An Officer and a Gentleman

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

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Based on the 1982 Oscar-winning film and bursting with feel-good 80’s favourites including ‘The Final Countdown’, ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ and of course the ultimate ear-worm from the original score ‘Up Where We Belong’, An Officer and a Gentleman marches into Manchester this week.

In true 80’s romantic fashion we have a troubled bad boy in need of taming and a feisty female determined to live life her way until of course romance comes calling, complicating everything. When Zack Mayo rocks up at military boot camp full of swagger, he doesn’t bank on falling for local factory girl Paula nor being put through his paces by drill Sergeant Foley who has had his fill off wannabee officers. The challenge is on; can this angst filled rebel make it as not only an officer but also a gentleman?

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Jonny Fines makes for a convincing Zack, with strong vocals and impressive acting skills he convinces as both the macho cadet and the dependable gentleman, he is playful and hugely likeable. Alongside Fines is an impressive Emma Williams as the strong-willed Paula Pokrifiki who knows her mind and is damned if she’s gonna be stuck in a factory for the rest of her life. Her vocals are sublime as she belts out hit after hit effortlessly. The chemistry between the two is strong and their interactions engaging and believable.

Equally convincing are Jessica Daley and James Darch as Lynette and Sid. Jessica’s stellar vocals and sassy attitude perfectly embody the role of Lynette while James Darch, covering the role of Sid at tonight’s press night, impresses with his strong vocals and powerful performance.

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Yes in parts it’s pretty cheesy with some songs feeling a little shoe-horned in but if you’re looking for an uplifting and entertaining night at the theatre then this certainly hits the spot. The immensely talented cast deliver some stunning performances and offer a fresh take on several 80’s classics via George Dyers inventive orchestration and arrangement, the use of Martika’s ‘Toy Soldiers’ is particularly poignant.

Douglas O’Connell’s video design is projected to great effect against Michael Taylor’s set which is beautifully lit by Ben Cracknell and gives a great sense of entrapment and the need to escape the humdrum of small town life.

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The script may be thin in parts and the action predictable but An Officer and a Gentleman does exactly what it says on the tin, it undoubtedly uplifts and entertains. This is feel-good jukebox fun, the fizz in the air as ‘that scene’ approaches is palpable ensuring the audience get exactly what they came for, escapism, incredible talent, a little bit of drama, a whole lot of romance.

An Officer and a Gentleman is on at the Opera House until Saturday 18th August tickets available here.

Interview | Jonathan O’Boyle | Aspects of Love

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart, Aspects of Love has been wowing audiences at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre. Now as it approaches its final week of performances we caught up with Director Jonathan O’Boyle to hear a little more about his experience directing his third production at the award-winning Ancoats theatre.

Opening Night: How familiar with Aspects of Love were you before joining this production? Is it a show you’ve always wanted to work on?

Jonathan O’Boyle: I’ve always loved the score of Aspects, but I’ve never seen it on stage. I grew up listening to mix tapes of musicals, several being Andrew Lloyd Webber compilations. So invariably Love Changes Everything was on there. I grew up seeing his work and when I trained as an actor, I wanted desperately to be in one of his shows. Now, as a director, it’s an honour to be working on one of his shows. Aspects has a fantastic story and a brilliant score. To me, it’s his most narrative, actor driven show and this really appealed to me. We treated it like a play, where the characters just happened to be singing rather than speaking.

ON: How do you approach directing a new and reimagined production of a classic show like Aspects of Love?

Jonathan: I wanted it to be intimate. Now, I know everyone always says ‘intimate and stripped back’ but that’s really what I wanted and how I saw the show. The audience at the Hope Mill is so close to the action they can touch the actors. This influenced the design. I wanted the audience to be on stage with actors. Many of the locations in Aspects happen to be in cafes, so we decided to have a couple of the front rows of seats at cafe tables as if they were part of the action.

We then approached the rehearsals as if we were working on a play. We looked at character, character backstories, timelines and what the characters wanted and how they went about achieving this. This really deepened the actors connection to the material.

ON: Did the intimate space the production would be presented in play a major part in your directing decisions?

Jonathan: Absolutely. You have to respond to the space you’re directing in, and the Hope Mill is a very specific space with its own unique challenges. I think about the space at every stage of the process, from the casting to the design to the lighting rig to the sound design. Every choice I make has to be for the theatre.

ON: The reviews have been absolutely phenomenal, people are really responding to the show, this must be very gratifying to the cast and creative team?

Jonathan: It’s been incredible yes. We’re all thrilled with how it’s gone down. I’m so proud of the brilliant cast and creative team. We had a joyous rehearsal process (one of my favourite so far) and we said – if no one gets it, at least we had a great time rehearsing it! Thankfully, the audiences are responding to it in the way I’d hoped. I’m in constant awe of the cast and their talent.

We never presume it’s going to be good. In fact, I never know what the audiences are going to make of it or how it’s going to be received until we get an audience in the room. I trust my instinct and hope it resonates with people.

ON: This is your third production at Hope Mill Theatre – what makes this space/team so appealing to direct in?

Jonathan: I love the theatre and the team there. They’re all so welcoming and it’s always a pleasure being back. I’m from Derbyshire myself but my parents grew up in Salford and Rochdale, so I’ve been going to Manchester all my life. I love the vibe and the people there, so Manchester feels like my second home.

ON: Your previous shows at Hope Mill – Hair and Pippin – have both transferred to London. How much of a challenge was restaging them for London? Do you have a favourite of the three?

Jonathan: It is challenging re-staging for a different venue, primarily because the space is never the same and there are often idiosyncrasies that pop up here and there. What’s so brilliant though, is revisiting the material with the company and developing the show even further. You’re able to improve on things from the first time and the actors often find a deeper connection with the show and their characters.

They’re all so different! They had different challenges and were very different in tone. It’s hard to pick between them because I loved all three companies.

ON: What’s next for you?

Jonathan: I’m currently directing the UK Tour of Rain Man starring Mathew Horne and Ed Speleers. Then later in the year I’ll be directing the UK premiere of Ken Urban’s A Guide for the Homesick at Trafalgar Studios and Peter Pan at The Park this Christmas.

Catch Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre until 9th August tickets available here.

Theatre of Hate | The Ruby Lounge

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Writer Matt Forrest

It would be fair to say that we had a reprieve from the hot, muggy, sweaty weather this weekend, however those in attendance at the Ruby Lounge may be forgiven for thinking that nothing had changed as Theatre of Hate, are in town and turning the place into an inferno! Tonight the Ruby Lounge was something akin to a leisure-centre steam room, albeit one you could sweat out the weekend’s alcohol consumption and top it up at the same time!

Fair play to front-man Kirk Brandon, who surely must win the award for the hardest working man in music today. Having just finished a series of dates with Spear of Destiny, he has marched straight into a tour with Theatre of Hate and add into that a few solo shows that will see him on the road till December…..judging by the performance tonight it’s a wonder that there’s anything left of him. This is a performance of raw energy-filled passion. Sporting a rather fine Mickey Mouse t-shirt, he’s in fine voice and looking in incredible shape for a 61 year-old.

The band arrive on to stage and launch into the anthemic Original Sin, which brings out the first of many, not sing-a-longs, more shout-a-longs: this is followed up by Judgement Hymn, which opens with a full on dirty saxophone solo from John ‘Boy’ Lennard. From there on in we are treated to a barn storming set anchored by Stan Stammers thunderous baseline, at its peak in the high octane 63.

The band have been promoting the 2016 album Kinshi for quite some time now but they managed to mix the set with tracks from the album and classic hits. Each song was greeted like a returning hero by the baying faithful: all things considered, both band and crowd are on good form for a Sunday, without a thought or care for the Monday morning hangover.

The band encore with The Klan and the Do You Believe In The Westworld, which brings out the largest cheer and caps off a blistering evening of punk, that’s more polished than raw.

As Brandon is on the road for quite some time, he’d be well worth catching. Regardless of what guise you see him in, you’ll be guaranteed a full-throttle performance which may just inspire you to raise some hell!

Theatre of Hate tour dates and information can be found here.

FAME

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Charting the incredible highs and emotional lows of student life in the New York School of Performing Arts, Fame returns to the stage in a brand new Selladoor production celebrating the 30th year of the gritty and gutsy musical.

Demonstrating the talent, determination & drive needed to succeed in showbiz, the production acts as a vibrant showcase for the multi-talented cast who impress from the start. There are complex relationships, desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs as the production covers themes of prejudice, drug addiction, sexuality and perseverance as we see the pupils develop from nervous newbies to seriously talented seniors.

Mica Paris raises the roof as Miss Sherman with her stirring and soulful delivery of These Are My Children, receiving a well deserved and rarely seen mid-show standing ovation. She is fierce, feisty and unforgettably fabulous.

Other notable performances come from Keith Jack and Molly McGuire as Nick and Serena, the chemistry between the two believable and charming as slow on the uptake & innocently uptight Nick begins to realise all work and no play isn’t perhaps the key to success.

Stephanie Rojas gives a powerful performance as troubled Carmen full of sass and bubbling anger while Jorgie Porter and Jamal Kane Crawford as Iris & Tyrone give an elegant injection of dance, both clearly having great fun with their roles.

Aside from the title track the soundtrack is fairly forgettable, although the cast deliver each song with gusto, there’s nothing in there that can match the ear worm worthiness of the legendary Fame. The years from enrolment to graduation move swiftly, never really allowing quite enough time with any character to fully invest in their story, just as we begin to feel a connection we’re onto the next scene, that said each scene is well acted and creativity delivered there’s just not quite the emotional depth of other coming of age musicals.

This fast paced action does however ensure the story never gets dull as some characters rise while others fall proving unquestionably that Fame is fickle.

Designer Morgan Large’s set is impressive, bold and striking, lit beautifully by Prema Mehta while Nick Winston’s choreography delivers the high-energy ensemble pieces we know and love from the 1980’s film and subsequent award-winning TV series.

Ending with a blistering performance of the title track, Fame will undoubtedly entertain while the powerful performances will certainly impress. Pacy, punchy and packed full of energy, catch Fame at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 28th July tickets can be found here.

When We Built A Rocket Ship

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

The Oldham Theatre Workshop is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary, and what better way to celebrate than by going on an adventure, When We Built A Rocket Ship is exactly that, a celebration of adventure and just how far your imagination can take you.

Opening in 1968, we are introduced to a group of childhood friends who meet up in a secluded woodland setting: they have a den, they each have each other, and they have a place to let their imagination run free: there are battles with pirates, encounters with mermaids and sea monsters, and later even an appearance from Charlie’s Angels. Accompanying the gang on the journey is a troop of forest friendly sprites who are always there to lend a hand.

With imagination knowing no limits, the gang decide to embark on an adventure into out-of-space: an adventure that will span 50 years and see them go through personal heart ache and tragedy, with the only constants being their friendship and the group’s haven.

As we go from decade to decade with the group and whilst struggling with the cruel blows that life can send their way from time to time: however, with every one of them knowing that they have each other’s back and no matter what happens they will face each problem together.

This is an ambitious, smart piece of musical theatre that is heavy on the feel-good factor, and has something for everyone: catchy tunes, an engaging story we can all relate to and a heavy dose of nostalgia.

With a cast boasting over 40 actors they all work their socks off throughout, especially during the exceptionally well-choreographed dance routines. The costumes are outstanding, especially on the forest elves: there is more than a wink to the lost boys from Peter Pan, the forest setting looks fabulous and has everything you would want for a secret hideaway.

The production is not without its flaws: Act 1 and 2 are slick and engaging whereas the final act felt a little laboured. There is a huge dramatic event that has is front and centre to the narrative and when this is first broken to the audience it isn’t done with the magnitude it fully deserves.

In addition, there were a few notable mis-queues and mis-steps which were quite distracting, although these may be down to opening night nerves.

Overall this is an entertaining and rewarding piece of theatre and the perfect birthday celebration for the OTW: with such a young talented cast, the OTW can go from strength to strength and we can all look forward to 50 more years of success.

When We Built A Rocket Ship is on till July 28th tickets are available here.

 

 

DUSTY – The Musical

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️DUSTY

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Hailed as one of Britain’s most successful female singers, Dusty Spingfield’s turbulent life is absolutely perfect fodder for a musical biography. From political trailblazer to pop chart dominator, the deeply private life of the insular diva offers exuberant highs and heartbreakingly emotional lows; all delivered to a sensational soundtrack of 19 of the chart legends most loved songs.

BAFTA & Olivier nominated writer Jonathan Harvey’s script directed by Maria Friedman moves at a swift pace, giving a whistle stop tour of the legends life, which beyond the kohl eyes and blonde bouffant many of us actually know little about.

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There is intimacy and intensity in the form of Dusty’s relationships with partner Lois (Joanna Francis) and Mother (Roberta Taylor) intermingled with the great humour and fun she finds in her longstanding friendships with best pals and vital support network Pat (Esther Coles) and Ruby (Ella Kenion). One thing Harvey doesn’t shy away from is the dark depths of Dusty’s self-doubt, insecurities and dramatic breakdown. This is not a santitsed jukebox musical but a gritty and powerful piece of musical theatre which succeeds in giving you a rich insight into the complex life of the legendary icon.

Katherine Kingsley as lead Dusty is phenomenal. The three-time Olivier-nominated actress captures the very essence of Dusty to perfection, she belts out the big numbers with effortless style and portrays convincingly and with great depth the pain and loneliness of the fallen diva, ready to rise again to the top of her game when the call finally comes. Her emotionally charged performance more than does justice to the late great Dusty, every iconic hand gesture and breathy note feels authentic as she entirely captivates.

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Dusty’s impressive back catalogue is used to great effect to move the storyline along, while some songs are delivered by different cast members it’s the more concert style delivery from Kingsley that really takes this production to another level, ensuring a standing ovation during You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me even before the song ends. Other stand out moments include her descent into drugs, drink and debauchery during I Close My Eyes and Count To Ten, her creatively staged comeback during What Have I Done To Deserve This and the touchingly tender and deeply poignant Goin’ Back which is movingly sung from her death bed.

The strong supporting cast is chock-full of talent which special mention to Joanna Francis who gives a strong and gritty performance as Lois, Dusty’s backing-singer and partner. Esther Coles and Ella Kenion as Pat & Ruby, Dusty’s PA and hairdresser but ultimately friends and confidents who bring real wit and joy to the production.

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Tom Pye’s and costume design perfectly sets the scene and ensures the passage of time is clear. Video projections generate movement to the static set allowing bedrooms to become theatres, even broadcasting real footage of Dusty’s funeral.

As a first outing this is an enormously entertaining production, there are a few moments in the first half which feel a little clunky where Harvey’s incredibly witty script could be pulled back a little to allow the emotion to rise or allow the audience a moment to feel and experience the tension but these are very minor niggles in what is a superb show which will not only educate and inspire but will undoubtedly remind you of why the legendary Dusty and her smoky lyrics have such timeless appeal.

This is a slick and stylish production with real depth and genuine heart, add to this a leading lady who will quite simply blow you away and you have an absolute must-see show.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 28th July here.

Sherlock Holmes – The Final Curtain

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Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

If I had a pound for every incarnation there has ever been of Sherlock Holmes on either the big or small screen, then I’d be a very wealthy man indeed. However, for his celluloid endeavours, Holmes has seldom trod the boards. Surely the world’s number one consulting detective is ripe for a turn on the stage, and writer Simon Reade has undertaken this task with mixed but entertaining results.

In Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain, it’s early 1920’s and we find Holmes (Robert Powell) and Dr Watson (Timothy Kightley) apart from one another. Watson is entering the brave world of broadcast radio, telling the world of his adventures with the super sleuth, whilst Holmes is a broken shell of his former self, riddled with arthritis and living a reclusive life keeping bees on the Sussex coast. With the discovery of a dead body on Holmes’ private beach, the sudden appearance of Mary Watson (Liza Goddard) and the fact that its 30 years since Holmes last encounter with nemesis, Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls….something doesn’t quite add up. In addition Holmes’ legendary powers of deduction seemingly failing him and his growing paranoia that someone is out to get him, is it time for him to come out of retirement and crack one final case?

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This interesting, entertaining, if unremarkable production could be so much more. It takes a look at old-age, retirement, and how your body and mind can fail you when you need them the most. Also the issues of coping with an ever-changing world. You cannot help but feel more could have been done to explore Holmes’ vulnerability. That said, I found the plot engaging, with some neat little twists and turns, and fun ‘tips of the cap’ to the source material and its creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Powell is solid and engaging as Holmes, giving a seemingly effortless performance; you just want to see him make more of Holmes’ paranoia. Goddard is equally good as Mary, giving her strength and steel. The scenes between Goddard and Powell are a treat as they spar with one another; these scenes certainly highlight the undeniable chemistry between the two leads.

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The supporting cast are solid; Anna O’ Grady puts in a fun turn as Miss Hudson, whilst Roy Sampson is clearly having a ball as Mycroft Holmes. I do think more time could have been given to Kightley as Dr Watson, there seems to be more that could have been put his way, instead he is left with nothing more than a narrators role: surely more could have been made of Watson’s relationship with his wife.

It is odd really that this show should be called the final curtain, as there were a few opening night nerves with the curtain which notably affected scene changes. Hopefully these snags will be ironed out for the productions remaining run.

Overall this was an entertaining, enjoyable night at the theatre, however you can’t help but feel that there is a more interesting story ready to burst from the pages onto the stage. Certainly, worth seeing, but one that won’t live long in the memory.

Sherlock Holmes – The Final Curtain is on at the Opera House until 28th July, tickets available here.