One Man, Two Guvnors

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Back in early spring 2020, I was fortunate to attend the season launch for the reopening of the Octagon, which included the programme for the year ahead through to 2021. Instantly one production stuck out, writer Richard Bean’s smash-hit One Man, Two Guvnors. We’re all fully aware what happened next, just under two years have passed and finally the production arrives on the Octagon stage and boy was it worth the wait!

Based on the Servant of Two Masters, a 1743 comedy by the Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni. Set in 1960’s Brighton, One Man, Two Guvnors follows the escapades of dim-witted chancer Francis Henshall (Jordan Pearson) who has somehow landed the job as a hired goon for East End gangster Roscoe Crabbe. All is not what it seems with Roscoe, Roscoe is dead and this is actually his twin sister, Rachel Crabbe (Siobhan Athwal) who is impersonating her dead brother in order to cash in some of brothers debts, so she and her lover, Stanley Stubbers (Laurie Jamieson), can start afresh. To further complicate matters Stubbers’ is responsible for Roscoe’s death.

Francais spots an opportunity to earn a few extra quid and more importantly have a decent meal, working a second job as Stubbers valet. Stubbers is on the run from the law for murder and is just bidding his time to reunite with Rachel. Can Francais keep his two employers from finding out his deception long enough to earn a big pay and end his 16 hours without eating?

Under the direction of Lotte Wakeman with Bean’s near flawless script this is as good as theatre gets and a real treat for comedy fans. Slapstick, farce and some killer one-liners, the show has something for everyone. The beauty lies in the fact that you’re never quite sure where the show is going, such is it’s anarchic nature which really adds to the fun.

The production is anchored by a powerhouse performance from Jordan Pearson who is engaging throughout, his childlike innocence is infectious, as he is driven by hunger, never fully aware or concerned by the chaos he has created.  

Pearson is supported by strong performances from the ensemble cast, with Lauire Jamieson getting the lion’s share of the best lines as slightly unhinged toff, Stanley Stubbers. Whilst Javier Marzan as the hapless waiter Alfie, and Qasim Mahood, as the jilted actor, Alan Dangle, both put in superb physically comedic turns.

I cannot recommend this production enough, over-the-top, ridiculous fun from start to finish that will have you grinning from ear-to-ear, an absolute must-see!

One Man, Two Guvnors is at the Bolton Octagon until the 25th June, tickets available here.

Electric Rosary

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Writer Tim Foley’s new play, Electric Rosary had quite the inception, back in 2017 it won the Bruntwood Prize Judge’s Award and now it arrives at the Royal Exchange Theatre for a three-week run. This sci-fi comedy promises something original and something we had no idea we needed in our lives till now, nuns and robots sharing the stage for the first time!

Set in the dilapidated grounds of St Grace’s convent, a depleted troop of nuns are struggling to keep the convent afloat. Whilst the recent passing of the mother superior has left the nuns in a state of flux as to who will lead them through these are turbulent times. In addition, the convent had set up strong ties with a missionary in Ecuador which all the nuns have dreamt about visiting, however with funds so low this seems highly unlikely.

With Easter approaching acting mother superior, Elizabeth (Jo Mousley) may have a solution to their problems in the guise of a council funded robot, Sister Mary (Breffni Holahan). Whilst young nun Theresa ( Saroja-Lily Ratnavel) is made up with android Mary, older nuns, Phillippa (Suzette Llwellyn) and Constance (Olwen May) are more sceptical.

The views of the nuns seemingly represent their views of the outside world in general, as the use of robots as workers is commonplace in this world, with some members of the public protesting about the “reapers” as they are called, and as the protests head closer to the convent what will the nuns do about it, and just how will they solve a problem like Mary?

This is a bold, unique at times hilarious production, with some fantastic performances, and razor-sharp script. However, the further you dive into the narrative the darker it becomes, exploring themes such as tolerance, the over reliance on artificial intelligence, and other factors that divide us.

The play opens like an extended episode of Victoria Wood’s classic sitcom, Dinner Ladies, sweet, charming and hilariously funny packed full of well observed punchlines. There numerous strong comedic set pieces as Sister Mary adapts to her new environment and how it reacts to her. However, it’s the final act where the tone shifts becoming more of a thriller.

I felt that the production somewhat loses its way a little after the interval, which is a real shame, it would benefit from another edit. It does manage to get back on track though with a powerful, haunting final 30 minutes. The ensemble cast are excellent throughout: Saroja-Lily Ratnavel gives a fantastic performance, as the innocent, sweet natured Sister Theresa, displaying a gift for comedy. Breffni Holahan as Sister Mary, commands the stage, demanding your attention throughout, with a very physical performance. Olwen May is in fine form as the strong yet cynical world-beaten Sister Constance. In addition, there is a powerful performance from Yandass Ndlovu in two very different yet pivotal roles

This is a strong showing from all six actors who all work hard throughout with each one getting their moment to shine. Electric Rosary despite some minor flaws is a hilarious, ambitious production with a great deal to say about modern times and well worth a watch.

Electric Rosary is at the Royal Exchange Theatre till the 14th May tickets available here.

9 to 5 The Musical

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer: Matthew Forrest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tickets available: here.

Private Lives

©Tristram Kenton

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It goes to show that a good joke will always stand the test of time, funny is funny, no matter if it’s a gag told today, or one well over 90 years old and judging by the reaction of the audience tonight, they lapped up the sly asides, and caustic put downs of Noel Coward’s Private Lives which gets another run 92 years after it was first performed.

Private Lives is the debut production of the Nigel Havers Theatre Company. It seems fitting that Havers should turn out for his first production along with the theatrical force of nature that is Patricia Hodge. They play former sweethearts Elyot and Amanda. Long divorced, the pair find themselves honeymooning at the same time. Elyot with his new bride, Sybil whilst Amanda is with new husband, Victor. Not only are they at the same hotel, but they are also neighbours as they share a balcony.

As Elyot and Amanda reconnect again it’s apparent that the spark between them is still there, however if the passion is still there, so are the reasons the couple separated – jealousy and petty squabbles. As Elyot and Amanda decide to elope to Paris and give their relationship one more chance, what will become of them and their jilted partners?

Havers is clearly having a ball as the ‘cad’ Elyot, a role he was born to play – a chance to flex his comedic muscles. Throughout tonight’s performance on several occasions, it looked like he was going to burst out laughing, which somewhat added to the charm, and all done with a twinkle in the eyes. Equally good is Hodge, who gets the lion’s share of the best lines which she delivers with acerbic glee. The pair have tremendous chemistry together and great comic timing.

They are supported by the equally impressive Natalie Walter, as Sybil and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart’s Victor as the suitably irritating jilted other halves. Despite being ‘the other ones’ in this quadratic formula, Walter’s Sybil is naive yet spirited. Whilst Bruce-Lockhartas’ Victor comes across as a decent yet insecure chap. For the production to work you have to care about all four characters which you do, despite their many (many) flaws.

In addition, there is a scene stealing cameo by Aïcha Kossoko as the french speaking maid Louise, who adds to the chaos.

When Noel Coward wrote Private Lives in 1930, he saw himself in the lead playing alongside a contemporary of his, Gertrude Lawrence. At the time of writing Coward was 30, clearly this production sees our characters at more advanced stages of their lives. The change works tremendously well as there is an added ‘‘growing old disgracefully’ dynamic to proceedings whilst also proving that no matter how old we get we can all still drop a ‘clanger’ from time-to-time.

There is a sixth character and that is the fabulous set design of Simon Higlett. There are two settings the production, the first being hotel exterior, complete with a balcony which Higlett has managed to resemble the tier of rather garish wedding cake. The second is a beautiful, luxury apartment in Paris.

The production does have its flaws; two scenes where the warring couples strike each other seems out-of-place, even if played out for comedic effect. On the whole, an interesting examination of the perils and pitfalls of relationships. A superbly acted, polished, fun night at the theatre, and a cautionary tale that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Private Lives is at the Lowry until 19th February. Tickets available here.

The Hound of The Baskervilles

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Back in July 2021 Artistic Director at the Octagon Theatre, Lotte Wakeham, chose The Hound of the Baskervilles to open the revamped theatre in Bolton.  Directed by Wakeham, it proved to be a smart choice, as it received huge critical acclaim and was the perfect way to showcase the talent at the Octagon. On the back of its success the production is now undertaking a nationwide tour hitting The Lowry, Quays Theatre this week for a run of shows that will delight and entertain!

Under the stewardship of UK tour director, Tim Jackson and adapted for the stage by Steven Canny and John Nicholson, the plot remains faithful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original. Sherlock Holmes and faithful companion Dr Watson are recruited to investigate the mysterious death of Charles Baskerville. Has Baskerville fallen victim to the infamous Baskerville curse that has befell so many of his ancestors, or is there a more rational explanation?

Those expecting a faithful and straight laced reworking of this classic tale are in for a shock. This is an innovative, funny and downright absurd reworking of one of Conan Doyle’s best loved works. Within the opening five minutes our trio of actors break ‘the fourth wall’ and directly address the audience to explain that for both artist and financial reasons the three of them will bring all the characters to life.

What follows is a comedy masterclass from the three leads, Nial Ransome, plays it relatively straight as the rather dim-witted Dr Waton, whilst Jake Ferretti and Serena Manteghi are a force of nature, as they undertake the majority of the character swapping, with Ferretti playing Sherlock Holmes, as well as various suspects. Whilst Manteghi, plays the role of Sir Henry Baskerville, the heir to the Baskerville fortune, and the next in line to be ‘bumped off’, as well various other Baskerville family members and three subtly different Dartmoor Yokel’s.

The script in conjunction with energetic performances of the three actors is the main strength to show. Paying homage to silent cinema, slapstick and the ‘whodunit’, Canny and Nicholson have taken Conan Doyle’s to be frank ridiculous plot and ramped it up to 11, allowing for even more absurdity, from OTT accents (not Canadian as Manteghi as points out), dance routines, and farce. Often throughout the show I was reminded of the productions of the Spymonkey theatre company, albeit a more toned down, child friendly version.

This is a fast paced, fun filled at times surreal show, which gives an irrelevant take on this world famous piece of literature. The only rational explanation is to go see the show at your nearest convenience!

The Hound of the Baskervilles is on at the Lowry till Saturday 5th February. Tickets can be found here.

Death Drop

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s 1991, our killer-heels are high, Charles and Diana are celebrating 10 years of wedded bliss (cough, cough) and we’re off to Tuck Island for a dragtastic night to remember!

This is a whodunnit like no other, where guests quickly begin sashaying away at a sickening pace. Phone lines are cut, roads are blocked while a dramatic storm rages, we’re soon left wondering who’ll be next to get the chop.

Having never met their hostess before, personalities soon begin to clash as dark secrets are revealed in all their camp, chaotic glory. There’s a killer on the loose and our delectable diners will need to work together to figure out just who it is bumping them off before there’s no one left to tell their raucous tale!

The extravagant soiree is hosted by the mysterious Lady Von Fistenburg (Vinegar Strokes), but nobody knows who she is nor why they’ve been invited. First guest is Morgan Pierce, the sharp-tongued, no-nonsense editor of World of the News played brilliantly by Karen from finance. Next to arrive is thrusting, testosterone fuelled producer Phil Maker delivered superbly by Georgina Frost.

Ra’jah O’Hara makes a strong theatrical debut as weather girl Summer Raines, while Richard Energy is hilariously convincing as Tory old boy Rich Whiteman. Last to arrive is faded pop star Shazza, played perfectly by Willam, an American one hit wonder who’ll happily burst into song at the teeny tiniest opportunity.

Completing the cast is the wonderful Holly Stars, playing the Bottomely triplets, Blue, Brie and Spread, event caterers who are more Fray Bentos than Foie Gras. Also the writer of the piece, she is an absolute joy to watch & threatens to steal every scene with her dead-pan delivery and physical comedy.

There are deliciously camp musical numbers, more witty one liners than you could shake a contour stick at, groan inducing toilet humour, perfectly timed theatrical thunderclaps plus a whole lot of silly, and the audience eat it up!

Act 1 flies by, as each guest is introduced, while the audience roar their approval. It’s swift pace giving you gag after gag while the action keeps you guessing. Act 2 loses a little momentum at times and would benefit from a little trimming to ensure it feels as punchy as Act 1.

The strong cast deliver some superb performances, with each individual demonstrating clearly what talented entertainers they are. While it’s totally farcical it’s also very clever and feels like a quality production, kudos to costume designer Isobel Pellow and wig designer Florencia Melone who have done an exceptional job.

Fun is absolutely the order of the day in this raucous romp that’s as camp as it is colourful. The dead have a hilarious habit of rising again while the witty wordplay will have you absolutely roaring with laughter.

Death Drop delivers exactly what theatre audiences are looking for right night, a great night of escapism, guaranteed laughter and a gorgeous feeling of shared experience.

Fierce, farcical and a whole lot of fabulous!

Catch Death Drop at The Lowry until Saturday 16th October, tickets available here.

Vignettes

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Following a hugely successful run back in February of 2020, HER Productions in conjunction with Alex Keenlan, return to Hope Mill Theatre with a new set of Vignettes: a series of short plays from some of Manchester’s finest writers.

With six stories showcased, there is something for everyone, from family drama to sci-fi, kitchen sink to sitcom, all sharing the common theme of humanity. All have something to say about the world we live in.

It’s a smart choice to open with Fresh Meat: a sharp, fun story of empowerment as Abbi (Carrie Crookall) takes the plunge to visit a strip club, where she meets sassy dancer Frankie (Shireen Ashton). Despite their initial difference, the two ladies have more in common than they think. The script is packed with some punchy dialogue and two really fun performances.

The next offering  is Wildfires, a story looking at discovery and being out of your comfort zone. Niamh (Amy Gavin) reluctantly joins a retreat in the hope of making new friends and seeking out some answers, but things don’t quite pan out as they should. Again, a sharp, witty script with some solid work from the ensemble cast.

Closing the first act is XYV, a dystopian science fiction drama, which explores themes of gender, power, and the consequences of our actions. Performed by Elaine McNicol and Emily Dowson, with terrific sound design from Andrew Glassford, this bold, daring piece attempts to pack a great deal into its short running time.

First up following the interval is To Have and to Hold, a beautifully written, directed and performed piece focusing on the relationship between Ange (Joanne Heywood) and Barry (Shaun Hennessy), a pair of championship winning ballroom dancers stopped from doing the thing they love by an oh so familiar enemy. Containing some great gags and more laugh-out-loud one-liners, this is the perfect way to start act two.

The penultimate offering is, It’s a Pea Picking Privilege, a bitter sweet slice of social realism, as Aggie (Sophie Ellicott) and her daughter, Alice (Carla Rowe) discuss identity, and life’s struggles in a not-too-distant past. With a script filled with humour and pathos, it certainly leaves you wanting to learn more about this fractured mother and daughter unit.

The show closes with Signs, a look at loss, grief and forgiveness. Spiritualist Eileen (Wendy Albiston) works with sisters Amanda (Francesca White) and Jess ( Liz Simmonds) as they both deal with their sister’s illness in very different ways. Packed with emotion and a sprinkling of humour, this dark comedy seems the fitting finale to bring the production to a close.

Vignettes will have something for everyone, containing a tale or two that we can all relate to and a timely reminder that whilst live entertainment has been decimated throughout this pandemic, there are still stories to be told, with talented creative’s ready to tell them by whatever means they can.  

Vignettes is on at Hope Mill Theatre till 3rd July

Tickets available from: https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/vignettes

Insane Animals

Insane Animals press pic 4 (2026). Photo by Drew Forsyth

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Back in 2017 HOME launched it’s T1 project, the idea was to commission new projects and bring them to the art houses 500 seat theatre. The first of these commissions went to the writing duo of George Heyworth and Liv Morris, better known as comedy double-act, Bourgeois & Maurice. What they’ve come up with is Bourgeois & Maurice’s Insane Animals.

This is an epic sci-fi, comedy journey takes us right from the dawn of civilisation through to a bleak looking future for humanity, along the way there are catchy tunes, biting gags, costume changes and sequins… lots of sequins!

Bourgeois & Maurice are a pair of alien gods who have arrived on earth in the present to see what a mess human are making of the world and to bear witness to our inevitable destruction. However, the pair decide to offer humanity a chance of salvation, by looking at the story Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is believed to have formed the basis of the world’s first every recorded story. He is an arrogant, cruel ruler, who persecutes his people. However, with the help of our extra-terrestrial visitors, we will see Gilgamesh, fall in love, suffer and learn what it is to be human, but will it be enough to save humanity?

Insane Animals press pic 9 (2323). Photo by Drew Forsyth

If Bourgeois & Maurice’s Insane Animals is an indicator HOME’s future output then we are in for a treat: this is a silly, surreal, and smart musical, filled with great tunes, cracking one-liners, and great gags. Any show that has references to Ru Paul’s Drag Race and the British Museum’s questionable attitude to how it acquired its collection is of course going to be quite special.

As well as Heyworth and Morris, that cast includes great comic turns from Emer Dineen and Kay Mohamed-Mason playing multiple roles, with the remaining cast double us the backing band, The Forgettables. The songs are catchy, with some great, cutting lyrics with standout numbers being Brink of Extinction and the hilarious, self-aggrandising Thank God.

Michael Hankin’s set design is clearly a love letter to to the B movies of the 1950’s with the set during the first act resembling an unopened buffet at a labour club, there’s lots of silver foil which is by no mean a criticism, it adds to the shows charm.  Julian Smith’s costumes are OTT and look absolutely fabulous, perfect for the production.

Insane Animals press pic 5 (2054). Photo by Drew Forsyth

The show isn’t without its flaws at times the choreography is a bit all over the place whilst adding to the sense of fun can become a little distracting.

With Bourgeois & Maurice’s Insane Animals the writing team of Heyworth, Morris and director Philip McMahon have created the natural successor to Rocky Horror Picture Show (no one really remembers 1981 follow up Shock Treatment), knowingly kitsch, often camp and occasionally crude, this is an original, fun, entertaining romp where nothing is off limits and everything is fair game!

Bourgeois & Maurice’s Insane Animals is at HOME till the 14th March 2020 tickets available here.

 

The Last Quiz Night On Earth

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If it were your last night on earth, how would you spend it? Surely, with friends, family, neighbours maybe even complete strangers? How about with all of these whilst participating in a pub quiz? A pub quiz probably wouldn’t be your first thought when faced with your imminent doom, but The Last Quiz Night on Earth may just change your mind!

With an asteroid hurtling towards the earth, and all hope gone, landlady Kathy (Meriel Schofield), and quizmaster, Rav (Shaban Dar) decide the best way to go out is by throwing a quiz and we’re all invited. However, with the pending apocalypse, it’s inevitable that the night won’t run smoothly and the arrival of Kathy’s estranged brother, Bobby (Chris Jack), as well as of Rav’s ex-childhood sweetheart, Fran (Amy Drake) throw a spanner in the works. Will the sibling rivalry and matters of the heart get in the way of the sports round? Will we crown a quiz champion before our untimely demise and just which team will have the best name?

Writer Alison Carr and director Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder have created a fun, innovative slice of a theatre, packed full of comedic set pieces, great one liner and a pinch of high drama. In its rather unique setting the play tackles issues such as redemption, forgiveness, and tolerance. However, there is an extra dimension  to the performance, as it’s fully interactive, the quiz is real, so you’ll need a quiz team, think of a witty team name (my personal favourite this evening was Salford Analytica) and you may even be called on for a bit of audience participation, you could end up playing Paul, Kathy’s no good ex!

The cast are on fine form, Schofield is the show’s heart and soul, holding the production together, Dar injects some razzmatazz and sparkle as our quiz master general, with Drake showing  a gift for comedy and Jack adding a touch of intrigue and pathos as Bobby. All four have great chemistry and with one another, and because of the interactive nature, adlib and bounce off the audience and get them involved whilst staying tight to the script.

Some of the more interactive elements can prove a bit tricky, as it’s staged in a real pub, depending on where you sit it, you can miss some of what’s going on. With this being a quiz, the competitive aspect can grip some audience members and cause a distraction from the action, it does give the show an air of authenticity but can frustrate in places.

Sound designer Chris James adds depth to proceedings with an apocalyptic sound scape, that includes a War of the World inspired radio broadcast. In addition, there is a tongue-and cheek soundtrack featuring the likes of REM, Europe, and Lisa Stansfield that will raise a smile throughout.

The show resembles an episode of a sitcom, more than it does a piece of theatre, which is meant as compliment, The Last Quiz Night On Earth is a fun, entertaining night out, which makes you wish you had more time with Kathy and the gang, but sadly the giant rock hurtling towards you the Earth has other plans. So, enjoy their company whilst you can! Ps Sue Pollard, if you go, you’ll know.

The Last Quiz Night on Earth is on at The Welcome Inn before touring until 11th April. Tickets available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alan Carr, Not again, Alan! Comes to Manchester, tickets on sale Weds 29th Jan

Alan Carr

It’s been four years since Alan Carr last went on tour, and in that time he’s managed to find himself in all sorts of dramas. Between his star-studded wedding day and becoming an accidental anarchist, from fearing for his life at border control to becoming a reluctant farmer, three words spring to mind…Not again, Alan!

From September 2020, multi-award winning Alan will be performing at 57 of the UK’s finest theatres stopping at Manchester’s Opera House on Friday 30th and Saturday 31st October.

Tickets for Not Again, Alan! go on general sale from 10am on Wednesday 29th January and are available from www.alancarr.net.

 

Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It is of course the time of year for that most British of institutions…the Panto, so it’s only fair that the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society have a crack at it with their version of Peter Pan. The trouble is this lot are to high-quality theatre what the Daily Mail is to fair and unbiased reporting!

The Cornley PDS are of course the creation of super-talented Mischief Theatre Company, who bring their smash-hit Peter Pan Goes Wrong, to the Lowry just in time for the festive season.

Like their pervious offering, The Play That Goes Wrong, this production focuses on the hard working, but inept ‘amdram’ troop as they attempt to put on a performance of JM Barrie’s classic, which as director Chris Bean is at great pains to stress “isn’t a pantomime, more a  Christmas classic”, with disastrous, yet hilarious results.

This is a play within a play, as the Cornley players each with their egos, foibles and lack of ability soldier on in an attempt to put on the best show possible: these include, Jonathan, as Peter Pan (Ciaran Kellgren), a lady’s man, whose wandering eye and haphazard flying technique keep plunging the show into chaos. We also have Sandra, as Wendy Darling (Katy Daghorn) who is desperate to standout from the crowd, with a somewhat OTT, performance. Then there is Max, as Michael Darling/crocodile (Tom Babbage) who is only in the show because his family are bank rolling it, he also has a soft spot for Sandra.

In addition to these three, we have egotistical co-directors Chris and Robert (Connor Crawford and Oliver Senton), a petrified actor, Lucy (Georgia Bradley) searching for her voice, Dennis (Rommayne Andrews) an actor, who needs his lines feeding to him via headphones. Then there is Francis, the show’s narrator (Patrick Warner) who is having all manner of issues with his stage entrance/exit, and pyrotechnics, then finally Annie (Phoebe Ellabani) who has more costume changes than Beyoncé. As well as these combustible elements, there are technical difficulties blighting the performance from radio interference from a local taxi firm, to a revolving stage with a mind of its own.

Once again Mischief have created another comic masterpiece, full of slapstick, outstanding physical comedy, great comedic set pieces which come thick and fast, sure some of the gags you can see coming a mile off but that’s half the fun of it. The show is very similar in delivery to that of Mischief’s previous productions, but it’s a format that clearly works and is a must for fans or a perfect introduction to what they are all about.

There is so much to admire from the outstanding cast, who all get their moments to shine, the clever writing, and most impressive of all the technical wizardry of the production team all combine to make this show such a treat.

Just like a puppy this show shouldn’t be just for Christmas, it will bring you joy and laughter no matter what time of year you watch it.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong is at the Lowry till 7th December tickets available here.

Avenue Q

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Today’s review for Avenue Q is brought to you by the letter X, F and the number 4!

Avenue Q makes a much welcome return to Manchester this week like an old friend you haven’t seen in while, it’s reassuring to see that it hasn’t lost any of its charm, shock factor and ability to make you smile.

Avenue Q is the tale of a group of friends just trying to get by in the world, that fact that the group are made up of humans, puppets, and monsters is irrelevant, they all have the same problems, including relationship issues, unemployment and in one case an over reliance on internet porn! This is the version of life that the likes of Sesame Street don’t prepare you for when growing up.

The show set in New York, introduces us to Princeton, a fresh faced graduate armed with an English degree, ready to take on the world, however having limited funds and no job has seen him arrive on Avenue Q: a rough part of town that makes skid row look like Madison Avenue. Also living on Avenue Q, are a young couple, Brian and Christmas Eve, Brian an inspiring stand-up comic, whilst Christmas Eve dreams of being a therapist but cannot hang onto her clients. There is also Nicky and Rod, a pair of best friends who live together, however Rod has feelings for Nicky that are more than plutonic.

In addition, there is also Trekkie Monster, a reclusive monster, who seemingly just stays at home watching porn, and Gary Coleman, former child star who has fell on hard times and is now landlord of the street. Finally, there is Kate Monster, a teaching assistant, who dreams of opening her own school for monsters, who is also Smitten by Princeton and it looks like the feeling is mutual. However, as we know the course of true love doesn’t always run smoothly at the best of times, but when you have  a couple of mischievous forces at work in the shape of the Bad News Bears, then it would be fair to say life is pretty tough for the residents of Avenue Q.

Jeff Whitty has taken the world of Sesame Street stuck it through a meat grinder and what has come out the other end is a script that is sharp, witty and pulls no punches.  There is the right mix of sentimentality and near-the-knuckle humour. Add to that the songs of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx that include the bang on point Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist, the heart-breaking There’s A Fine, Fine Line. The firm favourite of the audience this evening was The Internet is for Porn, which could have dated, but still hasn’t lost its sense of fun, and with a little help from our cuddly puppets its shock value.

The small ensemble cast is superb with many of them pulling double duty performing as various puppets. Cecily Redman is outstanding in her duel role of Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut, crisscrossing seamlessly from upbeat optimistic heroine to trashy vamp Lucy the Slut.  Equally impressive is Lawrence Smith, as the idealistic, well-meaning Princeton as well as the uptight repressed Rod. There is also excellent support from Chole Gentles and Tom Steedon who bring life into a plethora of furry creatures Bad Idea Bears, Nicky and crowd favourite Trekkie Monster.  It’s a credit to the actors/puppeteers, that you forget they’re on stage and lose yourself in the cute, yet foul-mouthed creatures.

It’s not just the exceptionally talented puppeteers and actors who deserve praise, but the human characters are exceptional as well. Ellis Dackombe and Saori Oda, are equally impressive as engaged couple Brian and his Asian American partner, Christmas Eve. Oda is a tour-de -force, in a scene stealing turn, whilst Dackombe is perfect as laid-back Brian, very much in a Seth Rogen, ‘stoner’ role. Finally, we have Nicholas Mclean as Gary Coleman, who lights up the stage with every scene he’s in and gets some huge laughs mainly down to the absurdity of his characters appearance

Director Cressida Carré has done a tremendous job making this a memorable production. Some very funny song and dance number, with some hilarious set pieces, including a pot of puppet on puppet bedroom gymnastics that will live long in the memory. I loved the video screen cartoons used throughout the production which are glorious nod to Sesame Street and certainly add an anarchic touch to proceedings.

The production touches on race, depression, sexuality and plays with our own prejudices and how we see the world, genuinely having something to say, and if that can be done with a song and in such bad taste then count me in.

Today’s review was brought to you by the letters, X and F, the X is for X-rated, and the F is for funny, funny, funny! Whilst the 4 well that’s 4 stars, all the way, so take a stroll down Avenue Q you won’t be disappointed!

Avenue Q is on at the Palace Theatre until the 26th October. Tickets available here.