Bat Out Of Hell

Reviewed by Michelle Ewen

Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The ‘Bat’ is back in town! Four long years since its world premiere at the Opera House Manchester in 2017, Bat Out of Hell – the award-winning hit musical – has finally come home to Quay Street. Announcing its return with a victorious lap of roaring motorcycles, smoking tyres, gasoline fumes and lashings of leather, this is a production you could see, hear and taste before anyone had even set foot on stage!  

A frenetic fusion of Peter Pan meets Mad Max, Jim Steinman originally conceived Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell as a musical. It took four decades for that vision to be fulfilled – and it was worth the wait.

Enter Strat (Glenn Adamson), the charismatic leader of The Lost – a collective of rock n’ roll-loving misfits who, following a DNA-freezing earthquake, are condemned to be forever 18. Living in a network of tunnels beneath Obsidian (formerly known as Manhattan), The Lost are the scourge of city leader Falco (Rob Fowler), whose disaffected daughter Raven (Martha Kirby) and hilariously disenchanted wife Sloane (Sharon Sexton) reside with him in Falco Towers.

When Raven discovers a discarded T-shirt following The Lost’s latest protest in Falco Square, she locks eyes with its owner – Strat – setting the two on a romantic collision course that bristles with high-octane energy. Raven is as determined to become one of The Lost as her parents are to stop her, but with their own relationship in dire need of a fuel injection, can Falco and Sloane get on the same page when it comes to their daughter’s future?

Scored with nearly 20 Meatloaf and Jim Steinman classics, this rambunctious rock opera comes screaming out of the gates with ‘All Revved Up with No Place to Go/Wasted Youth’. Act One continues to pack a punch with a sizzling ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ – memorably staged atop of a convertible car – and an achingly tender rendition of ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’ by out-of-step lovebirds Zahara (Joelle Moses) and Jagwire (James Chisholm). 

By contrast, Act Two starts its engine in comparative idle – a flurry of duets slowing the pace right down. Once again, Fowler and Sexton – reprising their original roles – stand out with ‘What Part of My Body Hurts the Most’, whilst Tink (Killian Thomas Lefevre) infuses ‘Not Allowed to Love’ with palpable yearning. When ‘Dead Ringer for Love’ kicks in, the production bursts back into life; then it’s a home run of stone-cold classics right to the final curtain.

This is one sexy, fleshy, no-holds-barred production with flashes of pink thong, straddled laps galore and blood-smeared abs all making an appearance on stage. Not for the faint-hearted, Jay Scheib’s superb direction errs towards comedy rather than grotesque – lending a light-hearted feel to the whole production.

There was so much to love about the cast in Version 1.0 of this musical, but rest assured, those who are returning for Version 2.0 can find joy in the performances of the latest additions to the billing. 

Glenn Adamson’s Strat is fresh and enchanting, embodying the ‘forever young’ aesthetic of The Lost, whilst Martha Kirby’s Raven is his perfect ‘Wendy’ – a wistful romantic on the cusp of love; however, the standout performance is BOOH veteran Sharon Sexton as Sloane, who goes for every laugh and smashes every vocal.  

Jon Bausor understood the assignment – bringing us a set and costume design that hits every dystopian note. Falco Towers, suspended above ‘The Deep End’ and revealed to us via roaming videocam, is a particular triumph. It feels like a truly innovative use of space, as throbbing motorcycles, a vintage car and a sofa take it in turns to appear and disappear stage left and right.

Xena Gusthart’s clever choreography gives every member of the ensemble the opportunity to shine – especially during the riot scenes and the ‘push me-pull me’ love ballads.  

Of course, this production is all about Steinman’s music. Under the supervision of Michael Reed, the band are an absolute knockout – bringing us home with a final surprise number dedicated to the hitmaker who passed in April this year. Having bounced around in their seats and sung their hearts out, the audience is finally unleashed to give a roaring ovation. 

For this reviewer, Bat Out of Hell continues to be the benchmark by which all musicals are measured… For Crying Out Loud, You Know I Love You.  

Bat Out of Hell is on at the Opera House until Saturday, 2 October. Find out more and purchase tickets here.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If you’re looking for a post pandemic pick-me-up then look no further, get yourself down to The Lowry and immerse yourself in this heart-warming gem of a show.

After debuting at Sheffield’s crucible theatre in 2017 the West End beckoned for the inspiring story of Jamie New, a 16 year old boy with dragtastic plans in life.

Based on the true story of Jamie Campbell and inspired by the BBC3 documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 the show delves into the life of Jamie New; on the surface fearless and fabulous, underneath sensitive and scarred, but always true to himself.

Layton Williams returns to the role after playing Jamie in the West End and absolutely shines. His sass and sarcasm ensuring every brilliantly witty line lands while his vulnerability leaves you yearning for him to succeed.

Amy Ellen Richardson brings grit and soul to Jamie’s Mum, Margaret; her 2nd half delivery of He’s My Boy left me with more than a lump in my throat & thankful I’d packed the tissues; absolutely stunning.

Jamie’s relationship with Margaret, a strong, determined, single mum lies at the very heart of the piece and shapes the story beautifully. Williams and Richardson convince entirely; the ease in which they share the stage together illustrates the fiercely unconditional love between mother and son to perfection.

Shobna Gulati as Ray, Margaret’s best friend and often substitute parent for Jamie is fantastic, bringing humour and iconic Northern female strength to the role she’s as loyal as they come and as much family as any blood relative.

Shane Ritchie acts as Drag Mother Hugo/Loco Chanel bringing depth to the role as the former drag queen with their own multi-layered story to tell, a cheerleader to Jamie and instant hit with the audience. Another important cheerleader in Jamie’s life is best friend Pritti portrayed wonderfully by Sharan Phull. Her calm resilience and loving encouragement are incredibly touching.

The themes of inclusivity and individuality are delivered with true authenticity. There’s nothing gimmicky about this show, the story feels real and truly heartfelt. While the slick ensemble numbers thrill, with the excellent ensemble showcasing Kate Prince’s choreography superbly it’s the quieter moments that draw you in, ensuring you’re #TeamJamie from the start.

The journey school bully Dean (George Sampson) goes on isn’t brash or obvious but one of a new understanding through education and removal of fear.

Like many of us, theatre makers have had an incredibly difficult time during the pandemic but seeing a show as joyful and uplifting as this reminds you just how affecting and inspiring theatre can be.

Packed full of witty one liners, superb songs & stunning choreography Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a life-affirming celebration. An absolute must-see bursting with joy and heart.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is on at The Lowry until Sunday 12th September tickets available https://thelowry.com/whats-on/everybodys-talking-about-jamie/

The Rocky Horror Show

Reviewed by Nicky Jones

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Manchester’s Opera House re-opening week has been filled with glitz, glamour and fabulous fancy dress – the raucous Rocky Horror Show is back in town on Manchester Pride week!

As we headed into the venue surrounded by fishnet stockings, French maid’s outfits and copious amounts of sparkle, it was certain we were in for an incredible night of entertainment.

Rapidly heading towards its 50th anniversary, cult phenomenon The Rocky Horror Show is still as popular as ever. Even before the show began the audience erupted in cheers and applause, as the best-dressed audience member stole the limelight – entering the auditorium in his very own fabulous Frank-N-Furter costume.

The show begins with high energy from the audience, as the opening number Science Fiction/Double Feature proved a big hit. The story begins with Janet (Hayley Flaherty) and Brad (Ore Oduba)’s day not really going as planned, as the prim and proper couple break down in their car and attempt to seek help at the creepy castle two miles down the road. Considering all they wanted to do was borrow a phone, the pair get a lot more than they bargained for.

The show really kicks in once we meet Frank-N-Furter (Stephen Webb) and the full ensemble – everybody was up dancing and singing along within the first 30 minutes of the show. There was no waiting for the inevitable Time Warp curtain call here! The audience also built up a gorgeous atmosphere during Brad and Janet’s A Light Over at the Frankenstein Place, taking out their phone torches and glow sticks out for the number.

A stand-out performance comes from Narrator – Philip Franks. His quick wit, cheeky jokes and comedic timing had the audience shouting out heckles from his first line, and his jokes rely on an equally quick-witted loyal audience playing along with him. He did not get caught out once, and he gave it back as quick as he got it!

The Time Warp arrived in the show much earlier than I expected, and it had the whole auditorium up and dancing. Frank-N-Furter’s entrance was another stand out moment, with Sweet Transvestite being lapped up by the audience. It was raunchy, sassy and vocally powerful.

The creative team have done a superb job to create such a visually stunning show, from the set to the costumes. The set transitions beautifully from rainy windswept roads to the castle interior, and each one sets the scene perfectly. The costumes have a modern twist, but keep a close match to the character’s classic outfits from the original 1975 film. All of the costumes are clearly well loved throughout the show’s loyal fanbase, with some remarkable fancy dress being showcased within the auditorium and all over the cities bars following the show, I’m sure.

This show is a guaranteed party which features many timeless classics, including the show-stopping Time Warp. Catch The Rocky Horror Show in Manchester until Sunday 29th August – it’s the perfect way to start your Pride weekend! Tickets available here: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-rocky-horror-show/opera-house-manchester/

The Woman In Black

Reviewed by Alison Ruck

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


A horror on stage? How on earth will that work? A question I asked myself before seeing this production. Susan Hill’s acclaimed ghost story: you may or may not be familiar with the 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe, whilst the big screen benefits from visual trickery and CGI effects that would have you believe everything you see, a live theatrical performance with a mere cast of two doesn’t benefit from these luxuries.

As stated from The Actor played by Antony Eden, an audience can use their imagination, and as truth be told your imagination will be the thing that haunts you the most through this production.


Arthur Kipps, played by Robert Goodale, is a lawyer obsessed with a curse that he believes was cast over him by The Woman in Black. He engages a young actor, played by Mr Eden, to help him tell his terrifying story. As we begin to observe the innocent and jovial play within a play, the story delves deeper into Kipps’ darkest memories, and you find yourself whisked away to an eerie estate in the country as they share his chilling tale.

Goodale and Eden present two very well-rounded characters. Goodale’s initial reservations about ‘acting’ out his tale of dread soon give way to a brilliant multi-role performance through which he changes with ease. His farcical moments give the piece much needed release from tension, ultimately lulling you into a false sense of security!

Eden offers a solid performance from start to finish, mimicking the reality of the audience by experiencing the horror as he tells it.

The sparce, seemingly small spacing is drenched with cloth and minimal décor, immediately creating that unsettling atmosphere, and as the production unravels the wonder of the staging is made apparent. The clever use of staging combined with simple yet effective lighting, creates the illusion of the manor house where the terrifying events took place. The shadows, created by the lighting designer (Kevin Sleep) epitomises a true and classic horror façade, amplifying those eerie scenes of anticipation and fear.

The Palace theatre seams the perfect setting: the theatre that dates back to 1891, seemed to creek through the silences, and every footstep or rustling from the audience was magnified by the expectant thrill of horror within the production.

The simple yet well-timed elements of surprise and jumpy moments were presented ingeniously. The audience follow each one with a laugh at their own vulnerability, which instinctively and somewhat disappointingly releases you from the clutches of Kipps’ tale. 

The sound design, by Sebastian Frost, is yet another element that makes your spine tingle and your hands grip ever so slightly tighter to the seat. This in some ways achieves that big screen cinema feel of surround sound, with the clinkering noises and deathly screams echoing all around you and the theatre, thus mirroring perfectly the horror unfolding on stage from the two brilliant actors.

The power of the production truly lies in the suspense and expectancy. As a piece of theatre I really enjoyed it, but as a big horror fan watching a horror play, I wanted more: more suspense, more jumps, more thrill. However, this could be seen as a testament to the production that it left me wanting more of the elements it does so well. 

Overall a brilliant piece of theatre – though not for the weak of heart. If you’re looking for a thrilling evening of suspense and classic horror then this thrilling ghost story will satisfy your imagination. 

Playing at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until Saturday 28thAugust. 

Tickets from £13: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-woman-in-black/palace-theatre-manchester/

The Play That Goes Wrong

Reviewed by Nicky Jones

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Tony-award winning The Play That Goes Wrong is always undoubtably going to provide a night of hysterical laughter and shock moments – and the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are currently back at The Lowry with their production Murder at Haversham Manor!

It’s no secret that things are going to go wrong, and as you take to your seat the disasters have already begun. A Duran Duran CD and Winston the dog are lost within the auditorium and a frantic search for them has begun. The fourth wall is broken and audience participation is encouraged from the moment you take your seat, and that’s when you know this is not going to be any ordinary murder mystery…

Laughter takes over the auditorium before the lights have even gone down. The technicians are working away on-stage, repairing bits of the set which already aren’t staying where they’re supposed to. Once the lights go down, we are welcomed by the Director Chris Bean (Tom Bulpett) and once we hear the alternative names of some of their past productions (James, Where’s Your Peach?, Cat, The Lion and the Wardrobe), we know that things may not go quite as planned.

Throughout the play we are introduced to the society members, and it’s incredible how much hilarity they bring to the stage. These include first time performer Max Bennett, who plays Cecil Haversham (Tom Babbage), Sandra Wilkinson as the newly widowed Florence Colleymoore (April Hughes), and Dennis Tyde as Perkins (Edward Howells). In addition, they are supported by the technical crew of Trevor (Gabriel Paul) and Annie (Laura Kirman) – whose backstage roles may have to be left behind more than once during the performance.

It’s one of those productions that you could see over and over again, and each time you see it you’ll spot more hilarious moments, catch more witty lines and laugh even harder. At the beginning of act two, you think to yourself “the set is already barren and hanging by its hinges, how much more wrong can it go?!”. As the set crumbles around the actors, the comedy gets more and more chaotic. Props are bursting into flames, the study has collapsed onto the ground below, actors are getting knocked out – and you cannot quite believe that this is all happening in front of your eyes.

The comedic timing of the actors is impeccable, and the fun they are having on stage really shines through into the audience. It’s an absolute delight of a show, and will bring a smile to faces of all ages.

Mischief Theatre’s A Play That Goes Wrong is at The Lowry until Sunday 22nd August – https://thelowry.com/whats-on/the-play-that-goes-wrong/

Anna X

Reviewed by Michelle Ewen

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A cautionary tale for the digital age, Anna X opens with the chance meeting of an art world protégé and a tech start-up entrepreneur on their first night in New York. They are both chasing celebrity, money and power but, for one of them, success will depend on fooling the other. Wrapped up in their own fakery, the question is: Which carefully spun ‘avatar’ – fuelled by social media – will unravel first? 

This ambitious production brings together the powerhouse pairing of Golden Globe award winner Emma Corrin (Netflix’s The Crown) in the titular role of Anna X and the Royal Television Society’s 2019 Breakthrough star Nabhaan Rizwan (Informer, BBC), who is Ariel – founder of @GenesisApp. 

Between them, Corrin and Rizwan also play a cast of colourful supporting characters. Ranging from Anna’s sleazy magazine editor boss to Ariel’s key investor and former lover, they slip into each new role with a swift accent change.

It is a tall order to carry the entire production, delivering Joseph Charlton’s (Brilliant Jerks, VAULT Festival) sparkling dialogue without a beat, but this dynamic duo is more than up to the challenge – injecting their delivery with a lightness and deftness of touch that is a joy to behold.

On paper, both main characters should be contemptible. One is a fake oil heiress who is hellbent on fooling the New York art world. The other has created ‘Illuminati Tinder’ – an exclusive matching service where only the elite class get to date and have sex. Yet somehow, Corrin and Rizwan manage to make these pair of rogues likeable. Statuesque and commanding, Corrin imbues her Anna X with a beguiling sense of adventure, whereas Rizwan’s Ariel is a naïve dreamer who is only too willing to follow her lead. 

The laughs and comedic undertones are genuine, plus Charlton’s pointed commentary on everything from Instagram ‘likes’ to modern art serves to remind us that in today’s world, values and morality are increasingly subjective. (As Anna herself says: “If you lie in America and it gets you what you want, you’re an entrepreneur, not a criminal.”)

Whilst this play has some serious storytelling ‘chops’ – having been inspired in part by the exploits of real-life New York socialite Anna Sorokin – it is the set and video by Mikaela Liakata and Tal Yarden, and Jessica Hung Han Yun’s kinetic lighting that earns this reviewer’s plaudits. 

An ever-changing video screen serves as a shape-shifting backdrop – morphing from New York’s skyline to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, with pulsating nightclubs and dingy smoking stoops in between. The technology is used at its inventive best to depict rapid-fire WhatsApp messages or subtitled dialogue yelled over throbbing music and slicing strobe lights.

Simple cubes create levels on the otherwise sparse stage, which Corrin and Rizwan reimagine as balconies, hotel beds and office desks – all under Daniel Raggett’s playful direction.

It all adds up to an artful deception and, as Anna X says: “The world wants to be deceived… Give them what they want.”

Coming to the North by way of Sonia Friedman Productions’ RE:EMERGE season at the West End, Anna X is playing at The Lowry until Saturday, 14 August. Further information can be found here.

RENT

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

9 months after its original opening night which heartbreakingly coincided with the eve of the 2nd national lockdown it’s fair to say the cast, crew and creatives of Rent have never given up hope that their show would be seen by live audiences; cue a weekend of sell-out previews followed by a spectacular gala night, confirming that Rent is back, with renewed passion, urgency, and an overwhelming sense of triumph.

This gritty rock musical, set in New York’s East Village introduces us to a group of bohemian artists who despite their daily struggles, battle through life with determination and heart, strengthened by a deep-seated love and genuine friendship which connects them wholeheartedly. They too are living through unprecedented times as the AIDS epidemic sweeps through their streets and the elite want them cleared out of the neighbourhood.

Director Luke Sheppard and his team have created a truly mesmerising production, adding depth and energy to characters many musical theatre fans feel they know so well. The passion and thrill at being back on stage radiates from each performer with Tom Jackson Greaves’ punchy choreography offering a physical outlet for their frustrations as they fiercely defend their right to be heard. Similarly Musical Supervisor Katy Richardson and Musical Director Chris Poon ensure that familiar pounding score is note perfect while David Woodhead’s set and costume design paired with Howard Hudson’s lighting transports us to the atmospheric streets of New York.

Luke Bayer sets the tone right from the start as Mark, and angst filled filmmaker whose energy never wanes. Kooky and complex his video camera acting as a safety blanket protecting him from connecting too deeply and exposing his lonely reality.

Tom Francis is sensational as Roger, his rock God-like swagger draws you in while his brooding vulnerability catches you completely off-guard. His scenes with Maiya Quansah-Breed are simply beautiful, the two manage to make you feel like you’re observing a couple’s private moments; so in tune with each other are they. They draw out every ounce of emotion from their scenes, taking you along on their impassioned journey.

The deeply moving relationship between Angel and Collins which weaves through the storyline is both joyful and devastating in equal measure. Hartley-Harris’ delivery of I’ll Cover You – Reprise is breathtakingly beautiful while Alex Thomas-Smith’s Angel is pure perfection.

Cutting through the intensity is Millie O’Connell’s, Maureen who bickers and squabbles with girlfriend Joanne (Jocasta Almgill) throughout, her delivery of Over The Moon is hilarious. Both O’Connell and Almgill give their characters real strength, authenticity and bucketloads of personality while their rich vocals deliver some killer harmonies.

Michael Ahomka-Lindsay ensures Benny is seen as more than just a former friend turned landlord as his connection to the group warms and solidifies. Completing the casting is the featured ensemble who add bite and pure passion to the production; Issac Hesketh, Alison Driver, Iona Fraser, Joe Foster and Karl Lankester’s versatility and skill really authenticates this production as a true ensemble piece.

There is a strong sense of coming together in the face of adversity which drives the show, something we can all relate to given recent testing times. The poignancy of the piece truly connecting with the audience in the intimacy of the former cotton mill. The full ensemble pieces are thrilling, intimate and bursting with life while the stripped back moments are spine-tinglingly perfect.

At a time when theatre needs as much support as possible Rent is leading the charge for Hope Mill Theatre’s Covid recovery proving entirely that there’s nothing quite like the thrill of live theatre. Proud, punchy and powerful, Rent has it all!

Rent is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Sunday 19th September, tickets available now https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/rent

HopeFest

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

The sunshine has arrived just in time to herald the start of Hope Fest, a 3-week program of outdoor arts and cultural events located in the heart of trendy Ancoats.

The festival takes place from the 16th July through to 8th August and promises a mix of comedy, music, theatre and special events that will cater to all tastes!

Events include various shows from Matt & Phred’s music sessions, a celebration of Jazz, Funk and Soul. There is also Dog Fest, a family friendly event, showcasing some talented, paw-fect pooches, hosted by Hope Mill Patron Hayley Tamaddon. In addition,there is a tip of the hat to some iconic mega stars, including Dolly Parton, with The Dolly Show, performed by one of the best Dolly impersonators around; as well as a musical extravaganza in the form of Judy & Liza, which looks at Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli’s 1964 London Palladium show.

The festival kicked off with a huge statement of intent, in the guise of Jason Manford’s Comedy Club: a comedy showcase highlighting the cream of British stand up, and an opportunity to unearth some undiscovered comedic gems.

Tonight’s show featured four comics Matt Rees, James Allen, Julian Deane and our MC for the evening Sally-Anne Hayward. Hayward offers a mix of razor sharp observations on feminism, along with a scathing critic of clap-for-carers, which is bang on point. This, interspersed with lewd gags, and the tried-and-tested audience ‘banter’ sees Hayward do a solid job of setting the tone for the evening.

First on is Matt Rees, whose sardonic routine mainly centres on his battle with alcoholism and his continued sobriety. In addition, there are some set pieces focusing on a Mega Bus journey and his stint working at Poundland that are good fun. However, it is Rees’ darker material that is his main strength, with gags about dwarf sex and dementia, which are as funny as they are smart. It is a low-key, droll, but welcome offering from Rees.

Next up is James Allen, a Salford University Graduate, who packs a great deal into his short set. Focusing on Allen’s awkwardness. This is a set filled self-deprecating gags, about awkward first sexual encounters and his time as a drama student. It’s a silly, light routine from Allen, and because of its short running time leaves you wanting more from his awkward adventures.


Following the interval is the show’s headline act Julian Deane. The gags come thick and fast, with Deane working through a-near-the-knuckle routine focusing on relationships, and fatherhood. Some punch lines are as brutal as they are funny, helped along by Deane’s deadpan delivery. What is appealing about his routine is that despite the confidence with which it is delivered Deane is often the butt of his own jokes, which is somewhat refreshing. This was a great headline set from a comic who I’d definitely be interested in seeing again.

The opening night of Hope Fest was an absolute triumph, a great indicator of what lies ahead for this bold, innovative festival and a wonderful addition to Manchester’s vibrant cultural scene.

More information on Hope Fest as well as tickets can be found at https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/hope-fest

The Hound of The Baskervilles

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Alison Ruck

As one of the first full scale productions to grace the newly refurbished Bolton Octagon stage, I was very excited to head to the theatre for a night of comedy brilliance with The Hound of The Baskervilles.

The Octagon has just undertaken a million-pound refurbishment, set to improve accessibility, visitor experience and backstage facilities. And oh yes was it worth it, it looks amazing, the place is pristine, modern and beautiful. The Octagon has really upped it’s game and I cant wait to see what amazing work they produce going forward.

But anyway, back to The Hound of The Baskervilles. With a cast of only 3, the adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic adventure tells the story of one of Sherlock Holmes’ most popular case. The famous pair of Sherlock and Watson are asked to unravel the mystery surrounding the untimely death of Sir Charles Baskerville, and with rumours of a cursed giant hound on the loose, they must act fast to save the Baskerville family’s last remaining heir.

The trio of talented actors play a variety of roles throughout the show, incorporating a multitude of accents, costumes, and physicality to differentiate. Polly Lister plays Sir Henry Baskerville (amongst many others), Octagon Youth Theatre alumni, Reuben Johnson is the famous Sherlock Holmes (amongst many others), and Simon Kane is Mr Watson, who is the only constant in his role throughout.


The multi-rolling was brilliant, each one portrayed with dazzling humour and distinguish. One of my favourites wasMiss Cecile Stapleton played by The Octagon’s very own, Reuben, his flirty mannerisms combined with some brilliantly written comedy created the perfect, mysterious other woman. 

All three actors were outstanding, their perfect comedy timing and exuberance created farcical brilliance which at times had me crying laughing, particularly at the scenes with the dummies (no spoilers) which had the whole audience in stiches. The cast have great chemistry on stage and even when speaking to the audience (or breaking the fourth wall for those who like technical terms) the comedy was very natural and raw, flowing from ‘break out’ to ‘acting’ effortlessly whilst keeping the comedy simple and easy.

The production, directed by Lotte Wakeham, was minimal yet clever staging, making use of only a few items of set that immediately help place a scene and the clever use of props that not only keep you with the story but add subtle moments of humour within the scenes. Similarly, the costumes, designed by David Woodhead allowed you to differentiate between characters even through the quick changes and role swaps, each one accentuated each character perfectly, which was further emphasised by the fantastic actors.

When you’re not laughing away, you’re sucked into the world of Holmes and Watson through the twists and turns of the plot. I was unfamiliar with the production, so I was utterly entranced by the ‘who did it’ drama and was even surprised by the findings of the detective pair.

This adaption of The Hounds of The Baskervilles was the perfect blend of farcical comedy and mystery drama. A fun show, sure to have you howling with laughter (pun intended)from start to finish.

The Hound of The Baskervilles is on at Octagon Theatre, Bolton until Saturday 7th August tickets available https://octagonbolton.co.uk

Bloody Elle – A Gig Musical

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Sitting inside one of Manchester’s most beautiful buildings, the excitement and anticipation for what is for many the first time back inside a theatre in over fifteen months cannot be underplayed.

From front of house, to centre stage, you could see the effort, love and pure joy that has gone into this re-opening. The atmosphere was palpable, and that wasn’t because England had just beaten Germany in a knockout game of football for the first time in over fifty-five years (although that might have just added a little extra something). Being in the audience, for the Royal Exchange and Rebel Productions’ world premiere in the current climate felt like a secret special treat.

Bloody Elle isn’t like your usual Royal Exchange offering, immediately the audience barrier is not only broken but well and truly smashed, as Elle addresses the audience directly from the off, refreshingly introducing the sound and lighting operating team as if it were part of the set of her gig.

‘Bloody Elle – A gig Musical,’ is a one-woman-show, set to an original score, written and performed by the astonishing Lauryn Redding. The story is of self-professed ‘potty mouth’ Danielle (Elle) who has been brought up on ‘cloud rise,’ by her widowed mother. Elle or ‘Gobshiiiite’ as her mother calls her, works at Chips and Dips which is ‘pretty good craic…and you get free chips.’ Here she meets newbie Eve, and the rest as they say is…. a two and a half hour, hilarious, uncompromising, fresh, original, genre-breaking, ‘gig musical.’

Redding is a force of nature and you can’t take your eyes off her. Not only does she fully command the auditorium for two and a half hours, she has the audience firmly in the palm of her hand. Full of witty, punchy one-liners, and hard-hitting truths that make you laugh out loud, and your insides squirm simultaneously, Redding’s writing is sensational, and the audience not only clings on to Elle’s every word, but we feel it deeper than maybe we are comfortable admitting. The way the piece takes a free-flowing route in and out of spoken word, prose and song is remarkable and as if performing a one-woman-show, playing an acoustic and an electric guitar whilst cleverly looping your whole set isn’t enough, Redding’s singing voice is equally sublime, effortlessly moving from northern busker vibes to more soulfully fueled riffs that really show off her excellent vocal capabilities. This original score is raw and current, yet also feels long-established and familiar as you find yourself nodding in enjoyment.

Bloody Elle’ is directed by the Royal Exchange’s joint Artistic Director Bryony Shanahan, who does a wonderful job here of bringing all the elements together seamlessly. Stoodley’s stripped back design, together with Webster’s atmospheric lighting, are both extremely effective. It makes the whole evening feel really intimate, almost like you’ve cheated your way inside a live gig and a theatre show all in the one ticket and it’s almost too good to be true.

Towards the end you can see Redding shedding her character’s layers and allowing the rawness and truth of the story to surface. Coming out isnt easy it cuts you open from the inside,’ this is a story of love, heartbreak, acceptance and everything in between and the poignancy of watching Elle’s story unfold whilst Pride is being celebrated throughout the world is certainly not lost.

The entire experience is a cathartic and hugely uplifting one at the same time.

Yes, ‘the gig’ could quite possibly have been condensed a little, but your eyes are never left wandering, aand your attention doesn’t stray for that matter, either.

Shanahan admits in her Director’s note that without Covid this piece may not have even been written and it’s no mistaking that a piece like this would possibly never have been programmed on the main stage at the Royal Exchange; certainly a little nugget of joy to come out of this past year.

Bold, bright and brash, the Royal Exchange’s first socially distanced, re-opening offering certainly packs a hefty punch.

‘Bloody Elle- A Gig Musical’ runs until the 17th July tickets available via » Bloody Elle (royalexchange.co.uk)

Vignettes

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Following a hugely successful run back in February of 2020, HER Productions in conjunction with Alex Keenlan, return to Hope Mill Theatre with a new set of Vignettes: a series of short plays from some of Manchester’s finest writers.

With six stories showcased, there is something for everyone, from family drama to sci-fi, kitchen sink to sitcom, all sharing the common theme of humanity. All have something to say about the world we live in.

It’s a smart choice to open with Fresh Meat: a sharp, fun story of empowerment as Abbi (Carrie Crookall) takes the plunge to visit a strip club, where she meets sassy dancer Frankie (Shireen Ashton). Despite their initial difference, the two ladies have more in common than they think. The script is packed with some punchy dialogue and two really fun performances.

The next offering  is Wildfires, a story looking at discovery and being out of your comfort zone. Niamh (Amy Gavin) reluctantly joins a retreat in the hope of making new friends and seeking out some answers, but things don’t quite pan out as they should. Again, a sharp, witty script with some solid work from the ensemble cast.

Closing the first act is XYV, a dystopian science fiction drama, which explores themes of gender, power, and the consequences of our actions. Performed by Elaine McNicol and Emily Dowson, with terrific sound design from Andrew Glassford, this bold, daring piece attempts to pack a great deal into its short running time.

First up following the interval is To Have and to Hold, a beautifully written, directed and performed piece focusing on the relationship between Ange (Joanne Heywood) and Barry (Shaun Hennessy), a pair of championship winning ballroom dancers stopped from doing the thing they love by an oh so familiar enemy. Containing some great gags and more laugh-out-loud one-liners, this is the perfect way to start act two.

The penultimate offering is, It’s a Pea Picking Privilege, a bitter sweet slice of social realism, as Aggie (Sophie Ellicott) and her daughter, Alice (Carla Rowe) discuss identity, and life’s struggles in a not-too-distant past. With a script filled with humour and pathos, it certainly leaves you wanting to learn more about this fractured mother and daughter unit.

The show closes with Signs, a look at loss, grief and forgiveness. Spiritualist Eileen (Wendy Albiston) works with sisters Amanda (Francesca White) and Jess ( Liz Simmonds) as they both deal with their sister’s illness in very different ways. Packed with emotion and a sprinkling of humour, this dark comedy seems the fitting finale to bring the production to a close.

Vignettes will have something for everyone, containing a tale or two that we can all relate to and a timely reminder that whilst live entertainment has been decimated throughout this pandemic, there are still stories to be told, with talented creative’s ready to tell them by whatever means they can.  

Vignettes is on at Hope Mill Theatre till 3rd July

Tickets available from: https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/vignettes

Interview | Martin Kaye talks Elton John – It’s A Little Bit Funny

Elton John: It’s A Little Bit Funny tells the incredible story of Elton John’s rise and fall (and rise again) as one of the most successful singer/songwriters ever.

What would you do if you got the chance to meet your all-time hero? That’s exactly what crossed Martin Kaye’s mind when he found himself performing in Las Vegas at the same time as Elton John a few years go – Kaye as Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet and John in his The Million Dollar Piano show.

It’s this concept that has formed the basis for Elton John: It’s A Little Bit Funny, a new show starring Kaye that comes to The Bowdon Rooms in Altrincham from Monday 19th to Saturday 24th July 2021.

The show tells the (imagined) tale of one extraordinary night in Las Vegas when Elton superfan Kaye bumps into the bespectacled star and happens to spend the evening with him.

It’s a night of confessions, anecdotes, jokes and – of course – fabulous songs. And Kaye is the biggest Elton John fan ever – so who better to sing and play Elton’s greatest songs and narrate this tall tale of an unforgettable celebrity encounter. 

Here we learn a bit more about the show from writer and star Martin Kaye:

ON: Where did you get the idea for the show from?

Martin: “Well, I’m a massive Elton John fan, he’s the reason I play the piano and have done since I was a wee lad growing up in Manchester, so his music has always had a through line in my life. I was living and working in Las Vegas in ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ at Harrahs, and Elton John was also performing across the street at Caesars Palace, and I always wondered what it would be like if I ran into him, so… when I saw that Katy Lipson (one of my long time Mancunian friends) was creating so much incredible theatre in the UK, I told her I would love to work together on some kind of Elton show. She put me in touch with her script writer Chris Burgess, and the rest is history!”

 

ON: Can you tell us a bit more about the show and how it’s developed?

Martin: “Well, we firstly had to figure out how to tell a story without doing any kind of Elton John impersonation – I’m not a fan of those kinds of things, and I don’t sound or look anything like him anyway! (So anyone hoping for an Elton impersonator will be disappointed!) We wanted to just tell the story as earnestly as possible, and we thought “what better way than to tell it than through the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin themselves”. So that’s what we did! It’s got the ups and downs, musically and narratively speaking, weaving through the story of my and Elton’s life. I’m at the front on the piano, singing and playing my little heart away, backed by the most incredible three piece band, and we play all the hits, as well as some really great deep cuts and b-sides which, if you know Elton’s music well, you may know, but if you don’t, it’s an opportunity to hear some new music, which just happen to be really great brilliantly-written songs by one of the world’s most beloved writing partnerships.”

ON: Why do you think Elton John’s songs are so well-loved and still as popular now as when he first recorded them?

Martin: “In terms of Elton himself, I think that, at the time, he was just so incredible to watch. He was nothing like anyone had ever seen since the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard – it was even a step beyond that – so people latched on to that. But it wasn’t just the performance. Match that high-octane performance with amazing songs. Life-changing songs. Songs that people could sing along to. It’s just one of those magical collaborations, isn’t it?! The Lennon/McCartney of the 70s and beyond. And the music was so diverse, so broad. It stretched from country to rock to pop to jazz to orchestral, even to musical theatre. It covered so many genres that there was something for everyone. And those early albums – gosh, those songs were just so good. Beautiful and original melodies, but somehow familiar. And at the very root of it, Elton just knows how to write an amazing chord progression. It’s so simple, yet it’s also not! And it always works. It just… works.”

ON: Which is your favourite Elton John song and why? Is this also your favourite one to perform?

Martin: “As you discover early on in the show, ‘Your Song’ was the reason I fell in love with music, so it’s easily my favourite song because of its importance to my life. And yes, it’s definitely one of my favourites to perform. There are others, sure, coz I also love the high energy stuff – Saturday Night’s Alright is a belter!”

ON: What was performing in Las Vegas like?

Martin: “I can’t even put it into words. It was a dream come true. It was everything I imagined it to be, and so, so much more. As soon as Million Dollar Quartet arrived, we became celebrities there – it was so strange, and as I mentioned earlier, the local Vegas community is so tight and really gets behind its artists, it’s so unbelievably supportive. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. So while I was there, I worked on other projects, I performed at charity shows and other events, I made friends for life – and I got to go to work on the strip! As an entertainer, living and working in the entertainment capital of the world – yep, that’ll do!”

ON: Are you looking forward to bringing the show to the Bowdon Rooms? What can audiences expect?

Martin: “I can’t WAIT. To be able to bring any show to my hometown of Manchester is special, and to be able to perform a show that’s so close to my heart – it doesn’t get much better than that really! I don’t want the audiences to expect anything, except a really fun night of incredible music, performed by a really tight band, with a wild story told by a local bald bloke.”

Elton John: It’s a Little Bit Funny stars Martin Kaye and his band, directed by Ben Stock, written by Chris Burgess, musical arrangements by Andy Collyer, production design by Ben M. Rogers, produced by Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment.

Elton John: It’s a Little Bit Funny runs at the Bowdon Rooms, Altrincham from Monday 19th to Saturday 24th 2021. Please visit The Bowden Rooms for more information and tickets.

Listing Information

Elton John: It’s a Little Bit Funny

Monday 19th to Saturday 24th July 2021

The Bowdon Rooms, Altrincham

Tickets: £25.00 + Booking Fee 

Concessions: £22.00 + Booking Fee

For groups of 10+ please contact the venue direct on 0161 926 8992 http://www.thebowdonrooms.co.uk