The Secret of Christmas Eve

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

After the huge success of last year’s festive fairy-tale Hansel and Gretel Oldham Theatre Workshop return with an original Christmas musical which promises to be the perfect family treat.

The Secret of Christmas Eve introduces us to a very special little girl called Eve (Natasha Davidson) who is about to experience the most magical of adventures which sees elves brough to bright and brilliant life, adventures on flying carpets and a whole host of colourful characters as she’s tasked with the small job saving Christmas!

Brian the elf (Jabez Sykes) is bereft, this year’s Christmas wish letters have failed to reach the North Pole and without them the elves are redundant, there will be no presents and no Christmas! Thankfully and although she may not yet know it, Eve is the perfect person for the job.

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The intimate studio space at Oldham Library feels cosy and inviting as the small performance space is transformed into a welcoming home, grumpy Mrs Grimble’s Post Office and Nula Nu’s Shop of Lost Things throughout this enchanting production.

Creatives Sarah Nelson and James Atherton have worked together to create a piece of theatre which wouldn’t be out of place on a West End stage. Their imaginative storytelling is both poetic and utterly joyful capturing the Christmas spirit with warmth and wit. They have a unique ability to interweave heartfelt and important messages into seemingly simple stories packing them with an emotional depth you don’t often find in family shows.

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Audiences of all ages will take away something special from this show with its themes of family, hope, adoption and belonging all beautifully wrapped up in a feel-good story that will stay with you long after the Christmas decorations have come down.

The clever and catchy original songs are teamed with a melodic score and a hugely witty script which is delivered to perfection by a committed cast. Natasha Davidson captures entirely the wide-eyed wonder of Eve, fiercely determined to succeed despite the challenges life has given her. Jabez Sykes is a joy as Brian the Elf with bucketloads of charisma and a great gift for comedy he lights up the stage as the ever-so dramatic Elf.

Laura England is gloriously grumpy as Mrs Grimble while also displaying a wonderful warmth as Eve’s foster Mother Suzia. Purvi Parmar breathes life into the adorable Digby the Dog and is great fun as Eve’s friend Nisha while Madeleine Edmondson captivates as the mysterious and magical Nula Nu.

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Collectively the cast take on multiple roles whist also acting as narrators leading you through this delightful tale, delivering faultless harmonies with ease. There’s also an appearance from several members of the young company who add additional festive magic to this heart-warming production.

If you’ve yet to find your festive cheer then I prescribe a visit to The Secret of Christmas Eve immediately! This beautiful show packed full of heart and humour is a piece of theatrical magic. A truly enchanting Christmas adventure that will leave you feeling merry and bright well into the New Year. A truly wonderful production from Oldham Theatre Workshop and at an accessible £8 per ticket an absolute gift to us all.

The Secret of Christmas Eve is on at Oldham Library until Saturday 28th December tickets available here, you can also call the Box Office on 0161 770 3240.

 

Preview | Marvel Universe LIVE!

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If you have a little Captain America or Black Widow who loves all things Marvel – then Manchester Arena is the place to be this week!

Marvel Universe LIVE! Is an action packed arena stunt show, where audiences can enjoy seeing all their favourite heroes and villains do battle live!

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The brand new show – from the team behind Disney on Ice – is at the Arena from Thursday 28th November to Sunday 1st December and features aerial stunts, martial arts, daring motorcycle skills, pyrotechnics, special effects, 3D video projection and much more.

From Spider-Man to The Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, this really sounds like a must-see show for any comic book-mad little (and big!) kids.

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Called on by Doctor Strange, the Guardians of the Galaxy join the Avengers on a momentous crusade against the scheming Nebula who teams up with the conniving and loathsome villains Loki and Green Goblin.

The incredible superhuman forces of Iron Man, Thor, Black Panther, Hulk and Black Widow will unite in clashes that pit student against mentor, sister against sister and brother against brother.

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“Our tremendously talented creative team and a nearly super human cast, have created a show that brings Marvel to life,” said Juliette Feld, producer of Marvel Universe LIVE! “The show creates an experience that immerses families in non-stop action, creating movie-style thrills and jaw-dropping stunts that showcase the powers of your favourite Super Heroes right before your eyes.”

For tickets and more information visit www.marveluniverselive.co.uk

 

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

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Reviewed by Kate Goerner

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Micheal Rosen’s 1989 picture book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is rightly considered a children’s classic – it’s been a bedroom staple in our house since my son was a baby.

It has all the necessary ingredients – beautiful illustrations by Helen Oxenbury, fun repetitive rhyming language to read-along to, and not forgetting a dash of mild peril!

So how would it translate to the stage? Thankfully, brilliantly (phew!). This is up there with the best kids book-to-stage adaptations we’ve seen (an opinion confirmed by my 4-year-old, who said it was “as good as What The Ladybird Heard” – which is the highest of praise, believe me!)

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The staging is ingenious. Set against a backdrop of am evocative watercolour paint splodge, the much-loved elements of the book (Mud! Grass! Snow storm!) are brought to life by the cast using stuff you’d find at home – washing up bowls, bed sheets, paint and paper. Using familiar elements of messy play that the little ones in the audience will recognise, and indeed be able to recreate at home was very clever, and incredibly effective.

The brilliant cast of four (well technically 5 if we include the titular bear!) show fantastic energy throughout, individually and as an ensemble.

Tim Hibberd’s sardonic dad has just the right amount of wry humour to get the adults in the audience on board, but with boundless energy and warmth to get the kids on side too.

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Hannah Donelon and Artie Godden as the young girl and boy display great comic timing and physical comedy and Benjamin Hills as the family dog is great fun! He only says the occasion,y ‘woof’ but plays a multitude of instruments, bringing Benji Bower’s score to life.

My little co-reviewer’s favourite bit? Obviously the obligatory waterpistols that brought the splashy-sploshy river to life and to the audience! But he laughed out loud throughout, clutched my arm whenever he heard the bear ‘roar’ and said it was a “nice” surprise when the eventually-found bear didn’t turn out to be scary AT ALL.

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is at The Lowry, Salford Quays, until August 31st and is the perfect summer holiday treat for your little bear cub. (And if you want to prolong the fun there’s an accompanying bear hunt themed trail across the Lowry and the neighbouring outlet mall – collect a fun sheet from the customer service desk in the mall).

In a word, roarsome!

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is on at The Lowry until Saturday 31st August, tickets available here.

Blackpool Tower Circus

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Writer Kate Goerner

Blackpool Tower Circus has been running for an incredible 125 years, dating back to 1894 – the world’s oldest circus based in a permanent arena.

It’s a rich history that the Circus is rightly proud of, as evidenced by the old posters and memorabilia on display to audience members as they they make their way from the entrance of the Tower to their seats ringside.

It’s impressive how the feel of a traditional big top is replicated in a permanent structure (designed by legendary theatre designer Frank Matchem no less) you do feel like you’re in a ‘proper’ circus setting!

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The circus has been led for the past 25 years by ‘Mr Boo’ and ‘Mooky’, who act as clowns and ringmasters combined.

The new Bollywood-themed show, Circus Carnival, has recently launched, just in time for the Easter.

The two-hour running time (including an interval) is filled with comedy, daring trapeze and gravity-defying stunts and circus skills, all accompanied by the in-house live band.

We loved the clever quick change act, the very definition of “how did they do that” plus the traditional circus balancing skills like juggling hula hoops.

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I was actually unaware that every Blackpool Tower Circus performance concludes with a water performance. The Arena’s unique design features a hydraulic floor which sinks and fills with 42,000 gallons of water in less than a minute. I wouldn’t want to give away any of the surprises of the finale – but it’s a wonderful way to end the show, with design, lighting, music and performance uniting to help audience members leave with a smile on their faces.

More information on the Blackpool Tower Circus can be found here.

 

In The Night Garden Live

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In The Night Garden Live has been enchanting children since its very first tour in 2010; there’s nothing quite like seeing the faces of little ones light up when they realise their favourite characters are right there in front of them. For 2019 the show is even bigger and better as it moves out of the purpose built showdomes and into theatres across the country in an all-new & completely charming adventure; Igglepiggle’s Busy Day!

The much-loved characters Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy, Makka Pakka, The Tombliboo’s and The Pontipines all feature in this wonderful celebration of the original CBeebies show brought to vivid life by an outstanding team of actor/puppeteers.

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The story written by Helen Eastman is told beautifully through song, dance and gentle music as Igglepiggle goes about his busy day bumping into his friends along the way. With the helpful addition of narration from Derek Jacobi, (the voice of the TV show); the story flows at a gentle pace ensuring even the youngest of audience members can follow the action in this joyful show.

The life-size versions of each character particularly captivate the little ones. There are both squeals of delight and frantic waves as one by one they each take to the stage. The whole experience feels magical, the perfect opportunity for little ones to have their first experience of the theatre. There are no loud bangs or unexpected surprises here just an enchanting & professionally executed show which will no doubt become a regular fixture in theatre schedules across the country.

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The set features familiar animations & bold visuals which further add to the immersive feel of this show as the much-loved characters whisk us along on their colourful ride. At around an hour long this is just the right about of time for the little ones who lap up every bit of the action.

My youngest guest who is 3 and a half announced upon entering the theatre & seeing the stage “I am so happy” I can confirm his smile was even wider by the end of the show. His Mum who has been to the shows at the showdome many times really enjoyed the experience of seeing the characters take to the stage in the theatre while her older son (age 5) really enjoyed the experience of going to the theatre with his baby brother and said of the move into the theatre “It’s not just for babies now but boys and girls too”

In The Night Garden Live is a huge hug of a show, joyous, magical family fun.

Further ticket and tour information can be found here.

 

Twirlywoos Live

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The producers of The Very Hungry Caterpillar as well as Sarah and The Duck Live clearly know a thing or two about creating entertaining children’s theatre. Their latest production: The Twirlywoos Live sees the much loved CBeebies TV show and its colourful, mischievous characters live on stage much to the delight of the youngsters in the audience.

For those not in the know the Twirlywoos are a family of bird like creatures who travel round in a big red boat spreading a little mischief wherever they wash up. They are made up of Great Big Hoo, Toodloo, Chickedy and Chick not forgetting colourful creature Peekaboo, whop pops up every now and again to cause a little mischief. There was also a flying visit from the Quacky Birds who took to the audience for a bit of noisy exploration as well as a surprise guest in the form of The Very Important Lady.

The innovative set changes from boat to laundrette to pizza parlour to party room with ease as the actors/puppeteers work with the Twirlywoos to teach the little ones in the audience about physical actions like ‘pulling’ and ‘rolling’ all done to simple yet memorable effect.

There’s singing and comedy as well as opportunities to interact including a rather exciting section where bubbles rain down on the audience causing a near frenzy of excitement.

The children I took loved the interactive elements enjoying shouting out their favourite pizza toppings and laughing hysterically at the washing basket which kept getting ‘pulled’ in different directions.

There were times at the Epstein Theatre when we struggled to hear the dialogue between the actors, while this show is very visual the dialogue is important to aid the storytelling and also retain the full attention of the audience; upping the volume a little would ensure there are no such problems in future performances.

With mischief, music and lots of giddy hijinks on the agenda Twirlywoos Live is a laugh-out-loud adventure, lapped up by little ones, great family fun.

Catch the show at the Epstein until Thursday 21st February tickets can be found here.

Annie

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Nikolai Foster’s revival of family favourite musical Annie has gone from strength to strength since it first debuted at the West Yorkshire Playhouse back in 2011. With a sell-out UK tour in 2015/16 followed by an extended run in the West End plus a recent sell-out season in Toronto all safely tucked under its belt; Annie is back on the road for 2019 opening a new UK tour here in Manchester.

Set in New York during the Great Depression it is indeed a hard-knock life for 11 year old orphan Annie who finds herself living in miserable, gin-swilling Miss Hannigan’s all-girl orphanage. Consumed with a fierce determination to find her real parents Annie manages to escape the boozy clutches of Miss Hannigan when she is picked to spend Christmas at the residence of famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks. However Miss Hannigan and her good-for-nothing brother Rooster aren’t quite done with orphan Annie and set about trying their best to get in the way of her happy ending.

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Based on Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie comic strips the original musical opened on Broadway in 1977, it is however the 1982 film starring Albert Finney, Bernadette Peters and Eileen Quinn that remains most firmly etched in many people’s minds. It was without doubt one of the most worn out VHS tapes in my house, my sisters and I knowing every line, my eldest sister can still be called upon to belt out a deafening rendition of ‘Rover, why not think it over?’ should the need arise. With clearly many other Annie fans at the Opera House tonight it’s a welcome relief to see that director Nikolai Foster’s production respects the audiences love for this piece and has kept the changes to a minimum. It is still packed full of unforgettable classics including Hard Knock Life, Tomorrow, Easy Street and Little Girls while Miss Hannigan remains gin-guzzlingly awful but has a new technicoloured vibrancy about it.

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Its colourful escapism is reflected in Colin Richmond’s intricate set and costume design, jigsaw pieces scattered across the set reflecting Annie’s journey as piece by piece her life and identity come together all beautifully lit by Ben Cracknell. Yes at times it is schmaltzy but heck if Annie can make the President of the United States sit up and listen just imagine what she could do if unleashed into Brexit negotiations!

A large part of what makes Annie so endearing is of course the kids in the show and they really do make this production. Taziva-Faye Katsande is a charming and confident Annie supported perfectly by Team Chrysler for this evenings press night, each girl is outstanding bursting with life and vibrant energy with little Orla McDonagh threatening to steal the show as Molly on what is her professional debut.

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Anita Dobson makes for a cranky and world weary Miss Hannigan while Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks transforms before our eyes from hardnosed business man to smitten adoptive father. The ensemble deliver Nick Winston’s inventive choreography with sass and style adding exuberant energy to the much-loved musical numbers.

Annie is feel-good family fun, a real celebration of courage and innocent optimism as well as a wonderful reminder to us all that when the hard knocks come we need to find our inner strength and fight back remembering what seems impossible today will look different tomorrow. Joyful family entertainment with a great story at it’s heart.

On at The Opera House until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.