Les Misérables

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Les Miserables is world famous – it’s a tale that’s been told on all the big stages of the world. You might have seen it before, or seen the film, or listened to the soundtrack. But, if you haven’t yet seen this cast, on this tour – then you absolutely must!

From the moment we took our seats, in the sold out Lowry, we could feel the excitement, the atmosphere, the anticipation. Before we went in I honestly thought I would spend the entire production comparing everything to the West End version I saw a few years ago. How wrong was I? Once the first note was played I was lost in the action, the emotion, the heartbreak, the sheer brilliance of it all.

The set design is one of the first things to impress. There are no compromises where the set is concerned; it’s multi layered digital effects compliment the large structures such as the barricades. How the stage crew fit up this set in different locations on this tour is mind boggling. It looks like it belongs on the Lowry stage, like it was purposely built for it. Special mention to the lighting and projection team – they manage to create the most subtle of mood and atmosphere changes, the sewer scene particularly is very clever and original.

This cast knows how to impress. Every single voice is note perfect, the company numbers like “One More Day” make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

Dean Chisnall’s portrayal of Jean Valjean, is quite simply the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen on stage. His delivery of “Bring him home” was breath taking. The roar from the crowd for him during the curtain call was most deserved.

Marius played by Will Callan was exceptional, and I still cannot believe that this tour is his first professional show. He plays the role with such expertise, his talent is incredible. He is definitely someone to look out for in the future.

Monsieur (Ian Hughes) and Madame (Helen Walsh) Thenardier are hilarious – this is an excellent piece of casting by Paul Wooller and Felicity French.

This show gives us show stopper after show stopper – it takes us on an emotional journey where we are 100% invested in what is to become of our hero Jean Valjean, the villain of the piece, Javert (who is played by the superb Nic Greenshields), and of course, the sweethearts Marius and Cosette. We all gasp as Gavroche is shot and lays lifeless on stage. Many of us ( definitely me) had to wipe away a tear as Epinine (Nathania Ong) lies in Marius’ arms while singing pitch perfectly (as she does in every number). And the finale is the most powerful finale I have seen. The audience were on their feet before the last note was even sung – you could feel the rush and the excitement in the auditorium – it was electric.

The whole cast do not disappoint, they impress over and over again. I have never heard applause like it throughout a performance. And every single clap was richly deserved.

Les Misérables is on at The Lowry until Saturday 23rd April tickets available here.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

‘But if you think it, want it, dream it, then it’s real. You are what you feel…’


Fresh from London’s Palladium, this new production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat kicks off it’s UK & Ireland tour right here in Manchester. Although it feels as though Joseph has been around since ‘way way back many centuries ago…’ with it being the first of Lloyd Webber and Rice’s musical collaborations to be performed publicly over 50 years ago, originating in 1968 (albeit in a school setting and only 15 minutes in length), it is still as much loved and adored by audiences today as ever.


Joseph, the biblical story of Jacob’s first born (and favourite) son, who is sold by his jealous brothers for being gifted a (pretty fabulous) multi-coloured coat by his father and being a bit of a show off claiming to be able to read people’s dreams… you know the rest, has become not only a staple in schools and colleges alike but theatres and tours around the world too. However this latest version certainly throws a spanner in the works and isn’t afraid of shaking things up…

Yes, this version of Joseph has its ‘star cast’ appeal with Jason Donovan and Alexandra Burke billed as headliners and whilst it must be said the later of which provides an astonishing turn not just as Narrator but doubling up as multiple roles, leading the entire show with panache whilst simultaneously entering her third trimester of pregnancy to our (and probably her own) amazement, this version of Joseph is much more than just names. Paying homage to it’s humble beginnings, at the heart of the show is the talented cast of children, often playing roles you wouldn’t necessary expect them too; they provide a warm and sweet cornerstone to this production.

Jac Yarrow who has quickly made a name for himself in the title role, is most certainly the real deal. His onstage charisma is matched by his sensational vocals, with his version of Close Every Door proving to be ‘goose-pimpley-good’ and providing a stand-out moment. The ensemble are tight and slick and deliver some of the most entertaining scenes of the evening, including One More Angel In Heaven and Go, Go, Go Joseph.

A first class creative team has also been assembled here with Laurence Connor directing at the helm. Large’s set and costume design provides all the colour and more that you’d expect from a production of Joseph, whilst Rigby’s orchestra hits powerful perfection with every note, remaining pitch perfect throughout, culminating in Act 2’s Entr’acte getting its own (and much deserved) rapturous applause from an eager audience still clearly lapping up being back watching live theatre. However, what is most revolutionary for me is Hunter’s choreography which adapts and evolves impressively at each modern twist the production takes.

Michael Harrison’s refashioned production keeps the sentimentality and romanticism that a production of Joseph should have, whilst at the same time re-invigorates and brings it up-to-date, with (spoiler alert) tap-dance, cheerleading and can-can routines thrown in for good
measure. Although it may be said at times the modernisation can seem a little over the top and in your face, making it occasionally hard to digest, this newest production certainly can’t be accused of resting on its laurels.

There is still something really warm and reminiscent at the core of this modernised updated version of a much loved classic, that particularly in a world currently full of so much uncertainly, feels hugely soothing, nostalgic and incredibly uplifting.

This newest interpretation of Joseph certainly throws some curve balls to what we are used to expecting with this one, however what we do get is a quirky, funny, bold, modern take on an old familiar musical tale, which certainly makes for an entertaining evening!

Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is at the Manchester Opera House until the 2nd tickets are available here.

Sheila’s Island

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Sheila’s island is an adaptation of Tim Firths comedic play “Neville’s Island” – This laugh aloud version is written for an all female cast.

At the beginning of the performance we meet four middle aged women, whom having misinterpreted clues on a team building exercise have ended up washed up and stranded on a small island in the Lake District. We witness the stages that each of these unique characters go through over the days they are marooned as they become desperate to be rescued.

Now clearly there is a target demographic for this show, and it won’t be for everyone. But luckily for me I’m a forties something woman and this show sang to me. I could identify a little bit with every character and I’ve certainly met each of these women in the workplace in my lifetime.

I found it engaging and hilarious – the gags just keep coming and it explores so many relevant every day issues that Middle Aged women face.

The cast were outstanding – Abigail Thaw’s Denise was the character that you hated but loved in equal measure – Thaw’s comedic timing and expression were incredible. There is a clear chemistry between the cast members – but the too-ing and fro-ing between Thaw and Rina Fatania as Julie was hilarious. It’s like the script was written for them.

Judy Flynn holds the story together in her portrayal of Sheila – her monologues keep the plot moving and the audience interested in those occasional moments where the scenes start to drag a little. Sara Crowe’s character Fay provides us with an insight into emotional loss and guilt, but sometimes it feels like these issues needed to be developed further in the script.


The comedy that comes out of the contents of Julie’s backpack is side splitting. We all know someone who goes camping or adventuring with every single item they could possibly buy at the outdoor adverture shop. But the scene with the sausage is absolute genius! I’m not sure I will ever be able to eat a sausage from a hotel breakfast in the same way again. 

Special mention needs to be given to the set design by Liz Cooke- the uneven ground brings a realistic surface to the set, the actors have to watch each step, helping to portray the setting of a remote island. It’s very clever and means that the set, along with the sound and lighting, become a huge part of the show and without that it wouldn’t have the same organic feel to it.

All in all this was a fabulous production, with excellent acting and comedy. All that was missing was greater pace in some scenes and perhaps some further character development. 

If you’ve ever been on a corporate team building weekend away you will definitely recognise these unhinged yet lovable characters.

Sheila’s Island is on at The Lowry until Saturday 2nd April tickets available here.

Vignettes

Reviewed by Paris Rogers

Vignettes follows the format of six short plays written and directed by females. The show screamed from the rooftop how diverse and talented Greater Manchester is. When walking into the theatre, you are immersed into the show immediately, the casts each play remain on stage throughout adding background detail and intensity to the individual pieces.

The show starts powerfully with Misha Duncan Barry’s, Limerence starting Keziah (Maz Hedgehog). Kaziah had a way of pulling me in to the action straight away, it usually takes a while for me to be drawn in alongside a long build up, but Kaziah did this effortlessly with her epic expressive body language and firework energy. Because of this energy being so high, some words were lost from the fast speech, but this was quickly and professionally rectified.

The second piece was The Demon dog of Waterhead by Cathy Crab. Firstly, hats off to the actors, Dom (James Quinn) and Sue (Sarah Legg) for their commitment to these roles, I had an aching stomach from laughing so much at their comedic timings. As much as the comedy carried the piece, it lacked structure and left me a little confused with the overall message and purpose for the piece and characters.

My notes were minimal for Perspective by Alex Keelen. This is because I was hugely captivated from start to finish. This play was perfectly pitched. The story telling by Janice (Emily Heyworth) was exactly what story telling should be, engaging, climatic and stimulating. Kevin (George Miller) was a breath of fresh air in the whole show, he brought a true charismatic spin. Not only were the actors outstanding, but it was also equally matched with impeccable writing and directing.

My favourite piece of the night was Tangled by Debbie Oates. The acting felt effortless and unbelievably easy to watch, I enjoyed the hilarious heartfelt journey I was taken on by Sally Ann Matthews. It reminded us how important young people are today. This piece stuck with me throughout the night and continued to be discussed into the busy streets of Manchester. 

The Reference by Hannah Ellis Ryan stood out amongst the others as it shone a light on competition between sisterhood and cleverly made me question what each character’s intentions truly were. It could have easily gotten lost amongst the comedy from the other pieces but instead made me go silent with the intense atmosphere the actors portrayed so brilliantly.

The show was finished with a bang, Halal Hens by Zoe Iqbal. Often amongst comedy the purpose of the piece can be lost. This was not the case with Halal Hens, controversial topics were cleverly addressed throughout while keeping us entertained. The actors had a clear strong connection on stage which really helped the flow of the piece and energy. I especially enjoyed the directing in this, it was quick paced, thought provoking and well timed.

Overall Vignettes was a varied evening, taking me on a fascinating emotional roller coaster and truly reminding me of the importance of storytelling like never before. I left feeling empowered, educated and more importantly with a strong belief in womanhood.

Vignettes is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday March 26th tickets and further info can be found here.

Interview | Alison Carr | The Last Quiz Night On Earth

Box of Tricks recently announced that the postponed 2020 tour of the critically acclaimed immersive play The Last Quiz Night on Earth written by Alison Carr will return, visiting venues this Spring and offering audiences a very different experience of live performance.

Opening Night spoke to writer Alison Carr to hear a little more about the process involved in creating the show and what audiences can expect from this innovative comedy.

ON: What inspired you to write The Last Quiz Night On Earth?

AC: The idea of a quiz night kept popping into my head but I’d dismiss it because I was worried it’d been done too often before. So I kept plugging away and overcomplicating things, until eventually I thought okay, lean into it – a quiz night AND what? A quiz night AND the world is about to end. It all opened up from there and a quiz night became the only way to tell this story. It brings so much to explore like togetherness and community, comradery, competitiveness. Throw into the mix an asteroid heading straight for us, and the stakes get higher. It’s the final chance to say the unsaid, heal rifts, get the last word, make peace with regrets or try to do something about them.

ON: How does the play fit in with your previous work?

AC: There are elements there like a fractious sibling relationship, and having something quite extreme or unexpected going on. But overall it’s quite a departure, especially the characters’ interaction with the audience. My jumping off point was to write something fun. Around the time I got the call from BOTTC I’d been researching a lot of serious, dark material for other plays I was writing. It takes its toll. So when Hannah (Tyrrell-Pinder, Director) got in touch my first thoughts were “yes please” and “for my own well-being, it’s got to be fun”. Plus I always want to be challenging myself, not trotting out the same-old, same-old. And just like ‘dark’ doesn’t mean humourless or hard-going, ‘fun’ certainly doesn’t equal something fluffy or meaningless. It is the end of the world, after all.

ON: How did you get into writing?

AC: I wrote my first play at school – a version of Cluedo (don’t sue me Hasbro). I directed it too, and played Mrs Peacock. I clearly had delusions of grandeur. I’d forgotten about that until I went to answer this question, and I was going to say I had my first stab at writing a play for my University’s theatre society. I directed that one too, but wasn’t in it. So I was gradually lessening my megalomaniac tendencies.

After I graduated I kept writing around jobs. I wrote a comedy called Patricia Quinn Saved My Life. It was all very daft but I could let loose because I never thought it’d see the light of day. It got picked up by a company for the Edinburgh Fringe and became my first professional production. It went down really well and made me think maybe I had something and I could keep going.

ON: How does it feel to see your work on the stage?

AC: It’s amazing and terrifying. I don’t write for the love of sitting at my desk for hours, tearing my hair out over structure and dialogue. I write to have it made, for the joy of being in a rehearsal room and being part of the process of it coming to life. I love the shared experience of theatre. That I get to be in the same space as the audience and that we are all breathing the same air as the characters on stage as the events unfold in front of us. It’s incredible and such a privilege. I often end up watching the audience watching the play. That said, it’s also sick-to-my-stomach nerve wracking. What if the audience don’t like it, it isn’t clear, they don’t laugh, they’re bored, they leave disappointed? All of that keeps me awake at night.

ON: Which playwrights inspired you?

AC: Victoria Wood was, is, and will always be my biggest inspiration. Her voice is so distinctive, and so Northern. She’s why I tried writing anything in the first place. She brought joy to so many and achieved so much. I’ll always try and see any Edward Albee or Tennessee Williams plays I can – they’re so big and fearless. Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane is one of my favourite plays. Lee Hall, Bryony Lavery, Zinnie Harris, Annie Baker, debbie tucker green. Having said all that, I’m not so much a fan of particular playwrights as I am plays and theatre in general – I try and see as much theatre as I can in the North East and beyond.

ON: What was the best bit of advice you were given when you started out?

AC: I can’t remember the exact quote, but the gist was ‘you need to take yourself seriously as a writer’. I think it was a confidence thing. I was reluctant to jump in with both feet cos what if people didn’t like what I was writing or it turned out I actually wasn’t very good. If I kept it all at arm’s length and didn’t invest too much, then it couldn’t hurt me. But ultimately you have to give it your all – at least I do. So I try to take my work seriously but not myself.

ON: What is next for you?

AC: I’m lucky that some of my projects that were paused due to the lockdown are now starting to remerge. One play idea that was in its earliest days, the company and I have totally scrapped and started again with – so that’s beginning to findits feet. And I’m well underway on a new play I was approached to write in the middle of last year. I’m a different writer than I was when theatres shut down in 2019 and I hope I can keep moving forward and keep making work that I love.

ON: How does it feel having The Last Quiz Night on Earth come back?

AC: I’m delighted! Like all the plays that had to close in March 2019, it was very abrupt and it’s felt like unfinished business ever since. Kathy, Rav, Fran and Bobby are characters who have been in my life for so long now, and I’m excited to hang out with them again. Plus I’ve written a brand new quiz for the show – so if you saw it before, you can come back and take part all over again!

ON: Finally, why should people come to see The Last Quiz Night On Earth?

AC: Well, there’s a quiz – a real one. You don’t have to be good at quizzes (I’m not) or, if you are, great – come and show off. And when you’re not trying to remember which British city hosted the 1970 Commonwealth Games, there’s a story unfolding around you about family and regrets and last chances. I wouldn’t want anyone other than Box of Tricks making The Last Quiz Night On Earth. Their work is never pretentious or intimidating, it’s welcoming and warm and a good night out. What better way to spend the apocalypse?!

The Last Quiz Show on Earth comes to The Station, Irlam in association with The Lowry between 22nd-26th March. Further info and tour dates can be found here.

*Images used are from rehearsals, credit Grant Archer

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Confession time foks, I’ll lay my cards on the table from the get go, I haven’t seen the 1971 cinema release of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Sure I’ve seen The Beautiful Briny Seasequence from old Disney compilation programmes they used to put on TV way back when. So I went into the live theatre show not really knowing what to expect in the way of plot, themes, or production, and I’m happy to say I was not disappointed, this was the perfect piece of escapism theatre, much needed for young and old alike.

Set during the blitz, the show opens with a fantastic 10 minute speech free sequence that sees the Rawlins’ siblings, Charlie, Carrie, and Paul orphaned during an air raid and moved from London out to the countryside. The children are understandably traumatised by recent events and apprehensive about the future. Here they encounter Mrs Hobday (Jacqui Dubois), who informs the children that they are to be placed in the care of the rather mysterious and eccentric Eglantine Price, (Dianne Pilkington).

Miss Price seems to be the recipient of lots of packages, including a broomstick, from a professor Emelius Brown (Charles Brunton), in London. Eglantine has a spell that she believes will end the war, and the needless killing war brings, but she’ll need the help of the children and the Professor. So begins an adventure that will take the children back to London, under the ocean, and to the mysterious island of Nepeepo. Can this quintet end the war as well as find something they all need,  a family.

This is a production of the highest quality, from the hugely entertaining, song-and dance routines, mesmerising puppetry to magical set pieces. In addition some beautiful costumes and set designs capped off with some wonderful performances, it’s truly a feast for the eyes and ears!

Dianne Pilkington is perfectly cast as witch in training, Eglantine Price, her turn on A Step in The Right Direction, sets up a performance that is fun yet vulnerable and quirky, which in less capable hands could become irritating, but Pilkington manges this perfectly. The chemistry between her and Charles Brunton, develops naturally and doesn’t seem forced. Brunton is equally as good as the charming yet unlikely hero Emelius Brown.

It can often be distracting when an older actor plays a teenager in productions and at first I must admit I was a little taken back by Conor O’Hara as eldest sibling, Charlie, however O’Hara provides much needed depth to the role. He reminded me of a young Jim Dale, which very much played to the nostalgic element of the production, and is certainly no negative criticism.

There are plenty of song and dance numbers throughout, with stand out numbers, being the full company rendition of Portobello Road, which showcases the fantastic work of all the ensemble cast, and the stunning costume design of Gabriella Slade. Whilst Emelius and Eglantine highlight the exceptional puppet designs of Kennth Macleod.

However it’s not just big show stoppers that Bedknobs and Broomsticks gets right, the downbeat soulful, Nobody’s Problem, by our heroic fivesome, sets up the final act perfectly.

What elevates this production to the next level is the magical input of Jamie Harrison, flying beds, unruly brooms and a truly magical, jaw-dropping and well crafted finale.

With the current situation in the world, a great deal of the plot seems to resonate more than it would in normal times (whatever that is these days) and packs more of a punch. However this is a good old-fashioned romantic adventure story, filled with charm, whimsy and hope, which will enthral, enchant and entertain children (and adults) of all ages.

Bedknobs and and Broomsticks is on in the Lyric Theatre at The Lowry until 19th March 2022 tickets available here.

Kes

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


‘You can’t train them, Kestrels, they’re the hardest bird to train…’

Adapted for the stage by Robert Alan Evans, ‘Kes’ is based on Barry Hines’ 1968 much loved and adored classic ‘ A Kestrel for a Knave.’ Set in a small mining town in South Yorkshire, Kes follows fifteen year-old Billy Casper, who is emotionally and physically mistreated by his mother, his school and society in general. A by-product of our unjust and discriminatory class system, Billy lives a pretty desolate life, until he finds meaning in rearing and training a kestral. Kes is a story of youth, social injustice, and humanity…

In his Director’s note, Banerjee explains, ‘…this isn’t Kes as we know it’ and he’s correct; this is a bold conceptual visceral piece of art, which most certainly maintains the essence of Hinde’s modern classic at it’s core, but with a raw modern twist. Banerjee has successfully assembled a talented team both on and off stage, who execute well to create this brave modern piece; Braithwaite’s beautifully rich and deeply moving sound composition is definitely a highlight and is really rather impressive and impactful throughout. This coupled with Field’s and Platt’s atmospheric set design and lighting design respectively, provide a wonderful back drop for this story to be reborn in a new imaginative theatrical way.

Although at times the piece can feel a little too abstract, making it hard to fully engage with, maintain focus and follow as the scenes and characters develop and interchange abruptly, the skilful actors continue to draw us back in time and time again for the duration of this one hour performance. All three performers work extremely hard throughout and their stage presence is quite remarkable. Each individual takes full ownership of and graces the space with finesse, allowing the story-telling of this powerful tale to unfold with style, poise and a whole lot of heart.

Whilst set in the 1960s, the themes of Kes most definitely still resonate in a 2022 post pandemic modern society. At the route, the same profound questions, of the same injustices, of the same failing social class system are still being explored, and therefore the story is still very much as relevant, fitting and powerful for today’s present-day audience as it was over 50 years ago.

A special mention has to go to Bolton Octagon. They’ve done a wonderful job with the opening of their brand new building;the welcome was warm, the space was inviting, it is everything regional theatre should be and boy how lucky are we to have this here in the North West, right on our doorsteps!

The Octagon Theatre and Theatre by the Lake’s Kes is a dark, powerful and bolshy adaptation of a much loved classic that certainly packs a heart felt punch.

Catch ‘Kes’ at the Octagon Theatre until Saturday 2nd April tickets available here.

Or at Theatre by the Lake from Wednesday 6th- Saturday 30th April tickets available here.

Carmen

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2


Opera can often come across as an elite, members only club: well not anymore. Opera North have created an opera for the masses in this production of Carmen. It is a Spanish tale, told in French, of a prostitute, Carmen, who uses her charms and assets to make local soldiers fall for her and shower her in love.

Don Jose is one of those soldiers, who initially ignores her performance and attention seeking behaviour as he enters the bar. A fight erupts and Carmen is arrested and ordered to be locked up, but she charms Jose and manages to convince him to let her free, resulting in his own detention and prison sentence. The story then follows Carmen and Jose’s journey from prostitute and soldier to lovers and drug smugglers. Carmen eventually tires of Jose and moves on to the charismatic and showy Escamillo, leaving Jose heartbroken and to return to his sick mother. But their story does not end their as Jose later returns and is full of hatred which leads to tragedy.


This production is nothing like you’d expect from a classic opera, but everything you’d expect from Opera North. It’s contemporary, gritty and mesmerising. The talent on the stage is indescribable. Carmen, played by Chrystal E. Williams connects with the audience from the moment she enters the stage: She is vibrant and glamorous. She plays the character with a conviction that makes the audience invest in her journey so much so that the ending leaves us devastated, even though we know what’s coming. 

Sebastian Gueze (Don Jose) and Gyila Nagy (Escamillo) play the roles of Carmen’s love interest and together they are a force to be reckoned with. Throughout the production they take command of the audience and Gueze takes us on an extraordinary journey of the pain that love can inflict and the consequences that this can present.

Both Frasquita ( Amy Freston) and Mercedes (Helen Evora), Carmens friends and fellow prostitues/smugglers have the most incredible voices, along with the remarkable Alison Langer. These three women along with Williams encapture the essence of what it is to be a woman living in a man’s world.

Andres Duckworths solo dance opening at the beginning of Act 3 is a beautiful addition to this production. They moved with such grace and control, to give us a moment of pure beauty that will stay with the audience beyond the end of the show. An incredible talent. 

The chorus of Opera North are the stand out of this show, their voices work together to produce something that is spine tingling. The final scene is as incredible as it is due to the atmosphere created by the chorus. So many talented individuals brought together to create something outstanding. 

Colin Richmond (set design), Laura Hopkins (costume design), and Rick Fisher (lighting design) have got this absolutely perfect. The staging is incredible. I did not expect it have such an impact, there are moments where the set and all on it look like something out of a Hollywood movie. 

Antony Hermus and the orchestra are astonishing. The ease in which they navigate us through the narrative is magical and faultless.

Overall Opera North have taken this age old tale and dragged it into the modern world. There were however moments in the production where it was difficult to hear some of the solo voices and some of the choreography was stilted and felt forced. But that didn’t take away from the overall impact of the performance.


A special mention has to go to the BSL interpreter, who was nearly as engaging as the cast. It felt like he was as much part of the company as the lead performers and was an excellent and inclusive addition to this production at the Lowry.

Carmen is a feast for the senses and is like nothing I have ever seen. I wasn’t an opera fan before, but I certainly am now. I’ve quickly turned into Opera Norths biggest fan!

Further information and performances can be found here.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The National Theatre’s multi award-winning production The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time, retuned to the North West this week, taking up residency until Saturday 12th March at Manchester’s Opera House.

The stage adaptation of Mark Haddon’s international best-selling novel is both captivating and deeply moving. Telling the story of fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone (David Breeds) who at the very beginning of the play discovers the murder of his neighbour’s dog, Wellington. Immediately under suspicion himself, Christopher sets about on a thorough and detailed investigation to discover exactly who has caused Wellington’s demise.

Christopher is an extraordinary boy; complex and remarkable; he sees the world in super fine detail. Colours are more vivid, sounds are louder, people are confusing, and the world is often a very overwhelming place.

As the story develops, we learn more about Christopher’s complexities as he struggles with communication and physical touch, even from his parents in the most difficult of situations. This proves extremely challenging for his parents at times, which results in an extremely powerful alternative connection being portrayed where he uses only his fingertips to connect with them. You can really feel the pain his mother is going through in these scenes which are beautifully portrayed.

David Breeds makes for an excellent Christopher, physically giving his all to the role you desperately want him to succeed and are utterly transfixed by his every move. His interaction with his schoolteacher Siobhan portrayed perfectly by Rebecca Root is wonderful, this gorgeous pairing really complement each other, her belief in his abilities is unshakable while her ability to calm him when life gets overwhelming is truly special.

Movement is a huge part of what makes this play so exceptional, Director Marianne Elliot along with Movement Directors Scott Graham, Steven Hoggett and Adrian Sutton have created something extremely memorable. The piece is visually stunning while the cast mesmerise as their fluid movement is seamless throughout.

Designer Bunny Christie, Lighting Designer Paule Constable, Video Designer Finn Ross and Sound Designer Ian Dickinson give the audience a remarkable insight into the heightened sensory world Christopher lives in. A real standout scene being when Christopher goes on a journey to London. The use of sound, lighting and physical theatre really brings the busy, bustling London Underground to life and allows us to see the world through Christopher’s eyes. It shows starkly just how harrowing navigating the world can be with a social disorder.

This thought-provoking, funny, inspiring play proves once again why it’s one of The National Theatre’s most loved productions. It’s full of heart, packed with humour and most importantly hope. Visually stunning with unforgettable storytelling, Curious Incident is theatre at its finest.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 12th March, tickets available here.

Footloose

Reviewed by Alison Ruck

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Everybody cut loose… Footloose has returned to Manchester!

The feel-good all singing, all dancing musical follows the story of teenage rebel Ren McCormack who arrives in the small town of Bomont, and to his dismay finds that music, dancing and rock n roll is banned following a tragedy that struck the town 5 years prior. Ren, along with the town’s teenagers, take matters into their own hands and fight to bring joy back to the town. And what brings more joy than dancing!

The cast is led by Joshua Hawkins as Ren McCormack, the charming big city boy who shakes up the small town. Joshua is joined by Lucy Munden as the girl next door-cum-hellraiser Ariel Moore. The duo make a good pair and their effortlessly beautiful voices shine, particularly within their romantic duet ‘Almost Paradise’.

The leads are joined by TV personality, and star of numerous West End productions, Darren Day, as the firm Reverend Shaw Moore. Darren gave a strong performance, but the character as a whole leaves something to be desired. The deep scenes only seem to scratch the surface of the emotion that could be portrayed, although Day’s musicality and voice hold its own within this very talented cast.

The biggest surprise and star of the show has to be Jake Quickenden in the role of Willard Hewitt. Quickenden – best known for his role in Hollyoaks, winner of Dancing on Ice and previous Dream Boy – is a great fit for the role of tough boy Willard, really giving the character the energy and spark it needs and deserves. His comedy was sincere and easy and he displayed top notch vocals and dancing whilst even playing guitar on stage too.

One of the best elements of the show has to be the musicality that runs through the core of the production, as each member of the cast take on the role of orchestra within the midst of the onstage action. From flutes to guitar and saxophones, the cast wows as they bring the music right into the story. Not only playing an instrument but singing and dancing whilst doing so, making the cast not only triple threats but quadruple threats (if that’s even a thing?).

The choreography is fun and athletic, with lots of playful thrusting and the odd typical 80’s dance move thrown in, simply adding to the overall joyous nature of the musical.

The cast is very small, which sometimes can be felt in the dance numbers, as it misses the full stage production feel that can be expected with such large-scale musicals. With a main cast of 6 doing most of the dancing throughout, as other cast members do their best to join in whilst playing instruments, this does restrict the energy and scope of the choreography.

If you’re familiar with the film version, either the 1980’s Kevin Bacon classic or the more modern 2011 remake, you’ll know the musical features 80’s pop hits such as ‘Holding Out for a Hero, ‘Almost Paradise’, ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’ and of course the unforgettable title track ‘Footloose’. However, the other songs are more than forgettable in-between, which really holds the production back from its full potential.

Despite this, the songs that are known and loved from the show are its stand out moments. ‘Lets Hear it For The Boys’ is a real crowd pleaser – and not only because the audience is treated to a dance from a particularly popular cast member in gold hot pants…

‘Holding Out For A Hero’ is the perfect female powerhouse song, bringing together the wonderful voices of Lucy Munden, Oonagh Cox and Jess Barker combined with some pure 80’s music video vibes.

Overall Footloose is a joyful spectacle that will leave your toes tapping and face smiling. Just as in the story, the musical will remind you how amazing it can feel to really let loose and dance the night away.

You can catch Footloose at the Opera House, Manchester until Saturday 5th March, tickets available here.

9 to 5 The Musical

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer: Matthew Forrest

Back in 1980, the film 9 to 5, was released, it starred Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton and was a huge box office success. It still often makes the top 100 list of funniest films of all time. In addition, it took Parton from being a hugely popular singer to the global superstar and cultural icon that she is today.

On the basis of crowd reaction tonight, there is a great deal of affection for the film and that has rubbed off onto 9 to 5: The Musical, as throughout tonight’s performance many audience members could be heard uttering the next line before it was delivered, and those that didn’t still lapped up this fun and at times outrageous show!

Adapted for the stage by its original screenwriter Patricia Resnick, the plot remains true to the original as three secretaries extract revenge on their sexist, bigot of a boss, Frank Hart Jnr. Opening with narration from Dolly herself, via a video message we are introduced to Violet Newstead (Claire Sweeny), a widowed single mum, who runs the office in everything but pay grade and title. Then there is Doralee Rhodes (Stephanie Chandos), a happily married secretary to Hart Jnr, who he constantly sexually harasses.  Finally, Judy Bernly (Vivian Panka) is a timid young woman starting her first job after separating from her husband.

Following a series of injustices inflicted on all three women by Hart Jnr (Sean Needham) the ladies set out to not just extract revenge on the ‘boss from hell’ but also change the culture of the office and parity with their male counterparts plus better working conditions for all employees.

This is a fun romp that judging from tonight’s audience will go down a storm for its run at the Palace. Chandos does a great job of bringing “Dolly” to life with her turn as Doralee, full of sass and charm. Sweeney is equally good as Violet, the focal point of the production, her comic timing and fantastic voice highlight why she continues to have such a notable career in musical theatre. Making up the tremendous trio is UK stage debutant Panka who brings the house down with her rousing and powerful rendition of ‘Get Out and Stay Out’.

For me the highlight of the night belonged to Needham as the vile boss. His comic timing was bang on point, although his accent slipped at times it didn’t matter he was brilliant throughout even making the loathsome Hart Jnr, likeable.  His rendition of ‘Here for You’, was as hilarious as it was grotesque.

I would like to give special mention to Julia J Nagle, as Roz, whose unrequited love for the boss is a subplot that runs throughout, who very nearly steals the show, with the ridiculous ‘Heart to Hart’. Nagle, like the rest of the ensemble cast, are solid throughout.

9 to 5 The Musical is a fun show that provides much-needed escapism for 2 ½ hours, so what you are waiting for? Dig out your hairspray and your shoulder padded suit, for an office party like no other!

9 to 5 The Musical is on at the Palace Theatre till 5th March 2022

Tickets available: here.

Casting News | South Pacific

Jamie Wilson, Jonathan Church Theatre Productions and Gavin Kalin are delighted to announce that Julian Ovenden will star as ‘Emile de Becque’ throughout the Sadler’s Wells season and UK Tour of the critically acclaimed, landmark Chichester Festival Theatre production of RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN’S SOUTH PACIFIC alongside the previously announced Gina Beck as ‘Ensign Nellie Forbush’.

Julian and Gina will be joined by fellow members of the original Chichester Festival Theatre company; Rob Houchen as ‘Lieutenant Joseph Cable’, Joanna Ampil as ‘Bloody Mary’and Sera Maehara as ‘Liat’.

The production opens at Manchester Opera House on 16 July 2022 with tickets available here.

Chichester’s Artistic Director Daniel Evans, will once again direct Julian, Gina, Rob, Joanna and Sera as they reprise the roles they played to enormous critical and audience acclaim at Chichester Festival Theatre in the summer of 2021.

South Pacific | Manchester Opera House | Sat 16 Jul – Sat 24 Jul 2022

Mon – Sat at 19:30

Thu and Sat at 14:30

Tickets available here.