Interview | Joyce Branagh | Vincent River

Joyce Branagh

Phillip Ridley’s thrilling and heart-breaking play Vincent River,, has been relocated to Manchester where it will receive its regional premiere at the award-winning Hope Mill Theatre next week.

Directed by John Young and starring Joyce Branagh and Dominic Holmes, Vincent River takes aim at homophobia and hate crime with a real and breath-taking honesty. This rousing modern classic, which premiered in London’s Hampstead Theatre back in 2000, slides under the surface of fear, hatred and love.

Davey has seen something he can’t forget. Anita has been forced to flee her home. These two have never met. Tonight their paths cross with devastating consequences.

We caught up with Joyce Branagh who plays Anita ahead of opening in Manchester to hear more about this exciting and intriguing piece of theatre.

ON – What attracted you to this production of Vincent River, and role?

JB – The play itself really. It’s been relocated by Philip Ridley to be set in Manchester, which means it feels like we’re doing a brand new play.   It’s a fantastic piece of writing – it manages to be naturalistic, but at the same time has lots of poetry within it.  It also has elements of a ‘whodunnit’ – we’re constantly trying to work out exactly what’s happening – and that gives it a huge amount of drive and drama too – which I think will be exciting to watch. Philip came to rehearsals on our first day, which was great – we got to pick his brains – but it also meant we had to do the first read through with the author in the room.  Dom and I were terrified! I play Anita – she’s a strong Mancunian matriarch – she could easily pop up on Corrie…straight talking, witty, sharp as a button, but because of the death of her son, she’s wounded and her vulnerability keeps surfacing.  She a really complex contradictory character – which is really intriguing to play.

ON – The subject matter of Vincent River is very hard hitting and emotional. Is it hard to shake that off at the end of the day’s rehearsals?

JB – It can be a bit pummelling doing this – especially at the end of a long day. But it only lasts for about 5 minutes.  Then you get back to real life.  And I think that because the play has a sort of cathartic element to it, that you have that too… you get it out of your system by doing it.  In a weird way, it’s kind of exhilarating.  We also tell each other a lot of bad jokes in the breaks.  (I have a huge supply).

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ON – I imagine that chemistry between you and your co-star is very important for a piece like Vincent River – how are you and Dominic developing this and are you enjoying working together?

Dominic is a fab actor – I met him in the audition, and to be honest he’s another reason why I took the job. I thought – “Ooh he’s good.  I’ll have to be on my toes with him”.  I feel safe with him as an actor – which is great.  It means you can let the characters battle, but you don’t have to.  And that’s what the play needs – two people who are sparring with each other – trying to work each other out get what they want. He also buys lots of mini donuts for us all, which I find very important in a co-actor.

ON – Vincent River is to be performed for a month at Hope Mill Theatre – have you been to this venue before? Either as a performer or audience member?

I’ve never performed at Hope Mill, but I’ve seen lots of productions there. (I’m going in a couple of days to see The Replacement Child actually…)  Because of the versatility of the space, it’s feels very different every time.  I thought I’d seen every configuration – but I think we’re doing something different again!   I think our audiences are going to be surprised by our set-up actually… but I think it’ll help to intensify the experience – make everyone feel that they are actually in the room with us.

ON – You are a regular on the theatre scene in Greater Manchester – why do you think we have such a vibrant and varied arts scene up here?

Why? – I don’t know. But isn’t it fantastic?  I feel like this year things may even have gone up a notch.  There have been so many plays on that I’ve really wanted to see, and so many coming up that I’ve had to get my diary out and strategically plan when I can fit everything in – and I’ve still missed some productions that sounded fantastic.

ON – You’re a successful theatre director as well as actor. Do you have a preference and if so, why?

No preference. I love both – and I feel very lucky when I get the opportunity to hop between the two.  With this I know what a strong connection John Young our director has to the play, which means I can relax and let him take the strain!   I love directing – getting projects underway, bringing a great team together and crafting a show… but then it’s so lovely to leave all that stuff behind and just solely get into the head of a character and bring them to life.  Especially a character as juicy as Anita. She’s a belter. Thanks Philip Ridley!

Vincent River begins previews at Hope Mill Theatre on Tuesday 27th Feb before official opening night on Thursday 1st March and runs through until Saturday 24th March tickets available here. Standard tickets £15 concessions £12.

 

 

 

Thriller Live

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Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Francesca Eagleton

The Thriller Live tour has moonwalked into Manchester, as it brought it’s all singing, all dancing soulful show back to the Palace Theatre.

You’d be wrong to think that Thriller Live is a biographical musical of Michael Jackson’s Life. Whilst there is potential for that to happen one day, director and choreographer Gary Lloyd very much focuses this show on Jackson’s iconic music and dance moves.

The lead vocalist and resident director, Britt Quentin proves that he’s certainly more than just a VERY uncanny lookalike to the great king of pop. From the outset, Quentin has his performance perfected, from pulling off the signature moonwalk to Jackson’s famous anti-gravity lean.

Thriller cast production shots

Thriller cast production shots

It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or White, or male or female in this case. Quentin is joined by five talented vocalists who perform some of Jackson’s classics including: Who’s Loving You, Smooth Criminal and Bad to name just a few.

Notably, amongst the performers Rory Taylor gives a chilling rendition of She’s Out Of My Life and Adriana Louise brings girl power to the show. As the only female vocalist, she proves that her vocals are just as powerful as the men’s, whilst providing pitch perfect harmonies and unique renditions to classics such as I Just Can’t Stop Loving You and Blame It On The Boogie.

Although, there isn’t a specific storyline the show begins in the Jackson 5 era with a set of Motown classics: I’ll Be There, I Want You Back and ABC performed by the incredible Ina Seido. This was quickly followed by Jackson’s 1972 hit Rockin’ Robin, but instead of being performed by a ‘younger Michael Jackson’ as it notably is in the West End version, there was a video clip of a young performer dancing and miming to the song displayed on a screen instead. This seemed a little out of place and dropped the energy of the show, as previous songs and the ones which followed were performed by live vocalists.

The cast is complete by a sensational group of dancers, who provide the energetic atmosphere that the show thrives from. They work tirelessly through every dance number without losing enthusiasm. A special mention must go to self taught dancer Antony Morgan, who brought humour and personality to various scenes throughout the show – notably during Adriana Louise’s seamless rendition of The Way You Make Me Feel.

Thriller cast production shots

It was expected that the cast would be receiving a standing ovation at the end of their opening night in Manchester. But the eagerly anticipated crowd were ahead of that game, as the opening of Jacksons 1982 hit Billie Jean began to play, the audience were straight up on their feet and dancing in the aisles for the remainder of the show.

Overall, Thriller Live feels very much like a concert rather than a musical, from the iconic set list to re-enactments of Jackson’s music videos.

But one thing’s for certain, you’ll leave singing, dancing and Shaking Your Body (Down to the Ground).

You’d have to be a Smooth Criminal to miss this Thriller of a show (sorry we couldn’t resist).

Thriller Live continues at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 24th February. For tickets and more information click here.

 

Brief Encounter

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Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Widely hailed as one of the most romantic love stories of all time, Emma Rice’s Brief Encounter is a thrilling and visually stunning interpretation of the classic tale of forbidden love.

Taking inspiration from Still Life, the short play by Noël Coward which later became David Lean’s 1945 film Brief Encounter, the production offers more depth to the characters surrounding central lovers Alec (Jim Sturgeon ) and Laura (Isabel Pollen ) providing an opportunity to add multiple layers including a sharp injection of humour, music and dance, which takes this audience favourite to the next level.

Innovative director Emma Rice takes the best elements of both the play and the screenplay as she delivers a faithful and fresh take on the story of two middleclass married people who catch a glimpse of what could be should they dare to leap out of their predictable lives.

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Upon entering the Lowry’s Lyric theatre, cast members mill about, dressed as 1930’s cinema ushers playing various instruments and singing harmonious ditties offering an instant glimpse into the musicality and originality of Emma Rice’s production and sending a clear message to the audience that we’re in for something a little different.

Multimedia elements are wonderfully woven into the exhilarating onstage action as the story of star-crossed lovers Laura and Alec unfolds. There is playfulness and passion as the tragedy of Laura and Alec’s forbidden love is interspersed with the comedy and joyful silliness of the two additional love stories within the production. Beverly Rudd and Jos Slovick as Beryl and Stanley deliver a perfectly judged interpretation of puppy love, all giggles, blushes and charming light-heartedness, Rudd providing a gorgeous version of Mad About The Boy while Slovick serenades his sweetheart throughout with his melodic observations on romance. Lucy Thackeray and Dean Nolan as Mrs Bagot and Albert are a delight, knowingly coy and completely hilarious, with the most impressively physical reprisal of Noël Coward’s I am no good at love you’re ever likely to see, sharp, witty and near acrobatic in delivery.

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Being a Kneehigh production the physical theatre element is second to none, perfectly judged it offers light in the shade of the heart-breaking love story which continues apace. The angst of Alec and Laura’s attempts to control their passion for each other is contrasted beautifully with the elation they experience when together which further adds to the intensity of their scenes together, the on stage chemistry between Sturgeon and Pollen is a joy to watch as love blossoms from their initial innocent meeting at the station.

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Designer Neil Murray, lightening designer Malcolm Rippeth and Sound Designer Simon Baker have worked in harmony to create something truly special as they manage to achieve the most striking of cinematic feels to this inventive production.

Innovative, deeply moving and impressively staged, Brief Encounter brings glorious technicolour to this most iconic of love stories.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 24th February here.

Hamlet

Hamlet Production Photos Photo Credit : The Other Richard

 

Opening Night Verdict

Often described as Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, Director David Thacker’s Hamlet is relocated to a gently suggested Soviet Block with it’s marbled walls and leaders portraits, a nod also perhaps to the troubled political times we find ourselves living today.

Upon entering the theatre James Cotterill and Ciaran Bagnall’s impressive set and lighting design looms large; making use of the full height of the Octagon it is dominant, multi-levelled and imposing. In the opening scenes at the funeral of Hamlet’s father we quickly get an idea of the style of this production, beautifully and dramatically lit, scenes change at a pace from bright and bold to soft and brooding.

Hamlet Production PhotosPhoto Credit : The Other Richard

Hamlet Production Photos Photo Credit : The Other Richard

Taking on the title role is the hugely impressive David Ricardo-Pearce, the tragic Prince, torn away from his studies abroad to a kingdom in turmoil, his Uncle taking not only the throne from Hamlet’s dead father but also Hamlet’s own mother to be his new bride. Overcome with confusion and grief the haunting sight of his dead father’s ghost sends Hamlet further into the depths of despair as he strives to find clarity in a world he feels increasingly uncertain.

Ricardo-Pearce delivers the multi-layered prince with conviction, playful yet proud, intense and sardonic. He takes of the task of avenging his father’s murder with fervour as he struggles to find an outlet for his grief, he is unflinching in his quest for retribution. At times addressing the audience directly, Ricardo-Pearce’s commitment to the role is exceptional as he questions, considers and confirms his plans.

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The supporting cast are equally as impressive. Jessica Baglow captivates entirely as the broken and grief-stricken Ophelia, singing gently as she weeps for the loss of her love Hamlet and her father, her mind turns to madness. Eric Potts injects great humour amidst the intensity as the trusted Polonius while Brian Protheroe is impressive as the cold and composed Claudius. Marc Small makes for a loyal and committed Horatio while Michael Peavoy is a charismatic and dignified Laertes.

Thacker’s emphasis on the family tragedy of Hamlet reaps dramatic rewards, with the delivery of the script some of the clearest I’ve seen, this Hamlet is accessible and gripping, it feels fresh and inspired with the cast working together perfectly to deliver and engaging and enormously entertaining piece of theatre.

Hamlet Production Photos

Photo Credit : The Other Richard

A great Hamlet of course rests enormously on the lead, Ricardo –Pearce succeeds entirely in involving the audience in his journey as we experience and feel not only Hamlet’s broken and disillusioned heart but his manic and mesmerising mind. Fast-paced, gripping and utterly compelling.

On at the Octagon Theatre until Saturday 10th March tickets available here.

Dance Sampled

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Returning to The Lowry for a second year, Dance Sampled, a partnership programme between The Lowry, Sadler’s Wells and Birmingham Hippodrome, offers audiences an opportunity to see world class performers in an accessible and an affordable way in this dynamic, engaging & wonderfully varied celebration of dance in all its forms.

Transforming not only the Lyric theatre but the entire building into a vibrant hub of performance, Dance Sampled delivers not only a spectacular dance showcase but also introductory classes to several genres of dance from salsa to lindy hop as well as various drop-ins, post show discussions and even an chance to create your own unique signature dance move, it really is a day of discovery. The Salford quays venue was quite literally buzzing with movement and opportunity from the moment you stepped through The Lowry doors with its extensive and well planned programme of activities.

With an incredibly eclectic range of styles on offer, Dance Sampled strives to make dance more accessible and inclusive for all. Each of the 8 pieces in the main show are introduced by a short and beautifully crafted film, in which performers and creatives give clear and engaging information about the piece they are about to deliver. They also discuss their passion and love for their chosen form of dance, their drive, creativity and offer an insight into what dance means to them.

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First up is the powerful and dynamic Uchenna Dance ‘The Head Wrap Diaries’, bursting with style and colour the all female troop were bold and rhythmic as they moved across the stage incorporating the wrapping and unwrapping of striking head wraps which are used creatively to take on the form of scarves, dresses, shawls and capes through this expressive and empowering piece.

Next we se Nafisah Baba, winner of 2017 BBC Young Dancer who performs ‘Near the place where your feet pass by’, fluid and contemporary, she is a perfect example of how engaging and entertaining a solo performer can be.

Third on the bill is a stunning performace from Scottish Ballet who treat audiences to the famous Grand pas de deux from The Nutcracker. Bethany Kingsley Garner and Evan Loudon glide effortlessly across the stage in a stunning display of strength, poise and elegance.

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Following on from the ballet is Humanhood with their contemporary and highly charged exploration into the connection between physics and dance they excite and engage in their highly physical and visually striking piece.

Final act before the interval is the internationally renowned flamenco bailaor Jesús Carmona. Passionate and proud Carmona thrills the audience with a preview of his full show, ‘7 Balcones’ which can be seen at the Lowry on 26th February.. Accompanied by singer Juan José Amador and Spanish guitar specialist Dani Jurado, Carmona’s performance is electric, full of passion, proud gesturing and Latin heat.

Act II offers three further pieces, all enormously different from the last. Opening with Far From The Norm and their piece 60 Secs, extremely physical and theatrical mixing hip hop with more contemporary styles this expressive piece is fast, thrilling and a whole lot of fun.

Next up is an absorbing and highly original piece from Scottish Ballet, the male duet from Sibilo is a playful and powerful celebration of dance as the two male performers deliver a witty and light piece using a suit jacket as their only prop.

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Ending the show is a contemporary and quirky performance from Gandini Juggling entitled Smashed, showing dance comes in many forms, the piece incorporates juggling, a heck of a lot of apples, several dinner services and nine performers, it soon becomes a tea party like no other!

Dance Sampled is a joyful celebration of dance in all its forms, an incredible opportunity to explore the diversity of world-class dance in an accessible and exciting way. With so much to discover we’re already counting down to Dance Sampled 2019!

TEDDY

Molly Chesworth and George Parker as Josie and Teddy

Josie and Teddy, played by Molly Chesworth and George Parker. Photo by Scott Rylander

Opening Night Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If Shakespeare did rock ‘n’ rock musicals I’d imagine they would look a lot like Teddy. Penned by award-winning writer and actor Tristan Bernays this new musical is full of lyrical verse (synonymous with Bernays work) bringing melody into the spoken word and not just the songs around them. It’s a genius production as it rethinks the musical genre and takes risks not just with the content (setting the action in a gritty 50s post Blitz East End rather than presenting the era as the sugar coated ‘dreamboats and petticoats’ dialogue we are used to) but also by having just two actors onstage throughout performing a number of different roles.

Teddy

Photo by Scott Rylander

Molly Chesworth plays Josie, a ladette, decked out in her best ‘teddy boy suit’, red lipstick slicked on, ready to tear up London town for a night to remember. Chesworth fizzes with energy from the moment the spotlight shines on her, portraying Josie as a sassy, fired up, passionate East End girl. She is mesmerising to watch and you can’t help but get drawn into her desire to live life to the full, whatever the cost. Equally impressive is George Parker as the aptly named ‘Teddy’ who strives to live up to the subculture ‘teddy boy’ persona of the era. He’s a wide boy with wide eyes for Josie and together the two anti-heroes are like a watered down version of Bonnie & Clyde, willing to risk anything for each other, driven by the excitement and thrill of doing no good.

It’s like witnessing a masterclass in acting from the duo as they morph into a number of different roles during the production. From gangster heavies, to an old fragile pawn shop owner, their physical and vocal characterisation conjures up images in the audiences’ imagination without the need for a costume or set change. In fact, the majority of Max Dorey’s set design is minimal for this reason I imagine, with just the use of some corrugated iron for the backdrop, a ladder which takes the actors up to an upper level and a number of advertising posters from the 50s up on the wall.

Johnny Valentine and the Broken Hearts. Photo by Scott Rylander

Not only will the acting impress you but the onstage live band will get your toes tapping too. Johnny Valentine and the Broken Hearts provide the soundtrack to the musical with a plethora of original songs which suit the mood perfectly and sound like they have just come out of the jukebox. The band gets the party started early on with a short set before Teddy starts and also goes on after the production has finished, resulting in you leaving the theatre wanting to rock ‘n’ roll into the small hours. They are an integral part of the show as Johnny provides the focus as the music idol of our two protagonists as they spend the night trying to get close to him.

Teddy will leave you breathless, not just from watching the vigorous performance on display from the actors (which includes an incredible jive that wouldn’t look out of place on the Strictly dance floor) but also because the dialogue and action is so fast paced it is like taking a ride on a rollercoaster.

So, strap yourself in, get yourself down to The Lowry theatre before the run finishes on 17th Feb, this is one musical you would be a fool to miss!

https://www.thelowry.com/events/teddy

For more tour dates see: http://snapdragonproductions.com/productions/teddy/

 

 

Flashdance

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Francesca Eagleton

Get your legwarmers at the ready because Flashdance The Musical is in full swing at the Palace Theatre this week!

Not even the producers expected Flashdance to be a hit when it was originally released in cinemas in 1983, but, screenwriter, Tom Hedley has successfully taken on the challenge of adapting one of the most successful films of the 80’s for the stage in this all-singing, all-dancing neon extravaganza!

Alex Owens, played by Joanne Clifton of Strictly Come Dancing fame, is a feisty and confident female lead. Working as a welder in a workroom filled with boisterous strong males, she certainly doesn’t fade into the background as she knows how to stand her ground and make a name for herself. She shines in the role and commands the stage at every turn.

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Alex certainly doesn’t lose sight of her dreams of one day joining the Shipley school of dance, despite the potential distraction of falling for love interest Nick Hurley, (played by Ben Adams) and with a little bit of help from her tutor and mother figure Hannah, (Carol Ball) she makes steps to follow her dreams.

It was no surprise that Joanne Clifton’s dancing skills would be a real highlight of the show. Clifton’s stamina is extraordinary, one minute she’s kicking and splitting her way across the stage and the next belting out a ballad without even breaking a sweat. We were tired just watching her! A real triple threat performer.

Ben Adams makes for a hugely charismatic and enormously likeable love interest in the form of Nick, the on stage chemistry between the two is exceptional.

Fans of the original film wont be disappointed, as the show embraces iconic scenes including the infamous scene with Alex, a chain and a whole lot of water. The show also features hits from the original film soundtrack; Maniac and Manhunt – alongside original songs by Robert Cary and Robbie Roth.

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Cramming song after song into this toe-tapping musical forced the plotline, at times, to suffer a little, however fans of the film will know it’s not the deepest of plots. The second half moves the action on swiftly, packed full of high energy and fast paced – everything that we wanted and expected it to be.

Of course the audience aren’t left disappointed, as we finally get that all important audition scene. As the introduction to the title song Flashdance…What A Feeling began to play out, the crowd erupted, clapping and dancing along – earning Clifton and the cast a well deserved standing ovation at the end of the show.

Dig out your lycra  and catch Flashdance the Musical at the Palace Theatre from Monday 12th until Saturday 17th February, tickets available here.