Grow Up Grandad

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Reviewed by Sarah Bloomer

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A small but accomplished ensemble trod the boards on opening night for Penny Smith and Tom Worrell’s production of Grow Up Grandad, a heart-wrenching tale of intergenerational loss and unlikely companionship in a relationship that is thrown together only to be torn apart.

Grandad is a belligerent old man who unwittingly inherits his twelve-year-old Grandaughter, Poppy when she is abandoned by her mother. The two run a gamete of emotions as they move from awkward incompatibility to tender endearment, navigating many twists and turns along the way.

Partington Players veteran David Wilson delivers an on-stage master-class as he performs in the eponymous role, his most enjoyable, he states, in his twenty-five year acting career. The role of Poppy is played by two actors: relative newcomer Chloe Dolby, a striking raw talent whose stage presence captivates as she advances from sassy precociousness to haunting vulnerability, and fellow Youth theatre actor Nia Griffin who reprises the role on alternate nights. Jayne Skudder demonstrates effortless versatility as Poppy’s thirty-two-year-old counterpart, delivering tear-jerking monologues and grief-stricken fury.

For all it’s weightiness and heart-break there is an equal measure of humour and hilarity, particularly as generations clash in exchanges between Grandad and young Poppy, “We can do a jigsaw”. “Oh my God!”

The scene changes are minimal and fluid and the lighting used to indicate a shift in time from day to night. There are memorable moments of clever direction as time shifts between present and future in a wonderfully synchronized door closing scene.

Ending a volatile, emotive piece is challenging. Grow Up Grandad closes with a deftly choreographed synergy between twelve-year-old Poppy and thirty-two-year old Poppy as they traverse revelations and retrospections in a role reversal with Grandad, now suffering with Alzheimer’s, as he shares fragments of his story with his Great Grandaughter Molly (Molly Tierney).

“Would you like to do a jigsaw?” “Do you know, I’d absolutely love to”. A perfect conclusion to a contemplative play.

Grow Up Grandad is on at Partington Players Theatre, Glossop until Saturday 1st February, further information available here.

 

We Will Rock You

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If ever there was a perfect time to revive the 2002 hit musical featuring the iconic music and lyrics of the mighty Queen it most is definitely now. The band were thrust back into the spotlight with the enormous success of smash-hit movie Bohemian Rhapsody introducing their music to a whole new generation so it comes as no surprise to see the Palace Theatre full to the rafters for We Will Rock You’s welcome return to Manchester.

The Ben Elton penned show transports us to the dystopian land of iPlanet set 300 years in the future. Freedom of expression is all beut gone as the Globalsoft Corporation control minds and hearts with their computer generated over produced pop tracks. Musical instruments are banned while rock music is a thing of the past, wiped from the minds of the masses as conformity is expected and rebellion quickly stamped out.

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Galileo and Scaramouche however are desperate to ‘break free’ from the dismal world around them, unique from the rest of the Ga Ga clones they stand out from the crowd as individuals, drawn to a life of freedom and expression, something Killer Queen the head of Globalsoft fears enormously. A chance meeting with Bohemians Brit and Oz cements their belief that there’s more to life than mindless scrolling, then just need to find out what!

6 years since it closed on the West End We Will Rock You has been brought bang up to date visually with the addition of stunning wall projections from Giles Maunsell and Sam Pattinson – Treatment Studio while Ben Elton has revisited his original script revamping it with modern references making it feel current and fresh, Alexa #MeToo and even Gangnam Style all get a mention.

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The success or failure of this production undoubtedly rests upon the ability of the cast to deliver Queen’s monster tracks to a standard Freddie would be proud of and boy do they do him justice! Ian McIntosh is superb as Galileo, vocally outstanding he confidently channels his inner rock God. Bursting with talent and personality this isn’t a Freddie imitation but a standalone performance of the highest quality.

Elena Skye impresses enormously as an empowered Scaramouche, her soulful vocals are delivered with self-assured sass while she playfully interacts with McIntosh (Galileo) & proves convincingly that sisters can indeed do it for themselves.

Jenny O’Leary is an absolute powerhouse as Killer Queen, slaying each song with her huge voice and tremendous on stage presence. David Michael Johnson and Amy Di Bartolomeo play off each other wonderfully as Brit and Oz each delivering knockout vocals while Adam Strong is hugely impressive as Khashoggi. Special mention must also go to Michael McKell who brings the laughs as Buddy with his Jaggeresque swagger and hilarious mispronunciations of pretty much everything!

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This is a jukebox musical that never takes itself too seriously it delivers and then some! Take Queen’s killer back catalogue, team it with Ben Elton’s clever book then add a creative team whose motto is quite probably ‘Go big or go home’ and you’ve got an irresistibly brilliant production, not just for Queen fans but music and musical theatre fans alike. Just as one mega hit finishes another begins all delivered by a cast at the absolute top of their game, it’s high-energy, highly entertaining, blow your socks off theatre. Perfect escapism for anyone with the January blues, We Will Rock You really is a kind of magic!

We Will Rock You is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 8th February tickets available here.

Alan Carr, Not again, Alan! Comes to Manchester, tickets on sale Weds 29th Jan

Alan Carr

It’s been four years since Alan Carr last went on tour, and in that time he’s managed to find himself in all sorts of dramas. Between his star-studded wedding day and becoming an accidental anarchist, from fearing for his life at border control to becoming a reluctant farmer, three words spring to mind…Not again, Alan!

From September 2020, multi-award winning Alan will be performing at 57 of the UK’s finest theatres stopping at Manchester’s Opera House on Friday 30th and Saturday 31st October.

Tickets for Not Again, Alan! go on general sale from 10am on Wednesday 29th January and are available from www.alancarr.net.

 

My Night with Reg

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First premiered at The Royal Court in 1997, Kevin Elyot’s ground-breaking play My Night with Reg was loved by critics and audiences alike. A transfer to the West End followed as well as Olivier and Evening Standard awards, a successful Broadway run and even a feature film so it comes as no surprise that Manchester-based Green Carnation should choose this moving play as their first touring production.

Set in Guy’s apartment over various years the story focuses upon the relationships of a group of gay men, all have in some form a connection with the eponymous Reg. What initially seems like a light-hearted look into the lives and loves of the group soon develops into a perceptive exploration or love and friendship as secrets and betrayals are exposed while the ever-present threat of the 1980’s AIDS crisis looms large.

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Guy (Simon Hallman) is hopelessly in love with John (Nicholas Anscombe) yet doesn’t have the courage to tell him. Eager to please he puts everyone else’s needs before his own while his hesitancy to put himself out there results in a life unfulfilled and free from any real intimacy.

Old mates John (Nicholas Anscombe) and Daniel (David Gregan-Jones) joke and jostle while never actually having an honest conversation. Interestingly it’s primarily the youngest character in the play Eric (Alan Lewis) who speak freely, unafraid of sharing his thoughts and feelings about the way he sees the world while couple Bernie and Benny bicker and bark at each other by way of communication.

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As Guy, Simon Hallman perfectly captures the frustration of a man thwarted by his own niceness, hopelessly in love yet lacking in the courage to do anything about it. He endears himself to the audience as he flusters and fusses around his friends making the final part of the play all the more affecting.

David Gregan-Jones flounces spectacularly as charismatic Daniel while showing great skill in his ability to switch from carefree to devastated with ease. Nicholas Anscombe plays John as a cool and composed figure who becomes increasingly lost as the piece develops.

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Steve Connolly and Marc Geoffrey as Benny and Bernie play off each other brilliantly offering some of the most cutting humour in the piece while Alan Lewis is refreshingly real as the much lusted after Eric.

Co-directors Dan Jarvis and Dan Ellis has succeeded in creating a piece that’s as funny as it is moving. This dark comedy doesn’t sugar-coat nor should it, Green Carnation’s affecting revival will resonate with many. Designer George Johnson-Leigh’s set is simplistic yet effective with neon lighting pulsating as the intensity rises.

A well-crafted, well-acted piece which will leave you more than happy you’ve spent the night with Reg.

My Night with Reg is on at The Lowry until Saturday 25th January tickets available here.

Further information about regional tour dates can be found here.

 

 

Band of Gold

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Kay Mellor’s ground-breaking drama was a huge success when it first hit TV screens back in 1995. 25 years on the action has been relocated from screen to stage while still taking its inspiration from the lives and experiences of the Northern sex workers who in order to make ends meet work ‘the lane’.

The story focuses on Gina (Sacha Parkinson), a young mother who gets drawn into the world of sex work in order to provide for her daughter and pay off ruthless loan shark Mr Moore (Joe Mallalieu). Things take a tragic turn one evening while working the lane and its down to her fellow workers to deal with the fallout while continuing to face multiple battles of their own.

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Fans of the TV series will be pleased to know that this newly developed play doesn’t sway too much from the gritty style of the much-loved TV series with Mellor’s clever wit even in the darkest of moments shining through. Her writing allows the audience glimpses of the humanity and heart of her characters while offering a fascinating insight into their working world and the dangers contained within.

Through Mellor’s multi-layered script the individual stories of the main four female leads intertwine to create a dramatic piece which draws you in and keeps you guessing. Each character feels authentic and is honestly delivered by a strong cast made up primarily of Laurie Brett (Anita), Gaynor Faye (Rose), Sacha Parkinson (Gina) and Emma Osman (Carol) each giving a convincing and real performance.

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The ladies are strongly supported by several male characters with Kieron Richardson, Shayne Ward, Andrew Dunn, Steve Garti, Joe Mallalieu and Mark Sheals all showing a high level of skill if some are a little underused. Special mention must also go to Olwen May as Gina’s mother Joyce, her heartfelt emotion feels painfully raw and is delivered with real conviction.

While Mellor’s blend of tragedy and dark humour is delivered with sensitivity there are occasions when it feels like the piece would have benefitted from holding the dramatic tension for longer rather than so often going for the laugh or quickly changing scene; at times the audience laugh at situations which would have held more impact if characters were allowed more time to breathe. While the quick pace keeps the tension high it does result in a lack of opportunity to connect with the characters on a more emotional level.

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This re-invention of Band of Gold will entertain both fans of the original TV series and those coming to it for the first time. It also feels timely as we live through continued austerity with many women struggle to provide for their families and the sad reality that there are more sex workers now than when the original stories were penned. An engaging piece of theatre delivered by a solid cast.

Band of Gold is on at the Lowry until Saturday 25th January tickets available here.

An Inspector Calls

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Having been seen by over 5 million people since its premiere at the National Theatre in 1992 Stephen Daldry’s ground-breaking production of J.B. Priestley’s classic thriller comes to the Lowry this week as part of a UK wide tour.

Celebrated by audiences and critics alike its dramatic edge and clever theatricality remains. Set amidst a bleak, ominous backdrop we see a strange almost doll-like house, claustrophobic and precariously balanced. The laughter and chattering of the family within rings out, they are as yet unaware of whom lies within the wings waiting to unravel and expose their harmonious gathering.

A young working-class girl has committed suicide and it is Inspector Goole’s belief that each and every member of this loathsome family has played some influential part in her tragic demise. Daldry’s radical reimagining of this theatre heavyweight is strong in its impact and stirring in its message, the theatre packed with GCSE pupils, a clear sign of the continued relevance of this captivating piece.

Liam Brennan takes on the role of Inspector Goole, initially calm yet commanding he both examines and exposes each member of the elitist Birling family meticulously. Cocooned by their privilege he draws them out one by one rocking their very foundations and exposing their cruel entitled behaviours.

Each character is developed fully and delivered convincingly by an incredibly strong cast with special mention going to Chloe Orrock as daughter Sheila Birling whose journey from spoilt and materialistic to unravelled, ashamed yet reflective offers real hope for change.

Daldry’s exceptional direction clearly illustrates that the change Priestley wishes to see in the world must come from the younger generation, where they repent and reflect, their parents scrabble round in the gutter grabbing at their silverware polishing it in the mud, still grappling for their place at the top of the social ladder. Silent character Edna, (Linda Beckett) maid to the Birling family observes the fall-out while becoming more and more relaxed in her manner as the family fall from grace.

Designer Ian MacNeil’s intricate set design is strikingly impressive while Rick Fisher’s lighting adds to the atmosphere and intensity pairing wonderfully with Stephen Warbeck’s ominous soundtrack.

Whilst socialist Priestley wrote the play as a blistering criticism of capitalist society it very much remains a play for today with its message of social responsibility and consequence strikingly relevant. The piece illustrates perfectly how everything is connected and how our own individual actions impact others while using its platform to call for a kinder, fairer and more compassionate world. This thrilling adaptation is both slick and stylish, delivering a message that will stay with you long after the curtain call.

An Inspector Calls is on at The Lowry until Saturday 18th January tickets available here.

 

The Secret of Christmas Eve

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

After the huge success of last year’s festive fairy-tale Hansel and Gretel Oldham Theatre Workshop return with an original Christmas musical which promises to be the perfect family treat.

The Secret of Christmas Eve introduces us to a very special little girl called Eve (Natasha Davidson) who is about to experience the most magical of adventures which sees elves brough to bright and brilliant life, adventures on flying carpets and a whole host of colourful characters as she’s tasked with the small job saving Christmas!

Brian the elf (Jabez Sykes) is bereft, this year’s Christmas wish letters have failed to reach the North Pole and without them the elves are redundant, there will be no presents and no Christmas! Thankfully and although she may not yet know it, Eve is the perfect person for the job.

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The intimate studio space at Oldham Library feels cosy and inviting as the small performance space is transformed into a welcoming home, grumpy Mrs Grimble’s Post Office and Nula Nu’s Shop of Lost Things throughout this enchanting production.

Creatives Sarah Nelson and James Atherton have worked together to create a piece of theatre which wouldn’t be out of place on a West End stage. Their imaginative storytelling is both poetic and utterly joyful capturing the Christmas spirit with warmth and wit. They have a unique ability to interweave heartfelt and important messages into seemingly simple stories packing them with an emotional depth you don’t often find in family shows.

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Audiences of all ages will take away something special from this show with its themes of family, hope, adoption and belonging all beautifully wrapped up in a feel-good story that will stay with you long after the Christmas decorations have come down.

The clever and catchy original songs are teamed with a melodic score and a hugely witty script which is delivered to perfection by a committed cast. Natasha Davidson captures entirely the wide-eyed wonder of Eve, fiercely determined to succeed despite the challenges life has given her. Jabez Sykes is a joy as Brian the Elf with bucketloads of charisma and a great gift for comedy he lights up the stage as the ever-so dramatic Elf.

Laura England is gloriously grumpy as Mrs Grimble while also displaying a wonderful warmth as Eve’s foster Mother Suzia. Purvi Parmar breathes life into the adorable Digby the Dog and is great fun as Eve’s friend Nisha while Madeleine Edmondson captivates as the mysterious and magical Nula Nu.

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Collectively the cast take on multiple roles whist also acting as narrators leading you through this delightful tale, delivering faultless harmonies with ease. There’s also an appearance from several members of the young company who add additional festive magic to this heart-warming production.

If you’ve yet to find your festive cheer then I prescribe a visit to The Secret of Christmas Eve immediately! This beautiful show packed full of heart and humour is a piece of theatrical magic. A truly enchanting Christmas adventure that will leave you feeling merry and bright well into the New Year. A truly wonderful production from Oldham Theatre Workshop and at an accessible £8 per ticket an absolute gift to us all.

The Secret of Christmas Eve is on at Oldham Library until Saturday 28th December tickets available here, you can also call the Box Office on 0161 770 3240.