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.

 

 

 

Curtains

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

We’ve all heard of opening night disasters when it comes to the theatre, from forgotten lines to sickly cast members, I’m certain actors and directors will have their fair share of horror stories. However, I’m sure none will match having their leading lady bumped off during the final curtain!

This is the premise for musical whodunit,  Curtains. This Tony Awarding winning  production is from the song writing duo John Kander and Fred Ebb, who  also wrote Chicago and Cabaret.

Set in 1950’s Boston we are backstage on the set oftroubled Broadway hopeful  Robbin Hood.  Leading lady Jessica Cranshaw (Nia Jermin) is murdered on opening night and, due to her rather shambolic performance, everyone is a suspect. Luckily, Boston’s finest, Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Jason Manford), who happens to be a theatre super-fan, is on hand to crack the case.

Placing the theatre on lock down, Cioffi begins to work his way through the list of suspects that include estranged couple and writing partners Georgia Hendricks (Carley Stenson) and Aaron Fox (Ore Oduba). Then there are show producers Carmen Bernstein (Rebecca Lock) and shady Sidney Bernstein (Mark Sangster) and flamboyant director Christopher Belling (Samuel Holmes). In addition, we have ambitious rising stars, Bambi Barnét (Emma Caffrey) and Niki Harris (Leah West), with the latter catching the eye of Lieutenant Cioffi. Everyone is a suspect with cast and crew beginning to drop like flies, can Cioffi catch the killer and save the show?

On the surface, this is a classic murder mystery, very much in the Agatha Christie mould, but on the other hand this is both a love letter to, and a critique of showbusiness, in particular the  theatre. 

There are caricatures aplenty from over-the-top directors, to ruthless money grabbing producers and mean-spirited critiques. Despite a few minor issues, this is an enjoyable, entertaining romp, filled with neat one liners, catchy tunes and some plot red herrings that will keep you engaged throughout.

The cast are at the top of their game, Jason Manford is a likeable leading man, whose comic timing is matched perfectly with a fine singing voice. Carley Stenson and Ore Oduba are also on good form as the warring writing partnership, with Stenson really given the opportunity to flex her vocal cords. There are scene stealing turns from Rebecca Lock and Samuel Holmes who between them get the lions share of the best lines and certainly make the most of them.

They are supported buy an exceptionally hard working cast who put in tremendous effort throughout which are exemplified in the company numbers The Women’s Dead, He Did It, and In the Same Boat III, which are the undoubted highlights of the show, and showcase Paul Foster’s exceptional direction and Alistair David’s intricate choreography.

The production is not without flaws; it’s a bit flabby in parts and there seems to be a bit of filler, it doesn’t quite hold your attention throughout its entire running time, in fairness the show gets off to such an intriguing start that it would be difficult to maintain that level of interest throughout. 

On the whole this is an entertaining, clever, production packed with solid performances, great tunes and some fantastic set pieces, which despite its darkly comic narrative has a heart of gold at its core and is a slice of fun, feel-good musical theatre!

Curtains is on the Place Theatre till 12th October tickets available here. 

Letter To Boddah

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Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In the song Hey, Hey, My My (Out of the Blue) Godfather of grunge Neil Young muses the statement: “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away”.  Sadly, this was a question posed in Kurt Cobain’s suicide letter, tragically titled Letter to Boddah.

Writer Sarah Nelson has used this desperately heart-breaking event as the inspiration behind her play, also titled Letter to Boddah. Set entirely in the disabled toilet of a Tesco store, we find childhood friends Billy (Sam Glen) and Neil (Jordan Reece): the pair are dressed in full military combats, armed to the teeth and carrying a ruck sack packed full of explosives ready to blow up the supermarket, its customers, and if necessary themselves.  What has brought these two to this point? Is there any going back for the pair?

Nelson has written a pitch-black comedy drama which explores themes of friendship, grief, domestic abuse and lost potential. Taking a setting more associated with that of a British ‘sitcom’, we are treated to some razor-sharp one-liners and darkly comedic dialogue, mixed with moments of heartbreak, as well as a few twists that will have you on the edge of your seat.

Both leads are excellent. Sam Glen puts in an intense, gut-wrenching turn as grief-stricken Billy, whilst Jordan Reece plays Neil to perfection, striking the right balance between comedy sidekick and unhinged psychopath.  The chemistry between the two is outstanding and fully believable, which makes their actions seem all the more desperate. The two manage to captivate and entirely hold your attention throughout.

This is an important production that addresses issues of male depression and suicide, as well as containing strong political themes of globalisation, and commentary on a lost generation without a voice. Powerful, dark, shocking and packed full of humour, with a finale filled with tension. This is an outstanding piece of work that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible, and on the strength of the quality on display tonight, will surely find an audience.

Letter to Boddha is on at the Edinburgh Fringe throughout August at C CUBED (Venue 50) daily at 1:15pm tickets available here.