Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Peaky Blinders has a lot to answer for: on the one hand it’s one of the most popular TV series of the 21st century, what with its sublime performances and killer soundtrack, a great deal of viewers would have it in their top ten list of favourite series of all time, such is the acclaim and love for the show.

The flip side to this, is the rise of “Peaky Blinders” fan boys dressed in flats-caps, and waist coats invading town centre pubs across the land each weekend. Then, there is the almost criminal use of Cillian Murphy pictures in full Thomas Shelby getup, alongside some horrendous quote about respect, usually posted on social media, when someone’s  had a fall out with a friend/family member and is trying to prove a  point, sorry it just winds me up!

However, one offshoot I would never have foreseen would be a dance show. Well, respected dance company Rambert have done just that with their spectacular, Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby.

Condensing storylines from the first four series, the show opens as Tommy Shelby’s gang emerge from the trenches  of The First World War. They are a damaged, battered, bloodied bunch, forced to commit violent acts that leave physical and mental scars and shape the way the Peaky Blinders will operate in the future. It’s a stunning opening sequence that perfectly sets the tone for what is to follow, exquisite yet brutal routines, beautifully choreographed by Benoit Swan Pouffer, with moody, atmospheric lighting by Nataha Chivers.

From the battlefields of the Somme, we are transported to the brutal factory conditions of the Black Country, where the female gang members, Polly and Ada take centre stage. They fight a different war, a war of oppression and greed perpetrated by a sleazy, factory foreman, showing just how vital women were to the Great War cause, and how they kept the country going whilst men were away fighting. Again, this is a visually stunning sequence as the Birmingham industrial scene is brought to life with huge metal chains, fiery pyrotechnics and a wide range of stunning costumes from Richard Gellar.

With introductions done and dusted, the story focuses on the relationship of Tommy and mysterious lounge singer, Grace. What follows is a whirl-wind story of betrayal, romance, and murder, with the backdrop of glitzy, glamorous night clubs and  police man-hunts, gang warfare culminating in a wedding and assassination, and that’s just the first act!

This is a treat for the senses, with Peaky Blinders’ creator Steven Knight on writing duties, he has given us both a greatest hits of the show’s big moments, whilst offering up something new, that of a detailed examination of grief, addiction and trauma, especially prominent in the second act.

The superb, ensemble cast work incredibly hard throughout, with stunning, beautifully choreographed routines, they tread a fine line between elegant and rugged. Visually it packs a punch with so much going on around you it’s hard to know where to focus your gaze.

Set designer Moi Tran’s bold, ambitious staging allows the action to shift from the tunnels and trenches of World War One, to opium houses, to glamourous night clubs. It’s a fantastic use of space as dancers spring out of hidden pockets, it certainly gives the show a frenetic quality.

Other aspects associated with the series are also ever present, an absolute banging soundtrack with reworking of songs by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Radiohead and of course the signature Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds brought to life by Yaron Engler and a brilliant live band. Also present is TV series regular, the poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who’s always recognisable voice guides us through this bloody, violent world.

My only real issue is the use of dialogue from the TV series, clips of Cillian Murphy and brilliant, greatly missed Helen McCrory are occasionally played throughout, but due to the sound mix are at times inaudible, which as is as you might expect is rather frustrating.

This is a unique, bold attempt to do something a little different with a much loved franchise, that sees all involved on top of their game and well worth a night at the theatre.

Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby is at The Lowry until Saturday 18th March, Tickets available here.

Top Girls

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Opening with a surreal dinner party, newly appointed MD of Top Girls employment agency Marlene is celebrating her success with her girlfriends ; an interesting mix of strong women from history and literature. Each has their own unique story which they retell with vigour; seemingly competing in their efforts to impress one another before descending into a wine-fuelled confessional of the absolute misery befallen them at the hands of men.

Marlene too has her own secret tragedy but has boxed it up, moving onwards and upwards in the hope it’s forgotten as she climbs the male dominated corporate ladder. However the past has a habit of catching up with us and reveals itself in Act 2 resulting in some hard truths being spoken that even the finest whiskey can’t soften.

Director Suba Das has relocated elements of Caryl Churchill’s much celebrated play to 1980s Liverpool, an effective choice and one that gives the story some relatability. The scenes between Marlene (Tala Gouveia) and her seemingly embittered sister (Alicya Eyo) offering both depth and convincing realism amongst a play of vignettes that at times lack cohesion. Marlene’s return to her sister in the home city she resents is acted out brilliantly by Gouveia and Eyo. The scene feels raw and believable with the narrative given time to breathe and sting appropriately.

The employment agency vignettes are entertaining and thought provoking as the female staff gate-keep roles and opportunities while discussing their own personal lives and the control they feel they have on them.

Special mention must go to Elizabeth Twells who stood in for Natalie Thomas at short notice, script in hand and gave a strong, confident performance in each of her multiple roles.

Set and costume designer Ellie Light has given this production an impressive and slick look, switching the style from modern city office to Liverpool terrace superbly while the thumping 80’s soundtrack and additional composition from Nicola T. Chang is a real highlight.

The overall piece will challenge, however I felt nothing for any of the characters and wished this revival had tried less hard to be cerebral and better at connecting with the audience. While brilliantly acted and visually impressive the emotional connection never materialised.

Top Girls is on at Liverpool’s Everyman until 25th March tickets available here.

The Comedy of Errors (More or Less)

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Anyone who has ever read a Shakespeare or two will be aware of his love of mistaken identity, whopping errors of judgement and questionable life choices: A Comedy of Errors (More or Less) will absolutely confirm all these things and bring them kicking and screaming into the 1980’s. Think sensational shell suits, stunning shoulder pads, a beltin’ blast of Fergal Sharkey and you’re halfway there.

This new co-production between Prescot’s Shakespeare North Playhouse and Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, creatively adapted by Elizabeth Godber and Nick Lane takes the Bard’s much-loved comedy and sprinkles it with lashings of Northern humour, some top quality 80’s bangers while relocating it to the sunny climes of Scarborough.

The original plot has never been the easiest to follow but this clever adaptation gifts us with additional narration along the way as well as some brilliant modernisation allowing the comedy of the piece to really shine.

We’ve got two sets of mismatched twins, a Lancastrian named Antipholus who arrives in Scarborough to deliver his hard-grafted one-man fringe show, trouble is, the twin he doesn’t know he has, is already there, owes money to half of Yorkshire and has plans to star in a packed-out talent show on the very same night. His pal/long suffering assistant Dromio also has a missing twin who, you guessed it, is also in Scarborough. Cue a fantastic farce that will have you laughing out loud from the very start.

This talented cast work incredibly hard delivering this reimagined classic, they are superb. Set in the round in the stunning cockpit theatre, Director Paul Robinson has ensured every inch of the space is used with every seat in the house getting a cracking view of the on-stage action. They literally don’t stop, several taking on multiple roles making proceedings all the funnier for it. The whole premise of the piece may be chaotic as each twin is continually mistaken for the other, but the storytelling is clear, hugely entertaining, and incredibly impressive. As the action becomes more farcical so does the comedy, there were many occasions I was crying with laughter as the exasperated twins get more and more confused.

David Kirkbride as Anitpholous of Scarborough/Prescot is hilarious, his loyal defining of what it is to be a Prescotarian has the audience in stiches while his performance as the chaos ramps up is a joy. Oliver Mawdsley who plays alongside Kirkbride as Dromio of Scarborough/Prescot is perfectly cast. The two make for a genius pairing, playing off each other with ease as the banter and laughter flows.

The changing up of Luciana’s (Ida Regan) character is a stroke of genius, she’s not the meek and mild version we know from Shakespeare’s pen but strong, assertive and gives as good as she gets leading to some fantastic scenes between her and Adriana, (Alyce Liburd). Both are excellent in their roles and clearly having a lot of fun with them.

Andy Cryer absolutely shines in his multiple roles, drawing your attention whenever he hits the stage. Valerie Antwi and Claire Eden bring brilliantly unexpected elements to the story while both ramping up the laughter levels even more.

This is a true ensemble piece, with each cast member bringing their absolute A game to the stage. The local referencing, playful narration and inventive reimagining have made this production both accessible and immensely enjoyable. The placing of several 80’s favourites adds to the fun with Alyce Liburd and Ida Regan’s Act II opener, a rendition of Cher’s Jesse James being a real highlight while I’ll now never hear Nick Kershaw’s Wouldn’t It Be Good without it raising a smile.

Shakespeare North Playhouse and Stephen Joseph Theatre have delivered an absolute cracker with this production, ensuring this modern-day Shakespeare is a must-see. The Comedy of Errors (More or Less) is an absolute riot, pure joy from start to finish.

The Comedy of Errors (More or Less) is on at Shakespeare North Playhouse until Saturday 25th March tickets available here.

BRB’s Swan Lake

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director, Calos Acosta states in the programme notes “Swan Lake, ballet’s greatest
love story.” A statement few would argue against, however it would be fair to say that this
production is that and oh so much more!

The story is that of Prince Siegfried (Mathias Dingman), who, when out hunting with his
friend Benno, (Enrique Bejarano Vidal), witnesses a white swan transform into a beautiful
Princess. named Odette ( Momoko Hirata). Siegfried, captivated by her beauty, falls in love
with Odette, however we learn that the young woman and her friends are under a spell
cast by the evil magician, Baron von Rothbart (Jonathan Payn).

A masked ball is held for the young Prince’s birthday where he meets Rothbart’s daughter,
Odile ( Hirata in a duel role), who looks remarkably like Odette. It’s a plan by the magician
in order for his daughter to marry the Prince. However, as you may expect the wicked
warlock’s scheme doesn’t quite pan out.

There is a great deal to admire about this production despite an initial slow start with the
opening act, set at the Prince’s court. It’s a laboured opening with the most of the standout
moments coming from the performance of Enrique Bejarano Vidal, as Benno, who
commanded every inch of the Lowry stage.

However, from Act II, it’s simply outstanding. During this sequence we are introduced to
the gaggle of swans at the banks of a hauntingly moonlit lake. Here we are treated to
some exquisite routines played out to some of Tchaikovsky’s best known and most
treasured music. It felt a privilege to hear such rich, vibrant music played by a full
orchestra, who were flawless throughout tonight’s performance.

Momoko Hirata as Odette/Odile is at the top of her game, she made seemingly impossible
movements look effortless. The numerous fouetté en tournant drawing several shouts of
“bravo!” from knowledgeable, enthusiastic audience members. The numerous pas de deux between the Prince and Odette/Odile are gorgeous and wonderfully choreographed. Their duet during Act III at the castle ballroom, is expertly put together and a real showcase for Hirata and Dingman, set against the backdrop of a fabulous grand, gothic ballroom.

As well as the exquisite routines the costumes throughout look fantastic, from the iconic
swan’s outfits to the rich, glamorous costumes of the Act III ball, with lots of bold red and
brown colours, which makes the arrival of Odile and her father decked out in black all the
more striking. Add into the mix the stunning set design for the two interior castle
sequences as well as the enchanting and ethereal lakeside set design and visually it looks
near perfect.

The final act is simply outstanding, and one I don’t wish to spoil, However it opens with a
truly breathtaking sequence, that drew loud audible gasps of delight from the audience
and is certainly one of my favourite moments from nearly 10 years of reviewing. The final
act is a fitting showcase for all involved with the Prince and Odette performing their final
sequence together, whilst the swan’s around were held still in their position, pure focus etched on their faces, making it seem effortless, it really was a sight to behold.

There are a few minor quibbles, I wasn’t a fan of the video imagery of Odette used during
Act III, it just didn’t look right, and this is one very minor but throughout the ball sequences
the Prince would sit on a chair which very much resembled a camping chair you’d seen
scattered around the pyramid stage at Glastonbury. It seemed such a shame that
everything else looks so exquisite, that this chair stands out like a sore thumb. Only a
small detail I know, but once I noticed it I couldn’t unsee it!

The is an elegant, graceful production, telling a timeless story through beautiful
performances and the glorious music of Tchaikovsky, a true master of his craft. On the
basis of tonight’s show, you can more than see why Swan Lake is an endearing and
mesmerising piece of work and one that with productions like this, will always stand the
test of time.

Swan Lake is at the Lyric Theatre, Lowry until the 4th March. Tickets available here.

Drag Addict – world première of new musical announced for Manchester

It’s summer in Manchester. It’s raining (obviously) and on Canal Street storm clouds of another sort are gathering. Club Fierce is under threat. But Dolly Ravage, who runs the club and is the unofficial godmother of the Gay Village, isn’t going down without a fight.

Dolly has a plan to to save it from property developers by recruiting six amazing queens to slay the runway and reinvent Club Fierce as the all-new House of Ferocity.

But will the arrival of the mysterious Bobby Carter from America – hiding a secret that could change everything – derail her battle to save the soul of the Manchester scene?

Boasting a handbag full of original high energy bangers, ballads and earworm songs, ‘Drag Addict’ is written by Matt Cain and David Andrew Wilson, with concept development and choreography by Arlene Phillips – who has just been announced as the recipient of this year’s Special Award Olivier “for her inspiring work in dance and choreography” – and is directed by Jonathan O’Boyle.

Matt Cain said: “In my novels and journalism I’ve always loved exploring themes of LGBTQ+ identity, culture and community, asking what it means to be gay or queer in our modern, digital world. So it’s a real thrill to be opening up this new channel for my creativity and exploring the same themes in musical theatre. I’m also overjoyed to be creating a show that pays tribute to my home city of Manchester, a city that saved my life as a teenager and helped shape both the person and the writer I’ve become today.”

David Andrew Wilson said: “I am so excited to be bringing ‘Drag Addict’ to HOME in Manchester.  So much of this musical was written in lockdown when Matt, Arlene and I were just dreaming about what it would be like to be back on Canal Street. And now, here we are, about to open in Manchester!  Writing pop music has always been my number one passion and I am so excited that I’ve had the opportunity to write a show that incorporates modern pop to 90s dance to Broadway big band in an entirely original score.  It’s time to Slay the Runway!”

Arlene Phillips said: “When I moved from Manchester to London in the 1970’s, many people found an escape in my dance classes from a society that still frowned upon their sexuality. It became a place where they were free to express themselves through dance in any way they wanted. It has been my dream to create a musical that embraces my love of drag and the LGBTQ+ community. I was lucky enough to have two creative friends in my life, Matt Cain and David Wilson, that I could I bring together to make it a reality.”

Drag Addict is on at Manchester’s HOME from Tuesday 18th July to Saturday 12tb August. Cast and full creative team to be announced.

Tickets are on sale now available here.

Produced by JAS Theatricals, Aria Entertainment and HOME

The National Lottery’s Big Night of Musicals

Last night Opening Night had the absolute pleasure to be part of the 12,000 strong audience at the AO Arena in Manchester watching The National Lottery’s Big Night of Musicals – a celebration of all that’s brilliant about the British musical theatre scene.

Returning for 2023, the show was once again hosted by North West favourite Jason Manford, and featured amazing performances from 13 shows currently in (or heading for) the West End or touring.

(Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images for The National Lottery)

Our particular favourite moments including the hugely exciting appearance of the West End cast of Hamilton performing ‘My Shot’ for the first time ever on television, a gorgeous medley from Matilda that including the joyous Revolting Children, Laura Pick’s epic rendition of Defying Gravity from Wicked and a goosebump-inducing solo performance of I Will Always Love You from The Bodyguard by Melody Thornton.

We also loved seeing the iconic Brenda Edwards strut her stuff again as Killer Queen alongside the cast of We Will Rock You,  a rousing dance number from Disney’s Newsies and a trip to the Haus of Holbein with the cast of SIX.

(Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images for The National Lottery)

Other highlights included former Strictly Pro Joanna Clifton’s debut as Princess Fiona in Shrek the Musical, Call the Midwife star Helen George’s lovely vocals in Shall We Dance (alongside Broadway star Darren Lee) from The King and I and a confetti-filled finale from Mamma Mia.

The evening certainly gave a great taster for some of the musicals showcased that are heading to Manchester in the not so distant future – like Hamilton, The Bodyguard, The King & I and Wicked.

(Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images for The National Lottery)

But it wasn’t just the stars on stage that were celebrated – some of the evening’s most touching moments were when the spotlight was shone on the theatre work being done in our communities – and the unsung heroes who make it all happen – aided by vital financial support from the National Lottery.

The National Lottery’s Big Night of Musicals, served as a massive thank you to National Lottery players who have helped tens of thousands of arts projects across the UK and supported over 2,000 theatres through the Covid crisis.

(Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images for The National Lottery)

The 90-minute show will be broadcast on BBC One and BBC Radio 2 in March – date TBC. It’s definitely not to be missed if you love your musicals and theatre. Here at Opening Night we are already looking forward to watching it again!

Faulty Towers The Dining Experience

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The world’s worst hotelier, Basil Fawlty, his long suffering wife Sybil, and human punch bag, Manuel have arrived in Manchester at one of the city’s newest hotels, Hotel Brooklyn for Faulty Towers The Dining Experience. 

Interactive Theatre recently celebrated their 25th year of performances, as well as a decade of shows in London’s West End, and on the basis of today’s show you can see exactly why: anarchic, ridiculous and absolutely hilarious; I loved it!

Paying homage to the popular John Cleese and Connie Booth penned sitcom, the fun starts as soon as you step foot in the bar, while waiting to be seated, as Basil, Sybil and Manual demonstrate their unique take on customer service and good old British hospitality.

What follows is a unique dining experience, as a three-course meal is served through 90 minutes of mayhem while Basil abuses his waiter and most of the diners as well. The website states that 70% of the show is improvised, and you can certainly see why as a great deal of the event revolves around audience participation, whether they want to participate or not, and the rest is a mixture of well placed set-pieces from the show.

The cast are superb. It’s a flawless performance from all three actors and a showcase for fine mimicry and physical comedy. It’s exactly what you want from this immersive experience.

Fans of the show will love it. Those coming to it for the first time will hopefully have been briefed about what to expect, or they’ll be in for a rude awakening! If someone you’re going with is celebrating a special occasion, let them know as it will be celebrated in true Fawlty Towers style.

This is a great deal of fun and certainly worth catching whilst it’s in Manchester. A word of warning though be careful of the soup… some of the bowls may have a little bite to them (when you go, you’ll know exactly what I mean).

Faulty Towers The Dining Experience is at Hotel Brooklyn, until Sunday 12th March. Tickets available here.








Song From Far Away

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Forced to return to the place he had long since abandoned due to the sudden and untimely death of his brother, bereaved, nomadic banker Willem (Will Young) controls all that he can in this bitter-sweet monologue by playwright Simon Stephens and singer-songwriter Mark Eitzel

Where Willem is sarcastic, superficial and shallow his brother Pauli was artistic, musical and rooted firmly in the very heart of his family in Amsterdam. Willem moved to New York 12 years prior for a life of seeming anonymity and preferred disconnect. Reconnecting with his old life is neither embraced nor welcomed. Invitations are ignored while communication with anyone other than his late brother in the letters that he writes feels forced and misunderstood. He is a complex character, displaced both physically and emotionally yet draws you into his introspective world effortlessly.

We learn so much about him through this 80 minute piece, his complicated relationship with his parents, his regret over a lost love, yet it’s his surprising affection for his niece Anka, which truly gives us hope that relationships won’t always be impossible for Willem, indicating that this is a piece much more about living than dying.

The simple staging of the faceless hotel suite is given depth by the movement of tall billowing curtains while the lowering and raising of the ceiling adds at times to the feelings of claustrophobia and intensity. The smattering of snowfall beyond the confides of the suite midway through hints almost at a euphoric feeling of hope, just out of reach.

Will Young is entirely captivating in the role, commanding the attention of the audience effortlessly. The source material doesn’t leave room for sentimentality despite dealing with the loss of a sibling, making the moments of song and melody all the more poignant, cathartic in their delicate simplicity and delivered note perfect by Young. His performance feels intimate, authentic and real.

Director Kirk Jameson’s choice to set the piece several years after the passing of Pauli offers an opportunity of self-reflection, rediscovery and most importantly hope. This intimate and beautifully delivered piece will stay with you long after the curtain call.

Song From Far Away is on at HOME until Saturday 11th March tickets available here.


Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Credit and copyright: Helen Murray

If you told me before the performance of Beginning, that I’d be emotionally invested in two people dancing around a kitchen to I Owe You Nothing by Bros, then I’d have called you a liar. However, two hours later I’d owe you an apology, and then would have chewed your ear off demanding a ‘chat’ about what we’d just witnessed!  Taken in isolation, this 10-minute sequence demonstrates all that is great about the David Eldridge penned production; playful, tender, at times desperate, an emotional rollercoaster, more than worth jumping onboard.

Beginning starts at the dying embers of a housewarming party in the leafy suburb of West Didsbury. All that’s left is Laura (Erin Shanagher), the party hostess, and Danny, (Gerard Kearns) a-friend-of-a friend of Laura’s, unsure why he’s still there. We soon learn that the pair have caught each other’s eye as the party has progressed and now it’s all about how the night will end.

Set in real time, we learn how these two very different characters share some striking similarities. Laura is a sexually confident, managing director, laser focused on a romantic encounter with her guest, whilst Danny is a confidence starved 42-year-old man, who lives with his mum, sceptical about why Laura is so keen for them to spend the night together.

As the night progresses, the pair peel away layers of their character to see if this potential union could work: a mutual love of scotch eggs being a plus point, their choice of football teams a potential roadblock, Laura’s chosen team, being one of the more shocking and funnier revelations for the Manchester audience. However, it’s their past heartbreaks that are shaping their present anxieties, holding them both back and keeping them very much alone.

Bryony Shanahan’s direction is flawless throughout. This is very much an extended version of a mating ritual you’d see on one of David Attenbrough’s Sunday night wildlife documentaries, as the would-be-lovers circle each other using the glorious in-the-round setting of the Royal Exchange. There are even hints of those extended dance sequences you get in many period dramas.  The play is allowed to breathe, throughout there are long moments where more is said in a silence than could ever be by any dialogue. It gives it a more real life, naturalistic quality.

The two leads are fantastic, with both Kearns and Shanagher giving layered, nuanced performances – both drifting seamlessly from comedic to heartbreak within the blink of an eye. The aforementioned Bros sequence will have you grinning from ear-to-ear as a result of Shanager’s fantastic dance routine, and equally devastated by Kearn’s reaction. The chemistry between the pair is off the chart – the production lives or dies on whether you believe in the pair of them, and you absolutely do.

David Eldridge’s script is bang on point, warm, funny and poignant. It has a great deal to say about the human condition, and our desire for meaningful human connection, something we all can empathise with post-pandemic. It takes a seemingly mundane everyday occurrence, and makes it the most important thing in the world for its near 2 hour running time. The fact that you’re never really sure how you want it to end, or indeed how it will end, is a major strength.

This is a production that sees everyone at the top of their game, a witty, thought provoking, relatable and unashamedly honest script, anchored by two strong, enjoyable central performances who bring to life characters you actually care about. This is surely what good storytelling is all about.

Beginning is on at the Royal Exchange Theatre till 11th March tickets available here.

The Smartest Giant in Town

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A trip to the Lowry on a Tuesday afternoon to see the musical version of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s The Smartest Giant in town was just what me and my four year old needed today.

This musical is so beautifully crafted, it is an absolute must-see for preschoolers and early years children. It is captivating and joyous.

The show tells the tale of a kind hearted giant, who is known to be rather scruffy and unkempt. With the help of two shopkeepers, the giant manages to get himself a new smart outfit. When he leaves the shop to make his way home, feeling rather pleased with himself, he comes across various characters who need some help and the giant knows just how to do that: this is a story of generosity, friendship and selflessness.

Turning this story into a musical is a stroke of genius! The use of the same short song between scenes not only allows the cast to change the props and set, but also enables the audience to learn one of the songs, which my young one was still singing five hours later.

The puppets are beautiful, and the way in which they are used by the cast is engaging. Everything is simple and effective: the set, the costumes, the songs, the plot. There is just the right amount of interaction between characters and audience. It isn’t an easy job to keep the attention of hundreds of tiny people at once, but this show does just that.

This is a giant sized treat for half term at the Lowry. I walked away hoping that maybe, just maybe we could all just be a bit more like the giant today.

The Smartest Giant in Town is on at The Lowry until Sunday 26th February tickets available here.

 Rocky Horror Show – Manchester Opera House

Reviewed by: Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s 50 years since the Rocky Horror Show premiered in the West End. The cult classic is currently mid-way through a UK tour arriving in Manchester this week, for a week-long run that sees this latest production still as vibrant, outrageous and despite being in its golden years, as culturally significant as ever.

The story focuses on a typical All-American couple, Brad and Janet, newly engaged the pair, when out for a drive one evening, in the midst of a brutal storm, experience a flat tyre. In desperation they seek help from the occupants of a sinister castle belonging to Dr Frank N Furter, where he lives with his servants, Riff Raff, Magenta, and Columbia. However, things are a little odd at the good Doctor’s residence and soon the host’s hospitality and his latest experiment will test Brad and Janet’s relationship to the limit.

Richard O’ Brien’s love letter to the horror/science fiction films of the 1950’s is still as flamboyant, fun and bursting with life. All the familiar tropes are here, mad scientists, crazed aliens, and a hero couple who have bitten off way more than they can chew! O’Brien’s script takes pot shots at the genre and plays fast and loose with gender roles and expectations.

First timers coming to the show won’t know what’s hit them! The show has a huge cult following, again evident tonight with several audience members dressed as their favourite characters (I’d be interested to see the sales figures for French maid costumes, when the show is out on tour). They bring so much more than just dressing up, becoming a character themselves anticipating the script’s next line bringing a touch of unpredictability to proceedings. The part of the Narrator this evening was expertly played by Reece Budin who handled tonight’s outbursts fantastically well, leading to numerous gags about the current Conservative government and the production of The Lion King showing down the road at the Palace, which again keeps the performance fresh and dangerous.

It highlights the hard work that has gone on during rehearsal, when the cast look like they’re having so much fun, which is evident from tonight’s performance. Richard Meek and Hayley Flaherty are in superb form as the awkward, virginal, yet far from innocent couple Brad and Janet.

Stephen Webb is exceptional as the iconic Dr Frank N Furter, it’s a performance packed full of charisma with a huge spoonful of menace, he more than delivers.

They are solidly supported by Kristian Lavercombe, Suzie McAdam, and Darcy Finden. Lavercombe has now appeared in more performances of the show then any other actor, and it shows as he plays the sleazy butler Riff-Raff, to perfection. Whilst McAdam pulls double duty as Magenta and bookends the show as the Usherette, performing a fantastic rendition of Science Fiction/Double Feature. The two of them do a fantastic duet, on the unmistakable Time Warp, leading to all the audience up dancing way before we’d even got to the interval. Finden puts in a feisty, energetic turn as the unpredictable Columbia.

The show does have its flaws, the final act is considerably weaker than what precedes it. In addition I found the lyrics difficult to hear in the ensemble number, Rose Tint My World which does frustrate.

It’s a mark of a great show, that even after all these years, it can still shock, entertain and remain relevant and Rocky Horror Show certainly manages this and so, so much. Absurd, timeless and well worth a watch. Go see for yourself, and give in to Pleasure!

Rocky Horror Show is at the Manchester Opera House until 25/02/23

Tickets available at:

Interview | Momoko Hirata

We spoke to Momoko Hirata, a principle dancer for Birmingham Royal Ballet ahead of the much-loved company’s return to The Lowry with their stunning Swan Lake next week.

Opening Night – Can you tell us a bit about Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake and your role in the show?
Momoko Hirata – Swan Lake is an iconic love story between Prince Siegfried and the Swan Queen Odette, performed in 4 acts. I play the role of Odette/Odil so both the White Swan and the Black Swan.

ONWhat would you say is the hardest part and what do you enjoy the most?
MH – The hardest part is definitely the technical challenge. It’s incredibly demanding as you play two different sides, one as the White Swan and the other as the Black Swan. Showing two different characters in one performance is a challenge in itself and Act 3 is especially technically challenging as you have to famously complete thirty two fouettés. But getting the chance to play two different people is also what I
enjoy the most.

ONHow do you prepare for a big role like this?
MH – We have a very intense rehearsal process but this part for me is familiar as I last played Odette/Odil three years ago just before Covid hit so we had to finish early. It’s weird as my body still kind of remembers the steps and everything. I’m really excited to pick up where we left off and push myself even further than three years ago.

ON – Can you tell us a bit about your dance background and history with
Birmingham Royal Ballet?

MH– I started dancing when I was five back in Japan which is where I’m from. I then came
to England to study at the Royal Ballet School. It’s really funny as the first ballet performance that I saw in London was actually Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake. So for me Swan Lake is a very special ballet that I’ve always dreamt of being a
part of. I studied at the Royal Ballet School for two years and then joined Birmingham Royal Ballet. Again, Swan Lake was one of the first ballet’s I performed with the company. I joined BRB back in 2003 and this is now my fifth Swan Lake with the company. I’ve pretty much done every role as I joined in the Corps de Ballet and this is my third time playing Odette and Odil.

ON – What made you want to get into ballet?
MH – I always wanted to wear a tutu! I have two older sisters who both started ballet before me and I used to go and see their school performances when I was really young and just fell in love with the costumes. So that’s how I got into ballet really – I just wanted to be a princess in a tutu.

ON – Can you describe what a typical day looks like during the Swan Lake tour?
MH – Once we go on tour it’s slightly different to what we do here in Birmingham during the
rehearsal period. When we’re in the studio we have a class at 10.30am and then rehearse until 6.30pm five days a week so it’s pretty full on. Once we go on tour and are performing, principals do one or two shows a week so we have a bit more free time but obviously the pressure is really high.

ON -What are you hoping audiences will take away from Swan Lake?
MH – I always enjoy performing Swan Lake on stage and the music is so special so I hope that comes across to audiences. Everyone on stage is giving their heart out, not just the principles, but the Corps de Ballet too. You have sixteen swans dancing together all in line and I know from experience how hard it is to be in sync. I hope audiences appreciate that as well.

ON – Why should people come see Swan Lake?
MH – Swan Lake is so iconic – everything that you think of when you think of ballet is in there – and there’s something for everyone, from the big numbers to the sets and costumes and beautiful music.

BRB’s Swan Lake opens at The Lowry on Thursday 2nd March – Sat 4th March tickets available here.