The Salon

Telling the story of soon to be divorced Carol and her colleagues, ditzy X Factor wannabee Tia and Shelia who doesn’t want much in life other than a toy boy with the stamina of a marathon runner, The Salon makes a welcome return to St Helens Theatre Royal this week.

The show is a hilarious behind the scenes look at the outrageous daily happenings in your average high street salon when you’re struggling to get over a broken heart and the local gangster has launched a hostile takeover bid on your business and will do anything and sleep with anyone to get it.

Penned by former Hale and Pace sketch writer and Liverpool playwright Drew Quayle, The Salon boasts a stellar Liverpudlian line-up including Radio City favourite Leanne Campbell, Brookside’s Sarah White and Phillip Olivier and Blood Brother’s Olivia Sloyan as well as Emmerdale’s Peter Amory and Towie’s Harry Derbidge.

There are some great performance in this riotous production directed by Sylvie Gatrill. Leanne Campbell plays recently heartbroken salon boss Carol to perfection, pitching her character just right as she battles through daily life in the salon while her ex and his new girlfriend have moved in across the street, she is the calm in the storm of salon life, instantly likeable, she has the audience rooting for her from her first line.

Managing the sex obsessed Sheila, played brilliantly by the sharp and sassy Sarah White and fame hungry, nice but dim beauty therapist Tia (delivered perfectly by OliviaSloyan) isn’t easy for Carol, not only is she nursing a broken heart but is agony aunt to salon owner Neil (Peter Amory) while trying to ward off local gangster Tony’s (Philip Olivier) advances.

There are some real laugh out loud moments in this adult comedy including an eye watering waxing session with some great comic timing from Philip Olivier and a scarily realistic boozy breakdown from jilted Carol.

Regal Entertainments Ltd set is impressive and authentic, allowing for scene changes within one static set, with the Salon taking centre stage and owner Neil’s fabulously flamboyant flat situated above.

The Salon makes for a great night out, flirty, filthy and full of fun!

On at St Helens Theatre Royal until Saturday 25th November tickets available here

Cilla The Musical

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Developed from BAFTA award winner Jeff Pope’s critically acclaimed 2014 ITV mini-series starring Sheridan Smith, Cilla the Musical is a new stage biography which tells the story of Liverpool’s most famous red-head, from her early rise to fame to the start of her much celebrated TV career.

Detailing her fierce ambition, the complexities of her relationship with boyfriend then Manager then husband Bobby Willis and the close friendship they both had with troubled Manager Brian Epstein, Cilla is a nostalgic and heart-warming jukebox musical featuring both Cilla’s hits and other fan favourites from the period, including The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Mamma’s and The Pappas. Cast-of-Cilla-The-Musical-Liverpool-Empire-Photo-By-Matt-Martin-004-1Kara Lily Hayworth more than succeeds in stepping into Cilla’s footsteps, having won the role through a tough open audition process, Hayworth belts out showstopper after showstopper with ease and oozes style. With stunning vocals, perfect Cilla like mannerisms and a flawless Scouse accent her performance is superb. When Hayworth closes Act I with Cilla’s 1964 number one hit ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ she literally brings the house down, goose-bump inducing brilliance, expertly delivered.

Both Carl Au as Bobby and Andrew Lancel as Brian Epstein are excellently cast. The chemistry between Au and Hayworth as Bobby and Cilla is wonderful; Au adds great depth to the character who many of us knew little about other than him being ‘our Bobby’. Lancel plays tormented and troubled Epstein sensitively, a true gentleman always having time for his acts despite his own personal demons.

Gary McCann’s set is impressive, the Cavern, various recording studios, the London Palladium, and even Cilla’s childhood home, all feature, contained within a series of proscenium arches, expertly lit by Nick Richings. Cilla Cilla the musical has clearly been a labour of love for director Bill Kenwright, offering audiences a charming and nostalgic walk down memory lane, act one for me lingers slightly too long in the Cavern days, although the performances are exceptional (Michael Hawkins as John Lennon is fantastic) the pace becomes a little slow, shaving a couple of the songs from this section wouldn’t be of any detriment to the story and would keep the audience fully engaged for the duration. That said, Cilla the Musical is a fantastically fun show, which at its heart is ultimately a love story, not one love story but several, the love story of Bobby and Cilla, Cilla’s love for the music, Brian’s love for his artist, Brian and Bobby’s at times love/hate relationship with each other and even our love for the Scottie Road girl who rose from rags to riches but always remained true to her Liverpudlian roots.

Cilla the Musical is a celebration, funny, charming and chock-full of superb showstoppers, a hugely entertaining night out and fully deserving of the standing ovation received.

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 25th November tickets available here.

Teletubbies Live

Teletubbies Live 1 Photo Credit Dan Tsantilis

Credit: Dan Tsantilis

As the sun sets across the country and small children are being coaxed to sleep in households everywhere there has been one main stay on children’s television for the past 20 years and that is the highly successful Ragdoll production of Teletubbies Live.

A beautiful programme, telling simple stories to children about four very colourful alien like characters living in a floral woodland landscape. Having watched the show most evenings with my own children growing up it was with much excitement that I would get to take my three year old son to see it brought to life in the World Premiere of Limelight’s new theatre production.

Written and directed by Richard Lewis the show entitled ‘Big Hugs’ follows exactly the same format as the TV show with the baby face in the sun rising at the start and Dipsy, LaLa, Tinky Winky and Po popping out of the grassy background to squeals of excitement from the young audience. Teletubbies Live has the highly energetic Sam (Naomi Slater) linking each scene and providing the dance actions to all the songs and her performance is as enthusiastic as you would expect. There are very simple children’s stories such as counting sheep and chasing rabbits plus annoyingly addictive songs throughout which keep the exuberant audience jumping up and down.

Teletubbies Live 2 Photo Credit Dan Tsantilis

Credit: Dan Tsantilis

The transition to stage for such a well know show is seamless and every child (and plenty of adults) left the theatre with an extra spring in their step and catchy melodies humming round their heads. My little boy spent most of the show with his eyes like saucers and mouth wide open as he tried to work out how his favourite character Noo Noo the vacuum cleaner was within touching distance and not behind a glass flat screen!

Say ‘Eh Oh’ to this beautiful children’s theatre show with the little ones in your life as it tours the country and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Opening Night guest reviewer: Justin Eagleton

Teletubbies Live runs at the Palace Theatre Manchester until Sunday 19 November   www.atgtickets.com

For national tour dates visit www.Teletubbieslive.com

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The Little Greats – Pagliacci & Cavalleria

ON 1

A double helping of duplicitous drama made for a dazzling debut at Opera North’s festival of ‘The Little Greats’ at The Lowry last night.

Back-to-back performances of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana captivated the crowd, who – having taken the rare opportunity to see two short operas in one evening – were rewarded with virtuoso vocals by sopranos Elin Pritchard and Giselle Allen respectively.

With each opera revisiting the timeless themes of sexual jealousy and vengeance, they made for a perfect pairing – featuring illicit couplings, spurned lovers and culminations in shocking acts of violence.

Pagliacci begins with company director Canio (Peter Auty) briefing his assembled cast at the first rehearsal of a new production; his wife Nedda (Elin Pritchard) is lead vocalist and Canio is cast as her cuckolded husband.

ON

When Nedda later rejects the unwanted advances of company designer Tonio (Richard Buckhard), he tells Canio that Nedda is cheating on him in a fit of spite. As the final run-through begins, Canio breaks from character – demanding to know the identity of Nedda’s lover…

An accomplished veteran of Opera North’s La bohème, La traviata, Macbeth, Faust and Osud, Peter Auty is commanding in the role of Canio – deftly walking the fine line between bombastic company talisman and wrathful, wronged husband – yet the show is Elin Pritchard’s; she chirps prettily through Act One’s ‘Bird Song’ before displaying her full vocal range while mocking Tonio mercilessly, and emoting her desire to run away with her lover Silvio (Phillip Rhodes).

Full marks to director and set designer Charles Edwards for creating a contemporary setting that makes Leoncavallo’s late-nineteenth century offering totally accessible to modern audiences, while remaining true to the integrity of the Italian artistic movement ‘Verismo’.

ON 2

After a mere 20-minute break (after which Phillip Rhodes impressively returned to the stage in yet another lead role), Cavalleria rusticana commences…

At once, we are transported to post-Second World War Poland – a substitute for the opera’s original setting of Sicily – where we find Turiddu (Jonathan Stoughton) in the midst of a love triangle… caught between the woman he loves, Lola (Katie Bray), who is married to Alfio (Phillip Rhodes), and Santuzza (Giselle Allen), the woman he seduced, but then cast aside.

Lola, disillusioned as she is with married life, is indulging in adulterous trysts with Turiddu – much to the agony of the deeply religious Santuzza. When Easter Sunday dawns, Santuzza decides to tell Alfio exactly what unholy acts his wife and Turiddu have been up to…

This is an opera that is going to put your through the emotional wringer. Santuzza’s articulation of her despair takes up more than half of the allotted running time – making it more character-led than story-driven; however, as a demonstration of sheer talent, Giselle Allen’s performance is exemplary.

ON 3

Once again, Charles Edwards’ set design is impeccable – pared back, stark and as raw as the emotions the principals and chorus paint it with.

Praise too for costume designer Gabrielle Dalton, who gets the period detail spot on; finally, a special shout out for the vintage taxi, which makes a reoccurring – and crowd-pleasing – appearance on stage!

None of the above would be possible without the stupendous orchestra of Opera North – led throughout both operas by Tobias Ringborg – as well as the chorus, who combined to offer an Italian extravaganza both for opera aficionados and newcomers to delight in.

‘The Little Greats’ Festival continues at The Lowry with works by Ravel and Janáček, as well as by Gilbert & Sullivan and Leonard Bernstein.

For more details, click here: https://www.thelowry.com/events/little-greats

 

Little Women

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Louisa May Alcott’s much loved classic about the four March sisters growing up in Civil War-era New England has been a literary favourite for almost 150 years now. Seen previously on the big screen, radio plays, TV series and straight theatre plays the March sisters undoubtedly have a place in the hearts of many, this is the first time however the Broadway musical has made its way to European shores as the incredibly successful pairing of Hope Mill Theatreand Aria Entertainment continue their vision to deliver accessible musical theatre in Manchester.

The production offers a condensed take on the heart-warming story of trailblazer Jo and her three sisters, Meg, Beth and Amy March, with Jo at the spirited centre of the piece. With their father off at war and their mothers encouragement to be the best versions of themselves they can be, the sisters set out on their path to becoming ‘little women’.

Amie Giselle-Ward is outstanding as Jo, passionate, strong and always true to herself, Giselle-Ward embodies perfectly the brash and bold Jo Marsh with a raw energy that utterly captivates, fiercely loyal and defiantly proud her characterisation is honest and raw as she delivers an incredibly moving and deeply emotional performance. She fizzes and boils over with a determination to live the life she chooses not one society choses for her, a woman seemingly ahead of her time when the book was first published in 1868 and an absolute heroine to women today.

The ten strong cast are incredibly hard working and beautifully demonstrate the importance and strength of family, love and hope regardless of the situation or difficulties they face. Each of the sisters are perfectly cast, Jemima Watling is superb as Meg, sweet and sensible, with a heart full of love. Katie Marie-Carter makes for a fabulous Amy, spoiled and selfish she is wonderfully dramatic. Cathy Read plays Beth with sweet affection, gentle and kind with a real sincerity she is the calm to Jo’s perfect storm.

Bronagh Lagan’s direction ensures the production remains entirely committed to delivering Louisa May Alcott’s message of love, family and female empowerment with wonderful storytelling throughout.

Ben M Rogers light design gently warms the production, allowing Nik Corrall’s simplistic yet effective set to shine. The intimate setting of Hope Mill Theatre is perfect for this engaging production, giving audiences the most wonderful connection with the characters as Jason Howard’s music and Mindi Dickstein’s lyrics are brought to life by Rickey Long’s superb musical direction.

Little Women is a celebration, joyful, spirited and full of heart. The perfect festive treat for all ages, delivering an important and current message that into each life some rain must fall but never let that diminish the fire within you.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 9th December tickets available here

Hope Mill Theatre announces 2018 season!

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Award-winning Hope Mill Theatre and resident producer Aria Entertainment today announce their much anticipated 2018 season, with three bold, exciting and ambitious in-house productions.

The converted mill in Ancoats currently hosting the European premiere of Little Women enjoyed a landmark 2017 season which saw 5* critically acclaimed productions and London transfers for Yank! and Hair with Pippin following in early 2018 will begin the season with the world premiere of new British musical The ToyBoy Diaries (on sale today).

This new musical comedy which runs from 18 January to 10 February 2018 charts the hilarious and sometimes heart-breaking sagas of mid-life dating. When twice-divorced Lily inadvertently finds herself under a much younger man, it opens the door to a wild new world of inappropriate relationships. From Tom the Tender to Sam the Submissive, via Paul the Policeman, Hat Trick Patrick and Matt the Monstrous (with Old Willy and Philandering Phil mixed in along the way) Lily finally finds Ben the Bountiful.

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Spring Awakening will run from 19 March to 3 May 2018. A production hailed as “one of the great musicals of the last decade” (New York Times) and the winner of eight Tony and four Olivier Awards, Spring Awakening follows a group of teenagers in late-19th-century Germany navigating the struggles and virtues of blossoming youth, with an electrifying fusion of morality, sexuality and a Grammy award-winning rock score. This landmark musical will be presented in an intimate and bold new production helmed by director Luke Sheppard (In The Heights, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole).

Third show to be announced is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s romantic classic Aspects of Love which will run from 5 July to 4 August 2018. Featuring the iconic “Love Changes Everything” Aspects of Love tells the story of passion, love and loss across three generations of a family and their artistic companions, against a background of 1940’s France and Italy.

The hugely successful partnership between Joseph Houston and William Whelton, the co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre and producer Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment is further testament to their commitment to make Hope Mill Theatre the home of new musicals and revivals in the north and beyond with two more yet-to-be announced productions in Autumn/Winter.

Hope Mill Theatre Exterior Shot

William Whelton and Joseph Houston, co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre said: “We wanted to make sure our third season was even more ambitious and we feel we have managed to achieve that with the world premiere of the new British musical The ToyBoy Diaries, an exciting revival of Spring Awakening with an Olivier Award-winning creative team and our first staging of an Andrew Lloyd Webber classic – Aspects of love. Once again we have proved the power of regional theatre and continue to spearhead Hope Mill Theatre as a leading player in new musical staging, musical premieres and exciting revivals.”

Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment, who has just seen her production of The Addams Family transfer to Singapore stated “I have enjoyed working with the theatre on taking our shows to new commercial levels in London and am extremely delighted to announce the first three shows of our 2018 season, it is an honour to share this diverse selection of work with you. We hope to continue to champion the genre and bring in audiences from far and wide.”

Further information can be found here

@Hopemilltheatr1

@ToyBoyDiaries

 

Spamalot

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Review by Matthew Forrest 

 The programme states that Spamalot is lovingly ripped off from the motion picture” of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Well for my money, this production is doing itself a disservice; if anything it’s enhancing the ‘Python’ legacy and introducing them to a wider audience. 

As a Python fan, you sometimes take it as a given that most people will love them and their work as much as you do. However that’s not always the case, as some people just “don’t get it” or have never seen the Python’s in action before. For die-hard fans like myself, the nay-sayers and the unacquainted, Spamalot is the perfect night out, suitably ridiculous, occasionally bewildering, but always hilarious! 

Following the plot of the film, Spamalot sees King Arthur and his faithful servant Patsy, as they attempt to enlist various brave and not so brave knights to join him at his court in Camelot. It is here that the voice of God or, more accurately Eric Idle, send Arthur and his Knights on a quest to seek out the Holy Grail. 

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As you would expect it’s absolutely bonkers: most of the set-pieces are in there, from The Knights who say Nee and Black Knight: with the welcome addition of a new character in the Lady of Lake. 

The cast are on great form: Bob Harms is excellent as the pompous, self-absorbed King Arthur, Rhys Owens is on equally good form as Patsy, a polar opposite to his master but certainly the brains of the outfit. Sarah Harlington offers a scene stealing turn as the Lady of the Lake, who has an equally inflated opinion of herself, similar to that of King Arthur. 

They are supported by a fantastic, hard-working cast with most taking on multiple roles, who are all given their moments to shine. Standout scenes include Jonathan Tweedie’s Lancelot and his daring rescue of Prince Herbert and the cast’s spectacular Knights of the Round Table routine. 

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Eric Idle, along with John du Prez have come up with catchy and funny tunes that aren’t strictly in keeping with the show. The Song That Goes Like This takes a much-needed swipe at musicals and their big defining tunes, whilst You Won’t Succeed in Showbiz, takes a well-aimed shot at celebrity culture and has been updated with numerous topical references. In addition, there is the über-camp His Name is Lancelot and of course the old faithful Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. However, it’s Sarah Harlington’s vocals on Whatever Happened To My Part? and her duet with Norton James in Lady of the Lake that really bring the house down. Harlington’s voice is phenomenal: so much power blended with her comic timing certainly make you wish her part was that bit bigger. 

Director Daniel Buckroyd has certainly got the best out of his cast, with all involved displaying a gift for comedy, and allowing room for a spot of adlibbing as well.  Some cast members just about managed to told hold it together, which really added to the fun of it all. 

I really can’t fault this wonderful show. It has everything you would want in a musical: silly, uplifting fun, catchy tunes and a sing-a-long, to boot. You really can’t ask for more. Spamalot is currently on a nationwide tour and is well worth catching when it comes to a theatre near you. 

 On at the Manchester Palace Theatre till the 11th November tickets available here