Interview | Jonathan O’Boyle | Aspects of Love

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart, Aspects of Love has been wowing audiences at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre. Now as it approaches its final week of performances we caught up with Director Jonathan O’Boyle to hear a little more about his experience directing his third production at the award-winning Ancoats theatre.

Opening Night: How familiar with Aspects of Love were you before joining this production? Is it a show you’ve always wanted to work on?

Jonathan O’Boyle: I’ve always loved the score of Aspects, but I’ve never seen it on stage. I grew up listening to mix tapes of musicals, several being Andrew Lloyd Webber compilations. So invariably Love Changes Everything was on there. I grew up seeing his work and when I trained as an actor, I wanted desperately to be in one of his shows. Now, as a director, it’s an honour to be working on one of his shows. Aspects has a fantastic story and a brilliant score. To me, it’s his most narrative, actor driven show and this really appealed to me. We treated it like a play, where the characters just happened to be singing rather than speaking.

ON: How do you approach directing a new and reimagined production of a classic show like Aspects of Love?

Jonathan: I wanted it to be intimate. Now, I know everyone always says ‘intimate and stripped back’ but that’s really what I wanted and how I saw the show. The audience at the Hope Mill is so close to the action they can touch the actors. This influenced the design. I wanted the audience to be on stage with actors. Many of the locations in Aspects happen to be in cafes, so we decided to have a couple of the front rows of seats at cafe tables as if they were part of the action.

We then approached the rehearsals as if we were working on a play. We looked at character, character backstories, timelines and what the characters wanted and how they went about achieving this. This really deepened the actors connection to the material.

ON: Did the intimate space the production would be presented in play a major part in your directing decisions?

Jonathan: Absolutely. You have to respond to the space you’re directing in, and the Hope Mill is a very specific space with its own unique challenges. I think about the space at every stage of the process, from the casting to the design to the lighting rig to the sound design. Every choice I make has to be for the theatre.

ON: The reviews have been absolutely phenomenal, people are really responding to the show, this must be very gratifying to the cast and creative team?

Jonathan: It’s been incredible yes. We’re all thrilled with how it’s gone down. I’m so proud of the brilliant cast and creative team. We had a joyous rehearsal process (one of my favourite so far) and we said – if no one gets it, at least we had a great time rehearsing it! Thankfully, the audiences are responding to it in the way I’d hoped. I’m in constant awe of the cast and their talent.

We never presume it’s going to be good. In fact, I never know what the audiences are going to make of it or how it’s going to be received until we get an audience in the room. I trust my instinct and hope it resonates with people.

ON: This is your third production at Hope Mill Theatre – what makes this space/team so appealing to direct in?

Jonathan: I love the theatre and the team there. They’re all so welcoming and it’s always a pleasure being back. I’m from Derbyshire myself but my parents grew up in Salford and Rochdale, so I’ve been going to Manchester all my life. I love the vibe and the people there, so Manchester feels like my second home.

ON: Your previous shows at Hope Mill – Hair and Pippin – have both transferred to London. How much of a challenge was restaging them for London? Do you have a favourite of the three?

Jonathan: It is challenging re-staging for a different venue, primarily because the space is never the same and there are often idiosyncrasies that pop up here and there. What’s so brilliant though, is revisiting the material with the company and developing the show even further. You’re able to improve on things from the first time and the actors often find a deeper connection with the show and their characters.

They’re all so different! They had different challenges and were very different in tone. It’s hard to pick between them because I loved all three companies.

ON: What’s next for you?

Jonathan: I’m currently directing the UK Tour of Rain Man starring Mathew Horne and Ed Speleers. Then later in the year I’ll be directing the UK premiere of Ken Urban’s A Guide for the Homesick at Trafalgar Studios and Peter Pan at The Park this Christmas.

Catch Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre until 9th August tickets available here.

Aspects of Love

Kelly Price (Rose) & Felix Mosse (Alex) in Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre. Credit Anthony Robling

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Stripped back, elegant and intensely intimate Aspects of Love, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s romantic classic is given its North West professional premiere by award-winning pairing Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Productions and what a sensational premiere it is.

Based on the 1995 novella by David Garnett, Aspects of Love is a multi-layered and deeply fascinating exploration into the complexities of love. The story moves from one lustful entanglement to the next as intertwining relationships based around multiple characters within 3 generations of one family develop and change over a 17 year time scale. Love, lust, loss and obsession all feature in this spellbinding sung-through musical, the third of Hope Mill’s five in-house productions for 2018.

Kelly Price (Rose) & Felix Mosse (Alex) in Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre 2. Credit Anthony Robling

17-year-old Alex is hopelessly smitten with glamorous actress Rose, Rose loves the thrill of attraction, desperately craving sexual freedom and adoration yet is terrified at the thought of loneliness . Despite a passionate affair Rose turns to Alex’s Uncle George for commitment who in turn introduces her to his long-standing lover, free-spirited Italian Sculptor Giulietta. Further complexities arise when years later Alex is reconciled with lover Rose whose 15-year-old daughter Jenny enthusiastically pursues him, much to the horror of protective father George.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle’s stripped back approach to this iconic musical ensures the storytelling and emotion of piece lie firmly at its heart. Conversations flow as witty song exchanges while melodic vocals develop into passionate protests. The intimate staging of this piece takes the intensity of each relationship to another level as the audience is carried along immersed in the fizzing action.

Kelly Price is sensational as Rose Vibert, passionate and demanding yet heart-achingly vulnerable, she gives an utterly compelling and deeply moving performance. Her delivery of Anything But Lonely is raw and heart-felt.

Felix Mosse is perfectly cast as Alex, displaying an incredible vocal rage, he is sensitive and entirely believable, guarded and intense yet simmering with passion and explosive rage. He judges the character perfectly and ensures the audience now have a new actor to associate with perhaps one of the most well-known songs in any musical, Love Changes Everything.

Jerome Pradon (George) & Kimberley Blake (Giulietta) in Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre. Credit Anthony Robling

Jerome Pradon’s character acting as the worldly George authenticates his journey from decadent philanderer to aging father, afraid of what love may do to his precious daughter. His delivery of The First Man You Remember sung to daughter Jenny (the sweet and endearing Eleanor Walsh) captures the tenderness of the piece perfectly.

Kimberley Blake’s vivacious and alluring Giulietta is a joy to watch, her stunning vocals accompanied by slickly delivered choreography during post-funeral Hand Me The Wine and The Dice a real highlight of the show, pacy, passionate and full of sass.

Designer Jason Denvir has transformed the intimate setting with an expanse of shutter doors which are used to great effect as we glide through multiple cities bathed in Aaron J Dootson’s atmospheric shafts of light.

Kelly Price (Rose) in Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre. Credit Anthony Robling

The stripped back orchestration of 2 pianos and percussion ensures Lloyd Webber’s soaring score is delivered beautifully; it’s melodic, dreamy and devastatingly dramatic.

Every aspect of this show has been crafted beautifully, scene changes are delicately choreographed while each ensemble member captivates and leaves an impact. The sheer quality of this production combined with the uniquely intimate setting of Hope Mill Theatre breathes new life into Lloyd Webber’s work. Slick, stylish and oozing with passion, Aspects of Love is another sure-fire hit for the mighty Hope Mill Theatre/Aria Productions pairing. An absolute must-see!

ON at Hope Mill Theatre until

The Wasp

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Matt Forrest

Hope Mill Theatre is gaining quite the reputation for both staging and hosting bold, daring and unique productions: the latest offering from The Theatre Collective, The Wasp is no different.

When Heather (Charlie Young) contacts old school friend Carla (Debbie Brannan) for a brew and a catch up, Carla has no idea what to expect. In the early stages of high school, the two were the best of friends, however that friendship soon turned sour with Carla turning on her friend, taking every opportunity to extract pain and misery on Heather. In the present-day Carla is in an unhappy marriage with four children and a fifth on the way. Heather on the other hand likes the finer things life has to offer, she has a nice house and money to burn. So, what possible reason could Heather have for meeting up with Carla?  Heather has a proposal for Carla that will change both of their lives for ever.

This daring two hander has a delicious evil streak running through it with a pitch black comedic script at its centre, sure there are some plot contrivances which at times push the boundaries of credibility but if you are prepared to go along for the ride then you won’t be disappointed.

I won’t go in too much narrative detail, so as not to spoil anything, (the less you know the better) however the plot is packed full of twists and turns as we see the balance of power between the two shifts throughout and just when you think you have the answer the questions get changed.

The two leads are outstanding: Young as the straight-laced seemingly well to do Heather turns in a captivating and riveting performance, whilst Brannan is terrific as the desperate Carla, willing to doing anything for a better life for her and her children. The two clearly relish sparring together, as they sling cutting remarks and stinging barbs throughout.

In addition, there is haunting, claustrophobic sound design by Dan Pyke that really ratchets up the tension. Throw all this into the mix and you have all the ingredients for a taut psychological thriller that will shock and captivate.

The Wasp is on at Hope Mill Theatre till 16th June. Tickets are available here.

Aspects of Love | Cast and Creatives announced

Aspects

An exciting cast and creative team has been announced for Hope Mill Theatre and Aria productions hotly-anticipated, intimate revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s romantic classic Aspects of Love, which runs as the award-winning Ancoats theatre from Thursday 5th July until Thursday 9th August.

The talented company of 10 includes both Olivier Award nominees and West End regulars as well as young talent making their professional debuts will be directed by Jonathan O’Boyle whose recent credits include Pippin (Hope Mill Theatre/ Southwark Playhouse, London), Hair (Hope Mill Theatre/The Vaults, London) and Resident Director of An American in Paris (Dominion Theatre, London).

Making up the cast is Kimberly Blake (Half a Sixpence, Barnum) who plays Giulietta, Jason Kajdi (Our House, Assassins), in the role of Hugo, Felix Mosse (The Rocky Horror Show) as Alex, Julia J Nagle (An American in Paris) as Elizabeth/ensemble, Minal Patel (The Secret Garden, Bend it Like Beckham) as Marcel, Jerome Pradon (Jesus Christ Superstar, Pacific Overtures – Olivier Award Nominee 2003) as George and Kelly Price (That Day We Sang, A Little Night Music – Olivier Award Nominee 2010) in the role of Rose. Making their professional debuts in the production are Rosie Cava-Beale, ensemble, Jack Churms, as Jerome/ensemble and Eleanor Walsh as Jenny/ensemble.

Following Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre is The Return of the Soldier that runs from Thursday 6 to Saturday 29 September and A Christmas Story The Musical that runs from Friday 26 October to Saturday 1 December.

Tickets available here.

 

#BeMoreMartyn

After debuting their verbatim piece about the extraordinary Martyn Hett last October, Hope Theatre Company return on the anniversary of the Manchester bombing with a reworked and powerful piece of theatre that celebrates this special men and also asks the question, what does #BeMoreMartyn mean?

Eight of Martyn’s closest friends were interviewed by Hope Theatre Company for this celebratory piece of theatre, the exact words spoken were then constructed into a compelling and insightful piece offering a real and in depth view into the life of Martyn Hett whose exceptional life was cut short a year ago today when he was killed in the Manchester Arena bombing.

The show is littered with heart-warming and hilarious stories of Martyn’s antics including wild nights out on Canal St, Martyn’s annual Eurovision party which he took VERY seriously and stories of his joy at all things Coronation Street including a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Gail Platt which lived in his in-house bar The Frig.

These up-lifting and joyful memories are beautifully intertwined with more reflective and at times deeply emotional recollections. Director Adam Zane pacing the piece perfectly allowing each character time to share emotive stories before breaking into another outrageous or hilarious tale that will leave you belly laughing and a little bit more inspired once again by this incredible man.

Each section is cleverly interspersed with video clips featuring or made by Martyn including the hilarious Audrey Roberts noise, his appearance on Tattoo fixers getting his infamous Deirdre Barlow tattoo and a hilarious appearance on Couples Come Dine with Me with boyfriend Russell.

The content of the entire piece is so well judged by creative Adam Zane and Mike Lee ensuring each audience member gains a real knowledge and understanding of just why Martyn meant so much to people. The generosity of his friends in sharing their memories and private thoughts a real credit to the friendships they all had. Hope Theatre Company haven’t painted Martyn as an untouchable angel, this is a real, honest, inspiring and increadibly funny piece of theatre, an entirely fitting tribute and the perfect way to continue the legacy of Martyn Hett. The strong cast deliver the words of Martyn’s friends with sensitivity, real emotion and undoubtedly love.

The #BeMoreMartyn message is powerful and generously open for interpretation by each individual whose lives he touched and continues to do so. Have the courage to live for the moment, be fabulous, have fun, make a positive difference, laugh hard, be fearless and proud of what and who you love and most of all always and unashamedly be yourself.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 26th May tickets available here.

*Photo credit Lee Baxter

Interview | Adam Zane | #BeMoreMartyn

Be More Martyn

On the first anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing, Hope Theatre Company return to award-winning Hope Mill Theatre to celebrate the life of Martyn Hett, with their empowering and inspiring play, #BeMoreMartyn.

First performed in October 2017 to sell-out audiences, Hope Theatre Company have developed the play further to create a unique piece of verbatim theatre using the words and stories of eight of Martyn’s closest friends taking a closer look at what exactly it means to #BeMoreMartyn.

We visited rehearsals where we spoke to writer and director Adam Zane who took us back to last May when he first became aware of Martyn Hett, “When people started to share statuses and tweets that Martyn was missing I started to see his face so much and realised he knew so many of my friends and I soon started realising how things are connected and feel that connection myself, as the days went on I realised in that past year I’d been watching his videos and sharing them on Facebook. I was on the train going down to Brighton as we had a show on at the fringe when I got a message confirming Martyn had been found and I remember just crying on the train but thinking this is ridiculous to be crying over someone you don’t know but I think for me as a gay man who lives in Manchester, who goes to the gay village, he was someone who was obviously loved by so many different people and it really got to me, I felt like we’d lost someone from our community.”

It was when Adam arrived in Brighton for a show that evening he really felt as a Manchester theatre company it was important to mark the heart-breaking news of Martyn’s passing somehow, “A minutes silence just didn’t feel appropriate so we led the audience in a minutes round of applause, because we strongly felt he absolutely deserved celebrating.”

Adam attended Martyn’s funeral in support of his friends and was incredibly touched by just how important Martyn was to so many people, “That’s when I started to hear the most amazing stories; there was a lot of laughter. Michelle McManus was amazing, his boss from Rumpus PR told the most amazing account of Martyn, we were crying with laughter at these incredible stories and I just thought these stories and these incredible memories of Martyn would be beautiful on stage.”

The question what does #BeMoreMartyn mean was the thing that hooked Adam and seeing it trending on Twitter confirmed to him that was what the play needed to be about, “#BeMoreMartyn was trending worldwide and that made me really wonder, what does that mean? What was it about this young man that we should be so inspired by? I was so overwhelmed by the stories Martyn’s friends have told me, how personally they were transformed by this man, it sounds like a really over the top thing to say but he really did do that to people.”

Adam describes how he quickly began forming a picture of Martyn through the generosity of his friends and their willingness to share their own personal memories. “There’s a lovely story in the play where Hannah, Martyn’s roommate says she felt more validated as a human being by Martyn than anyone else in the world and I think that’s what he did, he never tried to change people he just always said ‘be yourself’. Another character says ‘he gave me my life in Manchester’ a lot of the time if people were having a bad time in another city he would say come to Manchester and they would, they would move their lives to be nearer to Martyn so there’s this huge circle of friends all connected via Martyn. To have that openness and generosity of spirit when most of us just go about our day to day lives is something I think about a lot.”

Adam has been mindful throughout the entire creative process to ensure every element of this project has been done with the utmost of respect for Martyn, his memory, his family and his friends and through his work with those closest to Martyn has gained a great knowledge of just how important Martyn was to so many. “We were so nervous about Martyn’s family and friends reaction and we just desperately wanted to do him justice and honour him, when they came out from the show in October they said it was like spending a couple of hours with Martyn again, that for me is what I wanted, I wanted people to feel like they’d had a night out on Canal St with Martyn and that they knew him a bit better. I said to Martyn’s Mum the other day although I never met him I now feel that he’s a really important part of my life. He is continuing to change people in many different ways, he’s absolutely changed me, this year has been all about Martyn really. I feel so honoured and was really amazed at the amount of trust Martyn’s friends and family put in us, they have been so generous in allowing us to continue his legacy.”

The show opens at Hope Mill Theatre on Monday 21st May and runs until Saturday 26th May; from here it heads to Brighton Fringe then to London’s Southwalk Playhouse on 3rd June. Beyond this Hope Theatre Company have great ambitions for the play which celebrates both friendship and living life to its absolute fullest. “We have huge ambitions for this play, for us this is just the beginning, we want to take it across the country, we want to take it internationally, the dream would be to take it to New York, for me the play is also about how a city stands up to a terrorist attack. I think it would be really interesting for New Yorkers to see how a group of Mancunians dealt with such a terrible event and also how they dealt with their grief and of course separate to that can you imagine Martyn Hett’s name in lights on Broadway, how amazing.”

The clear message from #BeMoreMartyn is absolutely celebrating and living life to the full, while being proud of who you are, something Martyn undoubtedly was, Adam explained, “I knew very early on there were so many things to celebrate about Martyn, some things that people may even think are quite small but I feel really are a joy for example how much he unashamedly loved things, he loved Corrie, he loved Michelle McManus, he loved Mariah and he was so proud of the things that he loved. I remember as a child, as a teenager and even sometimes as an adult not admitting to things I like because I don’t know what people might think of that and how ridiculous is that? Why not scream loud and proud about the things that you love. As a gay man and someone who works with you LGBT children in schools I see every month children who are struggling, I know that they can watch this play and think if Martyn could do it then so could I, he can continue to inspire people to be more confident about themselves and I really hope feel empowered by his message.”

Following on from the original production performed at Hope Mill Theatre back in October Adam and fellow producer Mike Lee went back and re-interviewed Martyn’s friends, while the first interviews were very raw the second round of interviews allowed Martyn’s friend an opportunity to reflect, while it’s not a case of moving on, there has been an opportunity for moving forward and a feeling that the message of #BeMoreMartyn is even stronger now, “A character in the play says ‘you couldn’t help but be happy around him and there’s not enough people in the world like that’ that’s why he’s missed so much, he brought so much happiness to so many people and of course he wasn’t always an angel, we’ve got a scene called ‘Sod’ some of the things he did to his friends are hysterically funny. Things he would call them, things he would do to them, living with him, Mariah Carey on at 5am in the morning but they all absolutely adored him.”

People have talked to Adam about Manchester’s incredible response to the Arena attack and are including Hope Theatre Company as part of that inspiring response, Adam feels that “It’s an artist response to something tragic, our aim is for our audiences to leave stronger, inspired, empowered and take away something really, really positive from something that was, really, really terrible.”

#BeMoreMartyn opens on Monday 21st May at Hope Mill Theatre tickets available https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/bemoremartyn-boy-deirdre-tattoo/

The Visitor’s Book

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Written by Sarah Nelson and Oldham Theatre Workshop’s Artistic Director James Atherton. New Musical The Visitor’s Book is an uplifting exploration on the impact of loss, abandonment and ultimately the importance of family and forgiveness.

Mum (Sophie Ellicott) holidays annually with children Jack, Sophie and Betty at Cathy’s (Jo Gerard) Cumbrian cottage. A sanctuary away from the city with clean air, green fields and an endless supply of fresh brews in the pot, problems however travel too and tensions soon rise as grief and confusion take hold.

Eldest in the family Jack is desperate for answers, a chance discovery however leads him to search for something else entirely when a strangers message in the Visitor’s book captures his imagination, offering a much-needed focus for his grief.

The play spans several years with scenes and stories beautifully interwoven. Younger and older versions of the children seamlessly move in and out of scenes as lies are uncovered and truths are told. The static set, a cosy living room within the holiday cottage allows the cast to move freely from one scene to the next, often inhabiting the stage at the same time to great effect. Slick direction ensures the clear narratives develop at just the right pace to both engage and entertain.

Sarah Nelson and James Atherton’s excellent writing ensures each character is entirely believable, from the moody teenager to the ‘holding everything together’ Mum to the baby of the family who entertains and amuses with her adorably quirky ways. There are many laugh out loud moments, moments you’ll entirely relate too as well as moments you’ll be gulping away the lump in your throat.

In Hope Mill’s intimate space there is no room for error and this hugely talented cast demonstrate superbly just how powerful and incredibly entertaining honest and heartfelt theatre can be. Each and every cast member giving their all.

Sophie Ellicott delivers a strong performance as Mum, warm and loving she embodies the role perfectly. Young and older Jack, Tommy Douglas and Jabez Sykes are both exceptional as anger and frustration is channelled into hopeful determination. The score is excellent allowing for some beautiful harmonies wrapped up in incredibly well observed lyrics delivered note perfect by the cast. Madeleine Edmondson and Poppy O’Brien shine performing their hilarious duet, big voices and even bigger personalities.

The Visitor’s Book is ultimately a story of hope, forgiveness and the real importance of family. This hugely entertaining production has the ability to both touch you deeply and entertain you enormously. Full of heart, deeply moving, beautifully told and superbly delivered, a joyous success.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Friday 11th May, tonight’s performance is SOLD OUT but follow @Visitor_Book and @OTWOldham for further information.