& Juliet

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Some jukebox musicals come and go faster than you can say Hit Me Baby One More Time others like Mamma Mia really hit the spot becoming staples of the theatre scene; enter new kid on the block & Juliet a magnificent mash-up of legendary songwriter Max Martin’s biggest hits which judging by tonight’s thunderous standing ovation is without doubt here to stay.

Bursting into vibrant life with opening number ‘Larger Than Life’ & Juliet directed by Luke Sheppard gives an absolute masterclass in musical theatre. Visually stunning and with a cast that reads like a who’s who of theatre royalty & Juliet takes you on a joyous ride of empowerment, uplifting fun and star quality sass.

Forget what you know about Romeo & Juliet, this fresh production transforms the Bard’s tragic tale as Anne Hathaway (played spectacularly by Cassidy Janson) tells husband William Shakespeare (an impressive Oliver Tompsett) that his ending for the star-crossed lovers is…well basically shit; thus opening the gates for Juliet’s journey of sensational self-discovery as she explores for the first time what it means to truly get a life!

Oliver Tompsett and Cassidy Janson take on part narrator part player roles as the two inventively weave themselves into the narrative, influencing and entertaining throughout. Tompsett makes for a determined, unwavering Shakespeare that is until wife Anne (Cassidy Janson) takes his quill and sets about influencing not only Juliet’s but her own story. Both are perfectly cast, they spark wonderfully off each other with razor sharp comedic timing and genuinely warm wit.

Miriam-Teak Lee is simply outstanding as Juliet, giving an absolutely world-class performance, delivering powerhouse vocals with ease while her warm charisma combined with instant likability gets the audience immediately on side. It’s a thrill to join her on this fabulous ride as we will this fine heroine to find her own happy ending.

Best friend May is played beautifully by Arun Blair-Mangat his raw fragility when delivering Britney’s much-loved ‘I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman’ is packed with genuine heart and gut-wrenching emotion while Tim Mahendran is excellent as love interest Francois adding a perfect twist to proceedings while taking the story to another unexpected level.

Special mention must go to David Badella and Melanie La Barrie as Lance and Nurse who are quite simply a joy to watch, bringing the house down during their outrageously funny duet Teenage Dream/Break Free. Jordan Luke Gage introduces us to a very different kind of Romeo, an empty-headed heartthrob who may not be quite as innocent as he seems, Gage thrills with his spectacular arrival while his hilarious doe-eyed dorkish delivery is lapped up by the audience.

No review of the show would be complete without heaping praise on the insanely talented ensemble who look like they are having the time of their lives on stage. They deliver Jennifer Weber’s slick choreography with precision and a sass Beyoncé would be proud of just when you think they couldn’t get any better they crank it up a notch more, absolutely stunning.

Set designer Soutra Gilmour has created something epic here as the constantly evolving set continues to surprise while Paloma Young’s stunning costume design is a glorious meeting of period mixed with modern, think intricately detailed corsets teamed with sumptuous sports luxe and you’re halfway there.

It’s hard to believe the songs featured weren’t specifically written for the show Bill Sherman and Dominic Fallacaro’s arrangements of Max Martin’s mega hits fit the show like a glove while David West Read’s script finds a measured balance between hilariously funny and touchingly tender.

& Juliet is the musical we need right now, the ultimate in feel-good fun offering a joyous night of escapism while tackling modern themes with positivity and truth. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll dance your socks off before leaving with the biggest smile on your face with a heart well and truly warmed. Sensational fun from the first beat, we absolutely want Shakespeare that way!

& Juliet is on at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 12th October before it moves to London’s Shaftesbury Theatre tickers available here.

The Toyboy Diaries

The ToyBoy Diaries at Hope Mill Theatre. Credit Anthony Robling 2

Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

As part of their pledge to champion new musical theatre, the award-winning pairing of Aria Entertainment and Hope Mill Theatre deliver their first offering of 2018 in the form of The Toyboy Diaries, a new British Musical based on the best-selling memoirs of Wendy Salisbury.

Directed by Tania Azevedo with music & lyrics by Andy Collyer, The Toyboy Diaries is an sharp, fresh & outrageously funny musical. Twice-divorced Lily (Johanne Murdock) has reached a point in life where she yearns for adventure, her children have flown the nest, she’s been jilted by a younger lover and at forty something she’s entirely done with the mundane. So with the hilarious encouragement of friend and neighbour Penny (Nicola Blackman) Lily sets about placing a personal ad & is soon reaping the rewards and in some cases dodging the bullets of her broadsheet biog.

The ToyBoy Diaries at Hope MIll. Credit Anthony Robling 1

Spanning the chapters of her life over approximately 15 years between her early 40s and 50s we live out an animated & hugely entertaining series of sexual encounters as seen through Lily’s eyes, some shockingly funny, some seriously sexy and some downright dirty but all with one thing in common, our sassy heroine is loving and living life to the full.

While there are many tongue in cheek moments, the writing ensures while we laugh with Lily we also care deeply for her, she is a woman of a certain age who proves there’s no shame in seeking out new experiences and taking life by the balls (quite literally). Johanne Murdock is an absolute joy as Lily, strong, self-assured and utterly fearless she shines in the role and captivates entirely. Present on stage for the entirety of the production her energy and enthusiasm is infectious.

Sidekick to Lily is loyal friend and neighbour Penny played brilliantly by Nicola Blackman. Always on hand to offer advice, even if it’s not wanted, and quick with the witty one-liners, Penny goes on her own journey of self and indeed sex discovery.

Matt Beveridge, Sharif Afifi and Alistair Higgins take on the roles of the multiple and varied toyboys, all are exceptional, hugely versatile with great characterisation and impressive comedic performances they each give their all in this production, morphing into various lovers with ease and believability. Incredibly hardworking in addition to playing various lovers they pop up mid scene to cha cha and harmonise around Lily and Penny almost like a glorious Toyboy Greek chorus adding a little flamboyance to each scene.

The ToyBoy Diaries at Hope Mill Theatre 2. Credit Anthony Robling 3

Composer Andy Collyer has gifted the production with an immensely expressive and poetic score which has a beautiful Sondheim feel about it. The cast deliver the lyrics with heart and precision, accompanied by musical director Andrew Griffiths talented band. Designer Jason Denvir has transformed the intimate space at Hope Mill with his innovative and multi-functional set, allowing characters to move from scene to scene with ease.

The Toyboy Diaries is not Shakespere, nor is it trying to be, it’s a great fun night out and unquestionably wonderful to see a woman of a certain age showed in such a self-assured and refreshing way. I felt myself grinning from ear to ear the whole way through. The show paints women in a wonderfully strong and empowering light. Lily knows what she wants and is not afraid to go and grab it, as the character says herself her legs might be in the air but her feet are firmly on the ground. It feels liberating to see such a strong female lead unashamedly celebrating who she is and what she stands for. A perfect tonic to beat the January blues.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 10th February its sexy, sassy & will undoubtedly convince you to seize the day! Tickets available here.