My Fair Lady

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

My Fair Lady tells the story of Eliza Doolitte, a cockney flower seller plucked from Covent Garden by pompous linguistics professor Henry Higgins who is determined to transform this ‘guttersnipe’ into a proper lady, no matter the cost.

This multi-award-winning production of Lerner & Loewe’s classic musical comes to Manchester following a critically acclaimed West End run and from the opening scene it’s clear to see why audiences from New York to the London have been captivated by this luverly revival.

Michael Yeargan’s set design immediately impresses, managing to be both elaborate and functional, it is incredible, while Catherine Zuber’s sumptuous costumes are simply stunning, paying true homage to the authentic look of the My Fair Lady we’ve come to know and love.

Taking on the role of Eliza, made famous by Audrey Hepburn in the 1964 movie version, Charlotte Kennedy breezes into the flower sellers boots and swiftly makes the role her own. From Wouldn’t It Be Loverley to I Could Have Danced All Night, she captivates entirely; her vocals are sublime. Eliza’s journey from start to finish is incredible to watch, as she brings real emotion to the complexities created by the Professors experiment.

Michael D. Xavier makes for a wonderful Professor Higgins, suave and seemingly sophisticated he gives the character genuine likability and fantastic comedic value. His facial expressions and physicality add layers to the dialogue as he gifts the audience with laugh after laugh due to the absolute absurdity of his firmly held opinions. Despite his misogynistic leanings the effect Eliza has on him is wonderful to see, the pair have you rooting for them wholeheartedly as the bicker and bristle throughout.

Adam Woodyatt is clearly having an absolute ball playing Eliza’s father, Alfred P Doolittle, a role he delivers with ease while impressing with his vocals, Get Me To The Church is a real highlight and also allows the talented ensemble to truly shine. Another stand out ensemble moment comes during the Ascot Gavette which is visually stunning with pitch perfect vocals.

The rest of the supporting cast are equally as strong. John Middleton’s portrayal of Colonel Pickering adds another wonderful element to the piece as he brings a light playfulness to the role.

Tom Liggins is great fun as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, a lovesick puppy desperate for Eliza’s affections. Heather Jackson is a self-assured Mrs Higgins while Lesley Garrett as Mrs Pearce reminds us all just how vocally talented she is.

If classic, classy theatre is what you want then that’s exactly what you’ll get from this stunning production. Everything about it feels top quality, from the cast to the costumes this lavish production hits every note. Bursting with much-loved songs, oozing with style and chock-full of talent this My Fair Lady is not to be missed.

My Fair Lady is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 1st April tickets available here.

Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Peaky Blinders has a lot to answer for: on the one hand it’s one of the most popular TV series of the 21st century, what with its sublime performances and killer soundtrack, a great deal of viewers would have it in their top ten list of favourite series of all time, such is the acclaim and love for the show.

The flip side to this, is the rise of “Peaky Blinders” fan boys dressed in flats-caps, and waist coats invading town centre pubs across the land each weekend. Then, there is the almost criminal use of Cillian Murphy pictures in full Thomas Shelby getup, alongside some horrendous quote about respect, usually posted on social media, when someone’s  had a fall out with a friend/family member and is trying to prove a  point, sorry it just winds me up!

However, one offshoot I would never have foreseen would be a dance show. Well, respected dance company Rambert have done just that with their spectacular, Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby.

Condensing storylines from the first four series, the show opens as Tommy Shelby’s gang emerge from the trenches  of The First World War. They are a damaged, battered, bloodied bunch, forced to commit violent acts that leave physical and mental scars and shape the way the Peaky Blinders will operate in the future. It’s a stunning opening sequence that perfectly sets the tone for what is to follow, exquisite yet brutal routines, beautifully choreographed by Benoit Swan Pouffer, with moody, atmospheric lighting by Nataha Chivers.

From the battlefields of the Somme, we are transported to the brutal factory conditions of the Black Country, where the female gang members, Polly and Ada take centre stage. They fight a different war, a war of oppression and greed perpetrated by a sleazy, factory foreman, showing just how vital women were to the Great War cause, and how they kept the country going whilst men were away fighting. Again, this is a visually stunning sequence as the Birmingham industrial scene is brought to life with huge metal chains, fiery pyrotechnics and a wide range of stunning costumes from Richard Gellar.

With introductions done and dusted, the story focuses on the relationship of Tommy and mysterious lounge singer, Grace. What follows is a whirl-wind story of betrayal, romance, and murder, with the backdrop of glitzy, glamorous night clubs and  police man-hunts, gang warfare culminating in a wedding and assassination, and that’s just the first act!

This is a treat for the senses, with Peaky Blinders’ creator Steven Knight on writing duties, he has given us both a greatest hits of the show’s big moments, whilst offering up something new, that of a detailed examination of grief, addiction and trauma, especially prominent in the second act.

The superb, ensemble cast work incredibly hard throughout, with stunning, beautifully choreographed routines, they tread a fine line between elegant and rugged. Visually it packs a punch with so much going on around you it’s hard to know where to focus your gaze.

Set designer Moi Tran’s bold, ambitious staging allows the action to shift from the tunnels and trenches of World War One, to opium houses, to glamourous night clubs. It’s a fantastic use of space as dancers spring out of hidden pockets, it certainly gives the show a frenetic quality.

Other aspects associated with the series are also ever present, an absolute banging soundtrack with reworking of songs by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Radiohead and of course the signature Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds brought to life by Yaron Engler and a brilliant live band. Also present is TV series regular, the poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who’s always recognisable voice guides us through this bloody, violent world.

My only real issue is the use of dialogue from the TV series, clips of Cillian Murphy and brilliant, greatly missed Helen McCrory are occasionally played throughout, but due to the sound mix are at times inaudible, which as is as you might expect is rather frustrating.

This is a unique, bold attempt to do something a little different with a much loved franchise, that sees all involved on top of their game and well worth a night at the theatre.

Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby is at The Lowry until Saturday 18th March, Tickets available here.

Top Girls

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Opening with a surreal dinner party, newly appointed MD of Top Girls employment agency Marlene is celebrating her success with her girlfriends ; an interesting mix of strong women from history and literature. Each has their own unique story which they retell with vigour; seemingly competing in their efforts to impress one another before descending into a wine-fuelled confessional of the absolute misery befallen them at the hands of men.

Marlene too has her own secret tragedy but has boxed it up, moving onwards and upwards in the hope it’s forgotten as she climbs the male dominated corporate ladder. However the past has a habit of catching up with us and reveals itself in Act 2 resulting in some hard truths being spoken that even the finest whiskey can’t soften.

Director Suba Das has relocated elements of Caryl Churchill’s much celebrated play to 1980s Liverpool, an effective choice and one that gives the story some relatability. The scenes between Marlene (Tala Gouveia) and her seemingly embittered sister (Alicya Eyo) offering both depth and convincing realism amongst a play of vignettes that at times lack cohesion. Marlene’s return to her sister in the home city she resents is acted out brilliantly by Gouveia and Eyo. The scene feels raw and believable with the narrative given time to breathe and sting appropriately.

The employment agency vignettes are entertaining and thought provoking as the female staff gate-keep roles and opportunities while discussing their own personal lives and the control they feel they have on them.

Special mention must go to Elizabeth Twells who stood in for Natalie Thomas at short notice, script in hand and gave a strong, confident performance in each of her multiple roles.

Set and costume designer Ellie Light has given this production an impressive and slick look, switching the style from modern city office to Liverpool terrace superbly while the thumping 80’s soundtrack and additional composition from Nicola T. Chang is a real highlight.

The overall piece will challenge, however I felt nothing for any of the characters and wished this revival had tried less hard to be cerebral and better at connecting with the audience. While brilliantly acted and visually impressive the emotional connection never materialised.

Top Girls is on at Liverpool’s Everyman until 25th March tickets available here.

The Comedy of Errors (More or Less)

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Anyone who has ever read a Shakespeare or two will be aware of his love of mistaken identity, whopping errors of judgement and questionable life choices: A Comedy of Errors (More or Less) will absolutely confirm all these things and bring them kicking and screaming into the 1980’s. Think sensational shell suits, stunning shoulder pads, a beltin’ blast of Fergal Sharkey and you’re halfway there.

This new co-production between Prescot’s Shakespeare North Playhouse and Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, creatively adapted by Elizabeth Godber and Nick Lane takes the Bard’s much-loved comedy and sprinkles it with lashings of Northern humour, some top quality 80’s bangers while relocating it to the sunny climes of Scarborough.

The original plot has never been the easiest to follow but this clever adaptation gifts us with additional narration along the way as well as some brilliant modernisation allowing the comedy of the piece to really shine.

We’ve got two sets of mismatched twins, a Lancastrian named Antipholus who arrives in Scarborough to deliver his hard-grafted one-man fringe show, trouble is, the twin he doesn’t know he has, is already there, owes money to half of Yorkshire and has plans to star in a packed-out talent show on the very same night. His pal/long suffering assistant Dromio also has a missing twin who, you guessed it, is also in Scarborough. Cue a fantastic farce that will have you laughing out loud from the very start.

This talented cast work incredibly hard delivering this reimagined classic, they are superb. Set in the round in the stunning cockpit theatre, Director Paul Robinson has ensured every inch of the space is used with every seat in the house getting a cracking view of the on-stage action. They literally don’t stop, several taking on multiple roles making proceedings all the funnier for it. The whole premise of the piece may be chaotic as each twin is continually mistaken for the other, but the storytelling is clear, hugely entertaining, and incredibly impressive. As the action becomes more farcical so does the comedy, there were many occasions I was crying with laughter as the exasperated twins get more and more confused.

David Kirkbride as Anitpholous of Scarborough/Prescot is hilarious, his loyal defining of what it is to be a Prescotarian has the audience in stiches while his performance as the chaos ramps up is a joy. Oliver Mawdsley who plays alongside Kirkbride as Dromio of Scarborough/Prescot is perfectly cast. The two make for a genius pairing, playing off each other with ease as the banter and laughter flows.

The changing up of Luciana’s (Ida Regan) character is a stroke of genius, she’s not the meek and mild version we know from Shakespeare’s pen but strong, assertive and gives as good as she gets leading to some fantastic scenes between her and Adriana, (Alyce Liburd). Both are excellent in their roles and clearly having a lot of fun with them.

Andy Cryer absolutely shines in his multiple roles, drawing your attention whenever he hits the stage. Valerie Antwi and Claire Eden bring brilliantly unexpected elements to the story while both ramping up the laughter levels even more.

This is a true ensemble piece, with each cast member bringing their absolute A game to the stage. The local referencing, playful narration and inventive reimagining have made this production both accessible and immensely enjoyable. The placing of several 80’s favourites adds to the fun with Alyce Liburd and Ida Regan’s Act II opener, a rendition of Cher’s Jesse James being a real highlight while I’ll now never hear Nick Kershaw’s Wouldn’t It Be Good without it raising a smile.

Shakespeare North Playhouse and Stephen Joseph Theatre have delivered an absolute cracker with this production, ensuring this modern-day Shakespeare is a must-see. The Comedy of Errors (More or Less) is an absolute riot, pure joy from start to finish.

The Comedy of Errors (More or Less) is on at Shakespeare North Playhouse until Saturday 25th March tickets available here.

BRB’s Swan Lake

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director, Calos Acosta states in the programme notes “Swan Lake, ballet’s greatest
love story.” A statement few would argue against, however it would be fair to say that this
production is that and oh so much more!

The story is that of Prince Siegfried (Mathias Dingman), who, when out hunting with his
friend Benno, (Enrique Bejarano Vidal), witnesses a white swan transform into a beautiful
Princess. named Odette ( Momoko Hirata). Siegfried, captivated by her beauty, falls in love
with Odette, however we learn that the young woman and her friends are under a spell
cast by the evil magician, Baron von Rothbart (Jonathan Payn).

A masked ball is held for the young Prince’s birthday where he meets Rothbart’s daughter,
Odile ( Hirata in a duel role), who looks remarkably like Odette. It’s a plan by the magician
in order for his daughter to marry the Prince. However, as you may expect the wicked
warlock’s scheme doesn’t quite pan out.

There is a great deal to admire about this production despite an initial slow start with the
opening act, set at the Prince’s court. It’s a laboured opening with the most of the standout
moments coming from the performance of Enrique Bejarano Vidal, as Benno, who
commanded every inch of the Lowry stage.

However, from Act II, it’s simply outstanding. During this sequence we are introduced to
the gaggle of swans at the banks of a hauntingly moonlit lake. Here we are treated to
some exquisite routines played out to some of Tchaikovsky’s best known and most
treasured music. It felt a privilege to hear such rich, vibrant music played by a full
orchestra, who were flawless throughout tonight’s performance.

Momoko Hirata as Odette/Odile is at the top of her game, she made seemingly impossible
movements look effortless. The numerous fouetté en tournant drawing several shouts of
“bravo!” from knowledgeable, enthusiastic audience members. The numerous pas de deux between the Prince and Odette/Odile are gorgeous and wonderfully choreographed. Their duet during Act III at the castle ballroom, is expertly put together and a real showcase for Hirata and Dingman, set against the backdrop of a fabulous grand, gothic ballroom.

As well as the exquisite routines the costumes throughout look fantastic, from the iconic
swan’s outfits to the rich, glamorous costumes of the Act III ball, with lots of bold red and
brown colours, which makes the arrival of Odile and her father decked out in black all the
more striking. Add into the mix the stunning set design for the two interior castle
sequences as well as the enchanting and ethereal lakeside set design and visually it looks
near perfect.

The final act is simply outstanding, and one I don’t wish to spoil, However it opens with a
truly breathtaking sequence, that drew loud audible gasps of delight from the audience
and is certainly one of my favourite moments from nearly 10 years of reviewing. The final
act is a fitting showcase for all involved with the Prince and Odette performing their final
sequence together, whilst the swan’s around were held still in their position, pure focus etched on their faces, making it seem effortless, it really was a sight to behold.

There are a few minor quibbles, I wasn’t a fan of the video imagery of Odette used during
Act III, it just didn’t look right, and this is one very minor but throughout the ball sequences
the Prince would sit on a chair which very much resembled a camping chair you’d seen
scattered around the pyramid stage at Glastonbury. It seemed such a shame that
everything else looks so exquisite, that this chair stands out like a sore thumb. Only a
small detail I know, but once I noticed it I couldn’t unsee it!

The is an elegant, graceful production, telling a timeless story through beautiful
performances and the glorious music of Tchaikovsky, a true master of his craft. On the
basis of tonight’s show, you can more than see why Swan Lake is an endearing and
mesmerising piece of work and one that with productions like this, will always stand the
test of time.

Swan Lake is at the Lyric Theatre, Lowry until the 4th March. Tickets available here.