The Animals and Children took to the Streets

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

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Trial By Laughter

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Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An Evening of Eric and Ern

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

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

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

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

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

Eric

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

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

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

Benidorm Live

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Comedy About A Bank Robbery

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Matt Forrest

It would appear that anything Mischief Theatre touch turns to gold; maybe they should rename themselves the Midas Theatre instead. First, there was the enormously popular The Play That Goes Wrong, which is a huge West End and Broadway smash. This was followed up by Peter Pan Goes Wrong, which although did not perform quite as well still proved immensely popular. Now the company return to the Lowry with their third offering: The Comedy About A Bank Robbery

Set in 1958, we are transported too Minneapolis, a city ravaged by crime, where no one is to be trusted: in addition, the city is blighted by a seagull problem that seems to be getting out of hand. Despite Minneapolis becoming the crime capital of the USA, Prince Ludvig of Hungary is bringing the Hungarian royal family’s crown jewels over to Minneapolis for a state visit, and everyone wants a piece of them!

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The list of suspects include: shady bank manager Robin Freeboys (Damian Lynch), his manipulative daughter, (Julia Frith), local street hustler Sam, (Sean Carey), escaped convict Mitch Ruscitti (Liam Jeavons), and his hapless sidekick, Cooper, (David Coomber). As plans are forged and alliances formed just who will walk away with the centrepiece of the crown jewels, the Maguvin Diamond: a 300-carat stone with a huge value.

I am not ashamed to say I loved The Play That Goes Wrong and was looking forward to this show immensely: I’m glad to say it did not disappoint. Heavily influenced by the films of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, who brought us the Naked Gun and Airplane series, this smart, innovative and ridiculous comedy will have you grinning like a Cheshire cat. The Comedy About A Bank Robbery draws heavily from the ‘Teen Exploitation’ films of the 1950’s and is more a love letter to them than it is to the heist/bank robbery genre, which is a welcome surprise.

Bank

Getting off to a slow start by Mischief’s standards, the first act is packed full gags around word play, who knew the name Robin Freeboys could be such resource for material? However, following the interval, the production leaps from one set piece to another showcasing the physical comedy the company have become famed for; highlights include a three-man fight performed by one man (the super talented George Hannigan playing as credited Everyone Else) and the trademark ‘dangle from a rope sequence’ with a twist. The undoubted highlight is the jaw dropping and innovative sequence as the would-be bank robbers view the bank from inside the ventilation ducts plotting their approach: spectacular and visually brilliant this scene alone is worth the price of admission.

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With this production we are treated to something a little different with a few songs and dance routines which showcase the fantastic voice of Ashley Tucker, these again are firmly in keeping with the absurd nature of the show.

There are a few minor issues: some of the scene changes could be a bit slicker, and there is a slight pacing issue, however these are minor quibbles. This is a show so packed full of visual and verbal gags that there is something for everyone. Unlike most major banks following the crash of 2008 I cannot see the stock on this production diminishing anytime soon!

The Comedy About a Bank Robbery is at the Lowry until 15th September tickets available here.

 

Legally Blonde

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

High energy, fizzing with fabulousness and full of heart Legally Blonde bursts onto the Palace theatre stage this week for the final stop of the current UK tour.

Based on the 2001 film starring Reece Witherspoon which later became an award winning Broadway musical, Legally Blonde continues to be a massive crowd pleaser with every audience member up on their feet by the end of the show.

Dumped by law student boyfriend Warner for not being a serious enough girlfriend, Elle decides to take matters into her own hands and sets about gaining a place of her own at Harvard Law School in a bid to prove she is the perfect accessory.

The tongue-in-cheek innocence of the story ensure this camp, bright and fluffy production raises smile after smile while never taking itself too seriously.

Lucie Jones bursts with personality as the Malibu marvel, with great comedic timing and a voice that packs a punch her goofy but smart Elle proves her status as a musical theatre star is secured.

Rita Simons excels as Paulette, fun and feisty she ensures the loveable hairdresser gets her moment of glory with snake-hipped UPS guy Kyle, played superbly by Ben Harlow.

Special mention must also go to Laura Harrison as Vivienne and Helen Petrovna as Brooke Wyndham, both shine in their respective roles, with Petrovna’s skills with a skipping rope during Whipped Into Shape simply mind-boggling!

Director and choreographer Anthony Williams ensures this is a production bursting with energy, enthusiasm and most of all fun. There! Right There! Being a real highlight of Act II and further cementing Legally Blonde as a kitsch, camp couple of hours of perfectly pink uplifting escapism.

With a winning energy this pink princess succeeds against the odds to find her own perfect prince and sends a reminder about the importance of sisterhood that is more than just skin-deep.

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 30th June tickets available here.

The Play That Goes Wrong

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer: Matt Forrest

With the World Cup in full swing, the whole nation seems to have gone football crazy: we’ve seen great goals, controversial refereeing decisions and some calamitous howlers, however not even the biggest goal keeping blunder would compare to the chaos that goes into The Play That Goes Wrong.

Now in its sixth year, this Tony award-winner sees the plucky but flawed local Am-dram group ‘The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’ stage a classic ‘whodunit’, with their production of Murder at Haversham Manor. However the production is blighted from the outset: there is a missing dog, a misplaced Duran Duran CD, and a faulty shelf hampering proceedings and all this before the house lights have gone down and the show has begun.

Chris Bean (Jake Curran) the stressed director head of the drama society, and lead role of Inspector Carter, welcomes us to the show and informs us of some of the society’s less successful productions which include James and his Peach, and The Lion and the Wardrobe. It’s the perfect setup to introduce a hilarious evening of mirth and mayhem.

Along the way we are introduced to the various society players which include Max Bennett, who plays Cecil Haversham, (Bobby Hirston) a first time performer milking his role for all it’s worth, Sandra Wilkinson as Florence Colleymoore (Elena Valentine) somewhat over-egging her part in a desperate bid to steal the show, and Dennis Tyde as Perkins (Benjamin McMahon) clearly nervous and not very good at learning his lines. In addition they are supported by the technical crew of Trevor (Gabriel Paul) and Annie (Catherine Dryden) who try to fight the flames of disaster (quite literally) and will play bigger roles then either would have envisaged.

As the action continues we see the play go from one catastrophe to another, taking a mental and physical toll on all the cast and crew, just thankful it’s over and that they all survived… even if not entirely in one piece.

This is the third time I’ve watched this production within the last year and I’m not ashamed to say I love it. It seems to get better and better with every viewing; you notice things you missed the first time and second time around as a result of laughing so much. Director Mark Bell has crafted a night of pure unadulterated fun and frolics. The production pokes fun at the self-important, pompous world of amateur dramatics, with a biting, scathing pitch perfect script by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields.

The cast certainly put in a shift, with an endless barrage of slapstick and physical comedy very much in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy or Michael Crawford from classic BBC sitcom Some Mother’s Do Have ‘em.

All of the cast do exceptionally well but the stand out performance goes to David Kristopher-Brown, as Robert and Thomas Colleymoore, whose performance at one point had audience members howling with laughter, with a little a hint of fear for the actors safety, made all the more impressive by the fact that Brown is the understudy for this touring production, and certainly highlights the depth of quality this production company has at its disposal. In addition, Steven Rostance as Jonathan, and Charles Haversham who plays the least convincing dead body you are likely to see and really should change his name to Lazarus!

There are a few minor issues: at times there is so much going on that it is hard to keep track of the action. In addition, because of all the turmoil, some of the dialogue is lost and hard to hear adding to the chaos and confusion

Overall this fantastically fun night at the theatre that will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear, and aching sides to boot. At the close of the show the cast let us know that their next production: The Comedy About a Bank Robbery will be going to the Lowry in September: hopefully I’ll have recovered from this performance by the time that comes around!

They Play That Goes Wrong is on at the Manchester Opera House till 30th June tickets available here.