The Return of The Soldier

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 28.08.18

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

Based on the 1918 novella of the same name by Rebecca West, The Return of The Soldier is an emotive new British musical brought to atmospheric and achingly beautiful life in Hope Mill Theatre’s intimate space.

The fourth of this year’s five in-house musicals from the award-winning pairing of Hope Mill Theatre and Katy Lipson tells the story of a soldier returning from WWI who is suffering from memory loss, or as we now know it a symptom of PTSD. Rather than returning to the wife he no longer remembers he returns to his first love who now married herself has never quite forgotten the joyful days they shared. What follows is a tender and fascinating story as the pain of unexpressed emotion has far-reaching and heart-wrenching effects.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 28.08.18

Tim Sanders’ beautifully crafted book and lyrics are delicately directed by Charlotte Westenra, paired with Charles Miller’s stunning score, The Return of The Soldier is quite simply, beautiful.

The simplicity of the piano and cello ensure this new chamber musical packs and emotional punch delivered in the most exquisitely affecting of ways, highlighted magnificently by Aaron J Dootson’s lighting design.

Chris Jenkins gives a commanding performance as returning soldier Christopher Baldry, lost in what he remembers as his idyllic past, he convincingly switches from harsh and abrasive in his confused present to playful and mellow in his reignited past, illustrating the complexity and tragedy of the effects of war perfectly.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 28.08.18

Tessa Kadler impresses greatly as Chris’ forgotten wife Kitty, last seen at Hope Mill Theatre in Pippin, Kadler’s portrayal of a wife grieving for a husband who is still very much alive is both powerful and impassioned, her despair at the rejection she feels channelled into a determination to fix this desperately sad situation. Kadler sings beautifully with warmth and emotion, a contrast to her seemingly cold nature and a hint of what is to come.

Naomi Slights is perfectly cast as Margaret Grey, the working class first love of Captain Baldry. She delicately manoeuvres between being a loyal and committed wife to Mr Grey (Marc Pickering) and embracing the opportunity to feel alive again with Christopher Baldry. Her characterisation is impressively strong and draws you in entirely as she journeys from ecstatic highs to guilt ridden lows with just the right amount of measured energy for the demands of this complex and emotional role.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 28.08.18

Marc Pickering gives a masterclass in acting in his character portrayals of both William Gray the loveable, dependable, safe, pickle-making husband of Margaret and Dr Gilbert Anderson the eccentric, highly animated and incredibly amusing Freudian-esque psychoanalyst, his performance as both characters is utterly joyful to watch.

Esme Sears shines in the role of Christopher’s dedicated cousin Jenny, the story dictates she is more an observer than a character who drives the story but her emotional connection to the other characters adds depths and richness to the emotion of this fascinating story in which she ultimately plays an important part. Sears portrayal is delicate and gently determined delivered with striking style.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 28.08.18

The Return of The Soldier demonstrates perfectly how compelling quality storytelling can be, there is no need for flashy chorus numbers here as the superb acting, sublime score and delicate direction combine to create a cleverly constructed, tender and absorbing story. Kudos to producers Hope Mill Theatre, Aria Entertainment and Guy James Theatrical Ltd for once again bringing bold and inspiring new work to the forefront.

Full of heart and achingly beautiful, The Return of The Soldier is a simply stunning must-see.

The Return of The Soldier is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 29th September, tickets can be found here.

*Photo credits Phil Tragen

The Return of the Solider |Rehearsal Pics

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Rehearsal images have been released for The Return of the Soldier, the fourth in-house production of 2018 from the award-winning pairing of Joseph Houston and William Whelton, co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre and producer Katy Lipson, from Aria Entertainment. The successful trio who will be teaming up once again with producer Guy James.

The much anticipated musical, an adaptation of Rebecca West’s remarkable novella written at the end of World War One, with music by Charles Miller and a book & lyrics by Tim Sanders will open at the Ancoats venue on Thursday 6th September and run until Saturday 29th September before transferring to New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich from Monday 1st until Saturday 8th October.

The talented cast will bring this compelling story of war to a whole new generation. The cast of five is made up of Chris Jenkins (tick, tick…BOOM! and Billy Elliot the Musical) will play Christopher, Tessa Kadler (Pippin, Carousel) as Kitty, Marc Pickering (HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and Universal Pictures’ Les Misérables) as William/ Dr Anderson, Esme Sears (A Little Night Music, Parade) will play Jenny and Naomi Slights (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Mamma Mia!) takes on the role of Margaret.

Set in Harrow during the summer of 1916, The Return of the Soldier is an intensely bitter-sweet tale, dissecting the very different love of three women for one man. When Christopher returns from the front, shell-shocked and with memory loss, there are profound consequences for all three women and their love. In the end, only an extraordinary sacrifice will restore the fragile status quo.

Soldier

The Return of the Solder will be directed by Charlotte Westenra, musical direction by Daniel Jarvis, choreography by Matthew Cole, lighting design by Aaron J Dootson, sound design by Findlay Claydon, set and costume design by Simon Anthony Wells/Leah Sams with casting by Jane Deitch.

Tickets for The Return of the Soldier are available here.

 

Interview | Jonathan O’Boyle | Aspects of Love

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart, Aspects of Love has been wowing audiences at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre. Now as it approaches its final week of performances we caught up with Director Jonathan O’Boyle to hear a little more about his experience directing his third production at the award-winning Ancoats theatre.

Opening Night: How familiar with Aspects of Love were you before joining this production? Is it a show you’ve always wanted to work on?

Jonathan O’Boyle: I’ve always loved the score of Aspects, but I’ve never seen it on stage. I grew up listening to mix tapes of musicals, several being Andrew Lloyd Webber compilations. So invariably Love Changes Everything was on there. I grew up seeing his work and when I trained as an actor, I wanted desperately to be in one of his shows. Now, as a director, it’s an honour to be working on one of his shows. Aspects has a fantastic story and a brilliant score. To me, it’s his most narrative, actor driven show and this really appealed to me. We treated it like a play, where the characters just happened to be singing rather than speaking.

ON: How do you approach directing a new and reimagined production of a classic show like Aspects of Love?

Jonathan: I wanted it to be intimate. Now, I know everyone always says ‘intimate and stripped back’ but that’s really what I wanted and how I saw the show. The audience at the Hope Mill is so close to the action they can touch the actors. This influenced the design. I wanted the audience to be on stage with actors. Many of the locations in Aspects happen to be in cafes, so we decided to have a couple of the front rows of seats at cafe tables as if they were part of the action.

We then approached the rehearsals as if we were working on a play. We looked at character, character backstories, timelines and what the characters wanted and how they went about achieving this. This really deepened the actors connection to the material.

ON: Did the intimate space the production would be presented in play a major part in your directing decisions?

Jonathan: Absolutely. You have to respond to the space you’re directing in, and the Hope Mill is a very specific space with its own unique challenges. I think about the space at every stage of the process, from the casting to the design to the lighting rig to the sound design. Every choice I make has to be for the theatre.

ON: The reviews have been absolutely phenomenal, people are really responding to the show, this must be very gratifying to the cast and creative team?

Jonathan: It’s been incredible yes. We’re all thrilled with how it’s gone down. I’m so proud of the brilliant cast and creative team. We had a joyous rehearsal process (one of my favourite so far) and we said – if no one gets it, at least we had a great time rehearsing it! Thankfully, the audiences are responding to it in the way I’d hoped. I’m in constant awe of the cast and their talent.

We never presume it’s going to be good. In fact, I never know what the audiences are going to make of it or how it’s going to be received until we get an audience in the room. I trust my instinct and hope it resonates with people.

ON: This is your third production at Hope Mill Theatre – what makes this space/team so appealing to direct in?

Jonathan: I love the theatre and the team there. They’re all so welcoming and it’s always a pleasure being back. I’m from Derbyshire myself but my parents grew up in Salford and Rochdale, so I’ve been going to Manchester all my life. I love the vibe and the people there, so Manchester feels like my second home.

ON: Your previous shows at Hope Mill – Hair and Pippin – have both transferred to London. How much of a challenge was restaging them for London? Do you have a favourite of the three?

Jonathan: It is challenging re-staging for a different venue, primarily because the space is never the same and there are often idiosyncrasies that pop up here and there. What’s so brilliant though, is revisiting the material with the company and developing the show even further. You’re able to improve on things from the first time and the actors often find a deeper connection with the show and their characters.

They’re all so different! They had different challenges and were very different in tone. It’s hard to pick between them because I loved all three companies.

ON: What’s next for you?

Jonathan: I’m currently directing the UK Tour of Rain Man starring Mathew Horne and Ed Speleers. Then later in the year I’ll be directing the UK premiere of Ken Urban’s A Guide for the Homesick at Trafalgar Studios and Peter Pan at The Park this Christmas.

Catch Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre until 9th August tickets available here.

Aspects of Love

Kelly Price (Rose) & Felix Mosse (Alex) in Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre. Credit Anthony Robling

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Stripped back, elegant and intensely intimate Aspects of Love, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s romantic classic is given its North West professional premiere by award-winning pairing Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Productions and what a sensational premiere it is.

Based on the 1995 novella by David Garnett, Aspects of Love is a multi-layered and deeply fascinating exploration into the complexities of love. The story moves from one lustful entanglement to the next as intertwining relationships based around multiple characters within 3 generations of one family develop and change over a 17 year time scale. Love, lust, loss and obsession all feature in this spellbinding sung-through musical, the third of Hope Mill’s five in-house productions for 2018.

Kelly Price (Rose) & Felix Mosse (Alex) in Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre 2. Credit Anthony Robling

17-year-old Alex is hopelessly smitten with glamorous actress Rose, Rose loves the thrill of attraction, desperately craving sexual freedom and adoration yet is terrified at the thought of loneliness . Despite a passionate affair Rose turns to Alex’s Uncle George for commitment who in turn introduces her to his long-standing lover, free-spirited Italian Sculptor Giulietta. Further complexities arise when years later Alex is reconciled with lover Rose whose 15-year-old daughter Jenny enthusiastically pursues him, much to the horror of protective father George.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle’s stripped back approach to this iconic musical ensures the storytelling and emotion of piece lie firmly at its heart. Conversations flow as witty song exchanges while melodic vocals develop into passionate protests. The intimate staging of this piece takes the intensity of each relationship to another level as the audience is carried along immersed in the fizzing action.

Kelly Price is sensational as Rose Vibert, passionate and demanding yet heart-achingly vulnerable, she gives an utterly compelling and deeply moving performance. Her delivery of Anything But Lonely is raw and heart-felt.

Felix Mosse is perfectly cast as Alex, displaying an incredible vocal rage, he is sensitive and entirely believable, guarded and intense yet simmering with passion and explosive rage. He judges the character perfectly and ensures the audience now have a new actor to associate with perhaps one of the most well-known songs in any musical, Love Changes Everything.

Jerome Pradon (George) & Kimberley Blake (Giulietta) in Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre. Credit Anthony Robling

Jerome Pradon’s character acting as the worldly George authenticates his journey from decadent philanderer to aging father, afraid of what love may do to his precious daughter. His delivery of The First Man You Remember sung to daughter Jenny (the sweet and endearing Eleanor Walsh) captures the tenderness of the piece perfectly.

Kimberley Blake’s vivacious and alluring Giulietta is a joy to watch, her stunning vocals accompanied by slickly delivered choreography during post-funeral Hand Me The Wine and The Dice a real highlight of the show, pacy, passionate and full of sass.

Designer Jason Denvir has transformed the intimate setting with an expanse of shutter doors which are used to great effect as we glide through multiple cities bathed in Aaron J Dootson’s atmospheric shafts of light.

Kelly Price (Rose) in Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre. Credit Anthony Robling

The stripped back orchestration of 2 pianos and percussion ensures Lloyd Webber’s soaring score is delivered beautifully; it’s melodic, dreamy and devastatingly dramatic.

Every aspect of this show has been crafted beautifully, scene changes are delicately choreographed while each ensemble member captivates and leaves an impact. The sheer quality of this production combined with the uniquely intimate setting of Hope Mill Theatre breathes new life into Lloyd Webber’s work. Slick, stylish and oozing with passion, Aspects of Love is another sure-fire hit for the mighty Hope Mill Theatre/Aria Productions pairing. An absolute must-see!

ON at Hope Mill Theatre until

Aspects of Love | Cast and Creatives announced

Aspects

An exciting cast and creative team has been announced for Hope Mill Theatre and Aria productions hotly-anticipated, intimate revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s romantic classic Aspects of Love, which runs as the award-winning Ancoats theatre from Thursday 5th July until Thursday 9th August.

The talented company of 10 includes both Olivier Award nominees and West End regulars as well as young talent making their professional debuts will be directed by Jonathan O’Boyle whose recent credits include Pippin (Hope Mill Theatre/ Southwark Playhouse, London), Hair (Hope Mill Theatre/The Vaults, London) and Resident Director of An American in Paris (Dominion Theatre, London).

Making up the cast is Kimberly Blake (Half a Sixpence, Barnum) who plays Giulietta, Jason Kajdi (Our House, Assassins), in the role of Hugo, Felix Mosse (The Rocky Horror Show) as Alex, Julia J Nagle (An American in Paris) as Elizabeth/ensemble, Minal Patel (The Secret Garden, Bend it Like Beckham) as Marcel, Jerome Pradon (Jesus Christ Superstar, Pacific Overtures – Olivier Award Nominee 2003) as George and Kelly Price (That Day We Sang, A Little Night Music – Olivier Award Nominee 2010) in the role of Rose. Making their professional debuts in the production are Rosie Cava-Beale, ensemble, Jack Churms, as Jerome/ensemble and Eleanor Walsh as Jenny/ensemble.

Following Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre is The Return of the Soldier that runs from Thursday 6 to Saturday 29 September and A Christmas Story The Musical that runs from Friday 26 October to Saturday 1 December.

Tickets available here.

 

Spring Awakening

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Since the announcement in November that award-winning creative pairing Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Entertainment would be staging a revival of acclaimed Broadway hit Spring Awakening, interest was pricked and momentum has quickly gathered. The additional news that both DEM Productions and director Luke Sheppard (In The Heights, Working and Jersey Boys) were also on board has cemented Spring Awakening as Hope Mill Theatre’s most highly anticipated show to date.

Both exhilarating and touchingly poetic, Spring Awakening is an in your face, provocative and exquisitely beautiful production. With music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Steven Sater the story follows a group of teenagers in 19th Century Germany on a voyage of sexual discovery in a world where communication and education from the adults who should be guiding them is none existent. In fact almost all adults in the story play a significant part in damaging the teenagers in this thrilling, adrenaline-charged and deeply moving piece.

Whilst the story may be set in 19th-century Germany, award-winning director Luke Sheppard’s characters speak and sing in 21st-century Mancunian accents, which makes the angst and frustration all the more real adding a cheeky humour to the sharp script.

As gut-wrenching tragedies unfold the ingenious way in which they’re delivered offers delicious moments of escapism and fantasy before we’re snapped back into the grim reality of this firmly censored and deeply troubled world.

Darragh Cowley making his professional debut is exceptional as the head-strong, charismatic rebel Melchior. He commands attention every minute he is on stage, seizing each moment with enthusiasm, commitment and confidence. Enigmatic and immensely likeable, the soon to be Guildford School of Acting graduate secures himself undoubtedly as one to watch.

Nikita Johal makes for the most sublime Wendla, she evokes both strength and honest vulnerability while her innocent queries on the origins of babies acts as the catalyst for the key events within the production. With stunning pin-sharp vocals and a brave innocence she carries you along on her journey of self-discovery with fluidity and conviction.

Jabez Sykes gives the most heartbreaking performance as the intense and emotionally pressured Moritz, stuck in the most helpless of places his desperate acceptance during Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind is perfectly judged and achingly brilliant.

The architecture of Hope Mill theatre offers the perfect backdrop for Gabriella Slade’s stunning set, the effect when paired with Nic Farman’s intensely atmospheric lighting design is quite simply spectacular, culminating in an immersive and unforgettable theatrical experience.

Tom Jackson Greaves’ choreography is slick and innovative performed to precise perfection by the sensational ensemble cast whose electric delivery of Totally Fucked fizzes with defiant joy, screaming to be watched again and again. There is so much talent in this one cast, every performance packed with power and passion.

Sharp-edged, visually stunning and intensely beautiful Spring Awakening is a one of a kind musical that should be seen all the year through.

Unashamedly bold and dynamically brilliant, with phenomenal storytelling & an unforgettable score Spring Awakening is another sure fire hit which screams London transfer.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until 3rd May tickets available here.

Interview | Darragh Cowley & Jabez Sykes | Spring Awakening

DarraghCowleyandCompany_preview

Ground-breaking pop-rock Broadway musical Spring Awakeningwith it’s emotive and important themes of sexuality, religion, gender and self-discovery opens in Manchester’s Award winning Hope Mill theatre this week. The UK revival of Duncan Sheik and Steven Slater’s musical set in the late nineteenth-century has themes which resonate heavily today as we follow a group of young teenagers on a journey of self-discovery in a environment of censorship and silence.

The production which opens for previews on Thursday 29th March is the second of five in-house musicals this year from the enormously successful collaboration between Hope Mill Theatre’s founders Joseph Houston and William Whelton and co-artistic director and resident producer Katy Lipson. Directed by Luke Sheppard the defining musical of the last decade has created a buzz on social media since the moment it was first announced.

We spoke to Manchester cast members Darragh Cowley who plays Melchior and Jabez Sykes who takes on the role of Moritz to find out a little more about the production and hear how it feels to be performing something so hotly anticipated on home soil.

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Opening Night: For those unfamiliar with the show can you give us a brief outline and tell us a little about your characters?

Darragh Cowley: I play Melchoir, who is a very forward thinking young teenager, very clever, very intelligent. Spring Awakening is a real pop, rock, rah rah against the system really, it’s the youth trying to defy the system in which they have been brought up and to break the traditions that they don’t really think are right. It covers themes of teen pregnancy, child abuse, mental health and youung persons suicide but then the overall theme towards the end is about growth and rebuild and how people can get back from that sort of thing, it’s a beautiful, beautiful piece it’s gorgeous.

Jabez Sykes: I play Mortiz, there’s a lot going on for Moritz at this time, he’s dealing with a lot of pressure, his mental health maybe isn’t the best that it could be, which has been quite a daunting task really to take on, it’s such a sensitive subject and such a hot subject right now but I really think we’ve done it justice, working with the cast, our director Luke Sheppard, choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves and musical director Gareth Bretherton it’s been a real collaborative experience and I think we’ve really got there with tackling the important issues in the piece.

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How as a cast do you work on developing trust and chemistry?

JS: From day one we were all so comfortable with each other, it was almost like we knew each other from another life.

DC: There was such a nice feeling in the room, it was immediately really comfortable.

JS: It really was lovely, I think no one is scared of getting anything wrong, everyone is so supportive of each other, which makes for a really great working environment.

DC: Luke Sheppard our director has made it very much a collaborative process so before we do any scene we’ll sit and talk through it so we can all put our ideas in, even a few weeks into the rehearsal process we might say, actually Luke can I try this idea, can I still play with it? And he just tells us to go for it and see what it’s like, it might be terrible idea and he’ll say ‘Darragh what were you thinking?’ But if not he is more than welcome to accommodate and include our ideas.

JS: In terms of trust a lot of the subjects are very delicate and everyone is fighting their own personal battles so something might affect somebody in a way that doesn’t affect somebody else, but one of the things we’ve all learned is that you have to be patient with everybody, you have to have respect for each other and I think with that comes a natural trust.

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There is a real online buzz about the show, is that felt by the cast and does it add any pressure?

JS: I think there’s always that little bit of your head that’s saying oh my God so many people are really excited about this and I think because it’s such a special and quite a cult show for some people but I feel confident that what we have produced is a really, really beautiful piece and we’re excited now and ready for audiences to see it.

DC: The buzz online about the show has really put some wind behind our sails, I’ve never been in something of this scale, we’ve been rehearsing now for six weeks or so and I feel ready to stat beginning to share it, I’m excited, there’s a pressure but there’s an excitement too, I just feel right now let’s go, let’s do it!

JS: We really feel that everyone who has been tweeting about the show is really positive and really behind us and are coming to support us because they love the show and they want it to be as brilliant as we know it is.

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Are you looking forward to performing at Hope Mill Theatre?

DC: It’s a dream, I started my theatre career doing amateur dramatics at the plaza in Stockport, went through Manchester Musical Youth then went to Guilford to train for 3 years, finished two weeks ago and it’s literally a dream to come back to the city where it all started, where I grew up, went to school, it’s just gorgeous to be able to come back and say ‘Hi I’m an actor now, look I did it!’ It really is an absolute dream to be back in the city where I’m from.

JS: I’m so excited, I just can’t wait, it feels really special, I feel like things have gone full circle for me, I went to watch Parade at Hope Mill which was their first in-house musical, and I knew the moment it finished I wanted to work at Hope Mill and now here I am, I’m so grateful and so excited for this opportunity and I really cannot wait to get started.

Spring Awakening begins previews at Hope Mill Theatre on Thursday 29th March and runs until Thursday 3rd May tickets available here.