In The Night Garden Live

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In The Night Garden Live has been enchanting children since its very first tour in 2010; there’s nothing quite like seeing the faces of little ones light up when they realise their favourite characters are right there in front of them. For 2019 the show is even bigger and better as it moves out of the purpose built showdomes and into theatres across the country in an all-new & completely charming adventure; Igglepiggle’s Busy Day!

The much-loved characters Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy, Makka Pakka, The Tombliboo’s and The Pontipines all feature in this wonderful celebration of the original CBeebies show brought to vivid life by an outstanding team of actor/puppeteers.

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The story written by Helen Eastman is told beautifully through song, dance and gentle music as Igglepiggle goes about his busy day bumping into his friends along the way. With the helpful addition of narration from Derek Jacobi, (the voice of the TV show); the story flows at a gentle pace ensuring even the youngest of audience members can follow the action in this joyful show.

The life-size versions of each character particularly captivate the little ones. There are both squeals of delight and frantic waves as one by one they each take to the stage. The whole experience feels magical, the perfect opportunity for little ones to have their first experience of the theatre. There are no loud bangs or unexpected surprises here just an enchanting & professionally executed show which will no doubt become a regular fixture in theatre schedules across the country.

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The set features familiar animations & bold visuals which further add to the immersive feel of this show as the much-loved characters whisk us along on their colourful ride. At around an hour long this is just the right about of time for the little ones who lap up every bit of the action.

My youngest guest who is 3 and a half announced upon entering the theatre & seeing the stage “I am so happy” I can confirm his smile was even wider by the end of the show. His Mum who has been to the shows at the showdome many times really enjoyed the experience of seeing the characters take to the stage in the theatre while her older son (age 5) really enjoyed the experience of going to the theatre with his baby brother and said of the move into the theatre “It’s not just for babies now but boys and girls too”

In The Night Garden Live is a huge hug of a show, joyous, magical family fun.

Further ticket and tour information can be found here.

 

Motown The Musical

10. MOTOWN THE MUSICAL. The Company. Photo Tristram Kenton

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Motown the Musical is not your average jukebox production, while of course it’s jam-packed with sensational Motown classics it goes much deeper educating audiences in the history of this ground-breaking musical movement and doing so with real heart and soul along the way.

The story is told in a flashbacks by Motown creator Berry Gordy (Edward Baruwa) who started the label with just $800 and went on to launch the careers of icons such as Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations and Marvin Gaye  to name but a few. The show begins as the 25th anniversary celebration is looming but Gordy is in no mood to party.

23. MOTOWN THE MUSICAL. The Company. Photo Tristram Kenton

With such an incredible back catalogue to pick from it would be easy to fall into the tribute concert category but Mowton the Musical offers so much more as personal relationships and professional struggles play out. We begin with Gordy’s childhood where he dreams of being somebody. Through his founding of the Motown label not only does he become somebody but changes the face of not just music but popular culture forever.

The music is joyfully allowed to take centre stage, at times it moves the story on and on other occasions is there for pure enjoyment & boy does it do its job. With hits including ABC, Baby Love, My Girl, Dancing In The Street, What’s Going On and Stop In The Name Of Love delivered by the most talented of casts Motown is an absolute thrill from start to finish.

16. MOTOWN THE MUSICAL. Reece Richards 'Jackie Wilson'. Photo Tristram Kenton

Edward Baruwa is entirely convincing as label boss Berry Gordy, his journey from optimistic youngster through to disillusioned & disappointed record label boss is committed & believable. Karis Anderson as Diana Ross goes on an incredible journey; maturing before our eyes from wide/eyed schoolgirl to ultimate Vegas diva she is sensational.

Nathan Lewis shines as Smokey Robinson on what is his professional theatre debut while Shak Ganbbidon-Williams is superb as Marvin Gaye. Special mention must also go to the talented ensemble cast who take on multiple roles with incredible skill.

22. MOTOWN THE MUSICAL. The Jackson Five. Photo Tristram Kenton 2500

The real genius about this production is that it manages to effectively portray the way in which the political & social climate influenced the sounds of the time whilst still entertaining enormously; the Vietnam war, assassinations of both JFK & Martin Luther King each taking the story in a new direction, adding authenticity and richness.

In addition to this absorbing story & unforgettable music is a stunning use of projection. Scenic designer David Korins & projection designer Daniel Brodie have effectively managed to recreate houses, TV studios, theatres & offices with their intricate & dynamic designs. Panels sweep in & out adding multiple layers to the bold visuals.

Motown is a show which will appeal to all & will without doubt gain a whole new generation of fans. From its world-class soundtrack to its stunning design this high-energy, super slick production is told with genuine heart & heaps of soul; if you’re not dancing in the streets of Manchester afterwards we’d have to ask What’s Going On?

On at the Opera House until Saturday 23rd March tickets available here.

 

 

 

 

 

Interview | Nathan Lewis | Motown The Musical

Nathan Lewis Headshot

X Factor finalist Nathan Lewis heads to Manchester next week as part of the sensational Motown the Musical. Playing the legendary Smokey Robinson, Lewis is amongst a talented cast who bring the legends of Motown to glittering life in a musical adaptation which uncovers the true story of the legendary record label that changed music history and created the soundtrack of a generation.

We caught up with Nathan to hear a little more about the show and how it feels to be making his theatrical debut in such a thrilling role.

For your first musical production this must be an absolute dream role?

Absolutely 100%, it’s the first time I’ve done any kind of theatre production before so it really is a dream come true. Beforehand I was so so nervous even just about auditioning for the role let alone playing it and Smokey Robinson was such an important part of the Motown story that it really is an honour.

How did you feel ahead of your 1st performance in front of an audience?

It was very, very nerve-wracking but at the same time we have such a great team here, an amazing cast, fantastic creatives, director, sound, wigs, costume, everyone is just so encouraging that while of course I was nervous the support I had from this great team really helped prepare me and helped me to feel comfortable and ready to take it on. Part nerves, part excitement!

13. MOTOWN THE MUSICAL. Nathan Lewis 'Smokey Robinson'. Photo Tristram Kenton

Do it add pressure playing a real person?

I think it definitely does, you have to be very careful not to make any of the characters too different from their real selves; it’s so important they don’t become caricatures. With it being based on real people and real events you do have to reflect that but it’s a lot of fun because their stories and lives are so real and so interesting.

It’s such a fast paced show including 50 Motown classics how do you look after yourself and stay well?

I’ve recently just got over having a little bug and I think what helps with recovery and getting back performing is just really knowing your body, some people can bang out eight shows a week no problem, others have to be really careful. For me things like honey, ginger, lemon, hot water, the occasional steam and even long hot showers all help in looking after my voice. Also and this may sound stupid but knowing when to shut up, when you have time off it’s best to use it as well as you can and to rest your voice, just chill out and relax.

How do you prepare for each performance?

I just try to get myself feeling nice and relaxed really, I might listen to some music, drink some hot water, ginger and honey, occasionally might go over my lines. I find feeling relaxed helps me to feel confident and ready to perform.

Which Motown artists dead or alive would you love to meet or even sing with?

Oh my God that’s such a tough question, I’d definitely love to meet Smokey, to sing with him would be amazing and also he’s such an incredible song writer. It would be incredible to not only see him perform but also to pick his brain as well and find out a little more about him and how he did things. Michael Jackson would absolutely be one of them, he’s one of the biggest stars there’s ever been, meeting him would be amazing, and I’m definitely gonna put Stevie Wonder on the list as well, 100%.

You’re with us in Manchester from 26th Feb until 23rd March have you made any plans while you’re here?

I’ve only been once or twice before so I’m looking forward to doing some sightseeing, when you get to stay at a venue for a longer time it’s great as you get the chance to get comfortable in the place you’re at, it can be quite jarring when you’re just doing a week somewhere then onto the next place so a longer spell is really lovely and an opportunity to discover somewhere new.

The show has been a huge hit on the West End and now the tour is taking audiences by storm, what makes it such a fan favourite?

I’d have to say the music, it’s got to be the music, it is so iconic. For me having never done a theatre production before being lucky enough to get Motown as my first has been amazing I can totally see why audiences love it so much. The music in it is all my favourite kinds of music, its high energy, great storytelling about real people. To say the music of Motown shaped the world is an understatement, the music and the creative way in which its delivered is what makes it so popular.

You can see for yourself why Motown The Musical continues to thrill audiences when it arrives at Manchester’s Opera House on Tuesday 26th February tickets available here.

 

Mydidae

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The day starts as any other, Marian (Hollie-Jay Bowes) practices her French while brushing her teeth, her partner David (David Gregan-Jones) does his best to convince that his business spiel has some actual meaning; it soon becomes clear however that their inconsequential chatter & random mutterings are merely a means of avoiding a much deeper, darker and undoubtedly more difficult conversation.

Affectionate chat becomes increasingly saturated with barbed comments as with each trip to the bathroom insecurities and an inability to communicate honestly are exposed.

Jack Thorne’s script is both challenging and remarkably honest, stripping each character both physically and emotionally. Laura Woodward’s focussed direction ensures warped domestic life takes centre stage as light-hearted interrogation becomes something altogether more shocking.

Hollie-Jay Bowes & David Gregan-Jones unselfconsciously move throughout the intimate space allowing the audience a genuine fly on the wall insight. Each have an ability to connect deeply with the audience; you feel their pain, their heartache, their frustrations as the reality of their grief in all it’s complicated detail is stripped bare.Their believability as a fractured couple allows the emotion of Jack Thorne’s piece to rise to a brutal and unexpected peak which literally knocks you for six. Both are outstanding.

Natalie Johnson’s set and costume design of varying shades of blue are lit to subtle yet dramatic effect by Joseph Thomas, a hint of what’s to come with a flash of colour lighting up the freestanding bath between scenes.

Wonderhouse Theatre succeed in delivering this provocative & powerful piece impressively well, holding the audience entirely for the full 75ish minutes. It is the kind of theatre that will remain in your thoughts for days, weeks, maybe more as you pour over the detail & examine the issues raised.

Brutal, honest and brilliantly executed theatre.

Catch Mydidae at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 23rd February tickets £12/14 are available here.

 

Punk Rock

Salford Uni

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict 2.5 Stars

Based in Salford, the Almost Theatre Company have given a platform to some super talented young actors, writers, directors and back stage crews. They have a diverse back catalogue of shows that include Rent, Sweeny Todd and Dr Faustus. Clearly, this is a company willing to take risks, and this trend is continued with their latest offering Punk Rock.

Set in the Library of a six-form college in Stockport, we are introduced to six students: some are friends, some are foes, but all have their problems. There is new girl Lilly (Verity Lynn-Williams), struggling to find her feet at a new school, her shy boyfriend (Neil Boardman) and his friend Bennett (Josh Bratherton), a bully and borderline psychopath. Then there is Cissy (Georgia Davis), Bennett’s girlfriend who is feeling the pressure from her parents to get good grades and her best friend Tanya (Charlotte McClintock), who has a crush on one of her teachers. The final pair is Chadwick (Joel Conlon), a loner but academically gifted and William (Chris Woods), the joker filled with hopes and dreams, but desperate for acceptance.

We see the class mates converse with each other, their interactions mainly having a negative impact on each of them, their circumstances and their mental health. Inevitably the constant struggle and torment that each member of the group are going through leads one of them to snap, which has devastating consequences for all concerned.

Punk Rock offers somewhat of a mixed bag; it’s a bold, unflinching play that attempts to address some of the mental health issues affecting young people today, and for that it should be commended. The cast are strong, with each one putting in decent turns as the troubled troupe. Occasionally some cast members do go slightly over-the-top in their performances and more must be made of the subtleties and nuisances of their characters for the play to have more impact. All seven-cast members (Patrick Cerra plays two supporting roles) are clearly talented and have a bright future ahead of them.

Where the production suffers is in its tone. It doesn’t get that balance between comedy and drama right. If it wants to be taken as a serious piece of theatre, then it needs to lose the jokey introduction, and decide what you want the audience to take away from the show. The script needs to be tighter as some of the dialogue is on the clunky side.

Overall, this production has good intentions and certainly deserves an audience. It is a shining example of just how much the Almost Famous Theatre Company has at their disposal.

Punk Rock is at Salford Universality Media City Campus until Saturday 9th February

 

 

Annie

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Nikolai Foster’s revival of family favourite musical Annie has gone from strength to strength since it first debuted at the West Yorkshire Playhouse back in 2011. With a sell-out UK tour in 2015/16 followed by an extended run in the West End plus a recent sell-out season in Toronto all safely tucked under its belt; Annie is back on the road for 2019 opening a new UK tour here in Manchester.

Set in New York during the Great Depression it is indeed a hard-knock life for 11 year old orphan Annie who finds herself living in miserable, gin-swilling Miss Hannigan’s all-girl orphanage. Consumed with a fierce determination to find her real parents Annie manages to escape the boozy clutches of Miss Hannigan when she is picked to spend Christmas at the residence of famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks. However Miss Hannigan and her good-for-nothing brother Rooster aren’t quite done with orphan Annie and set about trying their best to get in the way of her happy ending.

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Based on Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie comic strips the original musical opened on Broadway in 1977, it is however the 1982 film starring Albert Finney, Bernadette Peters and Eileen Quinn that remains most firmly etched in many people’s minds. It was without doubt one of the most worn out VHS tapes in my house, my sisters and I knowing every line, my eldest sister can still be called upon to belt out a deafening rendition of ‘Rover, why not think it over?’ should the need arise. With clearly many other Annie fans at the Opera House tonight it’s a welcome relief to see that director Nikolai Foster’s production respects the audiences love for this piece and has kept the changes to a minimum. It is still packed full of unforgettable classics including Hard Knock Life, Tomorrow, Easy Street and Little Girls while Miss Hannigan remains gin-guzzlingly awful but has a new technicoloured vibrancy about it.

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Its colourful escapism is reflected in Colin Richmond’s intricate set and costume design, jigsaw pieces scattered across the set reflecting Annie’s journey as piece by piece her life and identity come together all beautifully lit by Ben Cracknell. Yes at times it is schmaltzy but heck if Annie can make the President of the United States sit up and listen just imagine what she could do if unleashed into Brexit negotiations!

A large part of what makes Annie so endearing is of course the kids in the show and they really do make this production. Taziva-Faye Katsande is a charming and confident Annie supported perfectly by Team Chrysler for this evenings press night, each girl is outstanding bursting with life and vibrant energy with little Orla McDonagh threatening to steal the show as Molly on what is her professional debut.

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Anita Dobson makes for a cranky and world weary Miss Hannigan while Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks transforms before our eyes from hardnosed business man to smitten adoptive father. The ensemble deliver Nick Winston’s inventive choreography with sass and style adding exuberant energy to the much-loved musical numbers.

Annie is feel-good family fun, a real celebration of courage and innocent optimism as well as a wonderful reminder to us all that when the hard knocks come we need to find our inner strength and fight back remembering what seems impossible today will look different tomorrow. Joyful family entertainment with a great story at it’s heart.

On at The Opera House until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.

 

 

 

Interview | Lewis Griffiths talks Jersey Boys

The international smash-hit Jersey Boys returns to Manchester this week as part of an extensive UK tour. Winner of an incredible 57 major awards worldwide, including the Olivier Award for Best New Musical, Jersey Boys tells the true life story of four boys from the wrong side of the tracks who went on to sell over 100 million records worldwide.

Featuring hit after iconic hit including Beggin’, December 1963 (Oh What A Night), Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Walk Like A Man, Bye Bye Baby, Big Girls Don’t Cry and many more, Jersey Boys is an unforgettable story packed with heart and humour making for a thrilling night at the theatre. We caught up with actor Lewis Griffiths who plays Nick Massi to hear a little more about this sensational show.

You’re returning to the show after a previous stint as the late Nick Massi, how does it feel to be back?

It’s great, it’s a dream role so I didn’t hesitate when they asked me to reprise the role and here I am. Since I’ve come back I’ve discovered every performance I do is different to the previous as it’s a whole new production, a whole new chemistry, a whole new cast so everything although I’ve done the show before feels very new and very fresh.

Is there an added pressure in portraying a real person?

It has a certain pressure particularly with the character Nick Massi being passed now there is a legacy to uphold. It’s tricky sometimes playing a real person because there’s not as much artistic license to have free reign but it’s a great challenge and with this story there is a lot to discover, a lot of twists and turns, unexpected secrets shall we say, it’s a great role.

Despite your experience in the role do you still get nervous before a performance?

Of course, there’s a certain nervous energy that you require to perform, if you have no nerves whatsoever that can sometimes come across as a little bit arrogant. Naturally you have to have an element of nerves, as a performer you’re starting from scratch for every show, you can’t ever think ‘oh I’ve done this before a thousand times it’s a piece of cake’ because for the audience watching you it may well be the first time they are watching the show so you have to act as thought it’s the first time you’re performing it, that’s really the added pressure that gives you the nerves.

While Frankie Valli is known for his iconic falsetto Nick Massi supplied the rich deep rich vocals, how do you look after your voice?

They are a hard sing, the best thing I find for me personally is making sure I get lots of sleep and drink lots of water. I know that may sound like a cliché but that’s honestly what works best. The hardest thing about the show is not the range it’s the endurance, Nick Massi doesn’t solo a lot but he does sing a lot in the show and it’s a wide range so the stamina to endure the intensity of the tracks is what’s really important.

Do you have any preshow rituals to help you get in the zone?

I used to, I used to have lots of silly little things I did but I don’t tend to do those things anymore. As long as I’m in the building at the half hour call and I’m ready for beginners I kind of take my time in that half hour window between the half hour and the beginners call call I just try and relax, listen to some music, have a cup of tea and let myself relax in order to play Nick so by the time I’ve got my suit on and I’m walking onto the stage I am Nick Massi.

Is there anything you can’t live without on tour?

I always take a picture of myself and my fiancé on tour, it comes to every dressing room with me so it’s always there with me. If I could take her I would. She lives in Newcastle so as we’re bringing the tour further up North I’ll get the chance to see a bit more of her which will be wonderful.

You’ve visited Manchester with a few tours now, is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to seeing or doing?

Manchester’s such a broad city, just when you think you know it you always find something else to discover, something you haven’t done or somewhere you weren’t expecting. Last time I was there with Jersey Boys we did I live performance on BBC Breakfast which was wonderful as they were interviewing Frankie Valli on the show so I’d love to explore around there a little more.

Finally is anyone is considering booking a ticket for Jersey Boys at Manchester’s Palace Theatre what would you say to them?

You’d be coming to see an eye-opening story which is made very special by not only the cast but every integral element of what makes the show work, from wigs, wardrobe, crew, it’s a real ensemble piece that brings to life something that is unforgettable, added to that the infectious music of The Four Seasons, then you can fully appreciate why this show is such a crowd-pleaser, it’s definitely one to beg, steal or borrow a ticket to see.

Jersey Boys opens at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on Tuesday 29th January and runs until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.