Interview | Zoe Bourn | Twirlywoos Live

Zoe Bourn.jpg

Over the last 10 years there’s been a huge increase in the number of children’s TV shows making the leap from screen to stages across the country allowing little ones the opportunity to see their favourite characters in the flesh and offering a first theatrical experience in the process.

Translating the larger than life fantastical world of Children’s TV into the physical world of theatre whilst still ensuring the magic remains the same is no easy feat, one which for Zoe Bourn has become a full-time job. Her passion for creating engaging, memorable and unique live experiences for even the youngest of theatre goers has led to her bringing some firm favourites to theatrical life including the world famous Thomas and Friends and Fireman Sam.

Zoe now turns her attention to Twirlywoos whom have been a firm favourite on CBeebies since they first appearance back in 2015. The stage production will feature inventive handcrafted puppets of the mischievous bird-like creatures and will feature everyone’s favourite characters from the much-loved TV show.

We caught up with Zoe ahead of the show’s arrival at The Lowry on Friday 15th February to hear a little more about bringing this show to life.

twirlywoos - 2019 uk tour

Twirlywoos has enjoyed phenomenal success on TV. What do you think makes it so popular?

“I think its success is largely due to the playful nature of the characters. The humour appeals to everyone and really helps to make it universally accessible.”

What can audiences expect from Twirlywoos Live?

“We have purposely stayed close to the TV format so our little audience members will feel safe and familiar with what they’re seeing. But they can expect a very different experience as we invite them into the action and bring the Twirlywoos magic to life all around them.”

Do you have a favourite Twirlywoos character and why?

“I actually love Peekaboo! It’s such an easy character for children of this age group to relate to and offers a really lovely interlude from the chaos the Twirlywoos create. And I love the fact that no one else ever sees or interacts with it and yet you never feel sorry for it – that’s a powerful character!”

What are the challenges of transporting Twirlywoos into the 3D world of theatre?

“There have been many! Due to the nature of the show we have needed to have lots of research and development sessions in order to figure out how best to translate it. One of the main challenges is how to present the real world scenes as the characters are very small and we have to ensure they are seen from every seat in the auditoriums. The team who look after the TV show have worked really closely with our production team to give us the flexibility we needed on the scale of our puppets without them appearing any differently.”

You have adapted other much-loved children’s titles for the stage. How do you go about writing new stories for these well-known characters?

“It’s important to immerse yourself in the TV episodes and to respect the rules and structure that their writers have invented wherever possible. Shows of this calibre have a whole science behind them and I think if you can balance the inclusion of this with the golden rules of live theatre then you have a winning formula. Children are also sticklers for detail. They will be the first ones to tell you if you’ve got it wrong!”

Why do you think it’s important that children experience theatre at a young age?

“Giving young children the opportunity to experience live theatre opens them up to a new dimension of experience and can inspire their own creativity. The earlier we can do this and the more regularly the better – especially in the UK where our education system doesn’t always recognise the importance and value of the arts to our growth and wellbeing.”

You can catch Twirlywoos at the Lowry from Friday 15th until Monday 18th February, tickets available here.

 

Stephen Schwartz Q&A at Hope Mill Theatre

Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment and Joseph Houston and William Whelton of Hope Mill Theatre today announce An Evening With Stephen Schwartz, which will take place in Manchester on Sunday 17th February.

A drinks and finger buffet will begin at 6pm followed by a showcase of the multi-award winning lyricist and composer’s best loved works as well as Schwartz’s first ever UK panel discussion about his life and his work.

With a back catalogue which includes the critically acclaimed shows Wicked, Pippin and Godspell as well as contributing to the lyrics for the films Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame as well as songs from The Prince of Egypt this will be a night not to be missed!

All proceeds from ticket sales will go towards Hope Aria’s 2019 season which opens with Schwartz’s RAGS from 2nd March until 6th April.

Tickets for the Hope Mill Theatre event which include a drinks reception and buffet are priced at £45 and can be purchased here.

 

 

 

An Evening of Eric and Ern

Eric 2

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

There are so many iconic images associated with Christmas: a piping hot turkey with all the trimmings, presents under the tree, pictures of drunken revellers plastered across the national press, and of course Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise dancing a merry jig. The Morecambe and Wise Christmas specials have been engraved into the festive TV listing since 1969 the reason simply being that they’re just bloody funny!

Well if you need your Eric and Ernie fix this Christmas you can go one better and see the pair in the flesh as An Evening of Eric & Ern comes to the Lowry for the festive season. Staring the Olivier nominated Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel as the comedy duo, they treat us to an evening of cabaret and familiar sketches which include, Eric’s Mr Memory, the pairs take on ventriloquism and the iconic Greig’s Piano concerto sketch.

Eric 3

Adding a touch of glamour, as well as acting as a comedic foil to the pair is super talented singer Becky Neale who pops up throughout the evening, at one point belting out a fantastic version of the Mariah Carey hit All I Want for Christmas is You.

Despite an initial slow start, this is a hugely fun, trip down memory lane. All the classic gags are there, including those infamous well aimed barbs at Des O Connor. Stand out sketches include are of course the ventriloquist dummy which is brilliant in its simplicity and a beautiful rendition of the Stephen Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns by Neale which Eric and Ernie do there best to ruin.

Eric

The main strength of the show comes in the performances of Stephens and Ashpitel. The physical resemblance is clearly noticeable from the outset, but it’s more about how the mannerisms and facial tics are matched to perfection. You can see the two actors have analysed their heroes to give a genuine, authentic performance which sucks you in. Add to that the undoubted chemistry between the two as well as some exceptional choreography from Nicola Keen and you have all the parts for a heart-warming night of comedy and nostalgia.

Eric 1

The show inevitably closes with a rendition of Bring Me Sunshine, from all three performers as well as the audience; and like a nice mug of hot mulled wine, it sends you out into the cold winter’s night with a nice warm glow, a spring in your step, and the perfect way to start the Christmas celebrations.

An Evening with Eric and Ern is at the Lowry till 6th January. Tickets available here.

Släpstick

 

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

Its traditional this time of the year to take in a family show to keep young and old alike entertained for a couple of hours or so, with pantos a plenty and musicals on mass, you may want something a little quirky, a bit different: step forward Släpstick.

 

Släpstick are a Dutch musical theatre troupe who present a love letter to the golden age of silent cinema: Buster Keaton, Spike Jones, Laurel & Hardy, to name but a few, are all represented here. The five–man group create a musical hall experience like no other, playing well over a 100 instruments between them: all this mixed together creates a unique and original experience that will have you grinning from ear-to-ear.

 

 

The show begins when you’re queuing to get into the theatre as you meet some of the cast members in various guises. However when the show starts properly, we are introduced to a wide range of colourful comedy characters, from a fast talking American showman to an injured swan and a barbershop quintet whose numbers reduce throughout the night due to a series of unfortunate accidents. There are German versions of Bohemian Rhapsody and Up Town Funkwhich are inexplicably hilarious. 

 

The show is like an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, absurd, silly and packed full of great physical and visual gags: you’re never sure where it will take you. There are call backs to previous jokes, there quite literally is something for everyone.

All five performers are super talented musicians and entertainers: there isn’t a musical instrument that these guys don’t play: from a flying double bass, to the swan egg whistle (yes you have read that correctly) – if it can make a sound, they’ll play it.

 

 

It’s not just music that makes the show but the art of playing the clown, with each member of the group involved in some fantastic physical set pieces, from an unflattering seduction scene using Italian and Spanish loves songs that pretty much turns into an episode of the much loved and much missed BBC sitcom Bottom.

 

Some routines do out-stay their welcome a little bit too much and the show could do with a slight trim off its running time, but these are minor quibbles for what is a clever, at times touching and often astonishing piece of work that will entertain young and old alike, and is the perfect Christmas show for those who fancy something a little different. The shows finale quite literally brings the house down and ends the show with a standing ovation and a huge audience pillow fight: well I did say this was something a little different!

 

Släpstick is at Home till the 22nd December tickets available here.  

 

Putting It Together

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

While the West End enjoys a triumphant Sondheim revival in the form of Marianne Elliot’s gender-swap Company, us Northerners can also delight in a Sondheim sensation as Hope Mill Theatre, Aria Entertainment & Neil Eckersley bring us a fabulous festive treat with the cleverly constructed and enormously entertaining Putting It Together.

Set at a festive cocktail party in a Manhattan loft apartment, two couples socialise together while Andrew Gallo acting as narrator observes their interactions & anticipates their unraveling with a knowledgable word to the audience as the story develops.

The very first scene, Invocations and Instructions to the Audience from The Frogs clearly lays this out as a night of pure enjoyment, so sit back, relax & let the remarkable talent of this fine cast paired with the music and lyrics of the mighty Stephen Sondheim entertain you.

The construction of this show taking numbers from several different productions is absolute genius, as songs we know and love are given new meaning while some of the lesser known tracks are given a platform to be heard.

As the lives of the characters mixed with their human complexities intertwine songs are used to great effect to portray the emotional longing of each character.

Hello Little Girl from Into The Woods is given a whole new twist as Gavin Jones lusts after Simbi Akande in a daring attempt at seduction while Pretty Women (also from Sweeny Todd) becomes a gentle, tender and touching love song, delivered beautifully by Alex Cardall and Gavin James.

Described as a ‘musical review’ created to showcase Sondheim’s work the plot is never intended to thicken much but this really feels unimportant when you have the opportunity to sit and listen to five stunning actors at the absolute top of their game deliver the most brilliant, beautiful lyrics accompanied by sublime music played on-stage by the enormously talented Michael Webborn.

The pace is fast & once we start we gallop through, each piece thrilling in equal measure. Bronagh Lagan’s confident direction paired with William Whelton’s impressive choreography drives the piece from start to finish; Bang from A Little Night Music performed by Andrew Gallo, Simbi Akande and Alex Cardall perfectly illustrating this, punchy and powerful.

Special mention must go to Lauren James Ray whose delivery of Getting Married Today absolutely brings the house down, impressive throughout her wit and acting are both superb, she is a joy to watch.

Every member of this small cast delivers and then some as they work their way through each musical number; each track feels real, authentic and is honestly delivered. Sondheim’s lyrics so slick and witty ensuring we travel each emotional step with the characters.

Putting It Together is the festive treat you didn’t quite realise you needed but once you’ve sat and enjoyed a sublime evening in the company of this stellar cast you’ll be without doubt wanting to come back for more.

Joyfully entertaining from start to finish.

Putting It Together is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 24th November tickets available here.

The Damned United

The-Damned-United_Red-Ladder_pressimage2-700x455

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

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

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

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

Damned-Utd-1

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

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

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

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

Magical Christmas Movie Experience comes to Manchester

Christmas

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

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

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

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

the-greatest-showman

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

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

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

Christmas 1

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

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

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

Love-Actually-Gallery-2

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

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

Tickets for all the films start from £14.99.

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