The Damned United

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

In 2006 The Damned United hit the bookshelves, blending fact and fiction it told the story of charismatic, controversial football manager, Brian Clough and his ill-fated tenure at Leeds United. Author David Peace described it as “An English Fairy Story”. In 2009 it was turned into a film starring Michael Sheen, and now somewhat inevitably it has been adapted for the stage by the Red Ladder Theatre Company.

Following the same narrative structure of the book, we start with the end of Clough’s playing career due to injury. The demons, the nagging self-doubt are there for all to see from the onset, as well as the brash arrogant showman the world of football came to love or loath depending on your point a view. The action zigzags between him taking the helm at Leeds in 1974 and his successful but turbulent run as Derby County manager from 1967 through to 1973.

This is a fast paced, journey into the tortured mind of one man battling many enemies – unhappy players, interfering chairman, the bottle and rival manager Dom Revie. However, it’s Clough’s own insecurities and his relationship with his assistant manager and best friend Peter Taylor that is the heartbeat of the production.

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The time-hopping narrative structure can be a little confusing at times, but the production is anchored by two outstanding central performances: Luke Dickson puts in a nuanced, layered shift as Clough, filled with subtly traits and mannerisms: it would be easy to play this as a caricature but Dickson avoids this. David Chafer is also on fine form as Taylor, a man loyal and true to his friend but growing disillusioned by his treatment. Their relationship is what holds the production together. They are supported by James Smelt who morphs into all the other parts in the play.

The action is played against a corrugated fence backdrop: adding to the tension and authenticity of the surroundings, you can almost feel the deep-heat in the air. The fence doubles as a screen with various images projected on it throughout, pushing the drama along.

This is a fascinating look at obsession, addiction and self-loathing that is well worth a watch.

The Damned United is at the Lowry until the 27th October tickets can be found here.

Magical Christmas Movie Experience comes to Manchester

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Here at Opening Night we’ve started to feel a bit festive with the announcement of some Christmas movie classics being screened at a new pop up cinema launching next month – including Home Alone, Love Actually and Die Hard (and yes Die Hard IS a Crimbo movie – no debate!)

The Magical Christmas Movie Experience will showcase some of the best-loved Christmas movies in the surroundings of a beautifully transformed Mayfield Depot near Manchester Piccadilly.

Cinema goers will enter a magical kingdom through a secret wardrobe, finding themselves in an enchanted forest full of festive surprises.

Running over four long weekends from November 23 to December 16, the festive film programme includes The Greatest Showman, Love Actually Weekend and two Christmas Classics weeks.

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The phenomenon that is The Greatest Showman will be brought to life in colourful fashion with, stilt walkers, fire breathers and a fabulous choir creating a fully immersive experience. And there will also be sing-along screenings. Yeah ok it’s not really an Xmas movie – but we’re not complaining!

The Love Actually weekend takes the yuletide feelgood favourite, starring Hugh Grant, Martine McCutcheon, Martin Freeman, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley among other famous faces and adds the seasonal sound of a live gospel choir as well as some more surprises. We’re already welling up at the thought of THAT Emma Thompson scene (dammit where’s the tissues!)

And the Christmas Classics weeks features a host of heart-warming, thrilling and hilarious favourites including Home Alone, The Holiday, Elf, Die Hard, The Polar Express and Gremlins.

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There’s be plenty of food and drink to feast on too.

In the cinema, a range of seating will include giant bean bags, and while people are encouraged to dress warmly for the winter weather, there will also be blankets on offer to snuggle under which will keep audience’s toasty – and which will be donated to the city’s homeless after the final screening.

Steven Matthews Event Organiser said: “Last Christmas Love Actually appeared in the same location, that was huge and really well received.”

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“This is something new for Manchester – it’s the first experience of its kind with an enchanted forest and everyone’s favourite festive flicks. Audiences can expect loads of surprises, and a totally unique experience.”

Doors to the enchanted forest and food court open at 6pm on Thursdays, 5pm on Fridays and from noon at weekends.

Tickets for all the films start from £14.99.

For more details visit http://www.magicalchristmasmovieexperience.com

 

Let It Be

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Direct from London’s West End Let It Be, has been on a magical mystery tour across the UK for quite some time now, the final stop off is the Manchester Opera House.

Chronicling The Beatles meteoric rise from their humble beginnings at Liverpool’s now world-famous Cavern Club through to global superstardom. We taken on a journey through a 40 song back catalogue of some John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s finest works including legendary sets from The Royal Varity Show, Shea Stadium and the Apple roof top gig.

Opening rather cheekily with four analogue television sets placed in the corners of the stage: they’re playing adverts and songs from the era. ‘The Fab Four’ arrive on stage and immediately launch into She Loves You, followed by I Wanna’ Hold Your Hand, which immediately has the crowd singing along. As demonstrated in the Shea Stadium section The Beatles famously quit touring because they couldn’t hear themselves play, based on the audience reaction tonight I can see why: most the tunes played tonight had the audience belting them out as if they on stage with the band: the more up-tempo numbers seeing them dancing in the aisles.

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The cast are on great form: Emanuele Angeletti (Paul McCartney) John Brosnan, (George Harrison) Ben Cullingworth (Ringo Starr) and Michael Gagliano (John Lennon) do a fine job in brining the boys to life. Some would argue that this would be one of the easiest gigs on the planet but if you get it wrong I’m sure you’d know about It! Luckily these talented performers manage to not only bring the music to life but also show the personalities within the band off as well. From George Harrison’s shyness, Ringo’s playfulness, to Lennon’s over-the-top show man (which can be a little grating at times,) there are subtle character traits throughout, at one point Angeletti performs minus his shoes!

One minor quibble are the accents: they are a bit all over the place and can be a little distracting, but you cannot fault them on the vocals and musicianship. The Beatles had George Martin as their 5th member and the cast of ‘Let It Be’ are no different with musical director Daniel Weiss joining them on keyboards.

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Those expecting a slice of musical theatre or a musical jukebox show may need to temper their expectation: this show is a concert only with plenty of theatrical elements including some great authentic costumes, and high-end production values.

The second half poses a what if question: that being what if the band reformed to play live on John Lennon’s birthday. We are treated to more Beatles hits as well as few from their solo offerings which included: My Sweet Lord, a haunting version of Imagine and a full throttle rendition of Live and Let Die. For me I loved this bold attempt to freshen up the act, whilst some audience members weren’t as keen, maybe it was a lack of familiarity with the material. The show soon gets back on familiar territory with a blistering encore of Back in the USSR, Let It Be, and Hey Jude, which had everyone on their feet and rattling their jewellery.

Overall this was a great show what it lacks in emotional depth it makes up for in sheer entertainment. Let It Be will have you singing and toe-tapping away all night long.

Let It Be is on at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 27th October tickets available here.

Beauty and the Beast

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer Kate Goerner

Regal Entertainments and St Helens Theatre Royal continue their run of panto throughout the year by revisiting their well-received production of Beauty and the Beast from April 2017 – with a few cast changes.

The team has a reputation for putting on fast-paced and fun family pantomimes, at affordable prices (tickets start at £12) and Regal regulars will be pleased to see a host of familiar faces in the cast.

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Directed by Chantelle Nolan and written by Liam Mellor, Beauty and the Beast tells the famous tale of the prince cursed to live in the body of a beast until the love of a beautiful girl sets him free – think Disney but with a few panto twists!

Returning again as the comedy duo that steer the show are the Theatre Royal’s resident comic Lewis Devine and dame Simon Foster, here playing French Frank and Pretty Polly.

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The pair have fantastic chemistry together, and had the audience in the palm of their hands. My little reviewer loved the scene where Devine was turned into a frog, and seeing Devine interact with the youngsters invited on stage (always one of the best bits of panto and reliant on the comic in question being able to quickly improvise – as Devine could) was lovely.

Foster had some fabulous frocks and with his trademark ‘You-Hoo’ was clearly having a ball. His Prince Harry and Meghan Markle joke was the gag of the night.

This really is Foster and Devine’s show, so much so that the title characters definitely get less time on stage than their comedy counterparts.

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Milkshake’s Kiera-Nicola Brennan played a spirited Belle, with Andrew Geater (Dandini in Easter’s Cinderella) a fine-voiced Beast. Philip McGuinness reprised his crowd-pleasing turn as the vain Gaston, with award-winning panto performer Hannah Potter also returning as the Cruella De Ville-esque Madame Botox, Gaston’s scheming mum.

And BBC Pitch Battle’s Maddie Hope Coelho (Dorothy in Regal’s The Wizard of Oz) put in a highly polished and professional turn as Fairy Rose – her ‘When You Believe’ in the transformation scene was a delight.

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There were just enough references to the much-loved Disney animated version to keep the army of little yellow-dressed Belles in the audience, but don’t go expecting a carbon copy of that version – you do get to see Belle in a gorgeous yellow ball gown though- never fear.

(I did enjoy the gag by Foster and Devine about not having the rights to ‘THAT’ song from Disney’s version.)

And music is a massive part of the panto experience, and on this occasion the song choices – while well performed – were not particularly memorable, and some had lyrics changed – which was a bit confusing at times and not really effective. A few more hits from the past 12 months would have been welcome (no Greatest Showman?) although the all-conquering Baby Shark did make a hugely popular appearance.

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The storybook sets and costumes were charming and effective (although no costume changes for the wedding/finale?) and the adult and juvenile dancers supported the principle cast well.

So much to enjoy definitely, and at a commendable price, while perhaps not quite hitting the sparkly heights of previous pantos from Regal.

Up next for the team is the Christmas offering of Peter Pan, again starring Foster and Devine, with the starry additions of Liverpool favourite Louis Emerick (Captain Hook) and Strictly’s Kristina Rihanoff (Wendy). We’ll be there! (Oh yes we will!)

Beauty and the Beast runs until Sunday 28th October at St Helen’s Theatre Royal tickets available here.

Will Varley| The Ritz | Manchester

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For four days this week, Manchester is the home of folk music as various venues around the city play host to some of the folk scene’s biggest names. Billy Bragg, This is the Kit, and Eliza Carthy & the Wayward Band will all be performing sets throughout the city.

The festival opened Thursday night at the Ritz with a set from singer/song writer Will Varley, who is currently in the midst of a UK tour. The London based artist has just finished a tour of the USA, Europe and various festival appearances, to huge commercial and critical acclaim.

Varley’s current tour is in support of his 5th studio album Sprit of Minnie and tonight’s show at the Ritz is a brief showcase of what fans can expect from his current tour and if tonight’s show is an indication, then they’re in for a treat.

The show has something for everyone, from political and social commentary in the haunting, The Man Who Fell to Earth, to scathing self-examination, through to good-natured humour in tunes such as I Got This Mail.

The set shifts from Varley backed by full band and him flying solo: Varley has a truly exquisite voice that can command and hold a room, as we go glide effortlessly from an audience in reverence during his more serious output, to having the crowd sing-along as if it at a huge stadium gig.

Varley’s show is like a rollercoaster filled with exhilarating  highs and lows, that will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear, and then looking at your feet in sombre reflection within the blink of an eye. He is certainly a talent, and one worth catching when he plays live.

Will Varley is currently on tour, Tickets can be bought here.

 

Manon

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Kate Goerner

This week sees the arrival of English National Ballet to the Opera House in Manchester with Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, first performed in 1974 and rarely seen outside of London.

The ballet, set to a score by Jules Massenet and reworked by Martin Yates, is based on Prévost’s Manon Lescaut, and tells the tale of Manon (Alina Cojocaru) who when being traded by her brother Lescaut (Jeffrey Cirio) meets and runs away with idealistic young student Des Grieux (Joseph Caley).

Their romantic idyll is soon shattered when Manon’s head is turned by the furs and diamonds laid on by the sleazily menacing Monsieur GM (James Streeter) and she abandons Des Grieux for him.

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They are later reunited, but they pay the price for their defiance and, somewhat inevitably, it all ends tragically in a swirling, confusing, Louisiana swamp.

Dangerous Liaisons indeed.

The powerful production is packed with extraordinary performances.

As the young lovers Cojocaru and Caley (both making their debuts in the roles) are irresistible. Their Act I playful and shy courtship pas de deux making way for a more physical pairing the following morning. And their hypnotic and heart-breaking final dance together deserved the cheers.

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As the sinister Monsieur GM, Streeter rose above being a cut-out villain, his height, combined with costume, make up and beautifully controlled body language sent a real shiver down my spine. Not a man who would take being left lightly.

Crowd pleasers were Ciro’s infectious Lescaut – his drunk dancing clearly delighted the appreciative Opera House audience – and Katja Khaniukova as his mistress, displaying both passion and control.

Artists of the company play a variety of roles from courtesans and their customers to both extremes of society – powdered faces and rouged cheeks contrasting with dirty smudges and ragged clothes, coiffed wigs with tousled hair.

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The female artists clearly had great fun in Act II in particular, inside a den of iniquity. Their romantic dresses belying their competitive nature when it came to landing a customer – behind the smiles they were all sly shoves and sharp elbows.

Mia Stensgaard’s stunning design coupled with Mikki Kunttu’s lighting brought modernity to the production. An abstract prow of a ship and an incongruous modern large scale period painting that set the scene in Act 1 brought an interesting twist to proceedings.

Indeed the scope and scale of the production is so vast that at times it seemed a little restricted on the Opera House stage – but with another literary heroine in residence down the road at the Palace, perhaps this couldn’t be helped and really is a minor reservation.

Manon truly is a stunning production that will delight and devastate in turn and again reinforces why ballet companies should be congratulated for stepping away from the more familiar tales, and enabling regional audiences to experience the rarer works.

The Vyrll Society

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“Any Scousers in?” lead singer Mike Ellis nonchalantly asks the rather snug audience members at Manchester’s Soup Kitchen venue. This is a question that never really goes down well in most Manchester venues, (pretty much the same way asking if any ‘Mancs’ are in if you were in a Liverpool venue) however this questions isn’t met with the usual customary boos; the response is met with a few cheers and no animosity. There are two reasons for this. Number 1, The Vyrll Society have developed a loyal fan base after years of honing their craft live, which has seen them creating quite a buzz. The second is that not everyone is brainless dickhead and inner-city rivalries take a back seat to decent music!

The constant touring of pubs, clubs and festivals has certainly paid off for the band, as stated they have a developed a loyal fan base, and with their debut album, Course of the Satellite going into orbit this August, you can but only see big things for this five piece from Liverpool.

Opening with live favourite Shadow of a Wave, the band work their way through a set that include singles Flight and a Perfect Rhythm. It’s easy to see why the band have garnered so much interest, filled with catchy baselines and killer licks: this is dreamy psychedelia, that will have you tapping your feet , sure there are no sing-along anthems but there plenty of tunes where you can a grove on too. The stand out track was the Thriller-esque Inner Life.

The band have drawn obvious comparisons with The Zutons and The Coral, mainly due to their association with the late Alan Wills, founder of the Deltasonic label, but for me there’s plenty of early Pink Floyd, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and the criminally underrated The Music.

The band look the part, they sound fantastic and are developing a great visual show, as a host of shapes and a kaleidoscope of colours are projected out though out their set . It would appear they’ve fully embraced the rock ‘n’ roll life style slower track Soft Glue dedicated to the band’s tour manager who is suffering from pneumonia.

This was a great showcase for a hugely talented band, which is quite rightly getting the praise they deserve. Their tour continues in Leeds tonight and wraps up on Friday with a huge hometown show at the O2 Academy in Liverpool Academy. They’re back in Manchester in February and will almost certainly and quite deservedly be playing bigger venues, catch them and join the society whilst you can because the sky is the limit for these lads.

Vyrll Society Play Liverpool O2 Academy on the 19th October tickets can be bought here.

Tags: The Vyrll Society, The Soup Kitchen. Live Music, Guitar, Course of the Satellite,