Twelfth Night

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Twelfth Night has long been known as one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies; in celebration of their 10th birthday Grosvenor Open Air Theatre are happy to prove why.

Locating the action in the Bohemian Balkans the celebratory festival vibe is strong, there’s flowers in hair while the drink is free flowing. The abundance of music and laughter indicate that Director Julia Thomas is prepared embrace the fun of this comedic and jubilant production.

This is an ode to the joyful and silly; there’s mistaken identities, unrequited love, a shipwreck, subterfuge as well as a whole host of entertaining characters.

The talented cast deliver Shakespeare’s verse with clear conviction while their enthusiasm and wit gives the piece both a light and accessible feel.

Separated twins Viola (Whitney Kehinde) and Sebastian (Marc Benga) each arrive on the shores of Illyria after a shipwreck; Viola first, allowing her 3 days of getting acquainted with the locals, enough time for two to fall in love with her while another two attempt to fight her albeit while she’s now dressed as as a man (Cesario) in a bid to keep the spirit of the brother she believes to be dead alive.

Kehinde is excellent as Viola/Cesario, cool and commanding she handles the confusion and complexities of life in Illyria with sass and style.

Sarah-Jane Potts shines as Olivia, hot in pursuit of her happy ending while Samuel Collings brings the house down as the put upon Malvolio whose transformation from stiff upper lipped steward to stocking wearing, downward dog facing smiler is pure genius.

Mitesh Soni is an absolute joy as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. His physical comedy, facial expressions and nice but dim personality really bringing this piece to life. Kudos to Soni for successfully delivering Shakespeare’s prose whilst flossing, impressive!

Jessica Dives as Feste takes on the form of a modern day wandering minstrel, offering an almost narrator like musical accompaniment while adding a wonderfully melodic energy to proceedings.

Director Julia Thomas isn’t afraid to embrace the silly or the slapstick and is greatly rewarded for her choices. Her cast embrace the opportunity, having a lot of fun with the piece while the audience reap the benefits.

A stand out moment which really embodies the playful nature of the production is the hilarious fight scene, outrageously farcical and absolute comedy perfection. The frequent witty exchanges between cast and audience further add to the playfulness and accessibility of this piece.

A highlight of Chester’s summer season for ten years now with productions as strong as this there is no doubt the Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre will be celebrating birthdays for many years to come.

Outrageously good fun for all the family.

Twelfth Night is being performed at various dates over the summer further information and tickets can be found here.

Everything is Absolutely Fine

HOB

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

While talking about anxiety is thankfully receiving more positive media attention than ever before we still have a long way to go before we truly stamp out the stigma many people attach to mental health discussion. With their new musical comedy Everything is Absolutely Fine, Lowry Developed With artists House of Blakewell approach the topic of anxiety in an exploratory and wonderfully witty way.

Alice (played by book & lyric writer Alice Keedwell) is making a fresh start, smaller town, job at a smaller hospital & hopefully smaller problems. While a new situation is scary for most it’s made worse by the fact that Alice’s old friend anxiety (portrayed by musician and lyricist Harry Blake)has made the move with her too; constantly there in the background reminding Alice of her insecurities, drip-feeding doubt into every situation. “You’re too loud, you’re so embarrassing, your voice is annoying, you’re so awkward”.

While the subject matter may sound heavy House of Blakewell tackle this important topic in a creative and incredibly entertaining way. The snapshot of Alice’s life is delivered in various melodic, funny and extremely relatable songs. From small incidents like a trip to Waitrose where the choice of courgettes becomes overwhelming to the enormity of deciding you completely embarrassed yourself after one to many at the pub this inspired piece highlights just how all-consuming anxiety can be.

Every thought is questioned as anxiety attempts to drown Alice in negativity and destroy her self-esteem. The feeling of being the only one who doesn’t have their shit together looms large, amplified by the deadpan delivery from Harry Blakes while Alice attempts to soldier on regardless.

The lyrics are contemporary and clever, never before have I heard the words ‘garmin’ or ‘wingardium leviosa’ worked into songs and the genius of ‘shiter-er’ rhyming with ‘lighter’ certainly raised a smile. All delivered with great charm by both Keedwell and Blake.

House of Blakewell succeed in creating not only an entertaining piece of theatre but an enormously accessible piece which gently invites discussions about anxiety in a relaxed and innovative way. The performance is pitched just right allowing plenty of opportunities for relatable humour while reminding us of the importance of speaking out and seeking support from one another. Engaging and entertaining theatre.

Everything is Absolutely Fine has one more performance at The Lowry this evening Friday 28th June tickets available here.

The Book of Mormon

10-The-cast-of-The-Book-of-Mormon-Manchester-Palace-Theatre-Credit-Paul-Coltas

The cast of Book Of Mormon Manchester – Credit Paul Coltas

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ever since those first whispers  of “The Mormons are coming” way back in November, excitement levels have been sky high for the multi-award winning, (Tony’s, Olivier’s and Grammy’s to name but a few) smash-hit Broadway musical’s Manchester arrival.

Penned by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone along with Robert Lopez co-creator of Avenue Q as well co-writer for songs from Disney’s Frozen and Coco you quickly get the idea that this is going to be one seriously creative and wildly outrageous piece of theatre…and you wouldn’t be far wrong.

From the minute the bright-eyed, Colgate smiling, super-positive Mormons take to the stage with witty opening number Hello! you know you’re in for quite the ride, so buckle up, embrace the outlandish and leave the easily-offended at home.

M-Jae – Cleopatra, Issac – Kevin Clay, Conner Peirson in The Book Of Mormom, Manchester, Palace Theatre Credit Paul Coltas

The story introduces us to Elders Price (Kevin Clay) and Cunningham (Conner Peirson) a mismatched pair thrust together on their Mormon mission to convert the natives of a country far flung from Salt Lake City (no spoilers here), despite knowing nothing about the country nor the traditions or beliefs of the locals who live there. While Elder Price feels his mission is to “Blow God’s freakin’ mind” Elder Cunningham lies…a lot; what could possible go wrong?

From the off The Book Of Mormon pokes wicked and downright profane fun at every stereotype imaginable; nothing is off-limits in this all-out comedy assault and the audience lap up every close to the bone second of it.

The bouncy, infectious score with lyrics to make your toes curl is as outrageous as it is brilliant. There’s a genius borrowing from several other musicals: hilarious hints of The Sound of Music’s ‘I Have Confidence’ can be heard during ‘I Believe’ while ‘Joseph Smith American Moses” is a riotous, profanity laden homage to ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ from The King and I; as for the jaw-droppingly offensive yet hysterically funny Hasa Diga Eebowai, The Lion King’s Mufasa would be turning in his buffalo trodden grave.

Nicole-Lily Baisden and Conner Peirson Book of Mormon, Manchester, Credit Paul Coltas

This ‘borrowing’ sends up other musicals so brilliantly yet feels incredibly original; at one point during ‘You and Me (But Mostly Me) you are almost prepared for Elder Price to rise up Elphaba style a la Wicked.

Kevin Clay is outstanding as Elder Price, full of ego and bursting with confidence his self belief seemingly unshakable. Conner Peirson makes for a perfect sidekick as Elder Cunningham so desperate is he to please that his wild exaggerations and implausible bending of the truth brings its own type of bedlam to proceedings. The two together are an absolute joy, their love/hate relationship being the backbone of the story and they deliver it with heart-warming conviction, ultimately teaching both characters a generous life lesson.

Nicole-Lily Baisden shines as Nabulungi, sweet yet sassy she brings a wide-eyed innocence to the role making her duet with Peirson during ‘Baptize Me’ all the more entertaining.

The cast of The Book of Mormon Manchester – Palace Theatre, credit Paul Coltas

Special mention must also go to Will Hawksworth and his outstanding troop of Mormons, every scene they feature in is perfection with Turn It Off and I Am Africa being two of the standout moments of the night, camp, completely over the top and laugh out loud funny.

There is not one weak link in this entire company, with many cast members taking on several parts and delivering each to the highest of standards with the vocal arrangements and choreography taking this production to the next level.

While the show happily tears through taboos with all the subtlety of Satan at a baptism its ultimate message is one of faith. Yes it’s outlandish, yes it’s irreverent but the core message is that it really doesn’t matter what you believe in just as long as you believe in something, be that yourself, your community or each other. While it pokes fun at organised religion it makes clear the message that faith is no bad thing once you see past the bonkers constraints that surround it.

The cast of The Book of Mormon Manchester – Palace Theatre, credit Paul Coltas

Rarely do you see a whole theatre leap to their feet but judging by tonight’s thunderous standing ovation The Book of Mormon is without doubt the hottest ticket in town. Riotous fun from start to finish, believe the hype this is without doubt a little piece of heaven on earth.

Outrageous and original this sensational production will leave you desperate to convert to that marvellous Mormon tribe!

The Book Of Mormon is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 24th August, tickets available here.

📷 Paul Coltas

 

 

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.

Darling

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.

Darling 2

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

Jenny_May_Morgan_Photo_Credit_Nathan_Chandler

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.

Pamela_Book_signing_at_Blackwells_Edinburgh

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.

Pamela_DeMenthe_Actor_Jenny_May_Morgan_Photo_Credit_Nathan_Chandler

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.