Interview | Joyce Branagh | Vincent River

Joyce Branagh

Phillip Ridley’s thrilling and heart-breaking play Vincent River,, has been relocated to Manchester where it will receive its regional premiere at the award-winning Hope Mill Theatre next week.

Directed by John Young and starring Joyce Branagh and Dominic Holmes, Vincent River takes aim at homophobia and hate crime with a real and breath-taking honesty. This rousing modern classic, which premiered in London’s Hampstead Theatre back in 2000, slides under the surface of fear, hatred and love.

Davey has seen something he can’t forget. Anita has been forced to flee her home. These two have never met. Tonight their paths cross with devastating consequences.

We caught up with Joyce Branagh who plays Anita ahead of opening in Manchester to hear more about this exciting and intriguing piece of theatre.

ON – What attracted you to this production of Vincent River, and role?

JB – The play itself really. It’s been relocated by Philip Ridley to be set in Manchester, which means it feels like we’re doing a brand new play.   It’s a fantastic piece of writing – it manages to be naturalistic, but at the same time has lots of poetry within it.  It also has elements of a ‘whodunnit’ – we’re constantly trying to work out exactly what’s happening – and that gives it a huge amount of drive and drama too – which I think will be exciting to watch. Philip came to rehearsals on our first day, which was great – we got to pick his brains – but it also meant we had to do the first read through with the author in the room.  Dom and I were terrified! I play Anita – she’s a strong Mancunian matriarch – she could easily pop up on Corrie…straight talking, witty, sharp as a button, but because of the death of her son, she’s wounded and her vulnerability keeps surfacing.  She a really complex contradictory character – which is really intriguing to play.

ON – The subject matter of Vincent River is very hard hitting and emotional. Is it hard to shake that off at the end of the day’s rehearsals?

JB – It can be a bit pummelling doing this – especially at the end of a long day. But it only lasts for about 5 minutes.  Then you get back to real life.  And I think that because the play has a sort of cathartic element to it, that you have that too… you get it out of your system by doing it.  In a weird way, it’s kind of exhilarating.  We also tell each other a lot of bad jokes in the breaks.  (I have a huge supply).

JB

ON – I imagine that chemistry between you and your co-star is very important for a piece like Vincent River – how are you and Dominic developing this and are you enjoying working together?

Dominic is a fab actor – I met him in the audition, and to be honest he’s another reason why I took the job. I thought – “Ooh he’s good.  I’ll have to be on my toes with him”.  I feel safe with him as an actor – which is great.  It means you can let the characters battle, but you don’t have to.  And that’s what the play needs – two people who are sparring with each other – trying to work each other out get what they want. He also buys lots of mini donuts for us all, which I find very important in a co-actor.

ON – Vincent River is to be performed for a month at Hope Mill Theatre – have you been to this venue before? Either as a performer or audience member?

I’ve never performed at Hope Mill, but I’ve seen lots of productions there. (I’m going in a couple of days to see The Replacement Child actually…)  Because of the versatility of the space, it’s feels very different every time.  I thought I’d seen every configuration – but I think we’re doing something different again!   I think our audiences are going to be surprised by our set-up actually… but I think it’ll help to intensify the experience – make everyone feel that they are actually in the room with us.

ON – You are a regular on the theatre scene in Greater Manchester – why do you think we have such a vibrant and varied arts scene up here?

Why? – I don’t know. But isn’t it fantastic?  I feel like this year things may even have gone up a notch.  There have been so many plays on that I’ve really wanted to see, and so many coming up that I’ve had to get my diary out and strategically plan when I can fit everything in – and I’ve still missed some productions that sounded fantastic.

ON – You’re a successful theatre director as well as actor. Do you have a preference and if so, why?

No preference. I love both – and I feel very lucky when I get the opportunity to hop between the two.  With this I know what a strong connection John Young our director has to the play, which means I can relax and let him take the strain!   I love directing – getting projects underway, bringing a great team together and crafting a show… but then it’s so lovely to leave all that stuff behind and just solely get into the head of a character and bring them to life.  Especially a character as juicy as Anita. She’s a belter. Thanks Philip Ridley!

Vincent River begins previews at Hope Mill Theatre on Tuesday 27th Feb before official opening night on Thursday 1st March and runs through until Saturday 24th March tickets available here. Standard tickets £15 concessions £12.

 

 

 

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.

MTA Nominations 2018

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Nominations for this year’s Manchester Theatre Awards have been announced, celebrating the best work on stage and off within the city in over 20 categories, with winners being announced at a red carpet event at the Lowry theatre on Friday 9th March which will be hosted by local funny man Justin Moorhouse.

With some interesting choices and some considerable omissions, our personal pick and who Opening Night will be backing when we head to the ceremony will be;

Performance in a Fringe Production – Amie Giselle-Ward, Little Women – The Musical,

Best NewcomerHope Mill Theatre, Scott Hunter, Yank!, Hope Mill Theatre,

Best Opera La Cenerentola , Opera North, The Lowry,

Studio Production – From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, The Lowry

Best Performance in a Studio Production – Alex Walton, From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, The Lowry

Target Live Award for Best Visiting Production The Lowry, La Strada, The Lowry

With four incredible selections for Best Musical it will be a hotly contested category, we adored each production but would loved to have seen additional nominations for Hope Mill Theatre’s spectacular Pippin and Tim Firth and Gary Barlow’s uplifting audience favourite The Band.

 

The nominations are as follows;

Actress in a Leading Role

Karen Henthorn, Spring and Port Wine, Oldham Coliseum

Lisa Dwyer Hogg, People, Places & Things, HOME

Nina Hoss, Returning to Reims, Manchester International Festival

Janet Suzman, Rose, HOME

 

Actor in a Leading Role

Cliff Burnett, Hard Times, Oldham Coliseum

Jason Merrells, Uncle Vanya, HOME

Kenneth Alan Taylor, The Father, Oldham Coliseum

Ashley Zhangazha, Guys And Dolls, Royal Exchange

 

Actress in a Supporting Role

Alison Halstead, The House of Bernarda Alba, Royal Exchange

Kate Kennedy, Twelfth Night, Royal Exchange

Kerry Peers, The Father, Oldham Coliseum

Katie West, Uncle Vanya, HOME

 

Actor in a Supporting Role

Tom Michael Blyth, Hard Times, Oldham Coliseum

David Fleeshman, Uncle Vanya, HOME

Andrew Sheridan, People, Places & Things, HOME

 

Actress in a Visiting Production

Ria Jones, Sunset Boulevard, Palace Theatre

Laura Pitt-Pulford, Nell Gwynn, The Lowry

Natalie Radmall-Quirke, The Weir, Oldham Coliseum

Sheridan Smith, Funny Girl, Palace Theatre

 

Actor in a Visiting Production

Danny Mac, Sunset Boulevard, Palace Theatre

Graham McDuff, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Palace Theatre

Sean Murray, The Weir, Oldham Coliseum

 

Ensemble

Oh What A Lovely War, Oldham Coliseum

Operation Black Antler, HOME

The Suppliant Women, Royal Exchange

 

Performance in a Fringe Production

Rosie Fleeshman, Narcissist in the Mirror, Greater Manchester Fringe

Amie Giselle-Ward, Little Women – The Musical, Hope Mill Theatre

Alexandra Maxwell, The Loves of Others / Freak, Greater Manchester Fringe

Danny Solomon, Days Of Wine And Roses, 53TWO

 

Performance in a Studio Production

Rhodri Meilir How My Light Is Spent, Royal Exchange

Lucy Jane Parkinson, Joan, Contact

Keisha Thompson, Man On The Moon, Contact

Alex Walton, From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, The Lowry

 

Robert Robson Award for Dance

Debut, Acosta Danza, The Lowry

English National Ballet double bill, Palace Theatre

Ghost Dances, Rambert Dance, The Lowry

Leviathan, James Wilton Dance, Contact

 

Design

Jenny Melville (set) and Lysander Ashton (video), Paul Auster’s City of Glass, HOME

Bunny Christie, People, Places & Things, HOME

Alex Lowde, Persuasion, Royal Exchange

Yael Bartana, What If Women Ruled the World?, Manchester International Festival

 

Fringe Production

Bad Advice, Greater Manchester Fringe

Gypsy Queen, Hope Mill Theatre

The Marriage of Kim K, Greater Manchester Fringe

Moth, Hope Mill Theatre

 

Musical

Funny Girl, Palace Theatre

Jim Steinman’s Bat out of Hell the Musical, Opera House

Sunset Boulevard, Palace Theatre

Yank!, Hope Mill Theatre

 

New Play

Gypsy Queen, writer Rob Ward, Hope Mill Theatre

How My Light Is Spent, writer Alan Harris, Royal Exchange

Narcissist in the Mirror, writer Rosie Fleeshman, Greater Manchester Fringe

Narvik, writer Lizzie Nunnery, HOME

 

Newcomer

Gemma Dobson, Rita, Sue and Bob Too, Octagon Theatre Bolton

Scott Hunter, Yank!, Hope Mill Theatre

Vinay Lad, The Railway Children, The Lowry

 

Opera

Cendrillon, Royal Northern College of Music, RNCM

La Cenerentola, Opera North, The Lowry

Opera North Little Greats, Opera North, The Lowry

The Snow Maiden, Opera North, The Lowry

 

Production

The Father, Oldham Coliseum

People, Places & Things, HOME

Rose, HOME

The Suppliant Women, Royal Exchange

 

Special Entertainment

Dick Whittington, Opera House

Running Wild, The Lowry

The Toad Knew, The Lowry

Under Glass, Clod Ensemble,The Lowry

 

Studio Production

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, The Lowry

Joan, Contact

Man On The Moon, Contact

Swansong, The Lowry

 

Target Live Award for Best Visiting Production

La Strada, The Lowry

My Country; a Work in Progress, HOME

Nell Gwynn, The Lowry

The Weir, Oldham Coliseum

 

Youth Panel Award

There is a Light/BRIGHTLIGHT, Contact Young Company

Singin’ in the Rain, RNCM Young Company

Tis Written in the Stars, Oldham Theatre Workshop, Oldham Coliseum

First look – The Toy Boy Diaries

TB Matt Beveridge and Johanne Murdock in rehearsals for The ToyBoy Diaries 2 credit Claire Bilyard

Highly anticipated new British musical comedy, The Toyboy Diaries which runs from Thursday 18th January to Saturday 10th February at Hope Mill Theatre, offers a first look at the production today with these newly released images from the rehearsal rooms.

Charting the hilarious and sometimes heart-breaking ups and downs of mid-life dating, The Toyboy Diaries is the first of 2018’s five in-house musicals from the hugely successful collaboration between Joseph Houston and William Whelton, co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre and producer Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment.

TB Sharif Afifi and Johanne Murdock in rehearsals for The ToyBoy Diaries credit Claire Bilyard

The production, which is adapted from the best-selling memoirs by Wendy Salisbury follows twice-divorced Lily as she inadvertently finds herself under a much younger man, which then opens the door to a whole new world of inappropriate relationships.

The lead role of Lily will be played by Johanne Murdock who was recently seen as Brutus in Julius Caesar and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth (Guildford Shakespeare Company). The production also features Olivier Award-nominee Nicola Blackman (Destiny Rides Again, Babe the Sheep Pig, Gilgamesh and Just to Get Married) as Lily’s best friend Penny.

TB Matt Beveridge and Johanne Murdock in rehearsals for The ToyBoy Diaries 1 credit Claire Bilyard

Matt Beveridge (The Frontier Trilogy, Titanic – Toronto and House of Therapy – Off Broadway). Sharif Afifi (Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, Wonderland – UK Tour) will play ToyBoy 2, while Alistair Higgins (Dreamboats and Petticoats – UK Tour, Sweeney Todd – Brighton, Charlotte’s Web) plays ToyBoy 3.

TB Johanne Murdock in rehearsals for The ToyBoy Diaries credit Claire Bilyard

The Toyboy Diaries will be directed by Tania Azevedo, with a book by Simon Warne, music and lyrics by Andy Collyer.

Tickets are available here.

 

 

Little Women

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Louisa May Alcott’s much loved classic about the four March sisters growing up in Civil War-era New England has been a literary favourite for almost 150 years now. Seen previously on the big screen, radio plays, TV series and straight theatre plays the March sisters undoubtedly have a place in the hearts of many, this is the first time however the Broadway musical has made its way to European shores as the incredibly successful pairing of Hope Mill Theatreand Aria Entertainment continue their vision to deliver accessible musical theatre in Manchester.

The production offers a condensed take on the heart-warming story of trailblazer Jo and her three sisters, Meg, Beth and Amy March, with Jo at the spirited centre of the piece. With their father off at war and their mothers encouragement to be the best versions of themselves they can be, the sisters set out on their path to becoming ‘little women’.

Amie Giselle-Ward is outstanding as Jo, passionate, strong and always true to herself, Giselle-Ward embodies perfectly the brash and bold Jo Marsh with a raw energy that utterly captivates, fiercely loyal and defiantly proud her characterisation is honest and raw as she delivers an incredibly moving and deeply emotional performance. She fizzes and boils over with a determination to live the life she chooses not one society choses for her, a woman seemingly ahead of her time when the book was first published in 1868 and an absolute heroine to women today.

The ten strong cast are incredibly hard working and beautifully demonstrate the importance and strength of family, love and hope regardless of the situation or difficulties they face. Each of the sisters are perfectly cast, Jemima Watling is superb as Meg, sweet and sensible, with a heart full of love. Katie Marie-Carter makes for a fabulous Amy, spoiled and selfish she is wonderfully dramatic. Cathy Read plays Beth with sweet affection, gentle and kind with a real sincerity she is the calm to Jo’s perfect storm.

Bronagh Lagan’s direction ensures the production remains entirely committed to delivering Louisa May Alcott’s message of love, family and female empowerment with wonderful storytelling throughout.

Ben M Rogers light design gently warms the production, allowing Nik Corrall’s simplistic yet effective set to shine. The intimate setting of Hope Mill Theatre is perfect for this engaging production, giving audiences the most wonderful connection with the characters as Jason Howard’s music and Mindi Dickstein’s lyrics are brought to life by Rickey Long’s superb musical direction.

Little Women is a celebration, joyful, spirited and full of heart. The perfect festive treat for all ages, delivering an important and current message that into each life some rain must fall but never let that diminish the fire within you.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 9th December tickets available here

Hope Mill Theatre announces 2018 season!

TOYBOY DIARIES - Copy

Award-winning Hope Mill Theatre and resident producer Aria Entertainment today announce their much anticipated 2018 season, with three bold, exciting and ambitious in-house productions.

The converted mill in Ancoats currently hosting the European premiere of Little Women enjoyed a landmark 2017 season which saw 5* critically acclaimed productions and London transfers for Yank! and Hair with Pippin following in early 2018 will begin the season with the world premiere of new British musical The ToyBoy Diaries (on sale today).

This new musical comedy which runs from 18 January to 10 February 2018 charts the hilarious and sometimes heart-breaking sagas of mid-life dating. When twice-divorced Lily inadvertently finds herself under a much younger man, it opens the door to a wild new world of inappropriate relationships. From Tom the Tender to Sam the Submissive, via Paul the Policeman, Hat Trick Patrick and Matt the Monstrous (with Old Willy and Philandering Phil mixed in along the way) Lily finally finds Ben the Bountiful.

WillKatyJoe

Spring Awakening will run from 19 March to 3 May 2018. A production hailed as “one of the great musicals of the last decade” (New York Times) and the winner of eight Tony and four Olivier Awards, Spring Awakening follows a group of teenagers in late-19th-century Germany navigating the struggles and virtues of blossoming youth, with an electrifying fusion of morality, sexuality and a Grammy award-winning rock score. This landmark musical will be presented in an intimate and bold new production helmed by director Luke Sheppard (In The Heights, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole).

Third show to be announced is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s romantic classic Aspects of Love which will run from 5 July to 4 August 2018. Featuring the iconic “Love Changes Everything” Aspects of Love tells the story of passion, love and loss across three generations of a family and their artistic companions, against a background of 1940’s France and Italy.

The hugely successful partnership between Joseph Houston and William Whelton, the co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre and producer Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment is further testament to their commitment to make Hope Mill Theatre the home of new musicals and revivals in the north and beyond with two more yet-to-be announced productions in Autumn/Winter.

Hope Mill Theatre Exterior Shot

William Whelton and Joseph Houston, co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre said: “We wanted to make sure our third season was even more ambitious and we feel we have managed to achieve that with the world premiere of the new British musical The ToyBoy Diaries, an exciting revival of Spring Awakening with an Olivier Award-winning creative team and our first staging of an Andrew Lloyd Webber classic – Aspects of love. Once again we have proved the power of regional theatre and continue to spearhead Hope Mill Theatre as a leading player in new musical staging, musical premieres and exciting revivals.”

Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment, who has just seen her production of The Addams Family transfer to Singapore stated “I have enjoyed working with the theatre on taking our shows to new commercial levels in London and am extremely delighted to announce the first three shows of our 2018 season, it is an honour to share this diverse selection of work with you. We hope to continue to champion the genre and bring in audiences from far and wide.”

Further information can be found here

@Hopemilltheatr1

@ToyBoyDiaries

 

BE//LONGING


Award-winning Manchester theatre collective Take Back Theatre have teamed up with Manchester Migration Lab and Hope Mill Theatre to explore and address our perceptions and understanding of migration.

This thought-provoking and deeply moving multi-media piece uses music, art, scripted theatre and multimedia presentations to tell real and honest stories of migration.

This creative partnership with Manchester Universities new Migration Lab offers audiences the chance to gain a deeper and more honest understanding of all forms of migration, happening the world over every day.


Upon arrival each audience members papers are checked and a temporary travel document approved which we must carry with us at all times. We are then given a map allowing us to navigate as we cross the border into Hope Mill Theatre. The theatre space has been transformed to resemble a warehouse on the edge of the border, boxes are piled up, labelled to indicate types of clothing, ages, sizes etc ahead of distribution . Telephones dotted around the theatre allow audiences to listen in on personal & deeply moving migrant stories , a recording of a Syrian refugee speaking to an Italian Coastguard as a boat sinks, an account of life as a detainee in Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre, the stories are multiple and varied.

The centrepiece of the evening penned by Becx Harrison and directed by Matt Hassall sees actors Nadia Emam and Darren Kuppan explore the ideas of borders, imposed borders, everyday borders, the challenges faced by those unable to freely cross borders, the privilege of those who can and the sense of belonging borders may/may not bring. It is engaging, thought-provoking and beautifully delivered. Provocative and quick paced both Emam and Kuppan command the full attention of every person in the room.


Hearing such honest and personal accounts in this stirring and deeply considered manner gives them great depth and real strength of meaning, pairing quotes from the privileged beside those of the desperate offers an opportunity to evaluate and question the injustices so many face. Migration happens every day, we are all migrants who cross borders daily yet for us the privileged borders are rarely a matter of life or death.

The theatre piece finishes by playing Maximo Park’s ‘Risk To Exist’ accompanied by a deeply moving film exploring the work of MOAS – Migration Offshore Aid Station.


After the performance further exhibits are introduced including interactive maps, a deeply moving installation ‘The Tent’ which explores birth in a refugee camp and stateless babies to an engaging short film by Casey Longdon and Grant Archer detailing ‘The Overview Effect’ exploring the perspective of astronauts as they look down to the world below and see a visual truth of the world without borders, further illustrating how we are all connected.

Be//longing is a highly emotive and passionately delivered piece. As overwhelming as a subject matter this is, Be//longing successfully ignites debate and delivers much needed opportunities to learn, to listen, to contemplate and then to hopefully act.


On at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 4th November, limited tickets available via http://www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk

http://www.takebacktheatre.com/