Hair

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This inventive production of Hair The Musical has been on quite a journey these past few years, from first opening at the intimate Hope Mill Theatre back in 2016 to a sell-out London run winning a WhatsOnStage Award along the way; it now makes its return to Manchester opening at the city’s Palace Theatre as part of an extensive 50th anniversary UK tour.

Set in New York’s East Village at a time when the emerging youth counterculture was rejecting mainstream America and growing increasingly disenfranchised by the controversial war in Vietnam, Hair still remains one of the most iconic rock musicals of all time. A tribe of free thinkers who turned their backs on convention creating their own family in which to belong, advocates of peace, love and liberal thinking. Central to the story is the plight of Claude (portrayed brilliantly by Paul Wilkins) torn between rejecting his military drafting and embracing this non-violent, peace loving tribe.

Very much an ensemble production Hair showcases a cast of incredible talent. Opening number Aquarius vibrantly and powerfully sets the scene, drawing the audience into this joyous celebration of love, freedom and pacifism right from the start. Maeve Black’s beautiful set design and costumes transforming the Palace Theatre into a psychedelic heaven lit to perfection by Ben M Rogers.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle ensures the audience are taken along for the ride involving them in this exuberant trip on multiple occasions. Jake Quickenden as Berger confidently leaps into the stalls in little more than a thong while Tom Bates takes great delight in perching on an audience members knee during his hilarious performance as Margaret Mead.

Paul Wilkins heads up the strong cast proving what a talent he is in the role of Claude. Thrown into turmoil at the life changing decision he faces, his anguish and torment delivered with passionate energy. Jake Quickenden makes for a confident and flamboyant Berger, athletically strutting around the stage dishing out powerful vocals along the way. Daisy Wood-Davis shines in the role of Sheila, her voice as powerful as it is beautiful.

Tom Bates has the audience in the palm of his hand as Margaret Mead while Natalie Green as soulful Cassie is a joy. Other notable performances in this excellent ensemble are Alison Arnopp as the enigmatic Jeanie, Aiesha Pease whose rich tones warm the soul and Bradley Judge who is enormously entertaining as Woof.

The cast work together superbly and all deserve praise, they deliver William Whelton’s inspired choreography to perfection, often moving as one, pulsing together in perfect harmony. Musical Director Gareth Bretherton leads the small group of on stage musicians confidently ensuring this electrifying score is given the platform it deserves.

While the themes may not be so shocking to audiences now in more free-thinking, accepting times its message still remains enormously relevant; the despicable quote from Donald Trump heard ringing through the auditorium at the very start proving this point entirely.

Hair gives a touchingly symbolic reminder of the fact that we really are just one tribe. Its hippie, trippy vibe is deliciously infectious bringing every audience member to their feet in celebration of this triumphant piece of theatre while the power of final song Let The Sun Shine In offers hope and proves just how powerfully emotive theatre can be. Hair’s transition from Hope Mill Theatre to the much larger stage of the Palace theatre is seamless as this beautifully crafted and joyously affecting theatre absolutely lets the sun shine in.

On at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 13th April tickets available here.

 

Abigail’s Party

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First premiered in 1977 at London’s Hampstead Theatre then broadcast on the BBC that same year, Mike Leigh’s ingenious Abigail’s Party brings to brilliant life the most painfully awkward cocktail party in the most hilarious & enthralling of ways.

Suburban housewife Beverly has set the scene for her soirée; she’s prepped the cheese & pineapple on sticks, switched on the fibre optic lamp & stocked the drinks cabinet in readiness for the arrival of new neighbours Angela (Vicky Binns) and Tony (Callum Callaghan). Also invited is neighbour Sue (Rose Keegan) who is escaping 15-year-old daughter Abigail’s party over at her own house. Beverly’s husband Lawrence (Daniel Casey) is also in attendance in between running errands while his wife prepares to schmooze.

Janet Bird’s inspired set transports us right back to the 70’s as knowing giggles ripple through the audience from the off when Beverly enters the chintzy wood panelled living room cigarette in mouth, gin in hand, decked head to toe in garish paisley she glides around the stage to the sensuous sounds of Donna Summer.

Some spikey exchanges take place between Beverly and husband Lawrence before their guests arrive offering the opportunity for our brash hostess to really come into her own. She is liberal with both the booze and her opinions as some of the small talk soon begins to sting.

Jodie Prenger is exceptional as the infamous Beverly, getting more and more grotesquely brilliant as the gin flows. So versatile in her skills she embodies the desperate housewife to perfection. Daniel Casey gives a great performance as Lawrence keeping his pent-up irritation with wife Beverly hidden to begin with until pushed to breaking point when things quickly start to unravel.

Vicky Binns as Angela is eager to please her new neighbour, her genuine naivety and optimism making her all the more endearing. Her inane chatter leads to some terse tellings off from frustrated husband Tony whom Callum Callaghan portrays convincingly.

Rose Keegan shines as fifth party guest Sue, quiet and polite despite some overly familiar probing questions she gives a hilarious performance as the single guest caught in the middle of two clearly unhappy couples.

Director Sarah Esdaile at times focuses less on the uncomfortable interactions and undercurrent of frustration & more on the humour of the piece. Traditionally tense moments are played a little more for laughs than they were in the famous Alison Steadman led version, this does dilute the emotional impact of the ending a little however with such superbly executed performances the is no doubt that this is an enormously entertaining piece.

Although Abigail’s Party is very firmly set in the 1970’s its genius lies in its hilarious and at times painfully honest study on human interaction, ambition and all the complexities that come with it. Littered with laugh out loud humour and moments to make your toes curl Abigail’s Party is wonderfully entertaining theatre with themes as relevant today as they were 40 years ago, the most eventful party you’ll ever be invited to.

Abigail’s Party is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 13th April tickets available here.

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz Image 4 - Credit David Munn Photography

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Continuing their run of half term pantos Regal Entertainment bring The Wizard of Oz to St Helens Theatre Royal this Easter.

Their reimagined panto version of the much-loved family favourite sees an all new script as well as some star billing including a very glamorous Wicked Witch in the form of Linda Lusardi who is joined on stage by her daughter Lucy Kane, most recently seen on ITV’s The Voice.

The Wizard of Oz Image 1 - Credit David Munn Photography

Directed by Chantelle Nolan and written by panto legend Si Foster The Wizard of Oz tells the magical tale of Dorothy Gale who finds herself accidentally killing the Wicked Witch of the East by dropping a house on her. When the Wicked Witch of the West finds out about her sisters untimely death she makes it her mission to seek revenge but will have to get past the power of Dorothy’s newly acquired ruby slippers to do so.

While The Wizard of Oz isn’t traditionally a pantomime Si Foster’s script cleverly reworks the story to ensure there are plenty of opportunities for the traditional boos, cheers and shouts of ‘its behind you’.

The Wizard of Oz Image 3 - Credit David Munn Photography

Foster’s writing allows for Reece Sibbald’s Scarecrow to take on a ‘Buttons-esque’ comedy role which he laps up. A natural entertainer, both his comedic timing as well as physical comedy are exceptional as he gets into some hilarious scrapes and showers the audience with more than just the usual water pistols. My little reviewers absolutely loved the part where he shrinks in size & giggled about it all the way home.

Mia Molloy gives a great performance as Dorothy, she is in fine voice and more than does justice to Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Her dancing and acting abilities also impress proving she is indeed a worthy wearer of the ruby slippers.

The Wizard of Oz Image 2 - Credit David Munn Photography

The talented cast work well together and keep the story moving at a pace. There’s a sprinkling of cheeky jokes for the adults as well as lots of laughs for the little ones. One moment of corpsing from Lusardi & Sibbald absolutely bringing the house down.

Music of course plays a huge part in panto and its great to hear in addition to some of the traditional songs from The Wizard of Oz there are some recent favourites including Baby Shark as well as a roarsome song from The Greatest Showman.

The Wizard of Oz Image 6 - Credit David Munn Photography

With impressive sets, lavish costumes and strong support from both the senior and juvenile dancers The Wizard of Oz impresses visually as well as musically.

While the story doesn’t allow for a traditional love story element writer Si Foster has added just the right amount of comedic adjustments to give the show a panto feel while still remaining true to the story.

The Wizard of Oz is a hugely entertaining family friendly version of a much-loved classic with ticket prices starting at just £13 this Wizard of Oz is wonderful indeed.

Catch The Wizard of Oz at St Helens Theatre Royal until 22nd April tickets available here.

 

eVULVAlution

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Life as a self published erotic novelist can be tough, especially when your creative juices have stopped flowing and you’ve been relegated to admin on your polyamorous husband’s WhatsApp group.

Pamela De Menthe however is not a woman to be kept down, that tricky 29th novel may be stuttering but she’ll use her mucky imagination and crude creativity to ensure her novel eVULVAlution reaches a pleasing and most satisfying climax.

Writer and performer Jenny May Morgan has created a hugely likeable and incredibly funny character in Pamela De Menthe; cleverly crafted with loving care resulting in an entirely convincing comedy heroine.

The show is presented as a book launch for new novel eVULVAlution with just one catch, it isn’t actually finished yet. Turning to the audience for inspiration and some hilarious sound effects Pamela strives to deliver the literary work she’s convinced herself is totally groundbreaking and entirely necessary.

This time-travelling prehistoric erotic romp, set of course in Hull quickly becomes a hilarious adventure for both Pamela and her audience. Jenny May Morgan’s attention to detail is exceptional in this witty one woman show. It’s jam-packed with nuanced looks and brilliant throwaway comments that Alan Partridge would be proud of.

Her well developed humour is lapped up by the audience and while Pamela is pretty darn bonkers she is the kind of bonkers you can’t help but fall in love with. From her amateur power-point to her sponsorship deal with a motorbility scooter company she offers a well rounded character whose brilliance is a bright as her animal print bumbag.

A cheeky, fabulously fun and enormously entertaining romp through the world of self-published erotica. Roll on book number 30!

Catch eVULVAlution next at Waterside, Sale in July further information can be found here.

Trainspotting Live

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Reviewed by: Michelle Eagleton

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

There’s no denying that Irvine Welsh’s cult novel Trainspotting made a huge mark on the Nineties generation. His book charting the antics of drug fueled youths in Scotland hit the shelves in 1993 with the Danny Boyle film coming three years later, making an overnight star of Ewan MacGregor. Trainspotting Live, currently on tour, takes the story to another level and whether you are fans or newbies to the tale of Renton, Tommy, Sick Boy and Begbie it is an immersive experience like no other.

The King’s Head Theatre and In Your Face Theatre are at the helm of this ground breaking production which has made Manchester’s former bus quarters, the Mayfield Depot, its home for their run in the city. The vast venue is the ideal location for the raw material on display with its exposed brickwork and abandoned warehouse feel adding to the atmosphere and giving the impression of you entering an underground rave from the start.

TRAINSPOTTING LIVE

Trainspotting Live CREDIT Geraint Lewis

Convention goes out of the window as soon as you enter…Glo bands replace tickets and there’s no seat reservations, the choice is yours where you perch for the 75 minutes duration of the play (I’d avoid anywhere near the exposed loo as ‘the worst toilet in Scotland’ scene gets a little messy). If you are easily offended then this maybe isn’t the show for you…nakedness is a plenty, as is the swearing and sex. Don’t get me wrong though it’s all in context and is played out with such raw energy and realism from the five-strong cast that you are seriously swept away with them on an emotional rollercoaster that sees you witness their chemical highs and the subsequent sombre come downs.

TRAINSPOTTING LIVE

Trainspotting Live CREDIT Geraint Lewis

Greg Esplin delivers a powerful performance as Tommy, Renton’s best mate who suffers the consequences of the drug scene. His descent from fun loving chappy to distraught junkie is mesmerising to watch.

The last time Trainspotting Live toured there was a cast of seven which meant there were two females sharing the roles on offer, with the cast cut down the weight falls on to the only woman in the line-up Lauren Downie to step up to the plate. Downie rises to the challenge and is outstanding in her plethora of roles each one carefully crafted, especially Renton’s Mum which she plays with such painstaking desperation.

TRAINSPOTTING LIVE

Trainspotting Live CREDIT Geraint Lewis

It would be wrong not to mention all of the actors who make up the cast as they are a hugely talented bunch. Oliver Sublet (Begbie), Michael Lockerbie (Sick Boy) and, stand in for press night, Dean Gribble (Renton) put in stellar performances that are fizzing with realism.

Each performance of Trainspotting Live is unique as it very much relies on the reactions of the crowd who have turned out to see it. Part of the fun is watching people’s faces as they witness some of the shocking scenes on display and the humorous interaction between the actors and the audience is priceless. The show manages to balance the darkest of themes with lighter shades of humour and the sheer speed at which the productions runs echoes the film perfectly.

Don’t ‘choose something else’…choose Trainspotting Live before it heads off to its next station.

Runs at Mayfield Depot until 21st April

Tickets available via http://www.trainspottinglive.com/#buytickets

 

 

Zog Live comes to Chester and Salford

Zog

Making a timely debut on the stage following a beautifully adapted and well-received television appearance at Christmas is Zog – the well meaning if a bit clumsy dragon featured in Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s terrific best-selling children’s book.

Large in size and keen in nature, Zog is eager to win a golden star at Madam Dragon’s school – where dragons learn all the things that dragons need to know.

Zog tries very hard as he bumps, burns and roars his way through school – but luckily plucky Princess Pearl patches him, up ready to face his biggest challenge yet, a duel with Sir Gadabout the Great!

This new stage production will no doubt appeal to fans of previous book to stage adaptations of Donaldson and Scheffler’s work like The Gruffalo and Stickman and Zog has a really interesting creative team working to bring it to the stage.

Zog

Kneehigh founder and Artistic Director Mike Shepherd adapts and directs, with Katie Syke’s design bringing the pages of the book alive – and the show has an original folk score by award-winning singer-songwriter Johnny Flynn.

From the team behind Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales and Tabby McTat, Zog promises to be roaring fun for all ages.

Zog is at Chester Storyhouse from Friday 5 to Sunday 7 April and The Lowry from Friday 7 to Sunday 9 June.

For more information visit http://www.zoglive.com

 

Pepperland

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First performed in Liverpool in 2017 to mark the city’s Sgt. Pepper at 50 Festival, Mark Morris’ unique tribute to the iconic album is a joyful explosion of music and movement painted with the most vibrant of colour pallets.

Referencing several of Sgt. Peppers most memorable songs as well as the exuberant Penny Lane, Pepperland is an uplifting celebration with its airy choreography & clever interpretations.

Ethan Iverson’s bold score reimagines each of the much-loved songs; the rich sounds of the piano are accompanied by the electronica of the theremin which marries beautifully with Morris’ playful choreography.

Elizabeth Kutzman’s swinging sixties inspired costumes offer a rainbow of Carnaby St inspired colour while the 17 dancers navigate their way through joyous jives to dreamy hippy vibes. The mood is playful, fun and free.

While there are some pieces which are fairly abstract it’s those with live vocals from Clinton Curtis which really engage the audience. The wit of Morris’ choreography during When I’m 64 clearly an audience favourite as the dancers interpret the out of kilter music with comedic consequence.

Morris’ decision to have his dancers stand and sing along to A Day in the Life is particularly striking with just the right amount of nostalgia.

At just over an hour long Pepperland is the perfect show to bring Sgt. Pepper to vibrant life for modern dance audiences. The fluidity of the choreography a fine example of the quality of Mark Morris’s innovative work while the precision of his dancers will inspire and enthral.

On at the Lowry until Saturday 30th March tickets available here.