hit musical – has finally come home to Quay Street. Announcing its return with a victorious lap of roaring motorcycles, smoking tyres, gasoline fumes and lashings of leather, this is a production you could see, hear and taste before anyone had even set foot on stage!  

A frenetic fusion of Peter Pan meets Mad Max, Jim Steinman originally conceived Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell as a musical. It took four decades for that vision to be fulfilled – and it was worth the wait.

Enter Strat (Glenn Adamson), the charismatic leader of The Lost – a collective of rock n’ roll-loving misfits who, following a DNA-freezing earthquake, are condemned to be forever 18. Living in a network of tunnels beneath Obsidian (formerly known as Manhattan), The Lost are the scourge of city leader Falco (Rob Fowler), whose disaffected daughter Raven (Martha Kirby) and hilariously disenchanted wife Sloane (Sharon Sexton) reside with him in Falco Towers.

When Raven discovers a discarded T-shirt following The Lost’s latest protest in Falco Square, she locks eyes with its owner – Strat – setting the two on a romantic collision course that bristles with high-octane energy. Raven is as determined to become one of The Lost as her parents are to stop her, but with their own relationship in dire need of a fuel injection, can Falco and Sloane get on the same page when it comes to their daughter’s future?

Scored with nearly 20 Meatloaf and Jim Steinman classics, this rambunctious rock opera comes screaming out of the gates with ‘All Revved Up with No Place to Go/Wasted Youth’. Act One continues to pack a punch with a sizzling ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ – memorably staged atop of a convertible car – and an achingly tender rendition of ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’ by out-of-step lovebirds Zahara (Joelle Moses) and Jagwire (James Chisholm). 

By contrast, Act Two starts its engine in comparative idle – a flurry of duets slowing the pace right down. Once again, Fowler and Sexton – reprising their original roles – stand out with ‘What Part of My Body Hurts the Most’, whilst Tink (Killian Thomas Lefevre) infuses ‘Not Allowed to Love’ with palpable yearning. When ‘Dead Ringer for Love’ kicks in, the production bursts back into life; then it’s a home run of stone-cold classics right to the final curtain.

This is one sexy, fleshy, no-holds-barred production with flashes of pink thong, straddled laps galore and blood-smeared abs all making an appearance on stage. Not for the faint-hearted, Jay Scheib’s superb direction errs towards comedy rather than grotesque – lending a light-hearted feel to the whole production.

There was so much to love about the cast in Version 1.0 of this musical, but rest assured, those who are returning for Version 2.0 can find joy in the performances of the latest additions to the billing. 

Glenn Adamson’s Strat is fresh and enchanting, embodying the ‘forever young’ aesthetic of The Lost, whilst Martha Kirby’s Raven is his perfect ‘Wendy’ – a wistful romantic on the cusp of love; however, the standout performance is BOOH veteran Sharon Sexton as Sloane, who goes for every laugh and smashes every vocal.  

Jon Bausor understood the assignment – bringing us a set and costume design that hits every dystopian note. Falco Towers, suspended above ‘The Deep End’ and revealed to us via roaming videocam, is a particular triumph. It feels like a truly innovative use of space, as throbbing motorcycles, a vintage car and a sofa take it in turns to appear and disappear stage left and right.

Xena Gusthart’s clever choreography gives every member of the ensemble the opportunity to shine – especially during the riot scenes and the ‘push me-pull me’ love ballads.  

Of course, this production is all about Steinman’s music. Under the supervision of Michael Reed, the band are an absolute knockout – bringing us home with a final surprise number dedicated to the hitmaker who passed in April this year. Having bounced around in their seats and sung their hearts out, the audience is finally unleashed to give a roaring ovation. 

For this reviewer, Bat Out of Hell continues to be the benchmark by which all musicals are measured… For Crying Out Loud, You Know I Love You.  

Bat Out of Hell is on at the Opera House until Saturday, 2 October. Find out more and purchase tickets here.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If you’re looking for a post pandemic pick-me-up then look no further, get yourself down to The Lowry and immerse yourself in this heart-warming gem of a show.

After debuting at Sheffield’s crucible theatre in 2017 the West End beckoned for the inspiring story of Jamie New, a 16 year old boy with dragtastic plans in life.

Based on the true story of Jamie Campbell and inspired by the BBC3 documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 the show delves into the life of Jamie New; on the surface fearless and fabulous, underneath sensitive and scarred, but always true to himself.

Layton Williams returns to the role after playing Jamie in the West End and absolutely shines. His sass and sarcasm ensuring every brilliantly witty line lands while his vulnerability leaves you yearning for him to succeed.

Amy Ellen Richardson brings grit and soul to Jamie’s Mum, Margaret; her 2nd half delivery of He’s My Boy left me with more than a lump in my throat & thankful I’d packed the tissues; absolutely stunning.

Jamie’s relationship with Margaret, a strong, determined, single mum lies at the very heart of the piece and shapes the story beautifully. Williams and Richardson convince entirely; the ease in which they share the stage together illustrates the fiercely unconditional love between mother and son to perfection.

Shobna Gulati as Ray, Margaret’s best friend and often substitute parent for Jamie is fantastic, bringing humour and iconic Northern female strength to the role she’s as loyal as they come and as much family as any blood relative.

Shane Ritchie acts as Drag Mother Hugo/Loco Chanel bringing depth to the role as the former drag queen with their own multi-layered story to tell, a cheerleader to Jamie and instant hit with the audience. Another important cheerleader in Jamie’s life is best friend Pritti portrayed wonderfully by Sharan Phull. Her calm resilience and loving encouragement are incredibly touching.

The themes of inclusivity and individuality are delivered with true authenticity. There’s nothing gimmicky about this show, the story feels real and truly heartfelt. While the slick ensemble numbers thrill, with the excellent ensemble showcasing Kate Prince’s choreography superbly it’s the quieter moments that draw you in, ensuring you’re #TeamJamie from the start.

The journey school bully Dean (George Sampson) goes on isn’t brash or obvious but one of a new understanding through education and removal of fear.

Like many of us, theatre makers have had an incredibly difficult time during the pandemic but seeing a show as joyful and uplifting as this reminds you just how affecting and inspiring theatre can be.

Packed full of witty one liners, superb songs & stunning choreography Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a life-affirming celebration. An absolute must-see bursting with joy and heart.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is on at The Lowry until Sunday 12th September tickets available https://thelowry.com/whats-on/everybodys-talking-about-jamie/