HopeFest

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

The sunshine has arrived just in time to herald the start of Hope Fest, a 3-week program of outdoor arts and cultural events located in the heart of trendy Ancoats.

The festival takes place from the 16th July through to 8th August and promises a mix of comedy, music, theatre and special events that will cater to all tastes!

Events include various shows from Matt & Phred’s music sessions, a celebration of Jazz, Funk and Soul. There is also Dog Fest, a family friendly event, showcasing some talented, paw-fect pooches, hosted by Hope Mill Patron Hayley Tamaddon. In addition,there is a tip of the hat to some iconic mega stars, including Dolly Parton, with The Dolly Show, performed by one of the best Dolly impersonators around; as well as a musical extravaganza in the form of Judy & Liza, which looks at Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli’s 1964 London Palladium show.

The festival kicked off with a huge statement of intent, in the guise of Jason Manford’s Comedy Club: a comedy showcase highlighting the cream of British stand up, and an opportunity to unearth some undiscovered comedic gems.

Tonight’s show featured four comics Matt Rees, James Allen, Julian Deane and our MC for the evening Sally-Anne Hayward. Hayward offers a mix of razor sharp observations on feminism, along with a scathing critic of clap-for-carers, which is bang on point. This, interspersed with lewd gags, and the tried-and-tested audience ‘banter’ sees Hayward do a solid job of setting the tone for the evening.

First on is Matt Rees, whose sardonic routine mainly centres on his battle with alcoholism and his continued sobriety. In addition, there are some set pieces focusing on a Mega Bus journey and his stint working at Poundland that are good fun. However, it is Rees’ darker material that is his main strength, with gags about dwarf sex and dementia, which are as funny as they are smart. It is a low-key, droll, but welcome offering from Rees.

Next up is James Allen, a Salford University Graduate, who packs a great deal into his short set. Focusing on Allen’s awkwardness. This is a set filled self-deprecating gags, about awkward first sexual encounters and his time as a drama student. It’s a silly, light routine from Allen, and because of its short running time leaves you wanting more from his awkward adventures.


Following the interval is the show’s headline act Julian Deane. The gags come thick and fast, with Deane working through a-near-the-knuckle routine focusing on relationships, and fatherhood. Some punch lines are as brutal as they are funny, helped along by Deane’s deadpan delivery. What is appealing about his routine is that despite the confidence with which it is delivered Deane is often the butt of his own jokes, which is somewhat refreshing. This was a great headline set from a comic who I’d definitely be interested in seeing again.

The opening night of Hope Fest was an absolute triumph, a great indicator of what lies ahead for this bold, innovative festival and a wonderful addition to Manchester’s vibrant cultural scene.

More information on Hope Fest as well as tickets can be found at https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/hope-fest

The Hound of The Baskervilles

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Alison Ruck

As one of the first full scale productions to grace the newly refurbished Bolton Octagon stage, I was very excited to head to the theatre for a night of comedy brilliance with The Hound of The Baskervilles.

The Octagon has just undertaken a million-pound refurbishment, set to improve accessibility, visitor experience and backstage facilities. And oh yes was it worth it, it looks amazing, the place is pristine, modern and beautiful. The Octagon has really upped it’s game and I cant wait to see what amazing work they produce going forward.

But anyway, back to The Hound of The Baskervilles. With a cast of only 3, the adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic adventure tells the story of one of Sherlock Holmes’ most popular case. The famous pair of Sherlock and Watson are asked to unravel the mystery surrounding the untimely death of Sir Charles Baskerville, and with rumours of a cursed giant hound on the loose, they must act fast to save the Baskerville family’s last remaining heir.

The trio of talented actors play a variety of roles throughout the show, incorporating a multitude of accents, costumes, and physicality to differentiate. Polly Lister plays Sir Henry Baskerville (amongst many others), Octagon Youth Theatre alumni, Reuben Johnson is the famous Sherlock Holmes (amongst many others), and Simon Kane is Mr Watson, who is the only constant in his role throughout.


The multi-rolling was brilliant, each one portrayed with dazzling humour and distinguish. One of my favourites wasMiss Cecile Stapleton played by The Octagon’s very own, Reuben, his flirty mannerisms combined with some brilliantly written comedy created the perfect, mysterious other woman. 

All three actors were outstanding, their perfect comedy timing and exuberance created farcical brilliance which at times had me crying laughing, particularly at the scenes with the dummies (no spoilers) which had the whole audience in stiches. The cast have great chemistry on stage and even when speaking to the audience (or breaking the fourth wall for those who like technical terms) the comedy was very natural and raw, flowing from ‘break out’ to ‘acting’ effortlessly whilst keeping the comedy simple and easy.

The production, directed by Lotte Wakeham, was minimal yet clever staging, making use of only a few items of set that immediately help place a scene and the clever use of props that not only keep you with the story but add subtle moments of humour within the scenes. Similarly, the costumes, designed by David Woodhead allowed you to differentiate between characters even through the quick changes and role swaps, each one accentuated each character perfectly, which was further emphasised by the fantastic actors.

When you’re not laughing away, you’re sucked into the world of Holmes and Watson through the twists and turns of the plot. I was unfamiliar with the production, so I was utterly entranced by the ‘who did it’ drama and was even surprised by the findings of the detective pair.

This adaption of The Hounds of The Baskervilles was the perfect blend of farcical comedy and mystery drama. A fun show, sure to have you howling with laughter (pun intended)from start to finish.

The Hound of The Baskervilles is on at Octagon Theatre, Bolton until Saturday 7th August tickets available https://octagonbolton.co.uk

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

Meet Me at Dawn

Reviewed by Alison Ruck


Indoor theatre is back! And where better to see your first live piece of theatre in over a year than at the beautiful Hope Mill Theatre. 

There’s honestly no better feeling than being back sat in a theatre waiting for the lights to go down and in HER Production’s ‘Meet Me At Dawn’, once the lights went down I was engrossed from start to finish. 

With it being a relatively small theatre, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of Covid restrictions and audience numbers but was pleasantly surprised to see how much the theatre has done to ensure the seating can be socially distanced whist not affecting the full audience atmosphere too much. With added Perspex screens and wider rows, I felt I could enjoy the fulltheatre-feel safely. 

The stage is set rather sparsely with minimal set and lighting. We’re immediately thrown into the action and introduced to Robyn (played by Helen O’Hara) and Helen (played by Susan Jayne-Robinson), a young couple who find themselves washed up on a distant shore, following a boating accident. It’s clear from the offset that something is amiss, but it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what until much later in the piece.

Some key themes are introduced briefly early on and later revisited more in depth; this gives the piece a nice flow and allows it space to grow.

I found myself initially wondering where the story would go and how much could be explored on what seemed to be a simple, static set, located on an island beach.

However, as the piece went on, emotions rose and the actors really hit their stride and I was pleasantly surprised with the range and depth the actors displayed during some of the more emotional moments of the piece. Sound and lighting enhanced the emotional moments of the piece in the most subtle way, which truly draws you in at those times. 

HER Productions produce a range of work with a female voice at the core, and this is clear to see through the pure and honest connections that actors Helen, Susan and director Ellie Rose bring to life throughout this production. As a woman watching this show, it is so easy to see your own relationships through the characters, be that friendships, mother/daughter, or romantic. This adds to the emotion at the end of the piece (without giving too much away) when the plot resolves.

The production, which is 1 hour 20 minutes straight through, is a touching story about love and grief and all the emotions that come with it: sadness, anger and eventually peace. The production really takes you with it on its journey through these emotions and by the end leaves you with a real sense of heartbreak and considering your own relationships and their importance.

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2


Meet Me At Dawn is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 29th May. Tickets are available at: hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/meet-me-at-dawn

C.O.N.T.A.C.T

📷 Phil Tragen

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest


Over the last 14 months many of us have had a great deal of time to take stock and reflect on the world around us, so wouldn’t it be exciting to enter the head space of someone different for a short while, and become immersed in their world.

Well for 50 minutes you can, with the unique production of C.O.N.T.A.C.T brought to audiences by Aria Entertainment, WEF Productions and The Lowry, staged either at Media City and/or a Manchester City Centre.

We were told prior to the event to meet near the tram stop at Media City and to bring a brolly: this after all is Salford where the city and grey sky fit like hand in glove. In addition we were asked to download the C.O.N.T.A.C.T app for your smartphone of choice and to bring a set of earphones.

📷 Phil Tragen

We are soon introduced to Sarah (Chloe Gentles), a young women with a lot going on in her head: from the uncomfortable fitting of her bra to the odd feeling in the pit of her stomach, all the while taking in the sounds of the city, lost in her own little bubble.

However her world is soon turned on it’s head with the introduction of Raphael (Cellan Scott), a mysterious stranger who knows more about Sarah then she knows about herself.

Sarah and Raphael soon begin a journey of discovery and reflection which will change Sarah forever.

C.O.N.T.A.C.T was first performed in Paris at the height of the pandemic, moving to London last summer and garnering huge praise for it’s bold, innovative attempt to stage live theatre. After all we can’t order a drink without an app, so why shouldn’t we enjoy theatre in the same way?

📷 Phil Tragen

Both Gentles and Scott do not utter a world throughout, with both giving visual, expressive performances whilst their dialogue is drip fed into our conscious’ via the app. The two actors performances, in conjunction with the highly impressive 3-D sound design allow you to switch off and become totally immersed in Sarah’s world, so much so that as we strolled around the grounds of the Blue Peter Garden I became aware that I was part of the production, as baffled on lookers watched a group of people with headphones observing two others have a silent but very heated debate.

This unique, production is the perfect reminder of how much we need human connection and the importance of looking after not only ourselves but also looking out for others. No matter what challenges we may face, there can always be a solution found.

C.O.N.T.A.CT is on in Manchester and at Media city until the 27thJune. Tickets available at: https://thelowry.com/whats-on/contact-salford-quays/

Interview | Layton Williams | Hushabye Mountain

Hope Mill Theatre recently announced it will be working with Stream.Theatre to stream a new online production worldwide of Hushabye Mountain by acclaimed writer Jonathan Harvey.

Directed by Nick Bagnall, this online production stars Layton Williams as Connor, Matt Henry as Lee, Jodie Prenger as Beryl, Nathan McMullen as Danny, Amy Dunn as Lana and Harrison Scott-Smith as Ben.

We caught up with Layton Williams during rehearsals to hear a little more about this innovative production which will be streamed live on Saturday 5th June, and then available online on 11th, 12th and 13th June 2021 (7:30pm) and 18th, 19th and 20th June 2021 (7:30pm with a 2:30pm Saturday Matinee).

ON) Can you tell us about Hushabye Mountain, and how you became involved with the piece?

LW) It’s a show about relationships, it’s about pain, it’s about love, it’s about loss and we’ve all got these experiences we can tap into. I worked with Jonathan Harvey many, many years ago on Beautiful People which was a TV show we did when I was a kid so it’s really fab that Johnathan was my fist TV experience and now he’s giving me my first play experience.

I have always known I’d jump at the chance to work with Jonathan again, it’s been about 14 years since I first did, and I really wanted to push myself and do something different, so people see me in a way they’ve never seen me before. Especially in this current climate, to have the opportunity to be creative again got me really excited and honestly this was a no brainer for me, I was absolutely buzzin’ when they gave me the job.

ON) How does it feel to be back in a rehearsal room after such a difficult year for the industry?

LW) Amazing! Being in a rehearsal room, starting with a read through, then getting scenes up on their feet to getting our voice recorders out and doing some singing, some harmonies it feels like I’m back by popular demand and I love it! Honestly, it’s just so nice to be creating and it feels like we’ve got such a free reign to be creative with what we’re doing, although the play has obviously been done before it really feels like we can put our own artistic stamp on it. I’m really having a fab time.

ON) Director Nick Bagnall appeared in the original production, which we imagine is of huge benefit for the cast in really getting to the heart of the piece?

LW) It’s brilliant, what’s so good is that he’s really generous with the whole cast and how we do things plus we’ve had Jonathan in the room for a few days too so between the two we’re really in good hands. We’ve really got such a good team here, who we can really be vulnerable with which is just great. I just can’t wait to get out there and give it my all.

ON) The play focuses on the absence left by Danny following his death from AIDS, while you play Connor his partner left trying to navigate life, this feels a timely piece on many levels.

LW) There’s been so much heartbreak and so much loss, friends, family everywhere you look there’s been loss. So to go through that journey creatively could be overwhelming but the great thing about Jonathan is that he does bring that humour to the piece, one minute we’ll be in intense high emotion the next someone will come in pretending to be Mary Poppins, cracking one liners, and that’s what real life is, you’re laughing, then you’re crying.

Although I wasn’t around when the AIDS crisis happened, I’ve made sure I’ve educated myself, I played Angel in RENT previously who dies from AIDS and this is the other side of things taking on a completely different viewpoint. Hopefully, we’re on the other side of this pandemic now, and how lucky we are to be moving towards the other side.

Being aware, educating ourselves more, getting tested, spreading the word and knowing the hardship people went through and remembering those who were lost. This feels like a really beautiful way to both respect and remember the lives that were lost.

ON) This new adaptation from Hope Mill theatre will premiere as a live streamed event, for you as an actor does that pose different challenges to performing in front of a live audience?

LW) It’s quite nerve wracking when you start thinking about it, but I’m trying to think if this was a normal situation it would be live in front of an audience so not really dissimilar to what we’re used to. In just one sitting we can reach many people, that’s a real plus, we’re really gonna knuckle down and give the audiences the best piece we can. Also I’m from just down the road so to bring something so close to my heart to my hometown does feel really special. I feel like all the stars have aligned to be honest.

ON) After several postponements due to the pandemic things seem increasingly hopeful that the Everybody’s Talking About Jamie tour will resume at The Lowry later this year, how will you feel being back in Jamie’s red heels and in front of a home crowd?

LW) We’re gonna be back, hopefully in September, it’s a whole different show to Hushabye Mountain but one which I think people in Manchester and Salford will love. I feel like I’ve warmed up the muscles now with this piece and I’m just itching to go, it’s a show that’s really close to my heart and I’ve got unfinished business with, it’s time to wrap this tour and go out with a bang!

Hushabye Mountain runs 5th-20th June online tickets £15-£17 (+£1.50 booking fee)

There will also be an opportunity for audiences to watch a screening at Hope Mill Theatre on Saturday 12th June. Tickets are £25 and include a drink on arrival, popcorn, a post-show Q&A and a seat at Hope Mill Theatre to watch Hushabye Mountain in the very space it was created.

Tickets can be booked via https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/hushabye-mountain

Critically-acclaimed outdoor show C-O-N-T-A-C-T comes to Salford & Manchester in May

Aria Entertainment and WEF Productions have announced that the critically-acclaimed
outdoor production C-o-n-t-a-c-t will run for six weeks from Tuesday 18 May – 29 June 2021.


This immersive, two-hander outdoor performance featuring a captivating 3D sound design will
run in partnership with The Lowry in two locations – Salford Quays and central Manchester following a hugely successful run in London in autumn 2020.

This innovative production opened to 4* reviews from The Guardian and the i, with The Times
calling it “a tantalising vision of a new kind of theatre.” It will be one of the first live theatre show to open in Manchester & Salford following theatre closures last year.

Originally created by Samuel Sené and Gabrielle Jourdain and premiering in France with
French production company Musidrama last summer in a world where social distancing became
the ‘new normal’, this timely story of a moving and unexpected encounter explores the themes
of mental health and anxiety through the eyes of Sarah as she is approached by someone she
believes to be a stranger. She discovers that he can hear her thoughts but how? Who is this
man? Dive into her mind in this unique sensory and immersive new show and experience
theatre like never before.

The show runs for 50 minutes without an interval and audiences download the audio from the
app which is a completely new piece of technology synchronizing the spectators and actors,
allowing the show to play with theatrical concepts and a new form of dramaturgy. Audiences of
no more than 17 per show will purchase their tickets online and will then receive a link to
download the app and exact location details.

The show complies with the safety and hygiene measures arts as set out by the government. This pedestrian performance is an outdoor promenade experience for small groups of up to 17 and adheres to strict social distancing
between audience members. It is also an audio experience which involves no direct speaking of
any actor in the play.

Tickets can be purchased via The Lowry’s website Contact | What’s On | The Lowry


An Evening With Bruce Dickinson in Salford

Legendary Iron Maiden lead singer BRUCE DICKINSON is today delighted to announce a very special one man show for Summer 2021 – which comes to The Lowry on August 4.

‘An Evening With Bruce Dickinson’ is Bruce’s first-ever UK spoken word tour and follows sold-out shows across Europe and Australia.

This unmissable six-date tour – peppered with anecdotes from Bruce’s extraordinary life both on and off-stage, and delivered in his own inimitable anarchic style – visits Brighton, Salford, Bradford, Nottingham, Birmingham and London in August.

‘AN EVENING WITH BRUCE DICKINSON’ – FEATURING Q&A

 SIX 2021 UK SHOWS ANNOUNCED ON SPOKEN WORD TOUR

LIVE NATION today announces a very special Evening With show by IRON MAIDEN singer, BRUCE DICKINSON on his first-ever UK spoken word tour.

THE SUMMER 2021 DATES ARE:

AUG 1       BRIGHTON               THEATRE ROYAL

AUG 4       SALFORD                 THE LOWRY

AUG 5       BRADFORD              ST GEORGE’S HALL

AUG 8       NOTTINGHAM          THEATRE ROYAL

AUG 9       BIRMINGHAM           THE ALEXANDRA

AUG 10     LONDON                   O2 SHEPHERD’S BUSH EMPIRE

Tickets go on general sale at 10am, Thursday April 29 via ticketmaster.co.uk

Immersive drive-in cinema SecretCity comes to Manchester

Reviewed by Nicky Jones

As one of the first live events to happen in Manchester after the third national lockdown,
it was a welcome treat to attend SecretCity’s Opening Night!

Happening at EventCity throughout summer 2021, we were given chance to have an early experience and watch the 2020 remake of The Secret Garden at the drive-in cinema.

Arriving into SecretCity, we were greeted by an immersive Alice in Wonderland enchanted tunnel, complete with a water pistol armed dancing mushroom and a zebra on stilts.

As we followed the journey round, we saw an Alice in Wonderland scene with a vibrant butterfly who threw a giant beach ball our way! This was a fantastic welcome, and really set the tone for the rest of the event.

Before the film, a DJ set was blasted out of speakers and on radio waves – perfect for a party in the car!

The SecretBar was a huge hit with attendees, including a popular beer garden area for catching up with friends. The drinks were flowing and plenty of hot food was on offer to warm us up.

Spectacular aerial artists and roaming performers put on a stunning show throughout the build up to the film.

Popcorn in hand, we headed back to the car for the film to begin. A light show and pyrotechnics were a feast for the eyes in the last few moments before the film began, whilst the DJ encouraged the audience to flash their car lights and honk their horns!

Various films are being shown throughout the summer on the UK’s biggest LED outdoor screen, but the stunning remake of The Secret Garden was the perfect choice for opening night.

There are plenty of photo opportunities at SecretCity – so dress up and enjoy a night out from the comfort of your own car!

Fancy it?
Tickets are £35 per car, available to purchase on: https://parknpartymcr.co.uk/secret-city/

What’s on the schedule?
Wonder Woman (1984) | Thursday 15th April | 9pm
Bridesmaids | Wed 21st April | 8:30pm
Onward | Saturday 24th April | 4pm
Greenland | Sunday 2nd April | 8pm
Mulan (2020) | Saturday 7th May | 4pm
The Greatest Showman | Sunday 8th May | 4pm