Hushabye Mountain

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First performed at the Crewe Lyceum in 1999, Hope Mill Theatre’s streamed revival of Hushabye Mountain brings the Jonathan Harvey penned play to a new audience at a time when living through a pandemic is something we can all relate to.

The strong opening where we see Danny pass from his earthly life to the sounds of his mother Beryl singing one of his childhood favourites ‘Feed The Birds’ sets the scene for this heartfelt piece where the brutality of the HIV/AIDS epidemic rips through the very heart of each character, leaving its unflinching and tragic mark.

As Danny sits in limbo waiting for confirmation that he can officially ‘pass on’; his friends and family left behind reflect and reforge their relationships and lives without him.

Though the timeline moves about considerably from Danny’s life pre-diagnosis to after his passing Nick Bagnall’s strong direction ensures clarity allowing the audience to closely follow events as they unfold and reflect in real time with the characters.

Despite the heavy subject matter Harvey’s wit and skill for creating characters with true grit and huge heart shines through. This stellar cast pour themselves into this piece and the reward for the audience is deeply moving.

Nathan McMullen floods Danny with life, making his diagnosis all the more tragic. He draws you in & quickly establishes the character as someone you’d always have at the top of any guest list, fun, flirty and bursting with heart. His fears are displayed openly and honestly as reality hits and his dreams fade.

The scene between McMullen & Layton Williams where Danny makes plans for his funeral is devastating in its impact. Beautifully delivered by both and although heartbreaking is peppered with wit, genuine affection and buckets of love. Williams gives a superb performance as Connor, a role very different from what we’ve seen him in before, he convinces entirely.

Similarly the hospital scene between Matt Henry as Lee and McMullen as Connor is powerful in its poignancy as the reality of what is to come hits home.

Jodie Prenger as Beryl, Connor’s Mum gives a truly memorable performance. Through her seemingly manic ramblings we see a mother searching for atonement from the guilt she feels after Connor’s farther forced her to cut ties with Connor when he came out. Her mind has been destroyed by the overwhelming guilt she feels as she appears as Mary Poppins and Judy Garland, two of Connor’s favourite icons, we’re transported to a happier time for them both where we imagine them watching Hollywood classics accompanied by snuggles on the sofa. Not physically able to protect her baby anymore her song now gently sends him peacefully to sleep.

This strong cast lift Harvey’s words and deliver them with heartfelt commitment shining a light on the complexities of love and loss. There is also hope as combination therapies begin to make an impact while Jonathan Harvey’s wit is never far away, shining through the tension and tragedy.

Powerful theatre bursting with heaps of heart.

Streaming until 20th June tickets available https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/hushabye-mountain

Interview | Layton Williams | Hushabye Mountain

Hope Mill Theatre recently announced it will be working with Stream.Theatre to stream a new online production worldwide of Hushabye Mountain by acclaimed writer Jonathan Harvey.

Directed by Nick Bagnall, this online production stars Layton Williams as Connor, Matt Henry as Lee, Jodie Prenger as Beryl, Nathan McMullen as Danny, Amy Dunn as Lana and Harrison Scott-Smith as Ben.

We caught up with Layton Williams during rehearsals to hear a little more about this innovative production which will be streamed live on Saturday 5th June, and then available online on 11th, 12th and 13th June 2021 (7:30pm) and 18th, 19th and 20th June 2021 (7:30pm with a 2:30pm Saturday Matinee).

ON) Can you tell us about Hushabye Mountain, and how you became involved with the piece?

LW) It’s a show about relationships, it’s about pain, it’s about love, it’s about loss and we’ve all got these experiences we can tap into. I worked with Jonathan Harvey many, many years ago on Beautiful People which was a TV show we did when I was a kid so it’s really fab that Johnathan was my fist TV experience and now he’s giving me my first play experience.

I have always known I’d jump at the chance to work with Jonathan again, it’s been about 14 years since I first did, and I really wanted to push myself and do something different, so people see me in a way they’ve never seen me before. Especially in this current climate, to have the opportunity to be creative again got me really excited and honestly this was a no brainer for me, I was absolutely buzzin’ when they gave me the job.

ON) How does it feel to be back in a rehearsal room after such a difficult year for the industry?

LW) Amazing! Being in a rehearsal room, starting with a read through, then getting scenes up on their feet to getting our voice recorders out and doing some singing, some harmonies it feels like I’m back by popular demand and I love it! Honestly, it’s just so nice to be creating and it feels like we’ve got such a free reign to be creative with what we’re doing, although the play has obviously been done before it really feels like we can put our own artistic stamp on it. I’m really having a fab time.

ON) Director Nick Bagnall appeared in the original production, which we imagine is of huge benefit for the cast in really getting to the heart of the piece?

LW) It’s brilliant, what’s so good is that he’s really generous with the whole cast and how we do things plus we’ve had Jonathan in the room for a few days too so between the two we’re really in good hands. We’ve really got such a good team here, who we can really be vulnerable with which is just great. I just can’t wait to get out there and give it my all.

ON) The play focuses on the absence left by Danny following his death from AIDS, while you play Connor his partner left trying to navigate life, this feels a timely piece on many levels.

LW) There’s been so much heartbreak and so much loss, friends, family everywhere you look there’s been loss. So to go through that journey creatively could be overwhelming but the great thing about Jonathan is that he does bring that humour to the piece, one minute we’ll be in intense high emotion the next someone will come in pretending to be Mary Poppins, cracking one liners, and that’s what real life is, you’re laughing, then you’re crying.

Although I wasn’t around when the AIDS crisis happened, I’ve made sure I’ve educated myself, I played Angel in RENT previously who dies from AIDS and this is the other side of things taking on a completely different viewpoint. Hopefully, we’re on the other side of this pandemic now, and how lucky we are to be moving towards the other side.

Being aware, educating ourselves more, getting tested, spreading the word and knowing the hardship people went through and remembering those who were lost. This feels like a really beautiful way to both respect and remember the lives that were lost.

ON) This new adaptation from Hope Mill theatre will premiere as a live streamed event, for you as an actor does that pose different challenges to performing in front of a live audience?

LW) It’s quite nerve wracking when you start thinking about it, but I’m trying to think if this was a normal situation it would be live in front of an audience so not really dissimilar to what we’re used to. In just one sitting we can reach many people, that’s a real plus, we’re really gonna knuckle down and give the audiences the best piece we can. Also I’m from just down the road so to bring something so close to my heart to my hometown does feel really special. I feel like all the stars have aligned to be honest.

ON) After several postponements due to the pandemic things seem increasingly hopeful that the Everybody’s Talking About Jamie tour will resume at The Lowry later this year, how will you feel being back in Jamie’s red heels and in front of a home crowd?

LW) We’re gonna be back, hopefully in September, it’s a whole different show to Hushabye Mountain but one which I think people in Manchester and Salford will love. I feel like I’ve warmed up the muscles now with this piece and I’m just itching to go, it’s a show that’s really close to my heart and I’ve got unfinished business with, it’s time to wrap this tour and go out with a bang!

Hushabye Mountain runs 5th-20th June online tickets £15-£17 (+£1.50 booking fee)

There will also be an opportunity for audiences to watch a screening at Hope Mill Theatre on Saturday 12th June. Tickets are £25 and include a drink on arrival, popcorn, a post-show Q&A and a seat at Hope Mill Theatre to watch Hushabye Mountain in the very space it was created.

Tickets can be booked via https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/hushabye-mountain

DUSTY – The Musical

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️DUSTY

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Hailed as one of Britain’s most successful female singers, Dusty Spingfield’s turbulent life is absolutely perfect fodder for a musical biography. From political trailblazer to pop chart dominator, the deeply private life of the insular diva offers exuberant highs and heartbreakingly emotional lows; all delivered to a sensational soundtrack of 19 of the chart legends most loved songs.

BAFTA & Olivier nominated writer Jonathan Harvey’s script directed by Maria Friedman moves at a swift pace, giving a whistle stop tour of the legends life, which beyond the kohl eyes and blonde bouffant many of us actually know little about.

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There is intimacy and intensity in the form of Dusty’s relationships with partner Lois (Joanna Francis) and Mother (Roberta Taylor) intermingled with the great humour and fun she finds in her longstanding friendships with best pals and vital support network Pat (Esther Coles) and Ruby (Ella Kenion). One thing Harvey doesn’t shy away from is the dark depths of Dusty’s self-doubt, insecurities and dramatic breakdown. This is not a santitsed jukebox musical but a gritty and powerful piece of musical theatre which succeeds in giving you a rich insight into the complex life of the legendary icon.

Katherine Kingsley as lead Dusty is phenomenal. The three-time Olivier-nominated actress captures the very essence of Dusty to perfection, she belts out the big numbers with effortless style and portrays convincingly and with great depth the pain and loneliness of the fallen diva, ready to rise again to the top of her game when the call finally comes. Her emotionally charged performance more than does justice to the late great Dusty, every iconic hand gesture and breathy note feels authentic as she entirely captivates.

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Dusty’s impressive back catalogue is used to great effect to move the storyline along, while some songs are delivered by different cast members it’s the more concert style delivery from Kingsley that really takes this production to another level, ensuring a standing ovation during You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me even before the song ends. Other stand out moments include her descent into drugs, drink and debauchery during I Close My Eyes and Count To Ten, her creatively staged comeback during What Have I Done To Deserve This and the touchingly tender and deeply poignant Goin’ Back which is movingly sung from her death bed.

The strong supporting cast is chock-full of talent which special mention to Joanna Francis who gives a strong and gritty performance as Lois, Dusty’s backing-singer and partner. Esther Coles and Ella Kenion as Pat & Ruby, Dusty’s PA and hairdresser but ultimately friends and confidents who bring real wit and joy to the production.

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Tom Pye’s and costume design perfectly sets the scene and ensures the passage of time is clear. Video projections generate movement to the static set allowing bedrooms to become theatres, even broadcasting real footage of Dusty’s funeral.

As a first outing this is an enormously entertaining production, there are a few moments in the first half which feel a little clunky where Harvey’s incredibly witty script could be pulled back a little to allow the emotion to rise or allow the audience a moment to feel and experience the tension but these are very minor niggles in what is a superb show which will not only educate and inspire but will undoubtedly remind you of why the legendary Dusty and her smoky lyrics have such timeless appeal.

This is a slick and stylish production with real depth and genuine heart, add to this a leading lady who will quite simply blow you away and you have an absolute must-see show.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 28th July here.

Interview | Jonathan Harvey | DUSTY

JH

BAFTA and Olivier nominated writer Jonathan Harvey (Beautiful Thing, Coronation Street) has recently taken on a new challenge, bringing the legendary Dusty Springfield to life in a new and hotly anticipated production, DUSTY the musical.

Based on the personal memories of those who knew her best and chock-full of timeless classics including, I Only Want to Be with You, Son of a Preacher Man and You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, DUSTY the musical heads to The Lowry’s Lyric theatre for one week only as part of its premiere UK tour starring the magnificent Katherine Kingsley, Rufus Hound and Roberta Taylor.

We caught up with writer Jonathan Harvey ahead of the show opening at the Lowry on Tuesday 24th July to hear a little more about the new musical which critics are describing as ‘outstanding’.

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ON: What was your starting point when it came to writing DUSTY the musical?

JH: I spoke to the producers who had their own ideas for what they wanted the story to be, I mostly researched through books and DVD documentaries from over the years, I read and watched as much as I could. Dusty was really popular in Australia so I found lots of Australian TV interviews and watched those. When she died the BBC did an amazing documentary about her which is still on YouTube which was a great piece for my research. I also spoke with her Personal Assistant who is also a character in the show that was invaluable really.

Dusty I think was all things to all people, I can really identify with that, you might behave one way with your mates then a completely different way with your partner, so I read some descriptions and thought, that’s nothing like the one I just read so it was really important to get to the true essence of Dusty so we can deliver that in the show.

ON: Is it a challenge to tell the story of someone so private?

JH: Yes, you are conscious of that but everything we’re featuring in the play has already been said before so we’re not exposing anything, everything I’ve included is out there, I’ve just brought it together and made a drama about it. What’s brilliant about someone who is private is what goes on behind closed doors is often some of the most interesting things about them so we get a glimpse into that which I think will really entertain and engage audiences.

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ON: Have you had any surprises whilst researching?

JH: Absolutely I’ve found out some really interesting information, I didn’t know she’d been kicked out of South Africa for refusing to play to segregated audiences, incredibly she was really slagged off for doing it, the British press went ballistic about it at the time because it was such a political thing to do and pop stars at the time weren’t expected to act like that, many household names at the time were happily playing to separated audiences.

She hosted Ready, Steady, Go and had a Motown special on there featuring black artists she’d met in America, then suddenly after this their careers here took off all thanks to Dusty. Things like that I’ve found just so interesting, she was a real innovator.

Some people I’ve spoken to when I mention Dusty didn’t know she was British, didn’t know she was gay or didn’t know she was white. She did a lot of things ahead of her time. To get into a recording studio and be in charge and tell people exactly what she wanted was a new thing for the men working with her. She seemed to do a lot of firsts, mix this in with all her amazing songs and getting involved for me was a no brainer.

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ON: Do you feel then the show is a celebration of women?

JH: The story works best when she’s surrounded by her two best friends, her PA and her hairdresser. It’s interesting that when she went off to America in the 70’s and her mates weren’t with her she spiralled into drug and alcohol addiction, lost everything and only really got back on track when she got back to Britain with her mates around her. So I’d say it’s a real celebration of friendship.

ON: What can audiences expect from the show?

JH: They can expect something more than your average jukebox musical. The last workshop we did I invited two of my mates, one of which being the actress Kathy Burke who is always brutally honest with me and I also invited my mate Tina, Tina hates musicals. Two songs in I looked at them both sat on the front row and they were both crying their eyes out and then the next minute they were really laughing. Tina said to me, ‘I hate musicals but I really, really like this’ and Kathy said ‘She’s a f***ing star’ ha ha. It’s very moving but you’ll also have such a laugh, we’re having such a scream with this show. Kathryn is incredible, right from the audition she really made me laugh and her talent really stood out I couldn’t think of anyone more perfect for the role.

DUSTY

DUSTY opens at the Lowry on Tuesday 24th July and runs until Saturday 28th July tickets available here.

Interview | Katherine Kingsley | DUSTY

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Based on the personal memories of those who knew her best and packed full of her timeless hits including, I Only Want to Be with You, Son of a Preacher Man and You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, DUSTY the musical heads to The Lowry’s Lyric theatre for one week only as part of its premiere UK tour.

BAFTA and Olivier nominated writer Jonathan Harvey (Beautiful Thing, Coronation Street) brings Dusty Springfield to life with a script celebrating the extraordinary story of one of Britain’s most successful artists.

Olivier Award-winner Maria Friedman (Merrily We Roll Along, Stepping Out) directs Katherine Kingsley (Piaf, Singin’ in the Rain) as the legend that is Dusty Springfield in this incredibly funny and deeply moving new musical. We were privileged to catch up with Katherine to hear a little more about the show and her feelings on portraying such an icon.

DUSTY

ON: Were you a Dusty fan before getting involved in this new musical?

KK: Yes I really was, I grew up listening to Dusty, my Mum used to play Dusty a lot which had a big influence on me, I’ve always loved that style of music, Soul, Motown, I really grew up on those sounds. I never would have imagined I’d end up playing her, when I heard about the show I had some reservations about appearing in what I thought might be another jukebox musical, it’s not really what I do but then I read Jonathan Harvey’s script and that was something else. Plus there is so much that I love about the music that I just thought, yes, I want to do this. It’s a challenge on many levels but such a good one.

ON: With Dusty being a very private person is it difficult to know what to share and how to do this respectfully?

KK: We’ve learnt so much about Dusty the person during the process of preparing the show and yes she was a very private person. I guess she lived in an era which was pre-social media and therefore there was an element of privacy for performers if they wanted it. Dusty never sought attention from the media like some other performers did, she had quite a sad life in some respects, she was fiercely private particularly about her sexuality, she was never really comfortable discussing it publicly. I almost feel quite protective over her, I’m very aware that I’m playing the role of a woman who would not have wanted to be known by her sexuality. This is where Jonathan has done an absolutely brilliant job. He’s written the script so beautifully so it reveals things about her which are surprising, fascinating and interesting but never gratuitous and always respectful. It touches on many things, her self-harming, her sexuality but most of all its about her talent and that’s absolutely where it should be.

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ON: How difficult is it not to do a flat-out impersonation of Dusty?

KK: I approach it from a very different perspective I think than an impersonator would. Those iconic moments when Dusty is performing I will look at her hand gestures etc. I will honour that and try to match it as best I can so it feels authentic but I’m never for one minute trying to do an impersonation. I am not her but hopefully bringing an essence of Dusty. I really aim to capture her spirit for the audience and if they feel a little like they’re watching Dusty then that for me will be wonderful.

ON: Do you have a personal favourite from the incredible Dusty back catalogue?

KK: Oh gosh I love so many, there are so many amazing songs. I guess my favourites are the more unusual songs, I really love I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten which is absolutely gorgeous, it’s included in the show but with a completely different arrangement. I love Losing You, it’s such an amazing song. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is such a great song and such a big sing for me, it really is massive, it just shows how talented she was. They’re all just so wonderful. Oh I can’t forget about Spooky. A lot of people seem to forget about Spooky but what a song!

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ON: We get the feeling you’ll be sharing a real message of female empowerment through telling Dusty’s story?

KK: Yes, I’m so excited for our audiences, particularly younger women and girls who maybe aren’t familiar with Dusty. Those who are maybe a generation or three behind who will be able to discover this amazing woman and will have more evidence and knowledge that these amazing kind of women existed in the 1960’s and were out there paving the way for future generations. Dusty undoubtedly paved the way for so many iconic singers, Adele, Amy Winehouse. Dusty was paving the way and doing that sound many years before.

ON: In a nutshell, why should audiences come and see Dusty?

KK: I think it’s a modern story, beautifully told about an amazing, strong woman who goes through some incredible personal struggles. It also has the best musical catalogue, we take you from the 60’s through pop culture right up to Dusty’s song with the Pet Shop Boys in the late 80’s, there’s so much to discover about Dusty. It’s deeply moving, it’s enormously entertaining and you’ll come away we hope feeling incredibly inspired.

DUSTY opens at the Lowry on Tuesday 24th July and runs until Saturday 28th tickets available here.