Home, I’m Darling

Darling 1

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Fresh from its Olivier Award success Laura Wade’s new play Home, I’m Darling arrives at the Lowry this week as part of a limited UK tour.

Co-produced by The National Theatre and Theatr Clwyd, Home, I’m Darling takes us into the perfectly stylised 1950’s home of Judy & Johnny; their bliss seemingly as bright as their primrose kitchen. Their marmalade is homemade while their gin gimlets are freshly poured as life in their 50’s bubble bounces along; that is until the rose tinted glasses begin to slip as this cleverly crafted comedy moves into choppier waters as the subtle analysis of gender divide and nostalgic perfection begins.

Judy’s made her choice: rebelling against her upbringing in a feminist commune eating lentil lasagne she now likes things shipshape, living a life of domestic bliss as a picture perfect housewife complete with pastel prom dress & devilled eggs on tap. While her mother argues against this misguided nostalgia insisting that the only people who were truly happy in the 1950’s where white, straight, men as choice, tolerance and acceptance were in very short supply.

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Designer Anna Fleischle has created a magnificent 1950’s haven. The two level set a perfect home with living room and kitchen downstairs neatly topped by a bedroom and bathroom all connected by a central staircase. Director Tamara Harvey ensures the cast make full use of the visually stunning set as each corner of the house is explored and inhabited. The genius scene changes where cast members jive their way around the house add immensely to the charm of this initially playful piece.

Katherine Parkinson is excellent as the insecure domestic goddess Judy, insisting that her feminism is evidenced in the life choices she makes while she attempts to live harmoniously in an inaccurately imagined era.

Jo Stone-Fewings gives a strong performance as husband Johnny, increasingly frustrated with this nostalgic domesticity and what it means for their marriage.

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Susan Brown shines as Judy’s Mum Sylvia, exasperated by her daughters life choices and desperate for her to start living life in the here and now, her scalpel-sharp monologue in Act II is sublime.

The strong cast work together wonderfully keeping the audience guessing throughout as to where this fascinating story will take us. Laura Wade’s script is both generous in its humour and sharp in its observations. Once the saccharine surface has been scratched the grit and relevance of this black comedy effectively take hold. Judy of course insists she is happy but the cracks in her gingham palace quickly show as money begins to run out while the fantasy lifestyle becomes a prison of her own making.

Judy’s indulgence for her ‘hobby’ which she clings onto for far too long impacts not only on her own but the life of husband Johnny who feels emasculated and embittered by his wife’s endless care and devotion. The constantly shifting perspectives engage as well as entertain; add to this a hefty dose of humour, superb cast and stunning set and you have a uniquely brilliant production.

Home I’m Darling is on at The Lowry until Saturday 27th April tickets available here.

eVULVAlution

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Life as a self published erotic novelist can be tough, especially when your creative juices have stopped flowing and you’ve been relegated to admin on your polyamorous husband’s WhatsApp group.

Pamela De Menthe however is not a woman to be kept down, that tricky 29th novel may be stuttering but she’ll use her mucky imagination and crude creativity to ensure her novel eVULVAlution reaches a pleasing and most satisfying climax.

Writer and performer Jenny May Morgan has created a hugely likeable and incredibly funny character in Pamela De Menthe; cleverly crafted with loving care resulting in an entirely convincing comedy heroine.

The show is presented as a book launch for new novel eVULVAlution with just one catch, it isn’t actually finished yet. Turning to the audience for inspiration and some hilarious sound effects Pamela strives to deliver the literary work she’s convinced herself is totally groundbreaking and entirely necessary.

This time-travelling prehistoric erotic romp, set of course in Hull quickly becomes a hilarious adventure for both Pamela and her audience. Jenny May Morgan’s attention to detail is exceptional in this witty one woman show. It’s jam-packed with nuanced looks and brilliant throwaway comments that Alan Partridge would be proud of.

Her well developed humour is lapped up by the audience and while Pamela is pretty darn bonkers she is the kind of bonkers you can’t help but fall in love with. From her amateur power-point to her sponsorship deal with a motorbility scooter company she offers a well rounded character whose brilliance is a bright as her animal print bumbag.

A cheeky, fabulously fun and enormously entertaining romp through the world of self-published erotica. Roll on book number 30!

Catch eVULVAlution next at Waterside, Sale in July further information can be found here.

Interview | Jenny May Morgan talks eVULVAlution

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In tackling that difficult 29th erotic fiction novel, author Pamela DeMenthe has hit a stumbling block, her time travelling prehistoric erotic fiction romp, set in Hull, eVULVAlution needs a little help; luckily for Pamela Lowry audiences’ creativity is there to be called on in this brand new comedy.

Following on from her hugely successful debut show ‘Pamela DeMenthe presents: Sticky Digits, Jenny May Morgan returns to The Lowry her brand new show eVULVAlution. We caught up with Jenny to hear a little more about the show, her involvement with The Lowry’s Artist Development programme and inappropriate offerings from her audiences.

Opening Night: For anyone unfamiliar with Pamela can you tell us a little bit about her?

Jenny: Pamela is a self-published erotic fiction author; she started writing erotic fiction a few years ago writing 28 books in the first year and then brought out Sticky Digits which is the title of my original show. Now a year on she’s writing her new book eVULVAlution which is a pre-historic erotic fiction story with time travel set in Hull, so far it’s been a bit of a stumbling block for her and she has a bit of writers block .

ON: I read that Pamela might be seeking help from her loyal readers; does this mean some audience interaction?

Jenny: Definitely, in the original show there was a bit of audience interaction, the original show was hosted a little bit like a TED Talk/Audience With… this one has a similar sort of premise but the audience will be expected to help Pamela complete the book as she’s left the book a little bit open-ended. I don’t get anyone up on stage or anything like that but there are definitely opportunities for audience interaction.

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ON: Are you fully prepared for a wild variety of offerings from the audience?

Jenny: Ha ha oh yes, to be honest when audiences say things you maybe don’t expect it can be a bit of a gift and you end up getting something hilarious. It’s amazing how many people actually come up with the same kind of suggestions. When I did the original show I did a part with a bespoke original erotic fiction story and asked people to come up with a body part, I’d say around 80% of people said elbow, which was bizarre. I did around 25 shows up in Edinburgh and almost always they said elbow. So who knows what will happen this time around.

ON: Have you ever been thrown by any suggestions?

Jenny: I have been yes, I’m not sure I should say ha ha; in Edinburgh there was an older couple in the audience and at one point I ask the audience if they have any questions and the guy asked when was the last time Pamela had an orgasm and his wife just shot him a look, it was just so unexpected he went bright red!

ON: You’ve toured the show in different areas do you notice different responses around the country?

Jenny: There are definitely different reactions, some people enjoy the cruder aspects of the show, some audiences enjoy more of the storytelling nature of the show. I don’t know if you could draw any geographical comparisons to that; I did the show in Bristol at the end of last year and that was really interesting as Pamela the character is from South Gloucestershire so there’s lots of references to Gloustershire that are a little bit obscure and funny if you don’t know it but even funnier if you do know it so doing the show where people really get the references is a lot of fun.

ON: When you’ve had such a successful first show how do you find your starting point for show number 2?

Jenny: I’ve been thinking about the show for quite a long time so I’ve been slowly writing it in my head for the last couple of years. There is a pressure to deliver something funny, that’s remains true to the character but also you want to do something a little different to the last show. I quite like the fact that not only do I have that pressure but Pamela has that pressure so part of the show is about the follow-up and the pressure on her to write a new novel and the struggles with that. I guess it’s a bit of an analogy of my situation and the pressure writing a new show; I like those things colliding a little bit.

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ON: How did you get involved with The Lowry’s Artist Development Programme?

Jenny: I live in Manchester so I know The Lowry well; I’ve been involved in their studio programmes as a performer engaging with workshops for quite a number of years. I invited them to come and see the original show and they kindly then programmed the original show last April. I was aware of the development programme so put an application in and luckily they agreed that they could develop me. It’s been fantastic, they create a bespoke package of support to help further your career, that’s exactly what I’m getting at the moment and it’s just lovely.

ON: As a female comedian, are doors harder to open or are things shifting now?

Jenny: I think it’s definitely changing, I think how things are for women in general are changing, the last few years certainly feels like there have been huge changes across the board. In the bigger cities there feels like there are more opportunities and you definitely see more female comedians about, I have done a few gigs in more remote places where you feel a little like you’re the token woman and the audience can be a little ‘Right come on then, make me laugh’ but I don’t actually mind that; I see it as a challenge. It’s still a male dominated industry but things are definitely changing, when you go to Edinburgh there are loads of brilliant females creating and that’s a wonderful atmosphere to experience.

ON: Will you be heading to Edinburgh Fringe this year?

Jenny: Not this year, but I’m hoping to take eVULVAlution up there summer 2020 so really looking forward to that.

ON: What do you think Pamela would make of online dating apps?

Jenny: Well she’s been married for 10 years so hasn’t been participating in that sort of world; I would say Pamela hasn’t got the most straight forward of private lives with her husband. There’s a slightly complicated relationship going on there in the background so I’d say a lot of her erotic fiction is perhaps wish fulfilment coming out through her writing. I don’t want to give too much away but there’s definitely been a bit of a development in her personal relationship with her husband, there’s been some talk about maybe becoming polyamorous so I think she might have to start engaging with the dating world which I think will be a bit of a whole new world for Pamela.

ON: So we need to book our tickets and see what happens next for Pamela then don’t we?

Jenny: That would be wonderful!

Catch eVULVAlution at The Lowry on Thursday 4th and Friday 5th of April tickets available here.

 

The Animals and Children took to the Streets

The Animals And Children Took to the Streets, presented by 1927 pic 2

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

For nearly 15 years the 1927 theatre company have been pushing the boundaries when it comes to theatre. They have gained quite the reputation for their bold, innovative productions which has seen them marry live performance and music with animation and illustration to create a theatrical experience like no other.

For their latest offering The Animals and Children took to the Streets, writer and director Suzanne Andrade again uses all these tools to create a satirical, jaw-dropping production that will leave you both mesmerised and enormously entertained.

The Animals And Children Took to the Streets, presented by 1927 pic 3

Andrade transports us to the dark, dank Red Herring Street, on which stands the Bayou Mansions. This is a tower block located on the wrong side of town, housing the worst of society, from social misfits to murderers and sexual deviants; they all have a place here. The authorities and the rich have chosen to ignore their plight, deciding to let them implode. However, when a gang of feral children from the Mansions go on a destructive rampage that includes kidnapping the mayor’s beloved cat and running amok on a park for the middle-class, their mini-revolution does not go unnoticed. In retaliation, the Mayor takes drastic action.

The children’s only hope of escape comes in the form of the Bayou Mansion’s caretaker; a man who is desperate to woo Agnes Eaves, a middle-class do-gooder, who believes dried pasta collages and art classes are what the kids need. Agnes’s daughter, Evie has been caught up in a police round-up and only the caretaker knows what’s happened to them.

The Animals And Children Took to the Streets, presented by 1927 pic 1

This is 70 minutes of pure joy, innovative, smart and darkly comic, this production is pitch perfect. Paul Barritt’s animation lies somewhere between a LS Lowry painting with some Terry Gillian sketches thrown in. Add into the mix the clear influence of 1920’s silent cinema, specifically the films of Fritz Lang and Georges Méliès and you have a visual feast that will leave you howling with laughter, whilst having a good old scratch as we see the rats, lizards and cockroaches that infest the Bayou scurry across the screens.

Andrade’s script is razor-sharp, witty and brutal, it clearly has a take on social inequality and the continual struggle of the working class who are denied the opportunities afforded to the privileged. The script is supported by three super talented performers in Felicity Sparks, Genevieve Dunne and Rowena Lennon – whose facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission. Their performances in conjunction with Barritt’s animation beautifully tell this story and breathe life into a highly original and rewarding piece of theatre.

The Animals and Children Took to the Streets is at Home till 16th February, tickets available here.

 

 

Trial By Laughter

trial by laughter 4

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

The name William Hone won’t mean that much to most people, which is crying shame. For back in the early 1817 this was a man who campaigned tirelessly for civil liberties, sought reform in the many lunatic asylums, and highlighted the miscarriages of justice that blighted the judicial system. In addition Hone was an investigative journalist, satirical commentator and publisher who along with his friend, George Cruikshank a political cartoonist lampooned the ruling class of the day: that being the Regency government.  So angered by Hone’s work the Prince Regent sought to have him prosecuted by any means possible.

So when it came to the story of William Hone, who better to tell it than Ian Hislop and Nick Newman. Both are champions of a free press, both have great form in sending up and holding to account politicians and world leaders through the magazine Private Eye. Newman is the cartoonist for the magazine and Hislop is the editor.  In addition Hislop is no stranger to a libel case having faced several down the years.  The two writers have reunited with director Caroline Leslie, with whom they worked with on their debut play The Wipers Times, to bring this intriguing story to the stage with their new production: Trial by Laughter.

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The play opens with the Prince Regent and his (alleged) mistresses angered by their depiction at the hands of Hone and Cruikshank, so enraged is he that he orders his government flunkies to prosecute Hone. Hone is charged with blasphemy and arrested, falsely imprisoned and denied legal assistance. With only the support of Cruikshank, and his wife, Sarah, Hone mounts a defence and against all odds wins the trail. This really is the beginning of Hone’s troubles as he faces three criminal trials in as many days, which could see him imprisoned or deported to Australia. With the Regency’s relentless pursuit and Hone’s health deteriorating is this really a battle he can truly win?

There is a lot to admire about this production: Joseph Prowen is on great form as William Hone, playing him with a twinkle-in-the-eye and a great deal of righteous optimism that is gradually beaten out of him as the trials progress. Dan Mersh (playing numerous roles) is equally fine as Hone’s tormentor; Justice Ellenborough who plagues his foe at every turn and cannot hide is distain or prejudices for Foe. Peter Losasso plays Cruikshank, with a cheeky swagger clearly relishing his pun filled part. Whilst Eva Scott is also strong as Hone’s long suffering wife, who in spite of all their trials and tribulations she never loses faith in her husband.

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Despite the subject matter being over 200 years old it relevance today cannot be understated as the play tackles such issues as freedom of speech and freedom of the press and measures how far governments and people of power will go to too stifle this, you only need to look at the recent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to see its relevance. It also tackles the weighty issue of what is fair game for a joke: politicians, religion, the ruling class, and when does a joke go too far and become offensive. These are clearly subject matters that Hislop and Newman feel passionately about and it shines through in their writing.

The production does have a few issues: there are some great gags in here which poke fun at modern day celebrity culture, even Prince Charles is on the receiving end of a roasting. Whilst the jokes come thick and fast, and are exceptionally crafted there is nothing here that will have you rolling in the isles, more a wry smile then a big belly laugh. Despite this being a trail there is little jeopardy for Hone and thus at times the more dramatic elements of the paly can feel a little flat.

Overall this a fascinating, entertaining tale that needs to be told and deserves its platform, it’s worth a watch but you can’t help feel there is something missing.

Trail by Laughter is on the Lowry until 2nd February, tickets available here.

 

An Evening of Eric and Ern

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

There are so many iconic images associated with Christmas: a piping hot turkey with all the trimmings, presents under the tree, pictures of drunken revellers plastered across the national press, and of course Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise dancing a merry jig. The Morecambe and Wise Christmas specials have been engraved into the festive TV listing since 1969 the reason simply being that they’re just bloody funny!

Well if you need your Eric and Ernie fix this Christmas you can go one better and see the pair in the flesh as An Evening of Eric & Ern comes to the Lowry for the festive season. Staring the Olivier nominated Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel as the comedy duo, they treat us to an evening of cabaret and familiar sketches which include, Eric’s Mr Memory, the pairs take on ventriloquism and the iconic Greig’s Piano concerto sketch.

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Adding a touch of glamour, as well as acting as a comedic foil to the pair is super talented singer Becky Neale who pops up throughout the evening, at one point belting out a fantastic version of the Mariah Carey hit All I Want for Christmas is You.

Despite an initial slow start, this is a hugely fun, trip down memory lane. All the classic gags are there, including those infamous well aimed barbs at Des O Connor. Stand out sketches include are of course the ventriloquist dummy which is brilliant in its simplicity and a beautiful rendition of the Stephen Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns by Neale which Eric and Ernie do there best to ruin.

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The main strength of the show comes in the performances of Stephens and Ashpitel. The physical resemblance is clearly noticeable from the outset, but it’s more about how the mannerisms and facial tics are matched to perfection. You can see the two actors have analysed their heroes to give a genuine, authentic performance which sucks you in. Add to that the undoubted chemistry between the two as well as some exceptional choreography from Nicola Keen and you have all the parts for a heart-warming night of comedy and nostalgia.

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The show inevitably closes with a rendition of Bring Me Sunshine, from all three performers as well as the audience; and like a nice mug of hot mulled wine, it sends you out into the cold winter’s night with a nice warm glow, a spring in your step, and the perfect way to start the Christmas celebrations.

An Evening with Eric and Ern is at the Lowry till 6th January. Tickets available here.

Benidorm Live

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

The last time I was in Benidorm I was chatted up by a septuagenarian and managed to throw up all over myself: not the best holiday experience I’ve ever had, that was some 17 years ago, and I vowed never return. Last night I broke that promise to myself (of sorts) and I’m rather glad I did because Benidorm Live arrived in Manchester for a week-long run and it’s a fantastic, fun night out.

After 10 series and cultivating a huge fanbase show creator Derren Litten decided to turn the much-loved sitcom into a live show. Featuring fan favourites, Hotel Manager, Joyce Temple-Savage (Sherrie Hewson), oily barman Mateo (Jake Canuso), fiery rep Sam (Shelley Longworth), loveable swinger Jacqueline (Janine Dutvitski), and, ‘Blow and Go’ stylists and best friends Liam (Adam Gillen) and Kenneth (Tony Maudsley).

The show carries on where the TV series left off with The Solana Hotel facing a takeover: which could see many of the employees facing the sack. The arrival of stuck-up couple Sophie (Tricia Adele-Turner) and Ben (Bradley Clarkson) leads Hotel Manager Joyce to believe that they are undercover spies sent by the potential new owners. She orders the staff to give them the five-star treatment which of course doesn’t go quite as planned.

The live show is like an extension of the TV series with a bit more razzmatazz: packed with innuendo, stinging one-liners, and a fair few lewd jokes, swinger Jacqueline getting all the best lines: Janine Dutvitski is clearly having a ball and pretty much steals every scene she’s involved in.

There are a few song and dance numbers which look like they’ve come straight out of a jukebox musical, that is of course if said musical had been hammering the Blue WKD’s!

Series regular Asa Elliot demonstrates what a gifted singer he is throughout; whilst Jake Canuso get to show off his dancing skills and what a snaked -hipped performer he is: his entrance to the show is quite the snake-hipped spectacle indeed.

Following the interval, the show moves to the Neptune Bar, (which features heavily in the TV series) for a cabaret evening, providing a great opportunity for all the feature characters to get their moment in the spotlight: the highlights being a sensational singing performance from Shelley Longworth and a performance of comedy gold from Adam Gillen.

All plot strands are tied up neatly here with the entire cast uniting for a fantastic version of Y Viva Espana which is the perfect climax to the evening: camp, brash, loud and lewd just like a trip to Benidorm really. This an entertaining, fun evening out and the perfect way to fend of the winter blues!

Benidorm Live is at the Place Theatre until 1st December. Tickets available here.