Awful Auntie

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewers Eve and Maisy Powell

Following their award-winning production Gangsta Granny, Birmingham Stage Company return to Manchester with their newest David Walliams adaptation, Awful Auntie. This enormously entertaining tale of friendship, fights and not to mention frights is on at the Opera House until Sunday 24th June.

We sent our mini-reviewers Eve age 10 and Maisy age 7 and a half to give the show that’s been thrilling audiences around the UK their verdict.

Eve Powell

I really, really enjoyed it, I thought it was really inventive and cleverly created, very funny and also very child friendly as the story was easy to follow.

I loved how they changed the scenery, I thought it was amazing. One of my favourite things was Wagner the owl puppet who was operated by Roberta Bellekom, it was so realistic and looked just like a real owl.

I would absolutely recommend Awful Auntie, it is great fun.

Maisy Powell

I really enjoyed Awful Auntie, my favourite part of the show was the little puppets, I loved them.

Aunt Alberta really made me laugh especially when Stella and Soot played tricks on her.

I would definitely recommend Awful Auntie to everyone especially children.

AA

Packed with laugh out loud moments, a superb storyline chock-full of colourful characters brought brilliantly to life by a talented cast Awful Auntie is a perfect family show. With a running time of just over 2 hours including an interval this is another stonking hit for Birmingham Stage Company.

Awful Auntie is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Sunday 24th June tickets available here.

Further information on Birmingham Stage Company can be found here.

The Crucible

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

First performed back in 1953, the themes raised in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible continue to speak true today, illustrated to gripping and dramatic effect in this bold and atmospheric production from director Geraldine Alexander.

When Arthur Miller wrote the play back in the 1950’s he used the Salem witch trials as a metaphor for the rife anti-communism which was gripping the United States at the time. Liberal thinking was seen as a challenge to American society and authorities acted quickly to stamp it out, something we see ever-present in the political climate of today.

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The Crucible transports us to 1692, where a small farming town has been gripped by a frenzied paranoia as witchcraft rumours swiftly circulate and fear takes hold. As accusations rise innocent women and the men who defend them are led to the gallows, their only hope of surviving, confessing the unthinkable. Catastrophic events unfold as a frenzied and fearful hysteria grips the town.

Jess Curtis’ atmospheric set & costume design is clear and uncluttered, inventive as well as interesting, allowing the themes to speak loudly as the madness unfolds. The trust staging is used to great effect, as an audience you feel at the centre of the action, the intensity and claustrophobic nature of the piece is striking and in your face, from the hysterical girls to the heartbreak of the Proctors, we feel every ounce of emotion. Chris Davey’s lighting design is exceptional, casting shafts of light on proceedings, highlighting the oppression of the innocents accompanied perfectly by Simon Slater’s chilling sound design.

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The cast deliver Miller’s words with Northern voices giving an authentic and relatable feel. The ensemble are impressively strong, coming together in the courtroom scene to dramatic effect. Freddy Elletson makes for an impressive Reverend Hale, attempting to bring calmness to the madness, devout and fair he becomes increasingly disturbed by the injustice and absurdity he it witness to.

Matthew Flynn and Mary Doherty as John and Elizabeth Proctor add poignant emotion to the piece. Their arrests proving this witch hunt has gone way past the point of no return. Leigh Quinn shines as mary Warren, troubled, tormented and ripe for dangerous manipulation from Eleanor Sutton’s determined and defiant Abigail Williams.

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Director Geraldine Alexander’s production succeeds entirely in delivering a powerful warning of how the anxiety and fear of the masses can be taken advantage of in the pursuit of personal power to the most devastating effect. The powers that be using exclusion, lies, fear and isolation to maintain the status quo of the community, sound familiar?

Gripping, emotive theatre, impressively staged and powerfully delivered. On at the StoryHouse until Saturday 7th July, tickets available here.

West End Live preview

Trafalgar Square during West End Live 2017 (c) Pamela Raith

The most unmissable event on any theatre’s fans calendar returns to London’s Trafalgar Square this weekend where an impressive 200,000 theatre fans will enjoy performances from some of the best of the London theatre scene and even better, it’s all for free!

A jam-packed schedule of performances will include popular crowd-pleasers The Lion King, Wicked, Les Misérables, Mamma Mia!, The Phantom Of The Opera, Disney’s Aladdin, Dreamgirls, Bat Out Of Hell The Musical, Kinky Boots, Matilda The Musical, Motown The Musical, Everybody’s Talking about Jamie and Thriller Live, phew! If that’s not enough excitement for you the weekend will also see several new arrivals to London’s West End making their West End LIVE debuts, including Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, Strictly Ballroom The Musical, Brief Encounter, Eugenius!, Little Shop Of Horrors, Chicago, Heathers The Musical, Kiss Me, Kate, Knights Of The Rose, Six, Circolombia and Madagascar – A Musical Adventure.

Cast of Bat Out Of Hell performing at West End Live 2017 (c) Pamela Raith

The vibrant showcase will culminate in a performance from chart-topping Britain’s Got Talent winners Collabro on Saturday 16 June, and an exclusive cabaret of West End stars on Sunday 17 June.

Produced and organised by Westminster City Council and Society of London Theatre (SOLT), with support from the Mayor of London, West End LIVE is an annual highlight of London’s cultural calendar, with performances, fun photo opportunities, meet-and-greets, merchandise stalls, refreshments and sing-alongs attracting thousands of theatre fans young and old across the weekend.

Crowds at West End Live 2017 (c) Pamela Raith

With such an exciting and varied programme there is something for everyone in this sensational showcase from theatre’s finest stars. A full performance schedule can be found here.

See you there!

War Horse

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

War Horse, the most successful play in the National Theatre’s history, seen by over 7 million people worldwide returned to the Lowry last night to a thunderous and well deserved standing ovation.

Adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel which was then given the Stephen Speilberg treatment in 2011, War Horse depicts the experience of World War I via the differing journeys of young soldier Albert Narracott (Thomas Dennis) and his beloved horse, Joey.

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Albert’s father (Jasper William Cartwright) drunkenly buys Joey to be used as a farm horse, realising he is unsuited to work plans are made to sell him; Albert however who has quickly created the deepest of bonds with the horse commits himself to teaching him to plough within one week, the reward being keeping his friend on the farm.

Life however changes dramatically when war is declared as deeply treasured Joey is requisitioned to the cavalry and shipped to the battlefields of France. Devastated Albert, too young to fight flees from home, lying about his age in a bid to sign up, find Joey and bring him home. What follows is a story of epic proportions as Joey is passed through the hands of soldiers on opposing sides in a breath-taking tale of resilience, determination and incredible courage.

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From first meeting Joey as a foal he entirely captivates, the brilliance of Handspring Puppet Company exceeds every expectation. The relationship between Albert and Joey is an absolute joy to watch. Joey is brought to snorting and stomping life in the most striking and creative of ways by incredibly talented puppeteers. The portrayal of not just Joey but the rest of the animals is so convincing, you soon forget that they aren’t real animals as every single heartstring is pulled, knotted and stretched a little bit more as their traumatic experiences on the battlefield unfold.

Thomas Dennis is superb as Albert Narracott playful and determined as young Albert, the journey he goes on demonstrating with striking clarity just how absurd the notion of war is. Peter Becker gives a strong performance as German captain Friedrich Muller, a man defeated by the nonsense of war who just wants to return to his family and forget the horrors he has seen.

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Poignant songs by John Tams delivered beautifully by singing narrator Bob Fox, drive the story on as we travel from the green fields of Devon to the desolate fields of No Man’s Land.

Through clever puppetry and stunning acting important messages are delivered, hope, courage under duress and the unfathomable futility of war. Genuine devastation for the plight of the men and the horses is palpable throughout the audience as the harrowing sounds of war ring out, with atmospheric lighting design from Paule Constable and superb sound design from Christopher Shutt cementing this as a multi-sensory theatrical experience.

War Horse is nothing short of epic. Emotive, powerful theatre, exquisitely delivered that will stay with you long after the curtain falls.

War Horse is on at The Lowry until Saturday 30th June, tickets available here.

The Wasp

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Matt Forrest

Hope Mill Theatre is gaining quite the reputation for both staging and hosting bold, daring and unique productions: the latest offering from The Theatre Collective, The Wasp is no different.

When Heather (Charlie Young) contacts old school friend Carla (Debbie Brannan) for a brew and a catch up, Carla has no idea what to expect. In the early stages of high school, the two were the best of friends, however that friendship soon turned sour with Carla turning on her friend, taking every opportunity to extract pain and misery on Heather. In the present-day Carla is in an unhappy marriage with four children and a fifth on the way. Heather on the other hand likes the finer things life has to offer, she has a nice house and money to burn. So, what possible reason could Heather have for meeting up with Carla?  Heather has a proposal for Carla that will change both of their lives for ever.

This daring two hander has a delicious evil streak running through it with a pitch black comedic script at its centre, sure there are some plot contrivances which at times push the boundaries of credibility but if you are prepared to go along for the ride then you won’t be disappointed.

I won’t go in too much narrative detail, so as not to spoil anything, (the less you know the better) however the plot is packed full of twists and turns as we see the balance of power between the two shifts throughout and just when you think you have the answer the questions get changed.

The two leads are outstanding: Young as the straight-laced seemingly well to do Heather turns in a captivating and riveting performance, whilst Brannan is terrific as the desperate Carla, willing to doing anything for a better life for her and her children. The two clearly relish sparring together, as they sling cutting remarks and stinging barbs throughout.

In addition, there is haunting, claustrophobic sound design by Dan Pyke that really ratchets up the tension. Throw all this into the mix and you have all the ingredients for a taut psychological thriller that will shock and captivate.

The Wasp is on at Hope Mill Theatre till 16th June. Tickets are available here.

The Nature of Forgetting

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Tom is preparing for his 55th birthday; Tom also has early onset dementia. As he dresses for his party, with each touch of fabric threads of memoires begin to stir; we follow his minds recollections and failing retentions over the next 75 minutes through an exploration of memory, friendship, love and the fragility of human life.

Established in 2009, Theatre Re is a London-based international ensemble creating moving and incredibly poignant explorative theatre which pushes the boundaries of mime and physicality. The company move together effortlessly as beloved memories play out patchily while others remain strong, taking Tom right back to his school days, to sharing his first kiss through to enjoying his wedding day.

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The fluid execution of each scene allowing the peaks and troughs of Tom’s life to play out in front of us. Tom’s mind may be weakening as shown through the stuttering and stalling of particular memories as scenes blur and frustrations rise where the simple becomes complex but the person at the heart of it remains.

Alex Judd’s beautiful composition becomes almost an additional character, stirring and atmospheric it flows beautifully through the fluid memories and punctuates the distorted, splintered recollections.

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The show’s creator and director, Guillaume Pigé takes on the title role of Tom, delivering the complex choreography with ease. Timing here is everything and the small ensemble cast don’t miss a beat as this moving exploration of dementia as seen through the eyes of a sufferer offers a stage for soon to be forgotten memories.

Fast-paced and poignant, Theatre Re succeed entirely in delivering a thought-provoking and impactful piece of theatre. Tom may seem broken but his inner-strength and the person he was remain despite his failing, weakening mind.

Theatre Re have one more performance of The Nature of Forgetting at the Lowry on Wednesday 13th June at 1.30pm, tickets available here.

This is Elvis

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Matt Forrest

Elvis Aaron Presley is the undisputed King of Rock N Roll, which is just a fact. Presley is beloved by millions of people around the world: in the UK alone, he had 21 number one singles, a feat yet to be matched. However Presley wasn’t always top dog: during the mid 1960’s things we’re looking pretty grim for ‘Elvis the Pelvis’: a string of poorly received films, his last live performance coming in 1961, it would be fair to say that by 1968 Elvis wasn’t in a good place.

However all that would change with the famous NBC ‘68 Comeback Special’ television broadcast which is where This is Elvis starts. The production opens at the NBC studios as we see a performer riddled with self-doubt and confidence issues only to make a triumphant comeback. Presley is back on the map and wanting to hit the road again, however the strangle-hold that his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, has over him forces Presley into undertaking a 57 show residency in Las Vegas, a situation Presley isn’t keen on. In addition to this, there are marriage problems, anxiety issues, and a certain degree of pressure from the Memphis Mafia, the nickname given to friends and associates of Presley.

This is certainly a production of two halves: the first being that of a musical, the second being a tribute concert, with the latter working out more than the first. Acts one and two provide a useful insight into the extraordinary pressure that Elvis put himself under, in addition to the external issues that were blighting him. Though done in a ham-fisted manner, they are essential to gaining an understanding of Presley. During the Las Vegas show-case finale we are treated  to one of the legendary Las Vegas’s performances with all the showmanship and charisma we associate  with the ‘King’, however the performance is punctured with a great deal of pathos as well.

Steve Michaels is outstanding in the lead role: an international award winning Elvis tribute act in his own right. His performance during the Las Vegas concert is outstanding: he has a fantastic voice and it really shows through as he belts out such classics as Jailhouse Rock, In The Ghetto, and Burning Love: which had everyone up on their feet dancing midway through the final act. However what set this aside from being a caricatured performance is the way Michaels injects some of Presley’s mannerisms and foibles in the performance; it really is a star turn.

Michaels is backed by a 10 piece band who are fantastic, with credit falling at the feet of musical director Steve Geere. The musicianship and talent on display is a treat to behold and in addition, the Las Vegas stage design by Andy Walmsley of bright neon lights, and Presley’s name up in lights add glitz and glamour to proceedings.

Overall, despite a slow start, and some clunky plot points that really could be handled better, this entertaining show providing an insight into some of the demons that blighted Presley’s towards the end of his life, but also an opportunity to remember him for the songs, and the charismatic, captivating performer he was. Elvis fans will love it and for those that aren’t familiar with his music this would be a great place to start. So best dig out the blue suede shoes and white jump suit and head on down to the Palace!

This Is Elvis is on at the Palace Theatre Manchester until 16th June tickets can be found here.