Interview | William Whelton & Joseph Houston talk RENT

Earlier this month Hope Mill Theatre celebrated the bittersweet opening – and closing – of its sold-out production of RENT on the same night. The venue had become one of the first venues in England to stage an indoor theatre production since the Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of theatres back in March.

This new production of the show – initially scheduled for August then moved to Autumn – was due to run at the Grade II-listed former cotton mill from Friday 30th October to Sunday 6th December, following all recommended Covid-secure measures.

The entire run sold out in 48-hours following the announcement of an exciting and diverse young cast, with Hope Mill being granted permission by the rights holders to make up the shortfall in capacity (a result of the necessary social distancing measures) by filming the production and broadcasting it online over four weekends. The filmed version was something that Hope Mill founders William Whelton and Joseph Houston say was crucial in terms of the viability of the production – and even more so when the live run was cut short due to the new national lockdown.

Ahead of the first streamed performance this evening we caught up with William Whelton and Joseph Houston to reflect on the challenges of 2020 and their excitement at bringing RENT to audiences online.


Opening Night: Tell us about RENT and why you wanted to bring it to Hope Mill Theatre and Manchester?
WILL – “RENT is a rock musical loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera La Bohème. The story evolves around a group of struggling artists living in New York City and dealing with issues surrounding the AIDS epidemic, regeneration, drug abuse and homelessness. It is also a celebration of diversity, individuality and creativity at its core. All of these themes are so relevant not only to our current climate but to the city of Manchester and we feel that this show has never felt more poignant and important.”

ON: What about the show makes you think it will be the perfect fit for the venue?
JOE: “It’s always very exciting reimagining musicals for a smaller scale and RENT is no exception. The music in RENT and the relationships between characters are so beautifully told and it really lends itself to a more intimate setting. The show is also set in an old apartment block in New York with exposed brick and feels very bohemian. I think aesthetically Hope Mill fits this setting perfectly.”

ON: The cast is incredibly exciting – and extremely diverse. Why is presenting a diverse cast important to you as producers?
WILL: “It is always so important to us as an organisation to celebrate diversity in all of its forms and we are always very proud of the casts we assemble. Especially for a show like RENT, it was even more important that we put together a cast which celebrates individuality and inclusivity. The cast and wider team that we have assembled is so exciting and all of these amazingly talented unique individuals brought so much heart and hope to this production.”

ON: The director Luke Sheppard directed Spring Awakening at Hope Mill – were you excited to have him back at the venue?
JOE: “We loved working with Luke on our production of Spring Awakening, which was such a success for our venue. After seeing &Juliet when it premiered at the Opera House we knew that Luke was the perfect choice to reimagine RENT for a new age. He brings together the most incredible creative team and always gets the best out of his cast members. His vision and creativity is spectacular and RENT was also a musical which is very close to him and was a real inspiration for him pursuing a career in this industry.”

ON: There must have been times this year when you felt RENT wouldn’t be possible in 2020 – what made you so determined to stage the production this year if you could?
WILL: “The past 6 months have been a roller coaster of emotions for everyone, especially in the arts sector. We postponed RENT from the summer, not knowing if it would be at all possible for us to produce this year, but as more guidance was released around inside performances we started planning on trying to make it possible and safe. RENT has really never felt so relevant to now and this time and in our hearts we knew that it was the right time to tell this story. It was also so important to us to give all of the amazing actors and freelancers involved in this production the opportunity of working and earning in a time when many have been badly affected by the pandemic.”

ON: Just how challenging was it making the production and venue ‘covid-secure’?
JOE: “It has been extremely challenging trying to navigate opening and producing in a covid-secure world. The main issue has been the financial impact on making the venue and process of making and running the show. Obviously we have had zero income since we closed our doors in March and along with high production values and the equipment needed to make the venue fully covid-secure we have had to spend a lot of money that we don’t currently have to spend. However, we were always determined to only progress with the production and opening if we felt we could deliver it in the safest possible way for everyone involved. We have made a significant investment in PPE equipment, safety screens, hand sanitising stations, signage, fogging systems and testing for the team which gave us the confidence to be able to open our doors once again.”

ON: How important was being able to offer a digital streaming version of the show for audiences who are unable to attend for whatever reason?
WILL: “We were operating the run of RENT at 50% capacity, which is only 70 seats per performance. This meant that the production would have had a deficit of around £100,000, which made it completely unviable. Having the extraordinary option to offer an online viewing of the show has allowed us to take our lost capacity and offer it as a digital ticket, and helping us make up lost income. It is also important for us that audiences could not attend or still didn’t feel ready to return to the theatre can still enjoy RENT from the comfort of their own homes. The digital version obviously took on even greater significance when we were forced to close the show early due to the second national lockdown.”

ON: Opening and closing RENT on the same night must have been a bittersweet experience – what was the evening like?
JOE: “We heard the news that we would be entering a second lockdown half an hour before curtain up on our second preview and it was very upsetting for everyone involved. We were so glad that we could at least make it to our official opening and press night on Wednesday 4th November which allowed us to invite press to review the show. The reviews have been incredible and we are so proud of the hard work from everyone involved. The final performance was very emotionally charged but it was really electric and showed Just how special this production is.”

ON: RENT has been a long time in the planning, especially given the situation this year. What was it like finally getting to see the show and the cast come to the stage?
WILL: “Working towards opening our doors and staging RENT is what really got us through the last year and gave us the hope and drive to push on, when times became very difficult. I know that this feeling echoed with the whole team involved and it was a beacon of light in a dark time for the arts. I knew that the show had the recipe to be exceptional from the amazing creative team to the cast and it really lived up to expectations and then some. The whole experience of the show, the design, the band, the performances, it was worth only 5 performances to feel that energy and watch.”

ON: Now it has been filmed, what can you tell us about the filmed version of RENT and what can audiences expect?
JOE: “This production was created for the stage and to be experienced live and although in the current climate that can’t be, we have worked so hard to film the show for online, whilst trying to keep that live theatrical experience. Having seen some of the initial footage, the film company have managed to capture the whole essence, heart and overall look of what was experienced live in the venue. It really is the next best thing!”

ON: Hope Mill has recently celebrated its 5th birthday – looking back what have been the highlights during this time?
JOE: “We can’t believe we have reached 5 years since opening Hope Mill Theatre, it’s incredible. There have been so many highlights since opening our doors, from winning awards to transferring shows. But believe it or not the biggest highlight has got to be working on RENT, yes it’s been tough and difficult to navigate and there is the constant fear that anything could happen and it all comes crashing down, but the level of positivity, hard work, passion and hope that has come from everyone involved is truly why we do what we do and what gives us the drive to keep going.”

ON: What next for Hope Mill in 2021?
WILL: “Once again we will work hard towards opening our doors and welcome back audiences. We won’t be opening this year, however, we have our queer arts festival: Turn On Fest launching again in January 2021 and we also have an incredible programme lined up and of course we will he doing everything within our power to bring back RENT.”

• Online streamed performances of RENT are available on selected dates from Friday 27th Nov until Sunday 20th December.

More information and online tickets can be found www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk

RENT

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

When Hope Mill Theatre announced their summer revival of RENT back in January the buzz about the show quickly engulfed social media; this felt like the most perfect choice for the boundary-pushing, award-winning theatre. Punchy, loud, proud and fuelled by hope, RENT was swiftly propelled into many a ‘must-see list’; billed as the show we all needed in our lives, then…well we all know what happened next.

While the pandemic closed theatres across the country, devastating the Arts, Hope Mill Theatre never lost faith that their much-anticipated production would play to audiences this year. Safeguards were made to film the production should the worst-case scenario of a second lockdown happen and so unbelievably we find ourselves at the show’s official opening which heartbreakingly is also its closing.

The exposed brickwork and anti-Reagan graffiti of David Woodhead’s set transports us to Manhattan’s East Village where a group of young, penniless bohemians strive to live, love and create underneath the looming shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As the devastation and desperation increases so does their sense of family and the ultimate need to make a lasting mark on the world before their lights are extinguished.

Director Luke Sheppard and his team of creatives have truly embraced this piece resulting in a bold, dynamic and meticulously crafted production. The love bursts from each character while their palpable desperation combined with a spirit of defiance is as heart-breaking as it is heart-warming. There is an undeniable sense of urgency; these are stories that need to be told, experiences that need to be shared and a love that needs to be felt.

The cast sit around the stage throughout, feeling and experiencing the heartache, pain and joy of each other’s stories. Touch is infrequent, marked by a fizz of electricity as Howard Hudson’s light design flickers in reaction, making those infrequent yet delicious moments all the more powerful.

Tom Francis makes an incredible stage debut as Roger, his strong swagger is ripped away as his fear of dying takes hold, cradled collectively by the soothing ensemble of resolute voices. Blake Patrick Anderson’s Mark has a quirky sweetness, hiding behind his camcorder in a bid to save him from connecting too deeply thus exposing him to ultimate loneliness while ex-housemate Benny (Ahmed Hamad) plays a strong enemy to the bohemian life he once embraced.

Mimi’s (Maiya Quansah-Breed) strutting and sass is replaced by a heart-breaking vulnerability while Maureen (Millie O’Connell) and Joanne’s (Jocasta Almgill) fractious relationship bubbles and simmers throughout. Deeply entwined in the story is the moving relationship between HIV positive Angel (Alex Thomas-Smith) and older lover Collins (Dom Hartley-Harris) their purity and commitment to each other brings heartening joy to the piece while Hartley-Harris’ delivery of I’ll Cover You – Reprise is gut-wrenchingly brilliant.

RENT is truly an ensemble piece and is at it’s most powerful when this talented cast together with outstanding featured ensemble members Kayla Carter, Allie Daniel, Isaac Hesketh and Bethany Terry unite to deliver Larson’s anthemic score. From the iconic Seasons of Love to the stirring No Day But Today the sheer brilliance of this production envelopes you entirely. Tom Jackson Greaves’ choreography adds an edgy punch while Musical Supervisor Katy Richardson ensures the pounding score will long echo after the curtain comes down

While 2020 has been a year of unprecedented heartbreak and bitter disappointments this incredible piece stands proud, shouting from the rooftop for all to hear, not only is RENT viable it is vital; it’s pounding energy combined with gut-wrenching optimism confirming to all that the show most definitely MUST go on.

Rent is available to view online on selected dates from Friday 27th November until Sunday 20th December booking is essential tickets available via https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/rent-online

Premiere of One Good Night comes to Hope Mill Theatre this February

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‘It makes you lose your mind…it sits in your head and it grows…it’s like that ivy…it starts small but it feeds off everything’

Following an Arts Council funded R&D at Hope Mill Theatre in 2017 One Good Night is back at the same venue for its highly anticipated full-length premiere.

The piece is a comic drama about the effects of female sexual assault and centres around the story of Amelia (Sammy Winward) who has been raped by her boyfriend Pete (Oliver Devoti)…or has she?

Between her goody two shoes friend May (Misha Duncan-Barry) and their nosy next-door neighbour Julie (Susan McArdle), Amelia is lost and confused with a blurred sense of reality. With friendship, laugher and belief, can they overcome and have just one good night?

Led by a female core creative team, writer Aisling Caffrey, director Alyx Tole and producer Alexandra Maxwell One Good Night is an entertaining production full of dark humour. It is designed to educate and enlighten about rape plus the effects of trauma on survivors’ psyche and their relationships and to empower survivors of sexual assault.

With rehearsals aptly starting during Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week this week (3rd-9th February) it is all the more important that this production is seen and its message heard.

One Good Nightwill run for 5 evenings from 25th February – 29th February. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased here.

Ticket info £12 full / £10 concession (+ £1.50 booking fee) / £5 DSA & Income Support (Proof Required)

Hope Mill Theatre launches ‘FIRST CURTAIN’ free ticketing scheme for young people

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Hope Mill Theatre launches ‘First Curtain’ scheme to help fund tickets for young people to the UK theatrical premiere of the Broadway version of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella which opens in Manchester on Saturday 9th May.

Tickets are now on sale for Cinderella which will be the first musical produced by A Factory of Creativity – the charity recently formed to take over the running of Hope Mill Theatre. Co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre Joseph Houston and William Whelton will direct and choreograph Cinderella, respectively.

To coincide with Cinderella tickets going on sale, Hope Mill Theatre is launching its new ‘First Curtain’ scheme. The scheme allows customers to purchase an additional ticket at checkout with the extra tickets purchased helping fund a first trip to the theatre for local young people. Hope Mill Theatre will be working with local primary schools and community groups within Greater Manchester to help welcome children of all ages to the show.

Joseph Houston and William Whelton at Hope Mill Theatre. Photo Phil Tragen Photography 2

Joseph Houston, Artistic Director, said: “At Hope Mill Theatre we are passionate about making theatre accessible and instilling at a young age the magic, escapism and education which live theatre can offer – as well as nurturing theatregoers of the future.

“I recently visited a local primary school and spoke to many children who said that they loved acting and performing at school but had never actually seen a piece of live theatre – many families do not have spare funds to visit the theatre. We believe in the importance of young people feeling that arts are accessible and so wanted to help give some children the chance to have their first theatre experience in a smaller more intimate setting.

“Our ‘First Curtain’ scheme will allow us to work with schools within Greater Manchester as well as local community groups to fund trips to our production of Cinderella as well as running workshops.”  

Cinderella will be the first show staged at Hope Mill Theatre to have allocated seating – meaning early booking is advised, tickets are available here.

 

The Astonishing Times of Timothy Cratchit

Copyright Phil Tragen 2019

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Hope Mill Theatre’s 2019 seasonal offering The Astonishing Times of Timothy Cratchit acts as a sequel of sorts to the much-loved Charles Dickens classic; A Christmas Carol.

We follow the story of ‘Tiny Tim’ who now at almost 16 lives with his guardian Ebenezer Scrooge. As his sixtieth birthday fast approaches Timothy (Ryan Kopel) decides instead of following in the footsteps of Ebenezer (Paul Greenwood), committing himself to a life of counting money he instead wishes to broaden his horizons by exploring the world and making a life for himself in his own unique way.

Copyright Phil Tragen 2019

Quickly realising times will be tough without the security and backing of Mr Scrooge Timothy sets about seeking employment, soon realising that perhaps life isn’t quite the wide-eyed adventure he’d anticipated.

He meets a whole host of colourful characters in his bid for independence most notably a glorious group of clowns expertly led by the infamous Grimaldi. The boarding house he lodges at also offers some unexpected life experiences where the hope of a happy ending finally seems possible when housemaid Lucy (Sammy Graham) catches Timothy’s eye; but of course this is theatre so expect testing times and little soul-searching scenes to fall in the path towards that happy ending.

Copyright Phil Tragen 2019

Ryan Kopel is outstanding as Timothy, loyal to his beloved Mr Scrooge yet quietly determined to walk his own path he gives a charismatic and enormously engaging performance. Barely leaving the stage throughout his energy and commitment is richly rewarded, winning the audience over with soaring vocals and a genuinely warm likability as he grows in both strength and stature.

Paul Greenwood makes for a passionate and powerful Ebenezer Scrooge who softens at the mere sight of his beloved Ward.

Copyright Phil Tragen 2019

Michael Matus is a joy as unpredictable Grimaldi injecting humour as well as some surprising poignancy to the story. Tantruming one moment then turning on the star quality the next his characterisation is well defined and his delivery wonderfully entertaining.

The talented ensemble which includes several actor/musicians take on multiple roles all to great effect. Under Jonathan O’Boyle’s clear direction transitions are fluid and characters well defined while the vocals of every cast member are sublime adding richness to Andre Catrini’s melodic score which is beautifully delivered by a band of five led by Chris Poon.

Copyright Phil Tragen 2019

The story is without doubt quirky and at times is a little bonkers but the strength of the cast combined with a dedicated artistically driven creative team ensure the right elements are realised to make this unique story a success. Ultimately a journey of self-discovery, love and the importance of how we connect with each other, delivered with real heart and great humour, a wonderfully uplifting tale for the festive season.

Catch The Astonishing Times of Timothy Cratchit at Hope Mill Theatre until Sunday 29th December tickets available here.

Hope Mill Theatre to stage UK premiere of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella

Manchester’s award-winning Hope Mill Theatre is to stage the UK theatrical premiere of the Broadway version of Rodgers +Hammerstein’s Cinderella in 2020.

Cinderella will be the first musical produced by A Factory of Creativity – the charity recently formed to take over the running of Hope Mill Theatre. Co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre Joseph Houston and William Whelton will direct and choreograph Cinderella, respectively.

The production will run at Hope Mill Theatre from Saturday 9th May to Saturday 6th June 2020 and then at Clonter Opera Theatre, Cheshire from Tuesday 9th to Sunday 14th June.

This will be the first time a fully-staged version of the show has been performed in the UK (following a recent one-night concert version in London).

Hope Mill Theatre will be holding open auditions in its search for the title role of Cinderella. The venue is committed to finding new and emerging talent across the regions and will be sharing details very soon of how to register interest in auditioning. 

Ted Chapin, President of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, said: “I am thrilled that the modern Broadway version of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella will be getting its U.K. theatrical premiere at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester. When this version opened on Broadway in 2013, its tagline was “Glass slippers are so back.”  With a wink to the Cinderella traditions of the past – except pantos! – and a solid foot in a world where people take more control over their own lives, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella has already charmed new generations of musical theatre enthusiasts.”

Joseph Houston, Artistic Director, said: The first ever show I watched as a boy was the story of Cinderella and so to be able to work on the UK premiere of the most recent Broadway version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s story is a dream come true. Having the opportunity to also collaborate alongside Will, who is both my business partner and life partner – and of whose work I have long admired – makes this journey even more special. I want this unique version of Cinderella to captivate audiences young and old, just as the timeless story did for me. This is the perfect spring treat and I cannot wait to see this story come to life at Hope Mill Theatre.”

William Whelton, Executive Director and Choreographer, said: “For many years I have wanted to produce  Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, so for this to be the first musical to be brought to life by Hope Mill Theatre’s new charity is very special. It is a more modern take on the classic fairy tale that everyone is familiar with, add to the story the musical and lyrical genius of Rodgers & Hammerstein and you have real musical theatre magic. We are also thrilled to announce that as part of our casting process we will be holding open auditions in our search for Cinderella. As a regional venue we are passionate about finding and nurturing professional talent from all over the country so find this really exciting and we can’t wait to meet new artists.”

Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella runs at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre from Saturday 9th May to Saturday 6th June 2020

The production then moved to Clonter Opera Theatre, Trap Road, Congleton from Tuesday 9th to Sunday 14th June 2020

Tickets on sale soon!

http://www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk

 

 

MAME

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In the same week they celebrate their 4th birthday Hope Mill Theatre open their biggest and most ambitious show to date. Tony award-winning Broadway musical Mame hasn’t been seen in the UK since it’s original 1969 West End production starring the late, great Ginger Rodgers, but Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Entertainment don’t do things by halves. Teaming up with Ray Rackham Theatrical collectively they have created quite simply their most impressive and jaw-droppingly brilliant production since opening their doors in 2014.

Beginning in 1920’s New York City Mame Dennis really is the belle of every ball. Life truly is a banquet for Mame and her party loving friends so when her deceased brother’s 10 year old son Patrick is thrust into her care you may think the party may be over but then you haven’t met the magnificent Mame.

Even when she loses her fortune in the Wall St crash she perseveres with irrepressible positivity and her own unique sense of style, whoever let getting repeatedly fired get in the way of living their life anyway? Spanning several years through relationships, love and loss Mame captivates entirely, her exuberant soul is addictive, she thrills, delights, excites and entertains along the way.

Hope Mill Theatre has been transformed for this enchanting revival. Philip Witcomb’s design ensures that the intimate space seems to open up before your eyes as the jaw-dropping first number begins. Nick Winston’s choreography is sublime; transporting the audience from a rainy Manchester to a glittering Broadway with each full-out and fabulous number. Winston who also directed the piece leaves the audience open-mouthed at the sheer scale and brilliant of the production, it feels lavish, luxurious and deliciously decadent.

Tracie Bennett is entirely mesmerising as Mame she absolutely gives her everything to the role and is truly brilliant. Hilariously comedic one moment and utterly gut-wrenching the next her delivery of If He Walked Into My Life is spellbinding.

The pairing of Bennett and Harriet Thorpe who takes on the role of bosom buddy Vera is nothing short of iconic. They are a joy to watch as they barb off each other with booze fuelled brilliance. Tim Flavin is a suave and sophisticated Beauregard, the connection between Flavin and Bennett feels warm and genuine.

Special mention must also go to junior cast member Lochlan White who at tonight’s performance played Young Patrick. Demonstrating fine acting skills, a pitch perfect voice and the kind of charisma Mame would be proud of.

Every member of this talented cast deserves high praise. They work together in such slick harmony that each scene flows seamlessly into the next yet feels full of surprises. They deliver Nick Winston’s choreography to dazzling perfection, teamed with Tim Mitchell’s impressive lighting design and strong musical direction from Alex Parker each ensemble number packs a powerful and perfect punch.

The boldness and bravery shown by Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment and Joseph Houston and William Whelton of Hope Mill Theatre in bringing this all-new revival to such vibrant life must be commended. How lucky we are in a Manchester to have such committed and passionate theatre makers.

Mame is an absolute triumph, dazzling, daring and utterly delightful, world-class theatre right on our doorstep. A perfectly peachy slice of theatrical heaven. Mame feels like the start of something very, very special and I for one am here for the ride!

Catch MAME at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 9th November tickets available here.

Hope Mill Theatre | A Factory of Creativity |

Joseph Houston and William Whelton at Hope Mill Theatre. Photo Phil Tragen Photography

Hope Mill Theatre moved from private ownership to operating as a registered charity this week. The charity – A Factory of Creativity will operate the award-winning theatre which was founded by William Whelton and Joseph Houston in 2015, with the support of a board of trustees, made up of individuals who have supported the venue since it opened. Whelton and Houston will continue in their roles of Executive Director and Artistic Director respectively with the board of trustees supporting and guiding the charity as it moves forward.

In a joint statement Whelton and Houston said: “Hope Mill Theatre was set up four years ago with a £10K start up loan and has been operating since then as an independent business, receiving no local or national funding. In a small amount of time we have grown rapidly and have struggled to keep up with the expectations and sheer demand of operating such a large endeavour. It has become increasingly hard to support the level of work that we produce in-house as well as supporting a thriving arts community locally.

“Hope Mill Theatre is now in a very crucial stage of its journey with many exciting opportunities, as well as an ever-evolving and developing local landscape. We, along with our small team, recognise the importance of having the venue expand, which will allow us to focus more on nurturing new work and supporting artists.  It is our ambition to secure the venue’s home for many years to come and well as engaging more with our community and making our work accessible to varied audiences. We believe moving forward as a charity will allow us to achieve these ambitions.”

Hope MIll Theatre Patrons

The theatre will continue to build on its acclaimed partnership with Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment, with Hope Mill Theatre and Aria continuing to work together in the future, both at Hope Mill Theatre and around the UK, with their most ambitious show to date – Mame starring Tracie Bennett – which has it’s official opening this week.

Also announced is the news that award-winning writer Russell T Davies and stage and screen actress Denise Welch are to join Olivier Award-winning actress Tracie Bennett as a patrons of the theatre.

Russell T Davies said: “I’m thrilled and honoured to become a patron of Hope Mill Theatre.  It’s an amazing place, and I’ve followed Joe and Will’s journey right from the start. Their productions are wonderful, and I love their support for new writers and talent.  I think the future’s full of Hope!”

Denise Welch said: “I’m delighted to become a patron of Hope Mill Theatre. My love of theatre was formed in a company that started like this one and I’m thrilled to be a small part of Joe and Will’s journey. Coming to Hope Mill is not just a night at the theatre – it’s an experience from the minute you arrive, and the productions are first class. Exciting and vibrant…..just like me!”

Tracie Bennett said: “Being from the north myself, it is awe-inspiring to see the true and heartfelt passion and vision of mavericks Joe and Will, and the work they have done in creating Hope Mill Theatre. I had been following their work and have admired from afar the creation of this exciting new venue. I have long thought that a project of this ilk was a long time coming to Manchester. The work they are doing for regional theatre and musical theatre is extremely exciting not only for the city of Manchester but also the industry itself.”

First look photos -MAME *Credit Pamela Raith

In the first few months as a charity, there are planned funding applications to fund the purchase and upgrade of lighting and sound equipment. A ‘fund a chair’ scheme will be launched to help replace the venue’s current seating – to help make watching theatre at Hope Mill a more comfortable and accessible experience.  There are plans to also apply for funding to install hearing loops in the venue, as well as an upgrade of the ticket system used to improve the booking experience. There are also plans to launch ‘Friends of Hope Mill Theatre scheme.

Whelton and Houston concluded: “It’s now time to allow Hope Mill Theatre to grow and flourish as it enters the next phase of its very exciting future, regionally and nationally.”

 For more information on Hope Mill Theatre please visit Hope Mill Theatre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Written in 1984 by John Patrick Stanley, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is a intensely compelling study of two lonely lives, both trapped in desperate and destructive spirals of self-loathing who come together in search of both companionship and redemption.

Volatile Danny (Danny Solomon) speaks with his fists, lashing out at anyone and everyone in a bid to protect his fractured self. He is unpredictable and alarming yet somehow Roberta (Hannah Ellis Ryan) is not afraid. Burdened by her own trauma she is riddled with self-hatred and a warped sense of a need for punishment for her abusive past.

A simple set of scattered bar furniture and an old mattress complete with crumpled bedclothes make to the set. A glimmer of moonlight seeps in from above while a porcelain doll dressed in white offers a hint of Roberta’s past.

As the barbed bickering deepens into aggressive exchanges a sharing of secrets begins allowing both characters to develop unpredictably. Danny’s vulnerability begins to show as his defences slip while their fleeting post-coital redemption shows their shared desperation for elusive love and happiness. They are messed up, bad, burdened and bruised yet touchingly real and heart-achingly raw.

Both Danny Solomon and Hannah Ellis Ryan convince entirely in their roles. As an audience member you are in that bar in the Bronx with them, you feel every moment of heartache in the bedroom and share in their despair and awkward humour. Director Daniel Bradford ensures the emotional charge of both performances slaps you in the face keeping you guessing throughout, never knowing where these tormented souls will take you next. Drowning in despair one moment while gleefully flinging arms around each other the next. Powerful and affecting theatre once again from Play With Fire Productions.

Catch Danny and the Deep Blue Sea until Thursday 12th September at Hope Mill Theatre tickets available here.

Jerry Springer The Opera

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Newly formed theatrical company Northern Ricochet – made up of James Baker, Tom Chester and Bill Elms – don’t do things by halves. Taking the bold step of reviving controversial musical Jerry Springer The Opera as their first company production, they’re sending a clear message to the theatre world that there is a new, ambitious, creative and proudly Northern kid on the block.

Auditions were held in the North – including an open-call casting whilst the opportunity for local in-training actors to make up the onstage choir was offered. The result of this is a sensational piece of theatre packed full of humour, hilarity and genuine heart.

Written by Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee, Jerry Springer The Opera debuted at the National Theatre in 2003 – winning four Olivier Awards including Best New Musical and courting controversy at every turn. This revived production staged in the intimate Hope Mill Theatre allows the audience for Jerry Springer The Opera and Jerry Springer the talk show to become one as audience members sit on opposite sides of the theatre while the cast perform in-between them – giving this production an immersive and atmospheric feel.

James Baker directs the show in such a bold way that as an audience we’re whipped into a “Go Jerry” frenzy before the main man has even stepped foot on stage. The company do an excellent job of building the bubbling excitement ahead of our host’s grand arrival – led brilliantly by Warm Up Man Tom Lloyd, who whets our appetites for what’s to come: reminding us exactly who are the good guys and who we should be reserving our biggest boos for.

Once the infamous Jerry (Michael Howe) makes his grand entrance, we see him play host to three sets of guests who are all too willing to reveal their deepest darkest secrets via soaring profanity-laden arias and wickedly brilliant ballads. Bickering bubbles into bitch fights – leaving security guard Steve (Kai Jolley) to step in and calm the chaos.

Amidst the snarling and sniping Jerry expertly stirs the pot – gently probing his simmering guests and pushing them that little bit further… giving the audience that extra bit more. Things go a tad too far and Act II finds Jerry hosting the ultimate showdown: the Devil versus Jesus. Should Jerry refuse to host this clash of the titans, he’ll burn in Hell forever in a most uncomfortable and ‘barb-baric’ way!

This cast is without doubt one of the most impressive you’re ever likely to see. The ensemble pieces literally raise the roof off Hope Mill Theatre. Each voice is sheer perfection – coming together to create the most beautiful of sounds. Add to this perfectly judged comedic timing delivered with vibrant energy and you have an irresistibly entertaining piece of theatre. Every member of this cast gives their all – each offering something uniquely special and truly memorable.

Michael Howe embodies Jerry Springer perfectly, with every knowing shake of the head, contemplative hand on the chin and nuanced raise of an eyebrow; he is Jerry to a T.

Tom Lloyd makes for a fabulously extra Warm Up Guy while his Satan in Act II is deliciously devilish. David Burilin’s Jesus is pouty and petulant while Matt Bond’s God really hasn’t got time for this shit.

Cici Howells’ voice is sublime as both Shawntel and Eve while Andrew Patrick-Walker has moves Ru Paul herself would be proud of.

With such strong voices and powerful performances the score could easily become lost; however, Tom Chester ensures his band of six are perfectly pitched. The music – together with the rich mix of voices – really is heavenly.

This production has been brought bang up to date and feels frighteningly in-line with the chaotic times we live in. Hillbilly Chucky wears a ‘Make America Great Again’ cap while gun control statements are made alongside caricatures of Trump. The desire to feel superior and the joy in public humiliation raises questions about just how civilised we really are.

Yes it’s profane, yes it’s irreverent but every profanity is worth it for the absolute pleasure this production brings. You’ll shriek with laughter one minute and be stunned into silence by the sheer talent on display the next in this joyful and vivid piece. Cleverly crafted and outrageously naughty, this wild romp of a production will both amuse and impress as once again Jerry reminds us all to “Take care of yourself and each other”.

Jerry Springer The Opera is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 31st August tickets available here.

Applications Now Open For Hope Aria Academy September Intake

William Whelton, Katy Lipson and Joseph Houston. Founders of Hope Aria Academy in Manchester

Following a hugely successful inaugural 12-week programme Hope Aria Academy have now opened applications for their Autumn/Winter intake.

The Manchester based part-time drama course focuses on acting, singing and dancing with students able to choose to take classes in all three disciplines or opt for single modules in one specific area.

Hope Aria Academy founders Katy Lipson, Joseph Houston and William Whelton all have backgrounds in Musical Theatre training and are currently full time producers and theatre owners.

The second course which will begin in September is tailored for individuals who have either already trained professionally and are looking for a fresh approach to training within a smaller more focused atmosphere, individuals who are not yet ready to make the leap to full time drama training and require further tuition, and mature students who have experience in musical theatre and want to re-skill to return to the industry.

Students will also be introduced to the wider creative industry with regular guest teachers in all three disciplines of acting, singing and dance. There will be one full scholarship place available, funded by Hope Aria Academy, with auditions for this taking place in August, date TBC.

Patron of Hope Aria Academy, actress Hayley Tamaddon

Stage and screen actress Hayley Tamaddon is patron of Hope Aria Academy and taught a workshop as part of the last programme.

Hayley said: “I’m thrilled to be a patron of Hope Aria Academy. The work they produce is outstanding. Ranging from dance to musical theatre to tv acting, the students here are taught everything to do with this wonderful profession we call show business! And I’ll look forward to doing a spot more teaching there myself in the new term!”

Hope Aria Academy’s next intake will launch on Monday 16th September 2019 and run on Monday (dance), Tuesday (singing) and Wednesday (acting) evenings from 6.30pm to 9.30pm at Hope Aria House, Unit 15 Wellington House, Manchester, M40 7FS. Students can take the full course or can opt for single modules.

More information on Hope Aria Academy, fees and how to apply can be found here.

 

The Exonerated

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Since its premiere off-Broadway in 2002 Jessica Blank and Eric Jensen’s The Exonerated has been performed all over the world picking up multiple awards along the way and even making it onto the big screen in the 2005 film starring Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover.

This ambitious adaptation embraces the nation’s current obsession with binge-worthy true-crime Netflix style documentaries by cleverly combining recorded first person accounts with live theatrical flashbacks of interrogations, murders, court scenes and the grim reality of life on death row.

Jessica Stanton’s innovative design places audiences as central observers as a Netflix style menu dominates the large screen above the stage. The click of a remote control can be heard as this evening’s viewing selection is made. Audiences sit either side of a central stage which is surrounded by prison style wire fencing and rough barbed wire, only glimpsing sight of each other when the stark interrogation lighting illuminates the space.

Grant Archer’s documentary style film feels authentic and grips from the start as the lives of the wrongly convicted play out before us. The fusion of film and live action works exceptionally well as the six extraordinary stories of those wrongfully sentenced to death unfold.

Joseph Houston has directed the pre-recorded interviews in such a way that they feel entirely genuine, the pain, the emotion and most touchingly the hope expressed by each character is as fascinating as it is moving.

The live action scenes work superbly well, adding depth and authenticity to the harrowing accounts of injustice, exposing the corruption of the authorities and their manipulation of these damaged individuals. The shattering and lasting impact of their lost years on Death Row bringing devastation not only to themselves but to the lives of their friends and families also.

Charles Angiama as Delbert takes on a measured narrator style role, the Texan who spent many years on death row for a rape and a murder he did not commit guides the audience throughout, observing with us the injustices and manipulation taking place. He weaves together the other five stories as the rest of the small cast take on several roles bringing life and vision to the harrowing real-life stories.

Though the subject matter is intense and the corruption utterly horrifying the production is delivered in a way which allows for a heart-warming portrayal of the human ability for hope even in the most desperate of situations. Sunny Jacobs being the most perfect example of this: a gentle mother of two who lost not only 16 years of her life to Death Row but even more tragically her beloved husband whose wrongful execution was made all the more horrific when the electric chair malfunctioned. Pippa Winslow’s performance as the good-natured hippie is exceptional, portraying her class and composure to perfection.

The Exonerated directed by Joseph Houston. Hope Mill Theatre Manchester. Photo Shay Rowan

This inspired and impressive adaptation telling six interwoven stories marks a bold innovation in story-telling theatre. The decision to mix live theatre with pre-recorded footage pays off adding an element of authenticity to proceedings. The second half feels a little screen heavy compared to the first but this does not take away from the power of the piece. While you go into the production expecting to hear about harrowing miscarriages of justice you don’t quite anticipate the impact these stories of survival and hope will have, a true testament to the quality and care that’s been put into this inspired and innovative production.

The Exonerated is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Sunday 16th June, tickets available here.

Images by Shay Rowan Photography