The Crucible

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

First performed back in 1953, the themes raised in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible continue to speak true today, illustrated to gripping and dramatic effect in this bold and atmospheric production from director Geraldine Alexander.

When Arthur Miller wrote the play back in the 1950’s he used the Salem witch trials as a metaphor for the rife anti-communism which was gripping the United States at the time. Liberal thinking was seen as a challenge to American society and authorities acted quickly to stamp it out, something we see ever-present in the political climate of today.

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The Crucible transports us to 1692, where a small farming town has been gripped by a frenzied paranoia as witchcraft rumours swiftly circulate and fear takes hold. As accusations rise innocent women and the men who defend them are led to the gallows, their only hope of surviving, confessing the unthinkable. Catastrophic events unfold as a frenzied and fearful hysteria grips the town.

Jess Curtis’ atmospheric set & costume design is clear and uncluttered, inventive as well as interesting, allowing the themes to speak loudly as the madness unfolds. The trust staging is used to great effect, as an audience you feel at the centre of the action, the intensity and claustrophobic nature of the piece is striking and in your face, from the hysterical girls to the heartbreak of the Proctors, we feel every ounce of emotion. Chris Davey’s lighting design is exceptional, casting shafts of light on proceedings, highlighting the oppression of the innocents accompanied perfectly by Simon Slater’s chilling sound design.

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The cast deliver Miller’s words with Northern voices giving an authentic and relatable feel. The ensemble are impressively strong, coming together in the courtroom scene to dramatic effect. Freddy Elletson makes for an impressive Reverend Hale, attempting to bring calmness to the madness, devout and fair he becomes increasingly disturbed by the injustice and absurdity he it witness to.

Matthew Flynn and Mary Doherty as John and Elizabeth Proctor add poignant emotion to the piece. Their arrests proving this witch hunt has gone way past the point of no return. Leigh Quinn shines as mary Warren, troubled, tormented and ripe for dangerous manipulation from Eleanor Sutton’s determined and defiant Abigail Williams.

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Director Geraldine Alexander’s production succeeds entirely in delivering a powerful warning of how the anxiety and fear of the masses can be taken advantage of in the pursuit of personal power to the most devastating effect. The powers that be using exclusion, lies, fear and isolation to maintain the status quo of the community, sound familiar?

Gripping, emotive theatre, impressively staged and powerfully delivered. On at the StoryHouse until Saturday 7th July, tickets available here.

The Play That Goes Wrong

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

We’ve all had one of those days where nothing seems to go right for you: be it losing your car keys or locking yourself out of the house, or even that accidental fall when walking down a busy a street. You may want to go back to bed but soldier on you must. Well imagine your worst day multiply it by 100 add 50 and you’re not even close to the nightmare faced by the cast of The Play That Goes Wrong Now in its sixth year this Tony award winner sees the plucky but flawed local am-dram group ‘The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’ stage a classic ‘Cluedo’ style murder mystery. The production of Murder at Haversham Manor doesn’t get off to a great start with a missing dog, Duran Duran CD, and a faulty shelf hampering proceedings, and all this before the play even gets started!

Chris Bean (Jake Curran) the stressed director/head of the drama society, and lead role of inspector Carter welcome us to shows and informs us of some of the societies less successful endeavours, it provides the perfect set up for what promises to be a highly entertaining evening. Along the way we are introduced to the various society players which include Max Bennett, who plays Cecil Haversham, (Bobby Hirston) a first time performer milking his role for all it’s worth, Sandra Wilkinson as Florence Colleymoore (Elena Valentine) somewhat over egging her part in a desperate bid to steal the show, and Dennis Tyde as Perkins (Benjamin McMahon) clearly nervous and not very good at learning his lines. In addition they are supported by the technical crew of Trevor (Gabriel Paul) and Annie (Catherine Dryden) who try to fight the flames of disaster (quite literally) and with bigger roles then either would have envisaged. As the action continues we see the play go from one hilarious catastrophe to another, taking a mental and physical toll on all the cast and crew, just thankful it’s over and that they survived.

This is comedic theatre at it’s finest; director Mark Bell has crafted a night of pure unadulterated fun that I could watch over and over again. The cast work their socks off, with an endless barrage of slapstick and physical comedy very much in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy, or Buster Keaton, all of the cast do exceptionally well but the stand out performance goes to Kazeem Tosin Amore, as Robert and Thomas Colleymoore, whose performance at one point had audience members howling with laughter with a little a hint of fear for the actors safety. In addition Steven Rostance as Jonathan and Charles Haversham who plays the least convincing dead body you are likely to see.

The writing of Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields is bang on point firmly taking a swipe at the pompous nature of the theatre, there are moments when the action is so cringe worthy that you just want the play to stop so the cast can be put out of the misery, which is of course exactly the point of it all.

My only complaint (and this is being picky) is that show’s finale is a little over chaotic and needs to be reined in slightly as there genuinely is so much going that you become lost in the chaos so that the grand finale loses a little something, it may be hard to believe but less certainly could be more in this case.

Overall this fantastically fun night at the theatre that will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear with aching sides to boot. Be warned though if you are a vegan or vegetarian you may see more HAM then you could ever have thought possible!

They Play That Goes Wrong is on at the StoryHouse Chester till February 3rd tickets available here.

Interview | Brendan Cole

Brendan Cole’s spectacular production, All Night Long, returns to the stage this week after a hugely successful and critically acclaimed run in 2017. Manchester audiences can catch the Strictly favourite at the Bridgewater Hall on Friday 19th January as part of an extensive UK and Ireland tour. Created by Brendan himself the show takes audiences on a journey through all genres of dance and music including an impressive 13 –piece band and singers as well as a sensational cast of talented championship dancers. We caught up with Brendan ahead of the show’s arrival in Manchester to hear a little more about this critically acclaimed show.

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ON: What can audiences expect from the show?

BC: I really like to think we offer audiences a bit of everything, obviously it’s a Strictly type show but it’s very much got my name on it, it’s not put on by a production company, it’s my creativity that’s put the show together. It has everything that you’d want from Strictly and more, we have a live band, 13 incredible musicians on stage, they really are phenomenal, they cover Michael Bublé, Tom Jones, that kind of calibre of musician, they really are the best, which adds an extra element to the show, it could even be a musical show on its own without the dancing, but of course audiences have come to see that dancing and that is what they’re gonna get.

ON: In terms of dance, what can audiences expect to see a mixture of Latin and Ballroom?

BC: Everything you know from Strictly we do on a stage, with a bit extra, whether it be a waltz, a cha cha, an Argentine tango, a foxtrot, a jive, a samba, we cover every element of dance and we try to cover all genres of music too, from old to new because the Strictly audience is very diverse, they really are all ages and it’s very important to me that we have a complete show, My name is on the door so I want us to be delivering something that people love then hopefully we can offer a phenomenal nights entertainment.

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ON: How does performing on stage differ to appearing on Strictly?

BC: With the magic of television they can change camera angles, there are floor effects, ceiling effects so that magic that’s created in the studio is not just about the dance but on a stage show you are there for all to see, so with that the audience truly gets to see everything, not just a zoomed in section, but every step the dancers take, the emotion, the beauty of the numbers, the magic of the dance takes centre stage. For example the waltz that we do, normally a waltz is the story of a romance, a love story where a couple meet, then fall in love and live happily ever after, the waltz that we do we use a Michael Bublé song called ‘At this moment’ and it’s the story of an affair, so it’s very different but really powerful theatre, I love it as you see the audience transform as the story of our waltz unfolds, waltz is my favourite dance anyway so to be able to perform that dance and get a really genuine reaction from the audience is brilliant. Then one number later we do a really passionate Argentine Tango which is just wow and really full on then we might next be doing something really soft, romantic and beautiful, it’s chopping and changing to make sure audiences don’t feel like they’re seeing the same thing over and over again, every number is different, the cast are phenomenal, all the elements, the music, the lighting, the staging, the costumes, the talent, everything comes together in a two hour spectacular of what people love seeing in their living rooms but they get to see it live on stage.

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ON: How do audiences differ from city to city?

BC: It’s really interesting and varies massively, if an audience is quiet it can be quite soul destroying, I’ve performed for audiences who while they appreciate what you do just sit quietly and take it in, so you can start questioning what you’re doing. I’d definitely say the further North you go the bigger the reaction, Southern audiences tend to be more reserved, which of course is absolutely fine but it can be tough to gage how much they are enjoying the show, you can think you’re dying a death on stage then after the show there can be 50,60, 80 people outside stage door telling you how phenomenal they thought the show was, it’s a really funny thing then other times you can go out on stage and before you’ve taken a step or played a note and the audience go crazy, that’s what we do this for, it’s all for the audience, we want people to walk away very, very happy having had a really great night, that’s the main thing.

ON: Are there additional pressures to performing live?

BC: When the curtain goes up you have got to be ready to perform, whether you’ve been locked out of the building, haven’t done your hair, it doesn’t matter you have to be ready. Once we had terrible storms and couldn’t travel across the Dartford bridge in London, so myself, lots of the dancers and musicians couldn’t get to the venue, my sat nav took me on a horrendous route and I finally got to the show 8 minutes before the start of the matinee, but I walked on that stage and it’s like bang, you hit the ground running, the audience doesn’t need to know the problems you might have had, it’s live and anything can happen at any time, you have to deliver and I think that’s what makes it exciting.

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ON: We’ve heard you play the guitar on stage, is this talent you’ve always had or a new skill?

BC: It’s a new thing, our musicians are world class, they really are something special, just awe inspiring, we’ve talked over the years about how I wished I’d gone to music school and learnt more about music, I’ve always wanted to be able to pick up a guitar and just be able to play, so they suggested for this new tour they put together a musical number where I play the guitar so I thought brilliant, challenge accepted, I’m not planning on taking over from any musical legends but it’s one of those things where I’ve accepted the challenge and I’m just enjoying it, it’s a lovely Ed Sheeran song. To sit and play amidst that talent while my dancers come out and perform a contemporary rumba is really special and just something I really love doing. Plus for the audience they’re used to watching celebrities out of their comfort zone on Strictly, this was a chance for them to see me slightly more vulnerable and see something different from me, a different element to the show which is so important to me, that the show changes every few minutes, which hopefully keeps the audiences excited.

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ON: We’ve spoken to your former colleague Joanne Clifton who is currently touring with Flashdance is this something you’d be interested in doing in the future?

Yes eventually when the dancing shoes are hung up because it’s quite hard to fit in anything like that when you’re involved with Strictly plus I have my own production now. I have been offered a big role in the West End previously about 4 years ago but I couldn’t accept as it was a touring show before it went to the West End so my commitments wouldn’t allow for that as well, I was gutted to have to turn it down as it would have been a great opportunity for someone like me who isn’t necessarily an actor but who can act, and I can sing so it was one of those things that I had to say no thank you but it’s definitely something I’d look forward to in the future.

ON: Finally and we’re sure you get asked this a lot, who would be your dream Strictly partner?

BC: Ooh I’ve had them haven’t I? The honest answer is I’ve had some great partners over the years, I’ve been very lucky but there’s one person who I’d love to dance with, not necessarily on Strictly as I think that would be tricky to get her to commit, Her Majesty the Queen, I’d absolutely love to give her a Waltz lesson, just to dance a beautiful Waltz with her, I’m sure she’s been shown before but that would be an absolute dream for me, that’s definitely on my bucket list.

Further information, tour dates and tickets can be found here. 

Things I know to be True

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Opening Night’s verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Following on from a hugely successful and critically acclaimed 2016 tour of Australia and the UK Things I Know to be True presented by Frantic Assembly and State Theatre Company South Australia arrives at Chester’s stunning Storyhouse this week.

Before the production begins an announcement is made informing the audience that unfortunately John McArdle is unwell and instead artistic director Scott Graham will take on the role of Bob, script in hand. This is of no detriment to the production, Graham clearly knows the play well and gives an excellent and moving performance, perhaps a little ironic and in keeping with the themes of Andrew Bovell’s play, life indeed is unpredictable and challenges frequently arise.

Bovell’s focus for the piece is the Price family, a family who on the face of things seem average and ordinary soon become complex and entirely captivating. We see life through the eyes of the four grown up children, sons and daughters to Fran and Bob, working class parents who strived to give their children opportunities and more than they had. The pressure to rise to these expectations however means cracks soon begin to show as their children struggle to be more yet are consumed with their desire to have more. Cracks become chasms as illusions and pretences are shattered and exposed as individuals begin to break under the burden of responsibility and crushing love.

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This is a beautiful and deeply moving dissection of family life, where secrets are uncovered and resentments boil over, missed opportunities become deep regrets as the emotional fragility of the family is laid bare.

Added to Bovell’s outstanding script is Frantic Assembly’s superbly physical storytelling. Outstandingly choreographed movements add depth and meaning to the piece, they also offer the audience precious moments to reflect and process the struggles and bombshells playing out before them in this visually mesmerising production.

Geordie Brookman and Scott Graham’s direction is exceptional, beautifully staged and stunningly lit by Geoff Cobham. The extremely hard-working cast deliver an entirely flawless performance; each actor on stage fully embraces Bovell’s complex and multifaceted characters. Special mention goes to Cate Hamer as the families matriarchal Mother, Hamer is utterly compelling as Fran, strong, sharp and witty yet burdened by missed opportunities of what might have been and drowning with worry about her children.

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Things I Know to be True is a deeply moving piece of theatre, laugh out loud funny in parts yet achingly sad in others, strikingly beautiful and visually captivating, powerful and poignant. Frantic Assembly and State Theatre Company have delivered a perfect piece of theatre.

On at Chester’s Storyhouse until Saturday 11th November, tickets available here http://www.storyhouse.com/event/things-i-know-to-be-true

Spamalot tour announced!

Spamalot

Selladoor Productions and Mercury Theatre Colchester today announced a new autumn tour of the delightfully daft and hugely hilarious Spamalot!  Opening in Blackpool on 11th September before embarking on a UK tour which will take in take in two further North West stops, Chester Storyhouse 30th Oct – 04th Nov before heading to Manchester’s Palace theatre 6th -11th November.

This brilliantly bonkers show written by Python legend Eric Idle tells the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table in their quest to find the Holy Grail. There are corpses who refuse to die, a Black Knight who is determined to fight to the end despite losing pretty much every limb he has and the ridiculously funny Knights who say Ni for whom only the gift of shrubbery will suffice!

Selladoor Productions present Monty Pythons Spamalot

Featuring comic tunes including Brave Sir Robin, We’re Knights of the Round Table and perennial favourite Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, Spamalot is  an absolute riot of a show!

Tickets available now!

Chester https://www.storyhouse.com/event/spamalot

Manchester http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/spamalot/palace-theatre-manchester/