Interview | Zoe Bourn | Twirlywoos Live

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Over the last 10 years there’s been a huge increase in the number of children’s TV shows making the leap from screen to stages across the country allowing little ones the opportunity to see their favourite characters in the flesh and offering a first theatrical experience in the process.

Translating the larger than life fantastical world of Children’s TV into the physical world of theatre whilst still ensuring the magic remains the same is no easy feat, one which for Zoe Bourn has become a full-time job. Her passion for creating engaging, memorable and unique live experiences for even the youngest of theatre goers has led to her bringing some firm favourites to theatrical life including the world famous Thomas and Friends and Fireman Sam.

Zoe now turns her attention to Twirlywoos whom have been a firm favourite on CBeebies since they first appearance back in 2015. The stage production will feature inventive handcrafted puppets of the mischievous bird-like creatures and will feature everyone’s favourite characters from the much-loved TV show.

We caught up with Zoe ahead of the show’s arrival at The Lowry on Friday 15th February to hear a little more about bringing this show to life.

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Twirlywoos has enjoyed phenomenal success on TV. What do you think makes it so popular?

“I think its success is largely due to the playful nature of the characters. The humour appeals to everyone and really helps to make it universally accessible.”

What can audiences expect from Twirlywoos Live?

“We have purposely stayed close to the TV format so our little audience members will feel safe and familiar with what they’re seeing. But they can expect a very different experience as we invite them into the action and bring the Twirlywoos magic to life all around them.”

Do you have a favourite Twirlywoos character and why?

“I actually love Peekaboo! It’s such an easy character for children of this age group to relate to and offers a really lovely interlude from the chaos the Twirlywoos create. And I love the fact that no one else ever sees or interacts with it and yet you never feel sorry for it – that’s a powerful character!”

What are the challenges of transporting Twirlywoos into the 3D world of theatre?

“There have been many! Due to the nature of the show we have needed to have lots of research and development sessions in order to figure out how best to translate it. One of the main challenges is how to present the real world scenes as the characters are very small and we have to ensure they are seen from every seat in the auditoriums. The team who look after the TV show have worked really closely with our production team to give us the flexibility we needed on the scale of our puppets without them appearing any differently.”

You have adapted other much-loved children’s titles for the stage. How do you go about writing new stories for these well-known characters?

“It’s important to immerse yourself in the TV episodes and to respect the rules and structure that their writers have invented wherever possible. Shows of this calibre have a whole science behind them and I think if you can balance the inclusion of this with the golden rules of live theatre then you have a winning formula. Children are also sticklers for detail. They will be the first ones to tell you if you’ve got it wrong!”

Why do you think it’s important that children experience theatre at a young age?

“Giving young children the opportunity to experience live theatre opens them up to a new dimension of experience and can inspire their own creativity. The earlier we can do this and the more regularly the better – especially in the UK where our education system doesn’t always recognise the importance and value of the arts to our growth and wellbeing.”

You can catch Twirlywoos at the Lowry from Friday 15th until Monday 18th February, tickets available here.

 

Robin Hood & The Babes in the Wood

The decorations may have come down and the tree has been packed away but there’s one festive treat still on offer as Robin Hood & The Babes in the Wood plays at Warrington’s Parr Hall until Sunday 13th January.

This traditional production is packed full of the usual pantomime favourites, cream pies in the face, water guns as well as being grabbed by the ghosties, or was it the ghoulies? There’s also a sprinkling of topical modern references including the floss, a certain Baby Shark song and even an appearance from the one and only Donald Trump as this fun, family show offers laughs a-plenty for all ages.

The Tony Peers Production written by Phil Beck (who also stars as Nurse Nellie) keeps things very panto traditional with Louise Willoughby playing Robin Hood to Charlotte Buxton’s Maid Marion. Willoughby makes for a strong and sassy lead with both ladies giving note perfect performances despite some hilariously difficult conditions brought about by comedy duo Nurse Nellie and Silly Billy (Phil Beck and Mike Carnell) whose comedy capers are greeted with shrieks of laughter from the audience.

As a double act both Beck and Carnell are fabulous fun, quick witted and enormously entertaining with impeccable comedy timing the duo ensure the action moves at a perfect pace as they gently guide us through the story throwing in plenty of laughs along the way. Ian Moore’s lecherous Sheriff of Nottingham revels in the boos while the Sheriff’s reluctant henchman Snarly played by Edward Leigh shows there’s more to him than meets the eye.

Robin Hood is a great fun production which offers the perfect introduction to festive theatre at a family friendly price. The small cast work brilliantly together, clearly having a lot of fun on stage they succeed in taking the audience along for this traditional and cheeky ride. While there aren’t the big show stopping numbers or dazzling choreography of bigger budget productions the laughs come thick and fast ensuring this panto covers all bases in terms of appeal, from toe-curling close to the bone jokes for the adults to slap-stick silliness for the kids.

My fellow mini-reviewer remarked on the way back to the car “My cheeks hurt from laughing so much” a true testament to the enduring appeal of panto; cheeky, charming and chock-full of fun.

Catch Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood at Warrington’s Parr Hall until Sunday 13th January. Tickets available here.

 

 

 

Peter Pan

Reviewed by Kate Goerner

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Following on from last Christmas’s terrific Snow White, Regal Entertainments 2018 festive pantomime is a high-flying production of the classic children’s tale Peter Pan, directed by Chantelle Nolan.

From the colourful costumes and sets to special effects including a lovely flying sequence complete with impressive projections and a scream-inducing underwater 3D section (word of warning, younger children may find the shark a bit too scary!), it felt like this was St Helen’s most lavish panto to date.

The theatre’s resident comic Lewis Devine takes on the role of Peter Pan, a slight departure from his usual comedy sidekick role, although he does bring in plenty of comic touches regular audiences will recognise.

Clearly relishing the chance to play the leading man, a relaxed Devine enjoys easy rapport with the cast and audience alike. And as always he is great with the kids who come up on stage at the end of the show.
One thing Peter Pan does have is a brilliant baddie in the nefarious Captain James Hook – here played by Brookside favourite and theatre regular Louis Emerick.
Emerick is probably too likeable and charming to ever be a really bad baddie – but that’s ok. The audience loved his easy manner on stage and his Scouse gags got plenty of laughs.
He shows great chemistry with the Theatre Royal’s popular resident dame Si Foster who plays a warm and witty Mrs Smee (as well as writing the show).
It’s a delight watching them together on stage and if you thought you saw the year’s best version of ABBA’s Fernando in Mamma Mia 2 – think again!
In fact all the songs hit the mark, with musicals fans in particular sure to be delighted with some lovely company numbers inoRevolting Children from Matilda, and Wicked’s Dancing Through Life. And the reworking of Nativity’s Nazareth into Neverland to open the show was inspired!
2018’s cult hit Baby Shark is included and the only disappointment on the music front was the absence of a number from The Greatest Showman, which seems to a staple of many pantos this year.
Strictly Come Dancing’s Kristina Rihanoff has lots of fun as a stubborn and sulky Tinkerbell – and it was a treat getting to see her show off some ballroom moves – while Georgina Parkinson (Wendy) and Abigail Middleton (Tiger Lily) made the most of their supporting roles and both showed off fine voices. A large juvenile cast ably supported the principles, as did the ensemble.
The only real criticism is possibly one of Peter Pan as a panto as a whole, rather than particularly in relation to this production. With no real love story, or an out and out comic ‘Buttons-esque’ character, the show did lack romance, and laughs – while plenty (the running Peter’s Camp gag was a real winner!) – were not as constant compared to previous pantos here, particularly the sort of slapstick humour that has kids in hysterics!
But that aside, this is a highly-enjoyable, warm, family friendly version of a much-loved story brought to life by a cast clearly enjoying every minute.And as usual, tickets are commendably good value and affordable for families – starting at just £11.
Until Sunday 13th January 2019 tickets available here.

Cinderella | Opera House

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First staged in 2016 at the London Palladium then last year at Birmingham’s legendary Hippodrome Qdos Entertainment’s Cinderella has been brought bang up to date by writer Alan McHugh with Corrie jokes a plenty and hilarious local references a go-go. Both Ben Nickles who plays Buttons and Ugly Sister Les Dennis adding material to the laugh a minute script ensuring a riotous night out is guaranteed.

All the stops have been pulled out in this spectacular production; lavish sets, colourful costumes, catchy songs and a superb cast ensuring the Opera House panto remains at the top of theatre goers agenda for another festive season.

Our Ugly Sisters Phelina (Connor McIntyre) and Michaela (Les Dennis) are mad for it as they blend the silly with the slapstick and throw in some cheeky charm for good measure, the pairing is genius as panto pro Les leads the way, reminding us all just why he’s one of the best in the business.

Rochdale comedian Ben Nickless quickly becomes an audience favourite as Buttons; he laps up the applause and delights with outrageously funny comedy capers and hilarious impressions, a born entertainer who comes very close to stealing the show.

Gareth Gates and Shannon Flynn make for a perfect pairing as the dashing Prince Charming and the down on her luck Cinderella proving that they’re not afraid of getting stuck in with the slapstick when their romantic meeting turns into a hilarious battle of wills with lovesick Buttons.

Hayley-Ria Christian makes for a super sassy Fairy Godmother while Jack Wilcox is a commanding and charismatic Dandini.

The ensemble cast and young company, always a favourite of mine in panto add vibrancy with slick delivery of Fabian Aloise’s choreography adding additional charm to this feel-good family show.

Qdos Entertainment has got Cinderella just right in terms of pitch, the script is jam-packed with hilarious gags and witty one–liners while the innuendo we all expect from panto never tips into crudeness, its good old cheeky fun and plenty of it.

The transformation scene at the end of Act I really has to be seen to be believed and is worth the ticket price alone as the gasps of delight from the audience both young and old are heard loud and clear. While panto may one of theatre’s oldest traditions this production feels fresh and vibrant.

Cinderella really is the perfect package; it’s lavish, sparkly, sequined fun suitable for all the family. This extravagant production is everything panto should be and more.

Guaranteed to entertain from start to finish leaving you feeling suitably festive and full of Christmas cheer. Big, bold and brilliant!

Cinderella is on until Sunday 30th December tickets available here.

Snow White | Epstein Theatre

Snow White Image 2 - Credit David Munn Photography

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Epstein Christmas panto is gaining quite the reputation for being the ‘must-see’ of the festive period in Liverpool, and this year’s offering of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is no different.

The story follows Snow White (Mia Molloy) and a chance meeting with Prince Valiant (Alex Patmore) which sets both their hearts a racing, however this raises the ire of Snow White’s wicked step-mother, Queen Kimberlina (Kim Woodburn).

Snow White Image 4 - Credit David Munn Photography

After escaping The Queen and one of her diabolical schemes: Snow White with help from Fairy Goodheart (Claire Simmo) seeks refuge with Seven Dwarfs, but this being a Scouse panto, these aren’t your typical fairy-tale little men. There is Snotty, Soft-Lad, and the rather posh, Wooly-Back, (he’s from the Wirral) to name but a few. Throw into the mix a very untraditional panto dame in the guise of Dame Debbie (Michael Chapman), loveable sidekick Muddles (Lewis Pryor), evil Henchman (Daryl Holden) and a special appearance by Derek Acorah as the Magic Mirror, some fantastic songs, and some brilliantly choreographed dance routines and you have the recipe for a perfect panto.

The show is a riot from start to finish, filled with jokes for children and adults of all ages. Never taking itself too seriously: the show is packed with moments of slapstick, as well as family friendly jokes, with hefty dose of cheeky innuendo that never becomes coarse or vulgar but will have the adults crying with laughter. This is Snow White with a Scouse twist, with plenty of gags and phrases that will resonate with locals,, it’s a fabulously festive treat, (I’ll be doing most of my Christmas shopping with Scally the Dwarf).

Snow White Image 3 - Credit David Munn Photography

Top billing for the show goes to Kim Woodburn and Derek Acorah, however there is so much more to this show than just the star names. The whole cast work there socks off throughout, with intricate song and dance numbers that include: Mr Blue Sky, Killer Queen, and Devil Woman.

Michael Chapman as well as playing Dame Debbie both wrote and directed the whole thing and should be immensely proud of his achievements. He is outstanding as the sassiest, most gangster panto dame you’ll ever see, and pretty much steals every scene he’s involved in. Lewis Pryor shows what a great all-round talented performer he is as the loveable Muddles, whilst Mia Molloy is perfectly cast as our heroine with a beautiful voice and great character acting.

Snow White Image 6 - Credit David Munn Photography

There are a couple of very few minor issues: the action seems to take a bit of a lull midway through the first act, and there were a few misplaced lines here and there but we can always forgive that in panto can’t we? Oh yes we can! All in all this is a fantastic, fun, family show, which will leave young and old entertained from start to finish as well as being excellent value for money. Now where did I leave my trainers!?

Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs is on at the Epstein Theatre until Wednesday 2nd January, tickets available here.

First look Doctor Dolittle

Have you booked your tickets yet?

Be quick as you’ve never seen anything like it!

We are absolutely loving these production shots from Doctor Dolittle which opens at The Lowry next week.

The magical musical which promises festive fun for all the family will run from Tuesday 11th December until Saturday 6th January.

Starring Harry Potter star Mark Williams at the Doctor, Corrie favourites Brian Capron as both Albert Blossom and the mighty Straight Arrow, Vicky Entwistle as trusty side-kick Polynesia while Adele Anderson (Fascinating Aïda) will be playing Lady Bellowes and Poison Arrow.

The spectacular stage show follows Doctor Dolittle on his magical adventure in pursuit of the Giant Pink Sea Snail which holds the secret of life and making the world a happier place. We’ll meet marvellous humans as well as some mighty impressive animals along the way including the Pushmi-Pullyu and the Doctor’s trusty sidekick Polynesia the Parrot. The show promises to be a thrilling Christmas treat for young and old.

Tickets are available now and can be found here.

Interview | Doctor Dolittle’s Brian Capron

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Doctor Dolittle returns to the stage this Christmas in Leslie Bricusse’s acclaimed family musical which opens at the Lowry on Tuesday 11th December.

Based on the much loved 1967 film with Rex Harrison, Leslie Bricusse’s family favourite promises fun for all as eccentric Doctor (Mark Williams) takes us on a magical adventure in his quest to find the Giant Pink Sea Shell which holds the secret of life and making the world a happier place.

Not only will we meet the Pushmi-Pullyu and the Doctor’s trusty sidekick Polynesia the Parrot but we’ll also meet many wonderful human companions along the way. Here at Opening Night we were lucky enough to catch up with one of the talented humans taking to the stage this festive season in the form of Brian Capron.

Coronation Street legend and much admired theatre actor Brian give us the inside info on what we can expect from this Christmas spectacular.

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Opening Night: This production sounds absolutely spectacular, especially the puppets.

BC: It’s going to be wonderful, so much thought and planning has gone into this production. The planning alone for the puppets has been incredible. It almost doesn’t feel right saying puppets as they are so lifelike, they’re such characters which their own individual personalities.

ON: Are you looking forward to performing with the puppets?

BC: Absolutely, I have a number with the Pushmi-Pullyu, which is a double headed llama & when I first saw the puppet it wasn’t quite finished but even then I could tell just how impressive it was going to be, it was already taller than me! It’s absolutely huge and has a performer in either end. It will be performing a dance in the middle of the number, Never Seen Anything Like It, which will be just magical.

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ON: It sounds like the show is really going to impress visually.

BC: Tom Piper the designer is one of the best theatre designers in the country. The way he has envisaged the whole thing, coming out of a storybook really is so very, very exciting.

The show will still be a period show but some things will be a little updated. It’s amazing really just how relevant to today this show is. There’s a charming message that comes through about the preservation of flora and fauna, conservation of animals etc. and it is presented so beautifully.

ON: You’re playing two characters in the production, can you tell us a little about them?

BC: Yes I play two characters; the 1st is Albert Blossom who owns the circus. He’s a big, fun character to play and of course I get to perform the fabulous Never Seen Anything Like It which is one of the big turns in the show. He’s a wonderful character to play. The second character is a complete contrast, a character called Straight Arrow, he is head of the natives on Sea-Star Island, the island Doctor Dolittle visits. He’s very posh so a wonderful contrast to the 1st half.

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ON: Are you looking forward to spending the festive season at the Lowry?

BC: Absolutely, I often do panto at Christmas, in fact last year I was at the Stockport Plaza so I’m really excited to be coming back to the North West with such a wonderful Christmas show.

Doctor Dolittle really is a genuine family show, suitable for young and old to enjoy together. It’s going to be wonderful, there’s a great cast, spectacular songs, incredible scenery and costumes, it really will be something special.

Doctor Dolittle opens at The Lowry on Tuesday 11th December and runs until Saturday 5th January tickets available https://thelowry.com/whats-on/doctor-dolittle/