Mary Stuart

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Credit: Manuel Harlan

Opening Night rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Guest reviewer: Carmel Thomason

At the toss of a coin the company decides on stage which of two actors will take the crown as Elizabeth I and who will lose her head as Mary Stuart.

This device, more a spin than a flip, is magnified on screens around the auditorium, while Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams stand in front of the royal courtiers, face-to-face at either side of the stage, dressed in identical costumes of trouser-suit and white shirt.

It is both a simple and remarkable theatrical device. Simple for the element of suspense it injects from the start, and remarkable in the layers it adds to the characterisation, and more so the skill and depth of acting it demands from its leading actors.

On Tuesday night at The Lowry, Stevenson called heads and won the role of Elizabeth, while Williams played her prisoner, Mary. It is testament to the tremendous performances, that it’s hard to imagine the roles reversed, and more astonishing to imagine either actor going on stage not knowing which of these two huge parts they are going to perform.

Stevenson is imposing, angular and at times ferocious as England’s Queen, whereas Williams smaller frame and fluidity of movement make her a more sympathetic victim of fate as Mary, stripped of her royal title and any privileges that ever came with it. In this play she wins the moral if not the physical victory and history too has restored her position as most will know her as Mary Queen of Scots and mother to King James I of England, also James VI of Scotland.

Of course, this is drama and much dramatic license is used to create an absorbing, political thriller, which at its highest stakes plays with life and death. There is a fictional meeting between the two which dissolves into a kind of cat fight. There is an uncomfortable level of misogyny throughout that no doubt existed to a greater degree in the sixteenth century, which makes these two women more remarkable. However, the often overt sexualisation, references to their looks and the deep rivalry over Leicester (John Light), did leave me wondering how the story would play out had it been written and interpreted by a woman.

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The action plays out on an almost bare circular stage, enclosed by two brick walls, with effective use of sound adding to the tension by Paul Arditti and a beautiful composition by Laura Manning running up to Mary’s execution. The only extravagance in the staging is the final costume of Elizabeth – a white painted face and the restrictive regalia we’ve come to recognise her for in portraits – as she circles almost like a clown playing to the will of her subjects.

Creating an absorbing thriller when the audience knows the ending is a masterstroke in craftsmanship. Issues of political infighting, international relations, isolation at the top, fights for justice, shifting blame and responsibility onto others and often onto a higher power, and the fickle hand of fate, are as pertinent today as they ever were.

It’s a gripping three-hours that hits you from the start and never stops – don’t miss it.

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Mary Stuart

Inbox x

carmelthomason@aol.com

11:08 (4 hours ago)
to me

Hi Michelle,

Sorry, I realised I’d left a ? in the copy.

Here it is:

At the toss of a coin the company decides on stage which of two actors will take the crown as Elizabeth I and who will lose her head as Mary Stuart.

This device, more a spin than a flip, is magnified on screens around the auditorium, while Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams stand in front of the royal courtiers, face-to-face at either side of the stage, dressed in identical costumes of trouser-suit and white shirt.

It is both a simple and remarkable theatrical device. Simple for the element of suspense it injects from the start, and remarkable in the layers it adds to the characterisation, and more so the skill and depth of acting it demands from its leading actors.

On Tuesday night at The Lowry, Stevenson called heads and won the role of Elizabeth, while Williams played her prisoner, Mary. It is testament to the tremendous performances, that it’s hard to imagine the roles reversed, and more astonishing to imagine either actor going on stage not knowing which of these two huge parts they are going to perform.

Stevenson is imposing, angular and at times ferocious as England’s Queen, whereas Williams smaller frame and fluidity of movement make her a more sympathetic victim of fate as Mary, stripped of her royal title and any privileges that ever came with it. In this play she wins the moral if not the physical victory and history too has restored her position as most will know her as Mary Queen of Scots and mother to King James I of England, also James VI of Scotland.

Of course, this is drama and much dramatic license is used to create an absorbing, political thriller, which at its highest stakes plays with life and death. There is a fictional meeting between the two which dissolves into a kind of cat fight. There is an uncomfortable level of misogyny throughout that no doubt existed to a greater degree in the sixteenth century, which makes these two women more remarkable. However, the often overt sexualisation, references to their looks and the deep rivalry over Leicester (John Light), did leave me wondering how the story would play out had it been written and interpreted by a woman.

The action plays out on an almost bare circular stage, enclosed by two brick walls, with effective use of sound adding to the tension by Paul Arditti and a beautiful composition by Laura Manning running up to Mary’s execution. The only extravagance in the staging is the final costume of Elizabeth – a white painted face and the restrictive regalia we’ve come to recognise her for in portraits – as she circles almost like a clown playing to the will of her subjects.

Creating an absorbing thriller when the audience knows the ending is a masterstroke in craftsmanship. Issues of political infighting, international relations, isolation at the top, fights for justice, shifting blame and responsibility onto others and often onto a higher power, and the fickle hand of fate, are as pertinent today as they ever were.

It’s a gripping three-hours that hits you from the start and never stops – don’t miss it.

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Little Mermaid

LM 2

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Lowry Theatre takes to the sea for its latest show at the Quays Theatre the Little Mermaid. Running until Saturday 14th April this brand new version, by the award-winning Metta Theatre, tells Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale with awe-inspiring acrobatics and hauntingly beautiful music. Through spectacular circus and spellbinding original folk songs, this much loved fable is reimagined for the whole family and Opening Night sent along our mini-reviewer Daisy Eagleton, aged 7 (and a half) to give it her verdict.

Daisy

Daisy:

The Little Mermaid comes to The Lowry theatre and it is inspired by the circus!

There’s not one but two actresses playing the Little Mermaid on different nights because the role is really physical and hard work. Rosie Rowlands and Tilly Lee-Kronick share the role.

The set is fabulous and has an anchor at the front of the stage to represent the sea. There’s colourful costumes and amazing sound effect with gulping seagulls and everything!

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I loved the acrobatics and the way the actors on stage also played their own musical instruments. The hoop work was spectacular and the cast didn’t run out of energy or get sweaty despite all of the incredible work they were doing.

There were so many different talents on display from trapeze, hoop spinning, dance, singing…the list goes on and on.

My favourite bit was the part when the Prince (Matt Knight) jumped from his balcony to go after the Little Mermaid and was caught by the actors below playing her sisters. The balcony was really high so there was a lot of trust in them to catch up. It was very exciting and made me gasp.

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Daisy chats with Matt King who plays the Prince in Little Mermaid

 

I would totally recommend this production. It was really enjoyable and great entertainment for all the family.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 14th April, tickets available here.

Birdsong

Birdsong 3

Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

It’s a bold move by anyone’s standards to take a 503-page novel and attempt to turn into a 2 ½ hour play: especially one the scale and volume of Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong, so a great deal of credit must go to writer Rachel Wagstaff for this brave choice.

The story shifts back and forth between 1910 and 1916 and focuses on three central characters. First there is Jack Firebrace (Tim Treloar), a loving husband and father out on the frontline of the Somme, digging underground tunnels for the British in an attempt to gain the element of surprise on the German soldiers. Jack is like a Father figure to his troops: however when news reaches him from back home that his own son his unwell, he wants leave to go and visit. However a chance encounter and near death experience with Lieutenant Stephen Wrayford (Tom Key) would see the two men strike an unusual bond and friendship: Firebrace the warm hearted working man and Wrayford, the cold, distant serving officer.

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But what made him so distant in the first place? The answer to this lies in 1910, France, where Wrayford is starting life in the textiles business. Wrayford is staying with a wealthy but cruel factory owner, his wife Isabelle (Madeline Knight) and family. It is here that Wrayford can see that the marriage is an unhappy one, and soon he and Isabelle fall in love and thus a passionate affair ensues.

Back in 1916, we see Wrayford begin to recover from his ordeal, however still haunted by images of Isabelle, we zig-zag between 1910 and 1916 to find out what really happened to him to make him the way he is now.

From the moment the lights come up, and you see Victoria Spearing’s fantastically haunting set design: complete with barbed-wire fence resembling a cross, you know you are in for a roller-coaster ride of emotions, one that will leave you with a smile on your face one moment and shocked to your core the next. The near deafening sound design my Dominic Bilkey creeps up on you and throws you headlong into the full horrors of war: however always in the chaos and calm is the haunting sound of Birdsong: the only true constant of the play.

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The cast are exceptional throughout with most playing dual roles. They must barely get time to breathe with constant costume and set changes: it really is a team effort like a band of brothers/sisters off to war that you cannot help but be bowled over by the warmth, humour and pathos each one brings to their roles. There are a few mis-placed accents here and there, but these are very minor quibbles in what is a truly and engrossing piece of theatre.

The relationship between both Stephen and Isabelle, and then Jack and Stephen is what drives this production forward. You firmly invest in the love/obsession Stephen and Isabelle have for each other, as well as the moving friendship between Jack and Stephen and this is firmly down to the impassioned performances of the leads who all give captivating performances.

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This is what theatre should be: engaging, entertaining, leaving you shocked and entertained: after the curtain call and the applause had died down and the audience shuffled silently out of the Quays Theatre: that said more about the impact this play had then any reviewer ever could.

Birdsong as the Quays Theatre Lowry until Saturday 7th April, tickets Available here.

 

 

Spring Awakening

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Since the announcement in November that award-winning creative pairing Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Entertainment would be staging a revival of acclaimed Broadway hit Spring Awakening, interest was pricked and momentum has quickly gathered. The additional news that both DEM Productions and director Luke Sheppard (In The Heights, Working and Jersey Boys) were also on board has cemented Spring Awakening as Hope Mill Theatre’s most highly anticipated show to date.

Both exhilarating and touchingly poetic, Spring Awakening is an in your face, provocative and exquisitely beautiful production. With music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Steven Sater the story follows a group of teenagers in 19th Century Germany on a voyage of sexual discovery in a world where communication and education from the adults who should be guiding them is none existent. In fact almost all adults in the story play a significant part in damaging the teenagers in this thrilling, adrenaline-charged and deeply moving piece.

Whilst the story may be set in 19th-century Germany, award-winning director Luke Sheppard’s characters speak and sing in 21st-century Mancunian accents, which makes the angst and frustration all the more real adding a cheeky humour to the sharp script.

As gut-wrenching tragedies unfold the ingenious way in which they’re delivered offers delicious moments of escapism and fantasy before we’re snapped back into the grim reality of this firmly censored and deeply troubled world.

Darragh Cowley making his professional debut is exceptional as the head-strong, charismatic rebel Melchior. He commands attention every minute he is on stage, seizing each moment with enthusiasm, commitment and confidence. Enigmatic and immensely likeable, the soon to be Guildford School of Acting graduate secures himself undoubtedly as one to watch.

Nikita Johal makes for the most sublime Wendla, she evokes both strength and honest vulnerability while her innocent queries on the origins of babies acts as the catalyst for the key events within the production. With stunning pin-sharp vocals and a brave innocence she carries you along on her journey of self-discovery with fluidity and conviction.

Jabez Sykes gives the most heartbreaking performance as the intense and emotionally pressured Moritz, stuck in the most helpless of places his desperate acceptance during Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind is perfectly judged and achingly brilliant.

The architecture of Hope Mill theatre offers the perfect backdrop for Gabriella Slade’s stunning set, the effect when paired with Nic Farman’s intensely atmospheric lighting design is quite simply spectacular, culminating in an immersive and unforgettable theatrical experience.

Tom Jackson Greaves’ choreography is slick and innovative performed to precise perfection by the sensational ensemble cast whose electric delivery of Totally Fucked fizzes with defiant joy, screaming to be watched again and again. There is so much talent in this one cast, every performance packed with power and passion.

Sharp-edged, visually stunning and intensely beautiful Spring Awakening is a one of a kind musical that should be seen all the year through.

Unashamedly bold and dynamically brilliant, with phenomenal storytelling & an unforgettable score Spring Awakening is another sure fire hit which screams London transfer.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until 3rd May tickets available here.

Interferences

Reviewed by Angela Hazeldine

Yesterday was a first for me. I’ve never watched a digital performance before, I genuinely wasn’t entirely sure what one was but I went to the Lowry to watch Interferences by Aleixs Langerin-Tetrault with a completely open mind. I’m glad I did.

When entering the space the audience is greeted by a huge industrial looking metal frame with wires attached everywhere in the middle of the stage. It was almost a sculpture, I found it to be quite a harsh, ominous looking piece of equipment and couldn’t begin to imagine was sound was about to come out of it.

The lights went down and Alexis appeared on stage, we had been told that he had worked with a choreographer for this piece and I was intrigued to see how that was going to come into play. Wires that looked like thin bungee rope were stretched from one side of the frame to another, each one having its own unique sound or vibration (which I later found out were created by sensors on the rope) so that when plucked either simultaneously or on their own created a different sound each time.

More and more ropes were added, stretched across the frame, crossing with other ropes, and each one creating another layer of sound. The lighting was a huge part of this piece too, each rope or movement had its own effect on the lights. As the web of ropes increased as did Alexis’ movements and ‘battle’ with the machine, twisting, pulling, stretching, sometimes with slow, almost tortured movements and sometimes with erratic, tense, plucking movements.

It was quite a joy to see this man with his machine that he has created, a machine he knows intimately but by his own admission is never quite sure exactly what it is going to do.

Although Alexis’ movements have been choreographed, no two shows are the same, his movements can be controlled but the sound coming from the machine can differ greatly show to show, room to room which I can only imagine adds to the excitement of each performance.

What also struck me about this performance was the wonderfully diverse audience and there’s clearly no age minimum or limit for the enjoyment of Digital performance. I felt like I’d been let into a secret club that I’d never before considered joining perhaps because I’m a terrible technophobe. But I would go again, I even walked away feeling like I’d understood, not how the sound was created, not the foggiest idea how he does it but I understood why so many people enjoy this kind of performance.

If you love Digital Performance, Electronica and Electroacoustic music I recommend going to watch Interferences. If you have no idea what it is I also recommend going to watch Interferences and with a 25 minute running time, it’s the perfect length to leave you wanting to hear and know more.

The Game of Love and Chai

LC

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Nigel Planer creatively reimagines Pierre de Marivaux’s 1730 play The Game of Love and Chance in this modern day, fun and farcical incarnation, The Game of Love and Chai.

There is still a central love story, duplicity, mistaken identity, class system and buckets of laughs while modern themes and Bollywood beats are introduced as well as an Uber driver and a delight in Primark purchases.

Swapping 18th-century French nobility for modern-day British Asians makes for a fresh take on a traditional classic. The plot is a fairly simple one, wealthy widow Kamala-Ji (Goldy Notay) wants to see her daughter Rani (Sharon Singh) marry successful local businessman Raj (Adam Samuel-Bal), head-strong solicitor Rani however is unimpressed at the convention of marriage so decides to take some control of the situation switching places with her nice-but-dim cousin Sita (Kiren Jogi) ahead of Raj’s visit, little does she realise that Raj has had the same idea and his Uber driver, Nitin (Ronny Jhutti) will be stepping into Raj’s shoes for the occasion.

The cast are clearly having a lot of fun in this colourful and creative production. Adam Samuel-Bal and Sharon Singh make for a believable coupling, caught up in their own plotting their chemistry is genuine and joyful. Ronny Jhutti, wide-boy and Uber driver extraordinaire and Kiren Jogi, the beautician with a bigger personality than her luscious lashes treat the audience to plenty of laughs as the chaos and comedy ensues. The addition of Bollywood music lifts the production while Goldy Notay as Kamala-Ji presides over affairs with authority, prosecco in hand.

Not all the jokes land but the all-round theme of this production is farcical fun with a capital F, in that it succeeds. The last-minute change to 18th-century dress seems unnecessary and out of place in this modern reimagining. All in all the scamming, scheming and big personalities in this production will entertain with some great comedic timing delivered to hilariously dramatic effect.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 31st March tickets available here.

Interview | Hairspray cast

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After watching smash-hit musical Hairspray on Monday, we simply couldn’t get enough of this fantastic feel-good show so when we heard the cast would be down at Manchester’s All Star Lanes for an afternoon of bowling, milkshakes and backstage gossip we simply couldn’t say no!

Rebecca Mendoza, who plays the show’s heroine Tracy Turnblad, Edward Chitticks (the dreamy Link Larkin), Monifa James (Little Inez) and Aimee Moore (Amber Von Tussle) took a break between strikes to tell us a little more about the show that brought Manchester audiences to their feet on Monday, the first night of a two week run at the city’s Opera House.

Aimee Moore, currently thrilling audiences as love to hate Amber Von Tussle describes the show as ‘A fabulous feel-good show set in the 1960’s, as well as great singing, great dancing, great comedy and great acting the show also tackles some really important issues such as segregation, equality and body image, it’s a wonderful show in which we see people come together and unite despite their differences”.

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Monifa James who plays super talented Little Inez added ‘We love that with this show an audience can come and have an amazing time but also go away having learnt something, no one is telling you what should think or feel but that message of equality gets delivered in a really fun and entertaining way’.

The response from Monday’s opening night audience was one of the loudest we’ve heard in a long time, Edward Chitticks described it as ‘Sounding like a roar, the response was just epic, it’s made us even more excited for the next two weeks in Manchester, we just know we’re going to have the most amazing time in the city, the audience last night were just spectacular! Edwards added, ‘It’s an absolutely brilliant bubble-gum show, the music is brilliantly catchy, the songs are incredible, the cast and their voices are amazing, everyone is so full of such energy and power, there’s so much style across the board, moments of real comedy, then behind all of that important messages challenging everyone and asking them to tackle important messages such as racism, prejudice, it’s like a present that’s beautifully gift wrapped and inside it has something of incredible worth’.

Rebecca Mendoza feels strongly that Hairspray is a real message of love, ‘The story is told through love, Tracy’s love for Link, Tracy’s love for dancing, the love she has for all of her friends, it’s told through so much joy that you leave at the end having had so much fun but also having learned about equality and acceptance and I think that’s a really beautiful thing’.

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Rebeecca Mendoza came straight to the show from the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, and told us a little more about how it feels to make her professional debut in such a spectacular and much loved production, ‘I can’t even find words to describe how incredible it’s been, I literally graduated a week before we started rehearsals, I went from one week standing in my cap and gown to the next week playing the lead in a musical, it’s just been incredible, I’ve learnt so so much, it’s been the most amazing time, I couldn’t have dreamt of a better role than Tracy’.

Fellow recent graduate Monifa James who also graduated from the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts explained how it feels coming into a new cast of experienced actors, ‘It’s so rewarding working with different actors with different levels of experience, I’ve learnt so much from my fellow cast members we all very quickly felt like one big family, I’ve enjoyed bringing enthusiasm and energy and also been grateful for the support and advice I’ve received off fellow cast members, Brenda Edwards who plays my Mum, Motormouth Maybell has helped me so much, she’s returned to the show and so has given me great advice and guidance’.

Featuring the iconic music and lyrics of Academy Award, Tony and Emmy-winning duo Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, this multi-layered musical also boasts choreography from Olivier Award-winning Drew McOnie. Aimee shared that ‘Drew Maconie has been so amazing to work with, I can’t sing his praises highly enough, it’s an absolute joy to dance his choreography every night, he is fabulous, the audience response is incredible every night, it’s so intricate and so interesting it will literally blow you away’.

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When asked about mixing Drew McOnie’s stunning choreography with fast-paced vocal tracks such as You Can’t Stop the Beat Edward explained ‘We barely breathed in the rehearsal rooms! It’s almost like training for a marathon; you have to build your stamina and your strength to sing live then match it up with the choreography ready to perform eight times a week and give the same energy for every performance’.

Now we know the one thing that cast simply couldn’t live without on stage is Hairspray but we were keen to find out if there’s anything they have to have with them when touring. Both Monifa and Aimee revealed their top 2 items when packing for the tour are a massage tool in the form of a foam roller and a portable speaker, Aimee explained ‘We couldn’t live without our rollers, we use them to iron out any muscle pain to ensure we’re in the best condition we can be in ahead of each show’. Monifa added ‘I absolutely have to have music in the dressing room so I always make sure I have a portable speaker, it doesn’t even matter what music just as long as there is something playing’.

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Rebecca revealed she has a pillow with her dogs face on that she’s be lost without while Edward confessed mints and porridge oats are a must! ‘I have to start my day with a bowl of oats, whatever the day it starts with a bowl of Scottish oats, I also have to have mints, I’ve got this huge thing about fresh breath, maybe it’s because I do so much kissing in the show with both Amber and Tracy but I always have to have them, even one of our wigs ladies has our some handy for me, I have them in my dressing room, I’ve even got some with me now!’

When asked why audiences should come Rebecca and Edward described the show as; Full of fun, stylish, energetic, powerful, great messages, great fun for young and old, the hottest seat in town with slick fast-paced tunes, slick fast-paced choreography amazing talent and if that’s not enough Edward challenges all audience members to try and count just how many times he winks during the show, challenge accepted!

For you fabulous feel-good and feisty fix with the nicest kids in town click here tickets. On at the Opera House until Saturday 7th April