Mydidae

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The day starts as any other, Marian (Hollie-Jay Bowes) practices her French while brushing her teeth, her partner David (David Gregan-Jones) does his best to convince that his business spiel has some actual meaning; it soon becomes clear however that their inconsequential chatter & random mutterings are merely a means of avoiding a much deeper, darker and undoubtedly more difficult conversation.

Affectionate chat becomes increasingly saturated with barbed comments as with each trip to the bathroom insecurities and an inability to communicate honestly are exposed.

Jack Thorne’s script is both challenging and remarkably honest, stripping each character both physically and emotionally. Laura Woodward’s focussed direction ensures warped domestic life takes centre stage as light-hearted interrogation becomes something altogether more shocking.

Hollie-Jay Bowes & David Gregan-Jones unselfconsciously move throughout the intimate space allowing the audience a genuine fly on the wall insight. Each have an ability to connect deeply with the audience; you feel their pain, their heartache, their frustrations as the reality of their grief in all it’s complicated detail is stripped bare.Their believability as a fractured couple allows the emotion of Jack Thorne’s piece to rise to a brutal and unexpected peak which literally knocks you for six. Both are outstanding.

Natalie Johnson’s set and costume design of varying shades of blue are lit to subtle yet dramatic effect by Joseph Thomas, a hint of what’s to come with a flash of colour lighting up the freestanding bath between scenes.

Wonderhouse Theatre succeed in delivering this provocative & powerful piece impressively well, holding the audience entirely for the full 75ish minutes. It is the kind of theatre that will remain in your thoughts for days, weeks, maybe more as you pour over the detail & examine the issues raised.

Brutal, honest and brilliantly executed theatre.

Catch Mydidae at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 23rd February tickets £12/14 are available here.

 

Punk Rock

Salford Uni

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict 2.5 Stars

Based in Salford, the Almost Theatre Company have given a platform to some super talented young actors, writers, directors and back stage crews. They have a diverse back catalogue of shows that include Rent, Sweeny Todd and Dr Faustus. Clearly, this is a company willing to take risks, and this trend is continued with their latest offering Punk Rock.

Set in the Library of a six-form college in Stockport, we are introduced to six students: some are friends, some are foes, but all have their problems. There is new girl Lilly (Verity Lynn-Williams), struggling to find her feet at a new school, her shy boyfriend (Neil Boardman) and his friend Bennett (Josh Bratherton), a bully and borderline psychopath. Then there is Cissy (Georgia Davis), Bennett’s girlfriend who is feeling the pressure from her parents to get good grades and her best friend Tanya (Charlotte McClintock), who has a crush on one of her teachers. The final pair is Chadwick (Joel Conlon), a loner but academically gifted and William (Chris Woods), the joker filled with hopes and dreams, but desperate for acceptance.

We see the class mates converse with each other, their interactions mainly having a negative impact on each of them, their circumstances and their mental health. Inevitably the constant struggle and torment that each member of the group are going through leads one of them to snap, which has devastating consequences for all concerned.

Punk Rock offers somewhat of a mixed bag; it’s a bold, unflinching play that attempts to address some of the mental health issues affecting young people today, and for that it should be commended. The cast are strong, with each one putting in decent turns as the troubled troupe. Occasionally some cast members do go slightly over-the-top in their performances and more must be made of the subtleties and nuisances of their characters for the play to have more impact. All seven-cast members (Patrick Cerra plays two supporting roles) are clearly talented and have a bright future ahead of them.

Where the production suffers is in its tone. It doesn’t get that balance between comedy and drama right. If it wants to be taken as a serious piece of theatre, then it needs to lose the jokey introduction, and decide what you want the audience to take away from the show. The script needs to be tighter as some of the dialogue is on the clunky side.

Overall, this production has good intentions and certainly deserves an audience. It is a shining example of just how much the Almost Famous Theatre Company has at their disposal.

Punk Rock is at Salford Universality Media City Campus until Saturday 9th February

 

 

The Animals and Children took to the Streets

The Animals And Children Took to the Streets, presented by 1927 pic 2

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

For nearly 15 years the 1927 theatre company have been pushing the boundaries when it comes to theatre. They have gained quite the reputation for their bold, innovative productions which has seen them marry live performance and music with animation and illustration to create a theatrical experience like no other.

For their latest offering The Animals and Children took to the Streets, writer and director Suzanne Andrade again uses all these tools to create a satirical, jaw-dropping production that will leave you both mesmerised and enormously entertained.

The Animals And Children Took to the Streets, presented by 1927 pic 3

Andrade transports us to the dark, dank Red Herring Street, on which stands the Bayou Mansions. This is a tower block located on the wrong side of town, housing the worst of society, from social misfits to murderers and sexual deviants; they all have a place here. The authorities and the rich have chosen to ignore their plight, deciding to let them implode. However, when a gang of feral children from the Mansions go on a destructive rampage that includes kidnapping the mayor’s beloved cat and running amok on a park for the middle-class, their mini-revolution does not go unnoticed. In retaliation, the Mayor takes drastic action.

The children’s only hope of escape comes in the form of the Bayou Mansion’s caretaker; a man who is desperate to woo Agnes Eaves, a middle-class do-gooder, who believes dried pasta collages and art classes are what the kids need. Agnes’s daughter, Evie has been caught up in a police round-up and only the caretaker knows what’s happened to them.

The Animals And Children Took to the Streets, presented by 1927 pic 1

This is 70 minutes of pure joy, innovative, smart and darkly comic, this production is pitch perfect. Paul Barritt’s animation lies somewhere between a LS Lowry painting with some Terry Gillian sketches thrown in. Add into the mix the clear influence of 1920’s silent cinema, specifically the films of Fritz Lang and Georges Méliès and you have a visual feast that will leave you howling with laughter, whilst having a good old scratch as we see the rats, lizards and cockroaches that infest the Bayou scurry across the screens.

Andrade’s script is razor-sharp, witty and brutal, it clearly has a take on social inequality and the continual struggle of the working class who are denied the opportunities afforded to the privileged. The script is supported by three super talented performers in Felicity Sparks, Genevieve Dunne and Rowena Lennon – whose facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission. Their performances in conjunction with Barritt’s animation beautifully tell this story and breathe life into a highly original and rewarding piece of theatre.

The Animals and Children Took to the Streets is at Home till 16th February, tickets available here.

 

 

Annie

Annie 2

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Nikolai Foster’s revival of family favourite musical Annie has gone from strength to strength since it first debuted at the West Yorkshire Playhouse back in 2011. With a sell-out UK tour in 2015/16 followed by an extended run in the West End plus a recent sell-out season in Toronto all safely tucked under its belt; Annie is back on the road for 2019 opening a new UK tour here in Manchester.

Set in New York during the Great Depression it is indeed a hard-knock life for 11 year old orphan Annie who finds herself living in miserable, gin-swilling Miss Hannigan’s all-girl orphanage. Consumed with a fierce determination to find her real parents Annie manages to escape the boozy clutches of Miss Hannigan when she is picked to spend Christmas at the residence of famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks. However Miss Hannigan and her good-for-nothing brother Rooster aren’t quite done with orphan Annie and set about trying their best to get in the way of her happy ending.

Annie 5

Based on Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie comic strips the original musical opened on Broadway in 1977, it is however the 1982 film starring Albert Finney, Bernadette Peters and Eileen Quinn that remains most firmly etched in many people’s minds. It was without doubt one of the most worn out VHS tapes in my house, my sisters and I knowing every line, my eldest sister can still be called upon to belt out a deafening rendition of ‘Rover, why not think it over?’ should the need arise. With clearly many other Annie fans at the Opera House tonight it’s a welcome relief to see that director Nikolai Foster’s production respects the audiences love for this piece and has kept the changes to a minimum. It is still packed full of unforgettable classics including Hard Knock Life, Tomorrow, Easy Street and Little Girls while Miss Hannigan remains gin-guzzlingly awful but has a new technicoloured vibrancy about it.

Annie 6

Its colourful escapism is reflected in Colin Richmond’s intricate set and costume design, jigsaw pieces scattered across the set reflecting Annie’s journey as piece by piece her life and identity come together all beautifully lit by Ben Cracknell. Yes at times it is schmaltzy but heck if Annie can make the President of the United States sit up and listen just imagine what she could do if unleashed into Brexit negotiations!

A large part of what makes Annie so endearing is of course the kids in the show and they really do make this production. Taziva-Faye Katsande is a charming and confident Annie supported perfectly by Team Chrysler for this evenings press night, each girl is outstanding bursting with life and vibrant energy with little Orla McDonagh threatening to steal the show as Molly on what is her professional debut.

Annie 7

Anita Dobson makes for a cranky and world weary Miss Hannigan while Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks transforms before our eyes from hardnosed business man to smitten adoptive father. The ensemble deliver Nick Winston’s inventive choreography with sass and style adding exuberant energy to the much-loved musical numbers.

Annie is feel-good family fun, a real celebration of courage and innocent optimism as well as a wonderful reminder to us all that when the hard knocks come we need to find our inner strength and fight back remembering what seems impossible today will look different tomorrow. Joyful family entertainment with a great story at it’s heart.

On at The Opera House until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.

 

 

 

Jersey Boys

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Being the proud winner of 57 major international awards including the Olivier Award for Best New Musical brings about a huge amount of expectation; does this current Jersey Boys tour deliver? Yes, absolutely yes, and then some, and then a little bit more, the thunderous standing ovation at Manchester’s Palace Theatre confirming this for anyone still in any doubt.

Jersey Boys tells both the on and off-stage story of the original Four Seasons; Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi who together took the world by storm, selling a whopping 175 million records worldwide as well as being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, all before they hit 30. This exhilarating musical leaves no stone unturned as the highs, lows, heartaches, fears, joys and the all-important music come together in one seriously sensational show.

The structure is clever with the story being divided into ‘four seasons’ each narrated in turn by a different member of the quintet; offering an opportunity for several unique versions of events making for compelling viewing.

This is no bubble-gum jukebox musical, the journey we see Franki Valli (Michael Watson), Bob Gaudio (Declan Egan), Tommy DeVito (Peter Nash covering on press night) and Nick Massi (Lewis Griffiths) go on its intense, exhilarating and absorbing, there is so much to enjoy about this show it’s difficult imaging anyone not getting swept away by this slick and stylish production.

The four leads are outstanding, their harmonies sublime as they deliver hit after hit with perfection. With an epic back catalogue including Beggin’, Sherry, Walk Like A Man, December, 1963 (Oh What a Night), Big Girls Don’t Cry, Let’s Hang On (To What We’ve Got), Bye Bye Baby, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Working My Way Back to You the music in this show takes some beating. The lyrics are used to progress the story while the different take from each of the boys on the same situations offers a real honesty and moves the action along nicely.

This current production written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe is staged by the entire original Broadway creative team and it shows. The music alone is enough to sell the show but what you get is so much more as the emotion and energy of the piece takes hold.

Peter Nash opens the show confidently as Tommy DeVito, perfectly embodying the role, brimming with style and swagger, a commanding performance laying it out from the start that this ain’t gonna be no walk in the park. Declan Egan comes next as Bob Gaudio, charismatic, charming and brings a lot of fun to the role. Lewis Griffith’s most recently seen in Manchester as Dirty Dancing’s Jonny Castle makes for a complex and compelling Nick Massi while Michael Watson simply soars as Frankie Valli, mastering that iconic falsetto perfectly. The four leads are supported by a strong ensemble cast who help take this show to the next level, giving high-energy performances and complimenting the lead vocals beautifully.

It comes as no surprise that Jersey Boys has now been seen by over 25 million people worldwide, while the music itself is standalone brilliant add to this the sharp book and slick staging and you have the recipe for the perfect night out. Electrifying theatre which will no doubt keep the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons alive for a whole new generation.

Jersey Boys runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.

 

Trial By Laughter

trial by laughter 4

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

The name William Hone won’t mean that much to most people, which is crying shame. For back in the early 1817 this was a man who campaigned tirelessly for civil liberties, sought reform in the many lunatic asylums, and highlighted the miscarriages of justice that blighted the judicial system. In addition Hone was an investigative journalist, satirical commentator and publisher who along with his friend, George Cruikshank a political cartoonist lampooned the ruling class of the day: that being the Regency government.  So angered by Hone’s work the Prince Regent sought to have him prosecuted by any means possible.

So when it came to the story of William Hone, who better to tell it than Ian Hislop and Nick Newman. Both are champions of a free press, both have great form in sending up and holding to account politicians and world leaders through the magazine Private Eye. Newman is the cartoonist for the magazine and Hislop is the editor.  In addition Hislop is no stranger to a libel case having faced several down the years.  The two writers have reunited with director Caroline Leslie, with whom they worked with on their debut play The Wipers Times, to bring this intriguing story to the stage with their new production: Trial by Laughter.

trial 2

The play opens with the Prince Regent and his (alleged) mistresses angered by their depiction at the hands of Hone and Cruikshank, so enraged is he that he orders his government flunkies to prosecute Hone. Hone is charged with blasphemy and arrested, falsely imprisoned and denied legal assistance. With only the support of Cruikshank, and his wife, Sarah, Hone mounts a defence and against all odds wins the trail. This really is the beginning of Hone’s troubles as he faces three criminal trials in as many days, which could see him imprisoned or deported to Australia. With the Regency’s relentless pursuit and Hone’s health deteriorating is this really a battle he can truly win?

There is a lot to admire about this production: Joseph Prowen is on great form as William Hone, playing him with a twinkle-in-the-eye and a great deal of righteous optimism that is gradually beaten out of him as the trials progress. Dan Mersh (playing numerous roles) is equally fine as Hone’s tormentor; Justice Ellenborough who plagues his foe at every turn and cannot hide is distain or prejudices for Foe. Peter Losasso plays Cruikshank, with a cheeky swagger clearly relishing his pun filled part. Whilst Eva Scott is also strong as Hone’s long suffering wife, who in spite of all their trials and tribulations she never loses faith in her husband.

trial by laughter 2

Despite the subject matter being over 200 years old it relevance today cannot be understated as the play tackles such issues as freedom of speech and freedom of the press and measures how far governments and people of power will go to too stifle this, you only need to look at the recent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to see its relevance. It also tackles the weighty issue of what is fair game for a joke: politicians, religion, the ruling class, and when does a joke go too far and become offensive. These are clearly subject matters that Hislop and Newman feel passionately about and it shines through in their writing.

The production does have a few issues: there are some great gags in here which poke fun at modern day celebrity culture, even Prince Charles is on the receiving end of a roasting. Whilst the jokes come thick and fast, and are exceptionally crafted there is nothing here that will have you rolling in the isles, more a wry smile then a big belly laugh. Despite this being a trail there is little jeopardy for Hone and thus at times the more dramatic elements of the paly can feel a little flat.

Overall this a fascinating, entertaining tale that needs to be told and deserves its platform, it’s worth a watch but you can’t help feel there is something missing.

Trail by Laughter is on the Lowry until 2nd February, tickets available here.

 

Interview | Lewis Griffiths talks Jersey Boys

The international smash-hit Jersey Boys returns to Manchester this week as part of an extensive UK tour. Winner of an incredible 57 major awards worldwide, including the Olivier Award for Best New Musical, Jersey Boys tells the true life story of four boys from the wrong side of the tracks who went on to sell over 100 million records worldwide.

Featuring hit after iconic hit including Beggin’, December 1963 (Oh What A Night), Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Walk Like A Man, Bye Bye Baby, Big Girls Don’t Cry and many more, Jersey Boys is an unforgettable story packed with heart and humour making for a thrilling night at the theatre. We caught up with actor Lewis Griffiths who plays Nick Massi to hear a little more about this sensational show.

You’re returning to the show after a previous stint as the late Nick Massi, how does it feel to be back?

It’s great, it’s a dream role so I didn’t hesitate when they asked me to reprise the role and here I am. Since I’ve come back I’ve discovered every performance I do is different to the previous as it’s a whole new production, a whole new chemistry, a whole new cast so everything although I’ve done the show before feels very new and very fresh.

Is there an added pressure in portraying a real person?

It has a certain pressure particularly with the character Nick Massi being passed now there is a legacy to uphold. It’s tricky sometimes playing a real person because there’s not as much artistic license to have free reign but it’s a great challenge and with this story there is a lot to discover, a lot of twists and turns, unexpected secrets shall we say, it’s a great role.

Despite your experience in the role do you still get nervous before a performance?

Of course, there’s a certain nervous energy that you require to perform, if you have no nerves whatsoever that can sometimes come across as a little bit arrogant. Naturally you have to have an element of nerves, as a performer you’re starting from scratch for every show, you can’t ever think ‘oh I’ve done this before a thousand times it’s a piece of cake’ because for the audience watching you it may well be the first time they are watching the show so you have to act as thought it’s the first time you’re performing it, that’s really the added pressure that gives you the nerves.

While Frankie Valli is known for his iconic falsetto Nick Massi supplied the rich deep rich vocals, how do you look after your voice?

They are a hard sing, the best thing I find for me personally is making sure I get lots of sleep and drink lots of water. I know that may sound like a cliché but that’s honestly what works best. The hardest thing about the show is not the range it’s the endurance, Nick Massi doesn’t solo a lot but he does sing a lot in the show and it’s a wide range so the stamina to endure the intensity of the tracks is what’s really important.

Do you have any preshow rituals to help you get in the zone?

I used to, I used to have lots of silly little things I did but I don’t tend to do those things anymore. As long as I’m in the building at the half hour call and I’m ready for beginners I kind of take my time in that half hour window between the half hour and the beginners call call I just try and relax, listen to some music, have a cup of tea and let myself relax in order to play Nick so by the time I’ve got my suit on and I’m walking onto the stage I am Nick Massi.

Is there anything you can’t live without on tour?

I always take a picture of myself and my fiancé on tour, it comes to every dressing room with me so it’s always there with me. If I could take her I would. She lives in Newcastle so as we’re bringing the tour further up North I’ll get the chance to see a bit more of her which will be wonderful.

You’ve visited Manchester with a few tours now, is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to seeing or doing?

Manchester’s such a broad city, just when you think you know it you always find something else to discover, something you haven’t done or somewhere you weren’t expecting. Last time I was there with Jersey Boys we did I live performance on BBC Breakfast which was wonderful as they were interviewing Frankie Valli on the show so I’d love to explore around there a little more.

Finally is anyone is considering booking a ticket for Jersey Boys at Manchester’s Palace Theatre what would you say to them?

You’d be coming to see an eye-opening story which is made very special by not only the cast but every integral element of what makes the show work, from wigs, wardrobe, crew, it’s a real ensemble piece that brings to life something that is unforgettable, added to that the infectious music of The Four Seasons, then you can fully appreciate why this show is such a crowd-pleaser, it’s definitely one to beg, steal or borrow a ticket to see.

Jersey Boys opens at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on Tuesday 29th January and runs until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.