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

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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.

The Toyboy Diaries

The ToyBoy Diaries at Hope Mill Theatre. Credit Anthony Robling 2

Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

As part of their pledge to champion new musical theatre, the award-winning pairing of Aria Entertainment and Hope Mill Theatre deliver their first offering of 2018 in the form of The Toyboy Diaries, a new British Musical based on the best-selling memoirs of Wendy Salisbury.

Directed by Tania Azevedo with music & lyrics by Andy Collyer, The Toyboy Diaries is an sharp, fresh & outrageously funny musical. Twice-divorced Lily (Johanne Murdock) has reached a point in life where she yearns for adventure, her children have flown the nest, she’s been jilted by a younger lover and at forty something she’s entirely done with the mundane. So with the hilarious encouragement of friend and neighbour Penny (Nicola Blackman) Lily sets about placing a personal ad & is soon reaping the rewards and in some cases dodging the bullets of her broadsheet biog.

The ToyBoy Diaries at Hope MIll. Credit Anthony Robling 1

Spanning the chapters of her life over approximately 15 years between her early 40s and 50s we live out an animated & hugely entertaining series of sexual encounters as seen through Lily’s eyes, some shockingly funny, some seriously sexy and some downright dirty but all with one thing in common, our sassy heroine is loving and living life to the full.

While there are many tongue in cheek moments, the writing ensures while we laugh with Lily we also care deeply for her, she is a woman of a certain age who proves there’s no shame in seeking out new experiences and taking life by the balls (quite literally). Johanne Murdock is an absolute joy as Lily, strong, self-assured and utterly fearless she shines in the role and captivates entirely. Present on stage for the entirety of the production her energy and enthusiasm is infectious.

Sidekick to Lily is loyal friend and neighbour Penny played brilliantly by Nicola Blackman. Always on hand to offer advice, even if it’s not wanted, and quick with the witty one-liners, Penny goes on her own journey of self and indeed sex discovery.

Matt Beveridge, Sharif Afifi and Alistair Higgins take on the roles of the multiple and varied toyboys, all are exceptional, hugely versatile with great characterisation and impressive comedic performances they each give their all in this production, morphing into various lovers with ease and believability. Incredibly hardworking in addition to playing various lovers they pop up mid scene to cha cha and harmonise around Lily and Penny almost like a glorious Toyboy Greek chorus adding a little flamboyance to each scene.

The ToyBoy Diaries at Hope Mill Theatre 2. Credit Anthony Robling 3

Composer Andy Collyer has gifted the production with an immensely expressive and poetic score which has a beautiful Sondheim feel about it. The cast deliver the lyrics with heart and precision, accompanied by musical director Andrew Griffiths talented band. Designer Jason Denvir has transformed the intimate space at Hope Mill with his innovative and multi-functional set, allowing characters to move from scene to scene with ease.

The Toyboy Diaries is not Shakespere, nor is it trying to be, it’s a great fun night out and unquestionably wonderful to see a woman of a certain age showed in such a self-assured and refreshing way. I felt myself grinning from ear to ear the whole way through. The show paints women in a wonderfully strong and empowering light. Lily knows what she wants and is not afraid to go and grab it, as the character says herself her legs might be in the air but her feet are firmly on the ground. It feels liberating to see such a strong female lead unashamedly celebrating who she is and what she stands for. A perfect tonic to beat the January blues.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 10th February its sexy, sassy & will undoubtedly convince you to seize the day! Tickets available here.

First look – The Toy Boy Diaries

TB Matt Beveridge and Johanne Murdock in rehearsals for The ToyBoy Diaries 2 credit Claire Bilyard

Highly anticipated new British musical comedy, The Toyboy Diaries which runs from Thursday 18th January to Saturday 10th February at Hope Mill Theatre, offers a first look at the production today with these newly released images from the rehearsal rooms.

Charting the hilarious and sometimes heart-breaking ups and downs of mid-life dating, The Toyboy Diaries is the first of 2018’s five in-house musicals from the hugely successful collaboration between Joseph Houston and William Whelton, co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre and producer Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment.

TB Sharif Afifi and Johanne Murdock in rehearsals for The ToyBoy Diaries credit Claire Bilyard

The production, which is adapted from the best-selling memoirs by Wendy Salisbury follows twice-divorced Lily as she inadvertently finds herself under a much younger man, which then opens the door to a whole new world of inappropriate relationships.

The lead role of Lily will be played by Johanne Murdock who was recently seen as Brutus in Julius Caesar and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth (Guildford Shakespeare Company). The production also features Olivier Award-nominee Nicola Blackman (Destiny Rides Again, Babe the Sheep Pig, Gilgamesh and Just to Get Married) as Lily’s best friend Penny.

TB Matt Beveridge and Johanne Murdock in rehearsals for The ToyBoy Diaries 1 credit Claire Bilyard

Matt Beveridge (The Frontier Trilogy, Titanic – Toronto and House of Therapy – Off Broadway). Sharif Afifi (Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, Wonderland – UK Tour) will play ToyBoy 2, while Alistair Higgins (Dreamboats and Petticoats – UK Tour, Sweeney Todd – Brighton, Charlotte’s Web) plays ToyBoy 3.

TB Johanne Murdock in rehearsals for The ToyBoy Diaries credit Claire Bilyard

The Toyboy Diaries will be directed by Tania Azevedo, with a book by Simon Warne, music and lyrics by Andy Collyer.

Tickets are available here.

 

 

Little Women

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Louisa May Alcott’s much loved classic about the four March sisters growing up in Civil War-era New England has been a literary favourite for almost 150 years now. Seen previously on the big screen, radio plays, TV series and straight theatre plays the March sisters undoubtedly have a place in the hearts of many, this is the first time however the Broadway musical has made its way to European shores as the incredibly successful pairing of Hope Mill Theatreand Aria Entertainment continue their vision to deliver accessible musical theatre in Manchester.

The production offers a condensed take on the heart-warming story of trailblazer Jo and her three sisters, Meg, Beth and Amy March, with Jo at the spirited centre of the piece. With their father off at war and their mothers encouragement to be the best versions of themselves they can be, the sisters set out on their path to becoming ‘little women’.

Amie Giselle-Ward is outstanding as Jo, passionate, strong and always true to herself, Giselle-Ward embodies perfectly the brash and bold Jo Marsh with a raw energy that utterly captivates, fiercely loyal and defiantly proud her characterisation is honest and raw as she delivers an incredibly moving and deeply emotional performance. She fizzes and boils over with a determination to live the life she chooses not one society choses for her, a woman seemingly ahead of her time when the book was first published in 1868 and an absolute heroine to women today.

The ten strong cast are incredibly hard working and beautifully demonstrate the importance and strength of family, love and hope regardless of the situation or difficulties they face. Each of the sisters are perfectly cast, Jemima Watling is superb as Meg, sweet and sensible, with a heart full of love. Katie Marie-Carter makes for a fabulous Amy, spoiled and selfish she is wonderfully dramatic. Cathy Read plays Beth with sweet affection, gentle and kind with a real sincerity she is the calm to Jo’s perfect storm.

Bronagh Lagan’s direction ensures the production remains entirely committed to delivering Louisa May Alcott’s message of love, family and female empowerment with wonderful storytelling throughout.

Ben M Rogers light design gently warms the production, allowing Nik Corrall’s simplistic yet effective set to shine. The intimate setting of Hope Mill Theatre is perfect for this engaging production, giving audiences the most wonderful connection with the characters as Jason Howard’s music and Mindi Dickstein’s lyrics are brought to life by Rickey Long’s superb musical direction.

Little Women is a celebration, joyful, spirited and full of heart. The perfect festive treat for all ages, delivering an important and current message that into each life some rain must fall but never let that diminish the fire within you.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 9th December tickets available here

Hope Mill Theatre announces 2018 season!

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Award-winning Hope Mill Theatre and resident producer Aria Entertainment today announce their much anticipated 2018 season, with three bold, exciting and ambitious in-house productions.

The converted mill in Ancoats currently hosting the European premiere of Little Women enjoyed a landmark 2017 season which saw 5* critically acclaimed productions and London transfers for Yank! and Hair with Pippin following in early 2018 will begin the season with the world premiere of new British musical The ToyBoy Diaries (on sale today).

This new musical comedy which runs from 18 January to 10 February 2018 charts the hilarious and sometimes heart-breaking sagas of mid-life dating. When twice-divorced Lily inadvertently finds herself under a much younger man, it opens the door to a wild new world of inappropriate relationships. From Tom the Tender to Sam the Submissive, via Paul the Policeman, Hat Trick Patrick and Matt the Monstrous (with Old Willy and Philandering Phil mixed in along the way) Lily finally finds Ben the Bountiful.

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Spring Awakening will run from 19 March to 3 May 2018. A production hailed as “one of the great musicals of the last decade” (New York Times) and the winner of eight Tony and four Olivier Awards, Spring Awakening follows a group of teenagers in late-19th-century Germany navigating the struggles and virtues of blossoming youth, with an electrifying fusion of morality, sexuality and a Grammy award-winning rock score. This landmark musical will be presented in an intimate and bold new production helmed by director Luke Sheppard (In The Heights, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole).

Third show to be announced is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s romantic classic Aspects of Love which will run from 5 July to 4 August 2018. Featuring the iconic “Love Changes Everything” Aspects of Love tells the story of passion, love and loss across three generations of a family and their artistic companions, against a background of 1940’s France and Italy.

The hugely successful partnership between Joseph Houston and William Whelton, the co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre and producer Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment is further testament to their commitment to make Hope Mill Theatre the home of new musicals and revivals in the north and beyond with two more yet-to-be announced productions in Autumn/Winter.

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William Whelton and Joseph Houston, co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre said: “We wanted to make sure our third season was even more ambitious and we feel we have managed to achieve that with the world premiere of the new British musical The ToyBoy Diaries, an exciting revival of Spring Awakening with an Olivier Award-winning creative team and our first staging of an Andrew Lloyd Webber classic – Aspects of love. Once again we have proved the power of regional theatre and continue to spearhead Hope Mill Theatre as a leading player in new musical staging, musical premieres and exciting revivals.”

Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment, who has just seen her production of The Addams Family transfer to Singapore stated “I have enjoyed working with the theatre on taking our shows to new commercial levels in London and am extremely delighted to announce the first three shows of our 2018 season, it is an honour to share this diverse selection of work with you. We hope to continue to champion the genre and bring in audiences from far and wide.”

Further information can be found here

@Hopemilltheatr1

@ToyBoyDiaries

 

Pippin

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First premiered on Broadway an incredible 45 years ago, Katy Lipson, Guy James and Hope Mill Theatre’s revival of Tony award winning Pippin shows no signs of age and is as magical and enchanting as we hoped it would be.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson, Pippin tells the tale of a young man in search of something to believe in, a path to follow, ultimately, he is in search of himself. Loosely based on ‘Pepin’ the son of 8th Century King Charlemange, Pippin sets about trying out life and all it has to offer via different careers and different directions in order to find his corner of the sky. Maeve Black’s stunning Victorian Vaudeville setting paired with stunning lighting design from Aaron J. Dootson allows the players to truly tell this tale in the most theatrical and immersive of ways, making Pippin a remarkably bold and striking production.

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Pippin’s search and the different paths it leads him down illustrates clearly that with all its craziness and drama the world is indeed a stage, as the players perform and indulge Pippin his desires, we realise everything we see is an act. Leading player Genevieve Nicole is a wholly commanding presence, she steers and controls her fellow players who perform beautifully on her instruction, she shines in the role and bursts with sass and dangerous charisma as she steers Pippin through his search for fulfilment.

Jonathan Carlton is brilliantly cast as Pippin, he perfectly portrays the young Prince’s naivety and frustrations, the development in his character is wonderful to see as each experience leaves its mark and changes his outlook on life. Carlton’s delivery of Corner Of The Sky is especially beautiful, full of emotion and wonderfully displays the hopelesness he feels with his inability to fit in and understand his path in life.

The whole ensemble are superb, hardworking and utterly captivating. Director Jonathan O’Boyle has created a tight and incredibly slick team who are entirely in sync with each other. William Whelton’s choreography is sharp and precise and really adds to the beauty of this special piece while musical director Zach Flis delivers the sublime score to perfection.

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High praise must also go to Mari Barclay who plays both Fastrada and Berthe, her characterisation is exceptional, with brilliant comic timing and larger than life delivery she excels in both roles and also as a member of the superb ensemble.

The quality and delivery of Pippin is top class, the pairing of Katy Lipson and Hope Mill Theatre is a true gift to Manchester. Engaging, captivating and entirely magical, Pippin convincingly worked its magic and enchanted completely. A real gem of a show delivered with real style and sass.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until 23rd September tickets£20, concessions £18 available via the following link http://www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk/whats-on/

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