A Christmas Carol

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Review by Matthew Forrest

Panto season is in full swing at this time of year, but fairytales and jolly japes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, so if you’re looking for something a little different to get your festive juices flowing, then the MAP Repertory Company’s take on A Christmas Carol offers the perfect alternative.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, has made captivating reading for young and old alike for just short of 175 years when the novel was first published in 1843. There have been countless film adaptations of this classic tale,  all offering something a little unique and this version is no different.

Told with various cast members acting as narrator, we are introduced to Mr Ebenezer Scrooge and his dutiful, down trodden  employee Bob Cratchit as they are busy working on Christmas Eve. We get a look into the blackheart of Scrooge as he berates his employee for want Christmas Day off, as well as mocking his nephew Fred, for his merriment and positive outlook  over the festive season. What follows is Scrooge’s road to redemption as he encounters four spirits who look to save the old misers soul before it’s too late.

This is a highly original attempt at this old classic that doesn’t always hit its mark but is a great deal of fun regardless. The cast all work their socks off playing muliple roles and are clearing having a ball, the show is a blend of music and comedy, with a great deal of joy coming from the introduction of the puppet Tiny Tim. What sets this apart from other productions is the way they used the space at 53Two venue, all aspects are covered with various cast members popping up in the theatre. The soundscope is brilliant especially during the scenes with the ghosts, made all the more immpressive by the limited budget of the play.

With a running time of just under hour, Map rep company have tried to cram as much story in as possible, which doesn’t quite work in parts: the biggest problem being the introduction of the tension between Scrooge and his nephew is left unresolved. In addition Scrooge’s scaving encounter with the charity workers isn’t mentioned until after he has his epiphany: so when Scrooge shows his charitable side it has very little impact as it was seen without context.

This is a fun, smart  show, suitable for all the family that will provide a spring in the step as we march towards Christmas,packed with fine performances, comedy, Christmas  carols and lashings of good cheer it’s well worth watching.

On at 53Two until Saturday 23rd Dec, tickets available here.

 

 

 

Peter Pan

 

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Promising to be a ‘musical adventure’ Selladoor Worldwide bring J.M. Barrie’s classic Peter Pan to Blackpool’s Opera House this festive season.

Starring X Factor, I’m A Celeb and soon to be Dancing On Ice favourite Jake Quickenden as Pan with Liverpool legend Jennifer Ellison as the villainous Hook and Maureen Nolan as Mrs Darling, Peter Pan is a magical, feel-good, re-telling of an all time classic.

Designer Jessica Curtis sets the action beneath a large eye catching & atmospheric draped tipi, a simple but effective set which lends itself well to scene changes and captivates audiences imaginations as we fly with Pan, Wendy, John and Michael through their bedroom window to Neverland.

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Quickenden is on fine form as he makes his stage debut, he is hugely likeable and makes for a charismatic Pan, showcasing his vocal talents beautifully in each of the crowd pleasing musical numbers which include Uptown Funk, Can’t Stop The Feeling and We Are Family.

Ellison’s Hook perfectly compliments Quickenden’s Pan, she is fierce, feisty and boy does she know how to play a baddie……oh yes she does! She has the audience in the palm of her hand from the off as she revels in the boos and delights in the hisses, a glint of devilment in her eyes, she’s all about having fun with this role and giving the audience the great time they came for.

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The strong supporting cast work incredibly hard doubling up as both the Lost Boys and Hook’s motley crew to great effect. Director Kirstie Davis ensures each character is clearly defined as they work together seamlessly, each and every cast member full of energy and enthusiasm, engaging the audience entirely. With an additional creative element of puppets taking on the role of Nanny the Dog and the ticking crocodile, both really add to the magic of the piece. Special mention must also go to Grace Osborn as Wendy, strong and sassy, her duet of Breakaway with Quickenden is a real highlight of the show.

The promise of a musical adventure is entirely accurate, while there are some of the fun elements of panto with audience interaction and great humour delivered by local Radio favourite Scott Gallagher as Smee, Robert Marsden’s adaptation of Peter Pan is a step up from the cheeky gags of panto and is more a musical dramatisation of a classic tale. Act One allows the audience to settle into the production before a fast paced all action second act keeps everyone engaged as they will Pan to win the day as he battles to save Wendy, John and Michael from walking Hook’s plank.

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The production has something for everyone, an engaging story, well chosen musical numbers, lots of humour as well as strong individual performances. Let your heart be warmed by this magical adventure, highly entertaining, well delivered and jolly good family fun.

On at Blackpool’s Opera House until Saturday 7th January tickets available here.

New Dirty Dancing Tour!

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Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage will be returning to theatres in 2018!

The all new tour will open at Brighton’s Theatre Royal on Thursday 20 September 2018 before touring to Dartford, York, Stoke, Hastings, Southend, Birmingham, Preston, London (New Wimbledon Theatre) Plymouth and Oxford – with further dates to be announced.

Full of heartache, passion, sensational dance routines and all the classics including ‘Hungry Eyes’, ‘Hey! Baby’, ‘Do You Love Me?’ and the ever popular  ‘(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life’ this fan favourite returns due to popular demand having played to sold out audiences in 2016/17 taking an incredible £13 million in ticket sales!

Full casting is yet to be announced but you can guarantee this smash hit musical based on the iconic 1987 movie starring the incredible Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey will guarantee an unforgettable night out.

* Pictures used feature previous cast*

2018 TOUR DATES

Thu 20 – Sat 29 September

Brighton Theatre Royal

www.atgtickets.com/brighton

0844 871 7650

On Sale Tuesday 19 December 2pm

 

Mon 1 – Sat 6 October

Dartford Orchard Theatre

www.orchardtheatre.co.uk

01322 220 000

On Sale Friday 15 December 9am

 

Mon 8 – Sat 13 October

York Grand Opera House

www.atgtickets.com/york

0844 871 3024

On Sale Tuesday 19 December 2pm

 

Mon 15 – Sat 20 October

Stoke Regent Theatre

www.atgtickets.com/regent-theatre

0844 871 7649

On Sale Tuesday 19 December 2pm

 

Mon 22 – Sat 27 October

Hastings White Rock Theatre

www.whiterocktheatre.org.uk

01424 462 288

On Sale Friday 15 December 9am

 

Mon 29 October – Sat 3 November

Southend Cliffs Pavillion

www.southendtheatres.co.uk

01702 351 135

On Sale Friday 15 December 9am

 

Mon 5 – Sat 10 November

Birmingham New Alexandra Theatre

www.atgtickets.com/birmingham

0844 871 7647

On Sale Tuesday 19 December 2pm

 

Mon 12 – Sat 17 November

Preston Guild Hall

www.prestonguildhall.co.uk

01772 804 444

On Sale Friday 15 December 9am

 

Mon 19 – Sat 24 November

London New Wimbledon Theatre

www.atgtickets.com/new-wimbledon-theatre

0844 871 7646

On Sale Tuesday 19 December 2pm

 

Mon 26 November – Sat 1 December

Plymouth Pavilions

www.plymouthpavilions.co.uk

0845 146 1460

On Sale Friday 15 December 9am

 

Mon 3 – Sat 8 December

Oxford New Theatre

www.atgtickets.com/oxford

0844 871 3020

On Sale Tuesday 19 December 2pm

 

FURTHER DATES TO BE ANNOUNCED

Beautiful The Carole King Musical

Beautiful

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Since first premiering on Broadway in 2014, Beautiful The Carole King Musical has gone on to open in London, Tokyo & Sydney winning multiple awards along the way. Manchester audiences are lucky enough to have the show at the city’s Palace Theatre for the next four weeks offering festive theatregoers an wonderful alternative to traditional Pantos available at this time of year.

Telling the inspiring true story of Carole King’s incredible rise to fame from selling her first song as a teenager to her 70’s solo success headlining Carnegie Hall, Beautiful is an incredibly powerful, and enormously entertaining piece of theatre.

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The musical dedicates the perfect amount of time to King’s (Bronté Barbé) early career and skilfully explores the effect her relationship with writing partner & husband Gerry Goffin (Kane Oliver Parry) had upon their songwriting, this also extends to the influence of the couples competitive friendship with fellow songwriters Barry Mann (Matthew Gonsalves) and Cynthia Weil (Amy Ellen Richardson), both songwriting teams undeniably behind some of the sounds which without doubt helped shape popular music.

The back catalogue available to compliment Douglas McGrath’s book is almost embarrassingly brilliant having written for the likes of The Drifters, The Shirelles and Aretha Frankin the show features classic after classic including Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Up on the Roof, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling and You’ve Got a Friend to name but a few.

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Bronté Barbé as King is outstanding, sweet and soulful, she plays King with enormous heart and sensitivity, hugely likeable with a quiet inner strength that grows as her relationship with Goffin stumbles. Barb beautifully portrays a woman who knows her self worth and remains true to herself despite life’s challenges.

Kane Oliver Parry compliments Barbe perfectly, the chemistry between the two is fantastic as real life struggles take hold both deliver some exceptional acting. Special mention must also go to both Amy Ellen Richardson & Matthew Gonsalves, their partnership as Cynthia and Barry is a delight to watch.

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Beautiful further impresses with one of the best ensemble casts I’ve ever seen, slick, sharp and insanely talented each scene is a joyful celebration of incredible music. From the very first ensemble scene the sheer energy and talent on display gives a clear message that this show is something special.

Beautiful raises the bar for jukebox musicals and then some, in addition to the spine tingling performances is an enormously witty script which has the audience laughing out loud throughout. The care and attention given to this biography will no doubt ensure standing ovations night after night. Ultimately this is a story of hope and self belief whilst giving audiences a wonderful reminder of the incredibly emotional impact music can have, a truly joyful, must-see show.

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On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 6th January, tickets available here.

Dick Whittington

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Opening Night verdict 🎅🏼🎅🏼🎅🏼🎅🏼

Qdos Entertainment, the worlds biggest pantomime producer bring their magical production of Dick Whittington to Manchester’s Opera House this festive season.

Starring the hugely popular John Barrowman, an absolute  panto pro he has the audience in the palm of his hand from the off, whipping off his trousers to reveal the tightest pair of pants to ever grace the panto stage! Joining Barrowman are legendary double act, The Krankies, stalwarts of the cabaret circuit since the 70’s, Dick Whittington marks their seventh season alongside Barrowman and their on stage chemistry is electric.

Sprinkled with lots of adult humour Dick Whittington is high on audience interaction and chock-full of laughs as Dick (Barrowman) falls in love with Councillor Krankie’s (Ian Tough) daughter Alice (Lauren Hampton). dastardly King Rat (Phil Corbitt) however has other ideas as he tries his best to come between our lovebirds.

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Fun and frolics are high on the agenda as Barrowman greets the Manchester audience with an “Ey up chuck!” he is a highly entertaining, hugely charismatic, singing, dancing, innuendo spouting machine! Pair this with an outrageous performance from the Krankies and you really have got a match made in double entendre heaven. Lots to keep little ones and Mum & Dad highly amused with a few jokes perhaps a little too close to the bone for older children, who Mum and Dad may be desperately hoping don’t get certain jokes, let’s just say there could be some interesting conversations on the way home!

The rest of the sparkling cast compliment our leads perfectly with special mention to Jacqueline Hughes who delights as The Spirit of Bow Bells and Ryan Kayode as Tommy the Manc Tabby Cat who judging by the applause received was clearly an audience favourite too.

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As you’d expect there are ad libs galore particularly between the hilarious Krankies who remain sharp as a tack. Jeanette Tough, now aged 70 could give Debbie McGee a run for her money as she’s flung around the stage, barely stopping for breath and even ending up inside a giant sharks mouth!

The choreography is executed perfectly by the Company who are joined on stage by local children from the Stalder Academy of Dance.

Many of the usual panto traditions are here, there’s ghosts & ghoulies, silly songs and sparkly sets plus a surprise soaking for some audience members, however this is as Dick with no Dame which for me seemed an odd choice, please Qdos can we have our Dame back next year? Preferably Manchester favourite Eric Potts. The 3D section is enormously impressive but scared my young guests to the point of having to cover their faces, much too frightening for young children.

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The cast have undeniable chemistry, particularly evident during an underwater version of 12 Days of Christmas, which has the audience in hysterics from start to finish.  The storyline is secondary to the madcap mayhem playing out before us as Dick Whittington entertains and delivers a highly memorable night, for some this may be classic ‘British humour’ that needs a little updating, there was no doubt however that Dick Whittington brought a lot of laughter and festive cheer to Manchester last night, it’s a cheeky, festive treat!

On at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 7th January, tickets available here.

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland 2016 promo

Event City’s mega 22,000sq m of exhibition space has been transformed once again into a fabulously festive Winter Wonderland which will undoubtedly thrill young and old alike.

Now in its 5th consecutive year, Manchester’s biggest attraction boasts more rides than you can shake a candy cane at, as well as shows, festive food and drink and of course no Wonderland would be complete without the big man himself, Father Christmas! There are even a couple of very special guests to entertain the little ones this year in the form of classic children’s favourite’s, Rainbow’s George and Zippy!

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With over 50 rides and attractions all under one roof you really are spoilt for choice, from an indoor circus to classic fairground favourites Winter Wonderland quite literally has something for everyone, with the added bonus that everything (apart from food and drink) is included in your ticket price, so no need to worry about limiting the number of rides you go on or searching for loose change, you can enjoy the rides as many times as you like from the minute you arrive!

For the littlest members of the family there’s a baby chill out zone including large soft play area as well as a meet and greet with Santa, numerous toddler friendly rides with flashing lights and beeping horns which kept my little visitor entertained long past her usual bedtime and although this is Christmas you can even take a trip to the seaside at the giant sandpit. A huge positive is that sessions are limited to avoid overcrowding, which further added to our enjoyment of this incredibly magical place.

Winter Wonderland

For older children and adults there’s all the favourite classic rides you’d hope to see, the dodgems, the waltzers, hilarious bucking broncos and an enormously fun cyclone (which I’d advise going on before you enjoy one of the delicious bubble waffles!)

If this wasn’t enough there are lots of fabulous shows at various intervals throughout each session, Rainbow Live with Zippy & George, a fabulous Christmas Circus, The Ice Princesses, Jedi Knight Training, an all-new Daisy & Ollie Show from Cartoonito, as well as an opportunity to enjoy a Christmas Melt-Down – fun and dancing on the main stage with Winter Wonderlands crazy DJ!

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With tickets prices, £20.50* (plus £1.50 Quaytickets booking fee) per ticket for adults and children aged 3-16 (under 3’s free) or £70 for a family of four, Winter Wonderland really is excellent value for money with each session lasting for four hours. My group and I left feeling festive and giggling about all the fun we’d had whilst planning our next visit to this magical place, an annual visit (or two) has quickly become one of our favourite Christmas traditions, with fun and lots of it guaranteed!

Open from 9th December 2017 until 1st January 2018, booking is highly recommended as some dates are already sold out, tickets are available here.

 

 

The Gruffalo

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Tall Stories Theatre Company arrived at the Lowry’s Quay’s theatre this week for their month long run of the glorious Gruffalo.

This beautiful musical adaptation Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler classic picture book brings the animals of the deep, dark wood to life as we follow mouse (Lauren Scott-Berry) on her search for hazelnuts, during her journey through the woods mouse meets a mixture of woodland folk (all played wonderfully by Alastair Chisholm) including a cunning Fox, a supposed wise old Owl and a hilariously hypnotic Snake. All fancy a little bit of mouse for dinner but the clever little creature outwits them with the threat of the Gruffalo (Aaron Millard), but we all know there’s no such thing as a Gruffalo is there?

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Tall Stories which was founded in 1997 by joint artistic directors Olivia Jacobs and TobyMitchell have excelled in translating this children’s classic from page to stage, each and every child in the audience entirely captivated from start to finish. The tree actors work together beautifully as they enchant the young audience, characters are differentiated through a variety of voices, movements and simple but very effective costumes. The short book has been perfectly padded out to ensure an hour of quality entertainment including a dancing snake, a bossy old owl and if you’re lucky you may even get the Gruffalo sat beside you!

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The delight on the children’s faces for the entirety of the show is worth the tickets price alone, with wonderful audience interaction, a charmingly authentic set, sweet and simple songs the Gruffalo is the perfect family festive treat!

On at the Lowry until Sunday 7th January tickets available here.