Spamalot

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Review by Matthew Forrest 

 The programme states that Spamalot is lovingly ripped off from the motion picture” of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Well for my money, this production is doing itself a disservice; if anything it’s enhancing the ‘Python’ legacy and introducing them to a wider audience. 

As a Python fan, you sometimes take it as a given that most people will love them and their work as much as you do. However that’s not always the case, as some people just “don’t get it” or have never seen the Python’s in action before. For die-hard fans like myself, the nay-sayers and the unacquainted, Spamalot is the perfect night out, suitably ridiculous, occasionally bewildering, but always hilarious! 

Following the plot of the film, Spamalot sees King Arthur and his faithful servant Patsy, as they attempt to enlist various brave and not so brave knights to join him at his court in Camelot. It is here that the voice of God or, more accurately Eric Idle, send Arthur and his Knights on a quest to seek out the Holy Grail. 

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As you would expect it’s absolutely bonkers: most of the set-pieces are in there, from The Knights who say Nee and Black Knight: with the welcome addition of a new character in the Lady of Lake. 

The cast are on great form: Bob Harms is excellent as the pompous, self-absorbed King Arthur, Rhys Owens is on equally good form as Patsy, a polar opposite to his master but certainly the brains of the outfit. Sarah Harlington offers a scene stealing turn as the Lady of the Lake, who has an equally inflated opinion of herself, similar to that of King Arthur. 

They are supported by a fantastic, hard-working cast with most taking on multiple roles, who are all given their moments to shine. Standout scenes include Jonathan Tweedie’s Lancelot and his daring rescue of Prince Herbert and the cast’s spectacular Knights of the Round Table routine. 

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Eric Idle, along with John du Prez have come up with catchy and funny tunes that aren’t strictly in keeping with the show. The Song That Goes Like This takes a much-needed swipe at musicals and their big defining tunes, whilst You Won’t Succeed in Showbiz, takes a well-aimed shot at celebrity culture and has been updated with numerous topical references. In addition, there is the über-camp His Name is Lancelot and of course the old faithful Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. However, it’s Sarah Harlington’s vocals on Whatever Happened To My Part? and her duet with Norton James in Lady of the Lake that really bring the house down. Harlington’s voice is phenomenal: so much power blended with her comic timing certainly make you wish her part was that bit bigger. 

Director Daniel Buckroyd has certainly got the best out of his cast, with all involved displaying a gift for comedy, and allowing room for a spot of adlibbing as well.  Some cast members just about managed to told hold it together, which really added to the fun of it all. 

I really can’t fault this wonderful show. It has everything you would want in a musical: silly, uplifting fun, catchy tunes and a sing-a-long, to boot. You really can’t ask for more. Spamalot is currently on a nationwide tour and is well worth catching when it comes to a theatre near you. 

 On at the Manchester Palace Theatre till the 11th November tickets available here

 

 

Hound of the Baskervilles

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Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Over the years there has been many interpretations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles – at least 20 TV and film adaptations alone, not to mention countless theatrical productions. However I challenge anyone to say they have seen anything quite like Northern Rep’s version of this classic tale… and if you don’t believe me, the proof is currently at the King’s Arms for all too see. 

Arriving at the King’s Arms, Salford for a two week run, this fun filled murder mystery focuses on the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville and the apparent threat to the heir of the Baskerville estate, Henry Baskerville. Super sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his trustee sidekick Dr Jane Watson travel from their home on Baker Street all the way to the Devonshire moors, where they encounter all manner of suspects, with even more suspect accents! Can our daring duo not only solve the case but also survive the horrid hell hound? Time will of course tell. 

Those expecting a faithful and straight laced reworking of this classic tale are in for a shock. This is an innovative, funny and downright brilliant reworking of this classic tale. All parts are played by two hugely talented actors in Michael Justice and Angela Hazeldine. The performances alternate with two other actors, so it’s pot luck as to who you’ll get, however this is the second time I have seen this production with different cast members and in no way has it detracted from my enjoyment – if anything, it’s all the better as it keeps things fresh and slightly unexpected. The script is packed full of so many double entendres and just plain daft gags that maybe it should be called Carry on up the Baskervilles. However the joy really comes from Justice and Hazeldine’s adlibbing and doing their best to put the other off their stride.  

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Granted, they play fast and loose with the original story and by the end the convoluted plot becomes secondary as the show becomes an excuse to have a bloody good giggle.  A spot of audience participation is required and the audience tonight got into the swing of things, laughter is most definitely the order of the day. 

As I said earlier, this was my second time seeing this production and each time has been something different: the first time there were some children in attendance and the second there were none, but both performances were adapted to make all feel welcome, with the first performance being more child friendly, without losing any of the humour. 

It’s the job of any critic to critique any show as honestly as possible, however sometimes there’s no harm in leaving it to audience members to have the final say: I got talking to a lovely couple during the interval and the gentlemen claimed he’s been watching shows with his wife for over 45 years, this he told me is only second show he hasn’t fallen asleep in during all that time and I can assure you he made it through the second half too! 

Go and see this riotous romp at your nearest opportunity – you certainly won’t be disappointed! Fun, filthy and downright fabulous! 

Hound of the Baskervilles is on at Kings Arms till the 25th November 

Tickets available from: http://www.kingsarmssalford.com/whats-on/ 

 

The Wipers Times

Review by Matthew Forrest

What do you think of whenever the First World War is mentioned? The trenches? The mud? The tragic loss of life? People of a certain age, myself included, will be reminded of GCSE History lessons, with poems by Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.  It would be fair to say that this period in history is not remembered for its’ humour or biting comedy. However, writers Ian Hislop and Nick Newman are on-hand to give us an alternative and surprising version of the Great War through their play The Wipers Times.

The Wipers Times was a satirical magazine produced on the frontline by soldiers who, when not dodging German mortars, were sharpening their satirical swords and giving the military top-brass a good savaging. The magazine grew with every passing publication and provided the ‘Tommys’ with a morale boosting spot of light relief.


Adapted from Hislop and Newman’s BBC film of the same name, the play focuses on a band of soldiers from the 24th Division of the Sherwood Foresters.  Whilst based in Ypres, they stumble upon a printing press and with this, Captain Fred Roberts and Lieutenant Jack Pearson hit upon the idea of writing a journal made up of jokes and skits to send up the grim situation they find themselves in.  Fake adverts and spoof war reports are the order of the day as the magazine gains popularity with the troops whilst raising the ire of those in command.

This is an excellent piece of the theatre and well worth going to see. As you would expect from writers of their calibre, the jokes are bang on point, and although they freely admit they lifted the best gags directly from the pages of ‘The Wipers’, this is their love letter to a publication which proceeds magazines such as Viz, Punch, and their own magazine Private EyeIt provides a fascinating insight into satire as well as the British stiff-upper-lip. There are gags about the Daily Mail and ridiculous facial hair that, despite being 100 years old, still seem relevant today thus proving a good gag done properly will always be timeless.

The cast are on top form: James Dutton and George Kemp are excellent as Roberts and Pearson and it is their friendship which drives the play. They are supported by a great, young cast of actors who really show the camaraderie and spirit of the time, made all the more poignant with the loss of one of their ranks.

Director Caroline Leslie has got the balance between humour and pathos just right.  Leslie has got the tone spot-on and has judged it exceptionally well. The comedic set-pieces of the musical hall numbers and mock adverts are the highlights; they tip more than a nod and wink to Monty Python’s Flying Circus or The Goons and fans of this style of humour will love it.

The production design is first class, with Dora Schweitzer’s claustrophobic set design in conjunction with Steve Mayo’s booming sound scape: yes this is a comedy but you’re only a moment away from potential catastrophe, as the debris falls from the ceiling, you feel the soldiers peril and part of the action.

The production does have a few very minor issues. At times some of the dialogue was lost; I think maybe the microphones needed turning up a touch.

The Wipers Times is a funny, sharp, entertaining snap-shot of a little known part of Britain’s history, but more importantly it’s a celebration of something we do better than anyone the world over…….”taking the p**s”.

The Wipers Times is on at the Manchester Opera House till the 4th November

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-wipers-times/opera-house-manchester/

The Salford Belles

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Jack Land Nobel’s darkly comedic soap opera The Salford Belles is headed to Hope Mill Theatre from tomorrow as part of The Greater Manchester Fringe this month.

First staged as The Barnsley Belles by the Yorkshireman Company back in July 2013 and now given a Salfordian twist by LS Theatre Productions, The Salford Belles promises to be a little like an episode of Coronation Street screened way, way after the watershead!

We meet Queenie, Mary and Martha who are all are at their wits end after a lifetime of cooking, cleaning, caring and conspiring. They are all desperate for change – but at what cost? Join The Salford Belles in this hilarious dark comedy and discover what goes on behind closed doors when the washing’s brought in from the rain and the curtains are drawn.

Catch the show from Monday 17th July until Saturday 22nd at Hope Mill Theatre, tickets available via the link below;

http://www.greatermanchesterfringe.co.uk/index.php#startlisting

 

 

Waiting For God

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The new stage adaptation of the BAFTA nominated 1990’s BBC series is a slick, and frequently hilarious production that looks at growing old disgracefully in Bay View Retirement Village.

The most popular characters from the original series are here, reimagined for 2017, in an all-new script penned by the sitcom’s creator Michael Aitkens. Nichola McAuliffe as Diana and Jeffrey Holland as Tom Ballard steal the show with multi-dimensional and generous performances. McAuliffe in particular shows amazing range as she transforms from a crotchety and bitter ‘senior citizen’ to a passionate and wickedly naughty character and everything in between, with excellent support from Ballard as her love interest.

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There was plenty for the audience to enjoy with frequent snappy one-liners which were also balanced with a surprising depth of insight and depiction of tragedy which  were related in a very human way by the lead characters. Samuel Collings and Emily Pithon as Harvey Baines and Jane Edwards made a humorous double-act, if veering a little close to the farcical at times. The other supporting characters of Sarah Chase played by Joanna Bending and Geoffrey Ballard played by David Benson were presented with gusto and professionalism, each made a meaningful impression. Bending was particularly hilarious during the birth scene, and Benson showed excellent acting chops particularly masterfully during final tragic/comic speech depicting his wedding and marriage in a piece of acting that was both hilarious and moving.

Daft but laugh-out-loud funny moments in the chapel at the end of the play were a fitting end to a very enjoyable evening.

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On at The Lowry until Saturday 8th July http://www.thelowry.com/events/waiting-for-god

Reviewer – Margot Power

The Hound of the Baskervilles

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If you’re looking for a riotous romp through the mysterious Devonshire moors without having to leave the comforts of the city, then get yourselves down to Manchester’s newest pop-up theatre, The Reading Room where you’ll find Northern Rep putting their hilarious stamp on Arthur Conan Doyle’s much loved classic, The Hound of the Baskervilles.

This fun-filled murder-mystery spoof follows legendary super sleuths Sherlock Holmes and Dr Jane Watson as they attempt to solve the curious case of the death of Mr Charles Baskerville as the threat of the curse of a bloodthirsty hound looms large over Baskerville’s heir Henry. Unbeknown to our crime solving duo the secret to cracking the case may well be being kept from them by Charles’ very own family, despite this our detecting duo press on determined to return to Baker Street triumphant!

Incredibly all parts in this innovative production are played by just two actors who rotate performances, the highly versatile and hugely talented Christopher Brown and Angela Hazeldine perform this evening with Thea Beyleveld and Michael Justice also performing during the run. They differentiate characters by giving them superbly exaggerated accents from as far as Texas to Taunton and many, many places in between as well as props befitting each character. The duo blister through the piece with hilarious consequences, both are engaging, superbly silly and hugely entertaining, with the action becoming increasingly outrageous as we meet more and more characters from the moors.

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The emphasis here is on comedy and boy do the two cast members deliver; they play off each other beautifully as the sharp script gifts our duo with some real genuine moments of laugh out loud humour. Of course no spoof would be complete without occasional trips and line-fluffs which only adds to the controlled chaos of this delightful production, there are cheeky innuendos a plenty as canes are caressed and overgrown bushes penetrated, ooh err!

Director Thomas Moore has used the intimate space of the reading room to great effect. The beautifully crafted 30 seater venue within Manchester’s Great Northern Warehouse is the perfect setting for bringing the melodrama and magic of the piece to life. You don’t have to be a Sherlock Holmes fan to get enormous pleasure out of this farcical whodunit, the show’s spontaneous feel makes it accessible to all as the cast charmingly address the audience apologising for apparent mistakes. The Hound of the Baskervilles is an absolute riot, cheeky, chaotic and jolly good fun, with the fabulous Mrs Hudson on hand to wet your whistle it’s an absolute must-see!

On at The Reading Room, Great Northern until Saturday 16th September https://www.northernrep.co.uk/thebaskervilles

 

The Play That Goes Wrong

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Bursting onto the Lowry stage this week with a crash, bang and almighty wallop is West End smash hit and recent Broadway transfer, The Play That Goes Wrong.

Mischief Theatre have come a long way since their humble beginnings in an Inslington Pub and their original production continues to thrill as the company delivers the silliest and most calamitous night out at the theatre you’re ever likely to witness.

Cornley Polytechnic amateur dramatic club invite us to join them as they attempt to stage their bold new production, Murder at Haversham Hall, a 1920’s murder mystery which quickly becomes less whodunnit and more survival of the fittest.

The catastrophes begin immediately as the lights go up prematurely as our victim is still getting himself in place on the chaise lounge. Anything that could go wrong absolutely does in this riotous romp of farcical fun. The physical comedy is hilarious with gag after gag hitting you thick and fast, you just about regain your composure when another disaster unfolds and tears of laughter begin again. From missing props, to set malfunctions you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing as the cast press on with their ‘show must go on attitude’ and remain completely in character despite the chaos unfolding all around them.

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High praise must go to this hardworking ensemble cast, the teamwork involved to enable such slick delivery is impressive; their commitment to making things look so delightfully disastrous is incredible as the madcap mayhem leaves audiences exhausted from laughing so hard. Each person on stage gives their all in this high energy romp and together creates the most wonderful team. Special mention must go to Alistair Kirton as Cecil Haversham he is superb, so thrilled with his own performance any audience applause is too wonderful to ignore. Also Patrick Warner as Inspector Carter, his attempts to remain calm amidst the madness are hilarious. Making it all possible is Nigel Hook’ set which is superb, intricate and sophisticated with all manner of opportunities for disasters to unfold as every piece has its part to play.

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The Play That Goes Wrong is the perfect tonic; the company deliver the most seamless escapist fun, something so important in current times. It’s chaotic, silly, brilliantly bonkers and delightfully daft, an absolute must see!

On at The Lowry until Saturday 10th June https://www.thelowry.com/events/the-play-that-goes-wrong