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.

Spring Awakening

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Since the announcement in November that award-winning creative pairing Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Entertainment would be staging a revival of acclaimed Broadway hit Spring Awakening, interest was pricked and momentum has quickly gathered. The additional news that both DEM Productions and director Luke Sheppard (In The Heights, Working and Jersey Boys) were also on board has cemented Spring Awakening as Hope Mill Theatre’s most highly anticipated show to date.

Both exhilarating and touchingly poetic, Spring Awakening is an in your face, provocative and exquisitely beautiful production. With music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Steven Sater the story follows a group of teenagers in 19th Century Germany on a voyage of sexual discovery in a world where communication and education from the adults who should be guiding them is none existent. In fact almost all adults in the story play a significant part in damaging the teenagers in this thrilling, adrenaline-charged and deeply moving piece.

Whilst the story may be set in 19th-century Germany, award-winning director Luke Sheppard’s characters speak and sing in 21st-century Mancunian accents, which makes the angst and frustration all the more real adding a cheeky humour to the sharp script.

As gut-wrenching tragedies unfold the ingenious way in which they’re delivered offers delicious moments of escapism and fantasy before we’re snapped back into the grim reality of this firmly censored and deeply troubled world.

Darragh Cowley making his professional debut is exceptional as the head-strong, charismatic rebel Melchior. He commands attention every minute he is on stage, seizing each moment with enthusiasm, commitment and confidence. Enigmatic and immensely likeable, the soon to be Guildford School of Acting graduate secures himself undoubtedly as one to watch.

Nikita Johal makes for the most sublime Wendla, she evokes both strength and honest vulnerability while her innocent queries on the origins of babies acts as the catalyst for the key events within the production. With stunning pin-sharp vocals and a brave innocence she carries you along on her journey of self-discovery with fluidity and conviction.

Jabez Sykes gives the most heartbreaking performance as the intense and emotionally pressured Moritz, stuck in the most helpless of places his desperate acceptance during Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind is perfectly judged and achingly brilliant.

The architecture of Hope Mill theatre offers the perfect backdrop for Gabriella Slade’s stunning set, the effect when paired with Nic Farman’s intensely atmospheric lighting design is quite simply spectacular, culminating in an immersive and unforgettable theatrical experience.

Tom Jackson Greaves’ choreography is slick and innovative performed to precise perfection by the sensational ensemble cast whose electric delivery of Totally Fucked fizzes with defiant joy, screaming to be watched again and again. There is so much talent in this one cast, every performance packed with power and passion.

Sharp-edged, visually stunning and intensely beautiful Spring Awakening is a one of a kind musical that should be seen all the year through.

Unashamedly bold and dynamically brilliant, with phenomenal storytelling & an unforgettable score Spring Awakening is another sure fire hit which screams London transfer.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until 3rd May tickets available here.

Interview | Darragh Cowley & Jabez Sykes | Spring Awakening

DarraghCowleyandCompany_preview

Ground-breaking pop-rock Broadway musical Spring Awakeningwith it’s emotive and important themes of sexuality, religion, gender and self-discovery opens in Manchester’s Award winning Hope Mill theatre this week. The UK revival of Duncan Sheik and Steven Slater’s musical set in the late nineteenth-century has themes which resonate heavily today as we follow a group of young teenagers on a journey of self-discovery in a environment of censorship and silence.

The production which opens for previews on Thursday 29th March is the second of five in-house musicals this year from the enormously successful collaboration between Hope Mill Theatre’s founders Joseph Houston and William Whelton and co-artistic director and resident producer Katy Lipson. Directed by Luke Sheppard the defining musical of the last decade has created a buzz on social media since the moment it was first announced.

We spoke to Manchester cast members Darragh Cowley who plays Melchior and Jabez Sykes who takes on the role of Moritz to find out a little more about the production and hear how it feels to be performing something so hotly anticipated on home soil.

JabezSykes_preview

Opening Night: For those unfamiliar with the show can you give us a brief outline and tell us a little about your characters?

Darragh Cowley: I play Melchoir, who is a very forward thinking young teenager, very clever, very intelligent. Spring Awakening is a real pop, rock, rah rah against the system really, it’s the youth trying to defy the system in which they have been brought up and to break the traditions that they don’t really think are right. It covers themes of teen pregnancy, child abuse, mental health and youung persons suicide but then the overall theme towards the end is about growth and rebuild and how people can get back from that sort of thing, it’s a beautiful, beautiful piece it’s gorgeous.

Jabez Sykes: I play Mortiz, there’s a lot going on for Moritz at this time, he’s dealing with a lot of pressure, his mental health maybe isn’t the best that it could be, which has been quite a daunting task really to take on, it’s such a sensitive subject and such a hot subject right now but I really think we’ve done it justice, working with the cast, our director Luke Sheppard, choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves and musical director Gareth Bretherton it’s been a real collaborative experience and I think we’ve really got there with tackling the important issues in the piece.

DarraghCowley_preview

How as a cast do you work on developing trust and chemistry?

JS: From day one we were all so comfortable with each other, it was almost like we knew each other from another life.

DC: There was such a nice feeling in the room, it was immediately really comfortable.

JS: It really was lovely, I think no one is scared of getting anything wrong, everyone is so supportive of each other, which makes for a really great working environment.

DC: Luke Sheppard our director has made it very much a collaborative process so before we do any scene we’ll sit and talk through it so we can all put our ideas in, even a few weeks into the rehearsal process we might say, actually Luke can I try this idea, can I still play with it? And he just tells us to go for it and see what it’s like, it might be terrible idea and he’ll say ‘Darragh what were you thinking?’ But if not he is more than welcome to accommodate and include our ideas.

JS: In terms of trust a lot of the subjects are very delicate and everyone is fighting their own personal battles so something might affect somebody in a way that doesn’t affect somebody else, but one of the things we’ve all learned is that you have to be patient with everybody, you have to have respect for each other and I think with that comes a natural trust.

JabezSykes,DarraghCowley_preview

There is a real online buzz about the show, is that felt by the cast and does it add any pressure?

JS: I think there’s always that little bit of your head that’s saying oh my God so many people are really excited about this and I think because it’s such a special and quite a cult show for some people but I feel confident that what we have produced is a really, really beautiful piece and we’re excited now and ready for audiences to see it.

DC: The buzz online about the show has really put some wind behind our sails, I’ve never been in something of this scale, we’ve been rehearsing now for six weeks or so and I feel ready to stat beginning to share it, I’m excited, there’s a pressure but there’s an excitement too, I just feel right now let’s go, let’s do it!

JS: We really feel that everyone who has been tweeting about the show is really positive and really behind us and are coming to support us because they love the show and they want it to be as brilliant as we know it is.

JabezSykes2_preview

Are you looking forward to performing at Hope Mill Theatre?

DC: It’s a dream, I started my theatre career doing amateur dramatics at the plaza in Stockport, went through Manchester Musical Youth then went to Guilford to train for 3 years, finished two weeks ago and it’s literally a dream to come back to the city where it all started, where I grew up, went to school, it’s just gorgeous to be able to come back and say ‘Hi I’m an actor now, look I did it!’ It really is an absolute dream to be back in the city where I’m from.

JS: I’m so excited, I just can’t wait, it feels really special, I feel like things have gone full circle for me, I went to watch Parade at Hope Mill which was their first in-house musical, and I knew the moment it finished I wanted to work at Hope Mill and now here I am, I’m so grateful and so excited for this opportunity and I really cannot wait to get started.

Spring Awakening begins previews at Hope Mill Theatre on Thursday 29th March and runs until Thursday 3rd May tickets available here.