Spamalot Interview

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Monty Python’s Holy Grail is a much loved and often (mis)quoted classic film: it will regularly feature in the top 10 comedies of all time as well the top 100 greatest films of all time. It seemed inevitable that this classic would get the musical treatment, and sure enough Spamalot was born receiving its premier in Chicago 13 years ago. The Spamalot juggernaut shows no sign of slowing down as it is currently on a nationwide tour throughout 2017 and well into 2018.  

Next week the Knights of the Round Table and their trusted coconut clapping servants’ quest continues at the Palace Theatre Manchester, for a string of shows, which promises a fun and certainly very silly evening indeed. We caught up with the show’s star Bob Harms, who plays King Arthur to hear more about his involvement with the show. 

Opening Night (ON) so Bob had you seen Holy Grail before you landed the role of King Arthur? 

Bob: I had, as a kid I used to watch not just Holy Grail but a lot of Monty Python with my Dad. I didn’t get it at first as I was a bit too young. Then as I got older it just clicked and I loved it, the silliness and insanity of it all it just clicked. 

ON: Well Holy Grail is one of my favourite films and like so many I’m a massive fan, what is like to be part of something that means so much to so many? 

Bob: It’s a huge honour, the Python’s were such a prestigious group, and play some part in recreating something as iconic and as funny as Holy Grail through Spamlot means a great deal to me. It’s a huge spectacular of a show and we a feel a great deal of responsibility to do the source material justice.  

ON: How did you become involved? 

Bob: Well my agent organised the audition, and I went up for part of King Arthur, and was offered the part. It was a no brainer, who wouldn’t want to play King Arthur. Then it dawned on me the multitude and responsibility of the role. I would be following in the footsteps of Graham Chapman, who was fantastic in the role, plus I couldn’t believe that as an unknown actor that I was given the lead role. 

ON: How did you prepare for the role?   

Bob: I went back and watched Holy Grail several times, and decided I was going to play (King) Arthur as mixture of Graham Chapman and John Cleese: my Arthur is very abrupt and pompous. I wanted him be recognisable to the audience but put my own mark on the role as well. 

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ON: It’s an extensive tour does it get tiring? 

Bob: To be honest no, I’m really enjoying it. We’ve been in Chester this week at the beautiful Storyhouse Theatre, then on to Manchester from Tuesday. 

ON: Hopefully the Christmas markets will be open for cheeky mulled wine? 

Bob: I was in Manchester this time last year and loved it, managed to get round the markets so hopefully can do next week. Manchester is one of my favourite stops on the tour.  

We finish for Christmas at the end of November then the tour starts again in January through to May. 

ON: Any idea what’s next for you? 

Bob: No idea I’m hoping that we’ll carry on touring with Spamalot as I’m loving what I do, the cast and crew are fabulous, we’re having such a good time. 

ON: What can the audience expect from Spamalot? 

Just a really great laugh: it’s full of fun silliness; I challenge anyone not to have a good time at Spamalot. It’s ridiculous and just a lot of fun. 

ON: What about anyone not familiar with Holy Grail or the Python’s? 

BOB: (LAUGHS) bewilderment, but they’ll still be entertained and have a really good time. 

ON: How has the audience reaction been so far? 

They’ve been really responsive and quite raucous. The matinees have been quite quiet but the evening shows are always packed out and everyone is up for a good time and really get into the swing of it. 

ON: Well I’m a huge fan of Holy Grail and Monty Python and am really looking forward to seeing the show. I can’t wait especially the surprise at the end. (No spoilers here) 

BOB: That changes from show to show, so you’ll have to see what happens! 

Spamalot promises to be fun, silly and enteraining night out with King Arthur, his Knights of the Round Table, the Lady of the Lake, and of course the killer rabbits! 

Spamalot runs at the Palace Theatre, Manchester from Tuesday 7th November till Saturday 11th November. For tickets head to www.atgtickets.com/shows/spamalot/palace-theatre-manchester/ 

 

 

Hound of the Baskervilles

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Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Over the years there has been many interpretations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles – at least 20 TV and film adaptations alone, not to mention countless theatrical productions. However I challenge anyone to say they have seen anything quite like Northern Rep’s version of this classic tale… and if you don’t believe me, the proof is currently at the King’s Arms for all too see. 

Arriving at the King’s Arms, Salford for a two week run, this fun filled murder mystery focuses on the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville and the apparent threat to the heir of the Baskerville estate, Henry Baskerville. Super sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his trustee sidekick Dr Jane Watson travel from their home on Baker Street all the way to the Devonshire moors, where they encounter all manner of suspects, with even more suspect accents! Can our daring duo not only solve the case but also survive the horrid hell hound? Time will of course tell. 

Those expecting a faithful and straight laced reworking of this classic tale are in for a shock. This is an innovative, funny and downright brilliant reworking of this classic tale. All parts are played by two hugely talented actors in Michael Justice and Angela Hazeldine. The performances alternate with two other actors, so it’s pot luck as to who you’ll get, however this is the second time I have seen this production with different cast members and in no way has it detracted from my enjoyment – if anything, it’s all the better as it keeps things fresh and slightly unexpected. The script is packed full of so many double entendres and just plain daft gags that maybe it should be called Carry on up the Baskervilles. However the joy really comes from Justice and Hazeldine’s adlibbing and doing their best to put the other off their stride.  

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Granted, they play fast and loose with the original story and by the end the convoluted plot becomes secondary as the show becomes an excuse to have a bloody good giggle.  A spot of audience participation is required and the audience tonight got into the swing of things, laughter is most definitely the order of the day. 

As I said earlier, this was my second time seeing this production and each time has been something different: the first time there were some children in attendance and the second there were none, but both performances were adapted to make all feel welcome, with the first performance being more child friendly, without losing any of the humour. 

It’s the job of any critic to critique any show as honestly as possible, however sometimes there’s no harm in leaving it to audience members to have the final say: I got talking to a lovely couple during the interval and the gentlemen claimed he’s been watching shows with his wife for over 45 years, this he told me is only second show he hasn’t fallen asleep in during all that time and I can assure you he made it through the second half too! 

Go and see this riotous romp at your nearest opportunity – you certainly won’t be disappointed! Fun, filthy and downright fabulous! 

Hound of the Baskervilles is on at Kings Arms till the 25th November 

Tickets available from: http://www.kingsarmssalford.com/whats-on/ 

 

BE//LONGING


Award-winning Manchester theatre collective Take Back Theatre have teamed up with Manchester Migration Lab and Hope Mill Theatre to explore and address our perceptions and understanding of migration.

This thought-provoking and deeply moving multi-media piece uses music, art, scripted theatre and multimedia presentations to tell real and honest stories of migration.

This creative partnership with Manchester Universities new Migration Lab offers audiences the chance to gain a deeper and more honest understanding of all forms of migration, happening the world over every day.


Upon arrival each audience members papers are checked and a temporary travel document approved which we must carry with us at all times. We are then given a map allowing us to navigate as we cross the border into Hope Mill Theatre. The theatre space has been transformed to resemble a warehouse on the edge of the border, boxes are piled up, labelled to indicate types of clothing, ages, sizes etc ahead of distribution . Telephones dotted around the theatre allow audiences to listen in on personal & deeply moving migrant stories , a recording of a Syrian refugee speaking to an Italian Coastguard as a boat sinks, an account of life as a detainee in Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre, the stories are multiple and varied.

The centrepiece of the evening penned by Becx Harrison and directed by Matt Hassall sees actors Nadia Emam and Darren Kuppan explore the ideas of borders, imposed borders, everyday borders, the challenges faced by those unable to freely cross borders, the privilege of those who can and the sense of belonging borders may/may not bring. It is engaging, thought-provoking and beautifully delivered. Provocative and quick paced both Emam and Kuppan command the full attention of every person in the room.


Hearing such honest and personal accounts in this stirring and deeply considered manner gives them great depth and real strength of meaning, pairing quotes from the privileged beside those of the desperate offers an opportunity to evaluate and question the injustices so many face. Migration happens every day, we are all migrants who cross borders daily yet for us the privileged borders are rarely a matter of life or death.

The theatre piece finishes by playing Maximo Park’s ‘Risk To Exist’ accompanied by a deeply moving film exploring the work of MOAS – Migration Offshore Aid Station.


After the performance further exhibits are introduced including interactive maps, a deeply moving installation ‘The Tent’ which explores birth in a refugee camp and stateless babies to an engaging short film by Casey Longdon and Grant Archer detailing ‘The Overview Effect’ exploring the perspective of astronauts as they look down to the world below and see a visual truth of the world without borders, further illustrating how we are all connected.

Be//longing is a highly emotive and passionately delivered piece. As overwhelming as a subject matter this is, Be//longing successfully ignites debate and delivers much needed opportunities to learn, to listen, to contemplate and then to hopefully act.


On at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 4th November, limited tickets available via http://www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk

http://www.takebacktheatre.com/

Hedda Gabler – Behind the Scenes

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Opening Night got an exclusive look behind the scenes of the National Theatre’s critically acclaimed Hedda Gabler as it arrived at The Lowry this week as part of it’s current UK tour.

Reworked by Olivier and Tony Award-winner Patrick Marber best known for his work on Closer, this reimagined version of Ibsen’s classic see’s newly married Hedda arrive back from a six month extended honeymoon to the reality of a married life she confesses she ‘settled’ for. Hedda has returned to a place that feels soulless and suffocating, somewhere she feels entirely bored and deeply frustrated by. Constantly battling the demons within Hedda’s release seems to come from the destruction of any harmony she sees, she takes delight in causing pain by upsetting and even destroying those around her.


Jan Versweyveld’s set and lighting design play a huge role in bringing director Ivo van Hove’s vision to life. The entire play is set within the same scene, Hedda and Tesman’s apartment which is sparse, unfinished and minimalist. There are no fixtures nor fittings aside from an impressive and commanding fire which is revealed part way through the production and becomes an important centrepiece. When Hedda was on at the National Theatre the stage floor was made from real concrete and genuine plasterboard made up the bleak walls, whilst this is not practical for touring the set has been cleverly adjusted painting MDF to look very convincingly like real plasterboard.


The large patio window and blinds from which the majority of the stage is lit by are used to great effect, the lighting changes to indicate different times of the day while the shadows created by the vertical blinds offer visually striking symbolism in the shadows they create.

Company Stage Manager Siân Wiggins explained that there are no entrances or exits on stage, all cast members make their entrances and exits to the apartment via the theatre auditorium, Hedda however never leaves the stage adding further to the feeling of confinement as the sparse walls surrounding Hedda begin to feel more and more asylum like.

Siân further explained to us how the impressive and striking fireplace is controlled, simple screens are drawn back in order to reveal the impressive centrepiece as the lighting engineer has full control over the flames, built on a standard central heating type system flames can be increased as the production demands offering a further dramatic and compelling element to this incredibly slick production.


Hedda’ comforts such as her lipstick, tissues and her Father’s pistols reside within slots in the walls, Siân explained that although we see these as an audience it may in fact not be what the rest of the characters see in reality, this is just Hedda’s reality which becomes more and more apparent as the play develops. Old paint splattered buckets of flowers could actually be beautifully crafted floral arrangements, the sparse furniture may be comfortable and cosy further evidence of the turmoil and unsettled mind of our central character.

There are only three more days to catch this bold and engaging production which boats all the style and creativity of the National Theatre’s original production, head to http://www.thelowry.com/events/hedda-gabler to book your tickets now.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 4th November.

The Wipers Times

Review by Matthew Forrest

What do you think of whenever the First World War is mentioned? The trenches? The mud? The tragic loss of life? People of a certain age, myself included, will be reminded of GCSE History lessons, with poems by Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.  It would be fair to say that this period in history is not remembered for its’ humour or biting comedy. However, writers Ian Hislop and Nick Newman are on-hand to give us an alternative and surprising version of the Great War through their play The Wipers Times.

The Wipers Times was a satirical magazine produced on the frontline by soldiers who, when not dodging German mortars, were sharpening their satirical swords and giving the military top-brass a good savaging. The magazine grew with every passing publication and provided the ‘Tommys’ with a morale boosting spot of light relief.


Adapted from Hislop and Newman’s BBC film of the same name, the play focuses on a band of soldiers from the 24th Division of the Sherwood Foresters.  Whilst based in Ypres, they stumble upon a printing press and with this, Captain Fred Roberts and Lieutenant Jack Pearson hit upon the idea of writing a journal made up of jokes and skits to send up the grim situation they find themselves in.  Fake adverts and spoof war reports are the order of the day as the magazine gains popularity with the troops whilst raising the ire of those in command.

This is an excellent piece of the theatre and well worth going to see. As you would expect from writers of their calibre, the jokes are bang on point, and although they freely admit they lifted the best gags directly from the pages of ‘The Wipers’, this is their love letter to a publication which proceeds magazines such as Viz, Punch, and their own magazine Private EyeIt provides a fascinating insight into satire as well as the British stiff-upper-lip. There are gags about the Daily Mail and ridiculous facial hair that, despite being 100 years old, still seem relevant today thus proving a good gag done properly will always be timeless.

The cast are on top form: James Dutton and George Kemp are excellent as Roberts and Pearson and it is their friendship which drives the play. They are supported by a great, young cast of actors who really show the camaraderie and spirit of the time, made all the more poignant with the loss of one of their ranks.

Director Caroline Leslie has got the balance between humour and pathos just right.  Leslie has got the tone spot-on and has judged it exceptionally well. The comedic set-pieces of the musical hall numbers and mock adverts are the highlights; they tip more than a nod and wink to Monty Python’s Flying Circus or The Goons and fans of this style of humour will love it.

The production design is first class, with Dora Schweitzer’s claustrophobic set design in conjunction with Steve Mayo’s booming sound scape: yes this is a comedy but you’re only a moment away from potential catastrophe, as the debris falls from the ceiling, you feel the soldiers peril and part of the action.

The production does have a few very minor issues. At times some of the dialogue was lost; I think maybe the microphones needed turning up a touch.

The Wipers Times is a funny, sharp, entertaining snap-shot of a little known part of Britain’s history, but more importantly it’s a celebration of something we do better than anyone the world over…….”taking the p**s”.

The Wipers Times is on at the Manchester Opera House till the 4th November

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-wipers-times/opera-house-manchester/

Hedda Gabler


Following on from a much celebrated sold-out run at the National Theatre earlier this year this new version of Ibsen’s iconic Hedda Gabler arrives at the Lowry until Saturday 4th November.

Reimagined by Olivier and Tony Award-winner Patrick Marber and directed by Ivo van Hove, also an Olivier and Tony award-winner, the production is modernised and accessible yet still stays true to Ibsen’s original work.

Newlywed Hedda (Lizzy Watts) is bored, admitting she ‘settled’ because she felt old, the absolute last thing she actually feels by this marriage and her life however is settled. She’s retuned to a place that suffocating and soulless, a new home where nothing yet has it’s place, certainly not Hedda.

Overcome constantly by the desire to control and take charge of everyone and everything around her Hedda thrives on the destruction of harmony. Constantly battling the demons within, Hedda’s release seems to come from hurting, upsetting and even destroying others. She can be cruel yet is clearly damaged, sharp yet desperately vulnerable, wild yet ultimately trapped.


Hedda wants to be free, she wants the freedom she sees men have yet everyone wants a piece of her, they want to touch her, to be with her, to dictate what she does with her body, to claim ownership. Marber’s focus on Hedda’s relationships offers a real depth to this piece as an audience we try to understand and even sympathise with the damaged, manipulative and often cruel Hedda. She tempts the alcoholic to drink, twists concern for mistrust and family love for suffocating meddling.

Lizzy Watts portrays Hedda beautifully, she shines in the cleverly reimagined production, she is feisty yet vulnerable, struggling with demons which consume her entirely, she is cruel yet clever captivating the audience entirely as she physically embodies the torment and complexity of Hedda, she looks uncomfortable in her own skin as the world weighs down all around her and her inner turmoil threatens to consume. Supported by an incredibly strong cast this is a truly impressive performance.

National Theatre continue to raise the bar high with this bold, atmospheric and entirely engaging production. Jan Versweyveld’s set and lighting design are both superb, the apartment is a sparsely furnished box, which we never leave, almost becoming asylum like as the piece develops and further illustration of Hedda’s confinement and absolute boredom with life where even the timid Thea has the courage to follow her heart. Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” plays between scenes, a further gentle nod to Hedda’s dissatisfaction with her lot.


National Theatre entirely succeed in making a play familiar to so many feel entirely fresh and unpredictable. Powerful, intense and utterly captivating.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 4th November tickets available here www.thelowry.com/events/hedda-gabler

Your Toys

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Slot Machine Theatre have created a pure delight for families with their latest production, Your Toys. The 5 strong cast don overalls to resemble furniture removal workers and, surrounded by a set full of cardboard boxes and flatpacks, they bring make-believe to the stage awakening youngsters imaginations.

The show sees the audiences’ well-loved toys take to the spotlight as they go on a journey through sand, sky and even a jungle, animated by the clever puppeteering performers. There’s squeals and smiles from the mini-theatre goers during the fun filled 60 minutes as they witness their toys coming to life, from plastic dinosaurs to even a prized scarf!

The innocence and charm of childhood is used to the max in this production with audience participation creating sound effects, kids drawings projected onto the backdrop and a script with its own made up gobbledygook. To top it all off we got to see a Doc McStuffin’s toy busting some great dance moves alongside Bagpuss and a Panda…how many times can you say you will witness that? A real joy to watch and I imagine a unique show every time, depending on which toys come to play!

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Daisy, our mini-reviewer

 

Mini-reviewer Daisy, aged 7

“I loved the fact that the toys from the audience were put in the show. I recommend that you should bring your toys to this show. The ages that are welcome are 5 – 9 years. The puppeteers were amazing Matthew Coulton, Nadia Morgan, Isabel Sharman and Nicola Blackwell. We loved seeing our toys in the adventure. My favourite part was when they did dancing with the toys on the stage and when the toys sang  Don’t Eat The Berries which was very funny. The musician Nick Tigg was as good as the puppeteers, making outstanding sound effects and putting smiley faces on the crowd.”

Your Toys played The Lowry, Salford Sunday 29th October

The show is next played at The Lyric, Hammersmith, London 4th November