The Astonishing Times of Timothy Cratchit

Copyright Phil Tragen 2019

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

Copyright Phil Tragen 2019

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

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

Copyright Phil Tragen 2019

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

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

Copyright Phil Tragen 2019

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

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

Copyright Phil Tragen 2019

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

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

Hair

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This inventive production of Hair The Musical has been on quite a journey these past few years, from first opening at the intimate Hope Mill Theatre back in 2016 to a sell-out London run winning a WhatsOnStage Award along the way; it now makes its return to Manchester opening at the city’s Palace Theatre as part of an extensive 50th anniversary UK tour.

Set in New York’s East Village at a time when the emerging youth counterculture was rejecting mainstream America and growing increasingly disenfranchised by the controversial war in Vietnam, Hair still remains one of the most iconic rock musicals of all time. A tribe of free thinkers who turned their backs on convention creating their own family in which to belong, advocates of peace, love and liberal thinking. Central to the story is the plight of Claude (portrayed brilliantly by Paul Wilkins) torn between rejecting his military drafting and embracing this non-violent, peace loving tribe.

Very much an ensemble production Hair showcases a cast of incredible talent. Opening number Aquarius vibrantly and powerfully sets the scene, drawing the audience into this joyous celebration of love, freedom and pacifism right from the start. Maeve Black’s beautiful set design and costumes transforming the Palace Theatre into a psychedelic heaven lit to perfection by Ben M Rogers.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle ensures the audience are taken along for the ride involving them in this exuberant trip on multiple occasions. Jake Quickenden as Berger confidently leaps into the stalls in little more than a thong while Tom Bates takes great delight in perching on an audience members knee during his hilarious performance as Margaret Mead.

Paul Wilkins heads up the strong cast proving what a talent he is in the role of Claude. Thrown into turmoil at the life changing decision he faces, his anguish and torment delivered with passionate energy. Jake Quickenden makes for a confident and flamboyant Berger, athletically strutting around the stage dishing out powerful vocals along the way. Daisy Wood-Davis shines in the role of Sheila, her voice as powerful as it is beautiful.

Tom Bates has the audience in the palm of his hand as Margaret Mead while Natalie Green as soulful Cassie is a joy. Other notable performances in this excellent ensemble are Alison Arnopp as the enigmatic Jeanie, Aiesha Pease whose rich tones warm the soul and Bradley Judge who is enormously entertaining as Woof.

The cast work together superbly and all deserve praise, they deliver William Whelton’s inspired choreography to perfection, often moving as one, pulsing together in perfect harmony. Musical Director Gareth Bretherton leads the small group of on stage musicians confidently ensuring this electrifying score is given the platform it deserves.

While the themes may not be so shocking to audiences now in more free-thinking, accepting times its message still remains enormously relevant; the despicable quote from Donald Trump heard ringing through the auditorium at the very start proving this point entirely.

Hair gives a touchingly symbolic reminder of the fact that we really are just one tribe. Its hippie, trippy vibe is deliciously infectious bringing every audience member to their feet in celebration of this triumphant piece of theatre while the power of final song Let The Sun Shine In offers hope and proves just how powerfully emotive theatre can be. Hair’s transition from Hope Mill Theatre to the much larger stage of the Palace theatre is seamless as this beautifully crafted and joyously affecting theatre absolutely lets the sun shine in.

On at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 13th April tickets available here.

 

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

This House

This House 2

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Following sell out runs at the National Theatre and in the West End, James Graham’s critically acclaimed political drama has come to visit constituents, canvassing audiences across the country as part of a new national tour.

Inspired by real and incredibly dramatic political events which took place in the houses of parliament between the turbulent years of 1974-1979, This House lifts the lid on the frenzied activities at the height of a hung parliament where every vote counts as the Government attempt at all costs to operate successfully without the safety of a working majority.

Writer James Graham places the action at the very beating heart of Westminster, the Government and oppositions whips offices. These pressured hubs and the entire backbone of the palace as deals are struck, ears are bent and promises made.

This House The born to rule attitude of the Tories is displayed superbly by opposition whips William Chubb, Matthew Pidgeon and Giles Cooper, sneering and entitled for whose Boys club loyalty and a great suit is a must.

The working class roots of the Labour party are perfectly embodied by Martin Marquez, James Gaddas, Tony Turner, David Hounslow and Natalie Grady, for whom compromise is betrayal and defeat is not an option.

The frantic scenes are dominated by boisterous alpha males, bolstering for position with the exception of Natalie Grady taking on the role of Ann Taylor, Grady delivers her role to perfection, strong and sure in what was very much at the time a man’s world.

James Graham’s superb writing highlights frequently the laugh out loud absurdity of the political world, as monumental decisions impacting the lives of the masses are made amid point scoring, archaic and ancient traditions.

This House 1 This House is a true ensemble piece with a fine display of character acting, there is game playing, childishness, flamboyance, passion and genuinely moving moments all wrapped up in an enormously funny script. Jeremy Herrin and Jonathan O’Boyle’s innovative direction ensures the piece is slick and packs the intended political punch. The inclusion of an on stage band adds further depths and pace of the piece ensuring smooth, sharp scene transitions.

Designer Rae Smith’s set combined with Paule Constable’s atmospheric lighting both highlight and mirror the drama on stage. The crumbling & fractured Government being watched by the looming face of Big Ben, forever constant and predictable until one day when like the Government the clock splutters and stops.

This House 3 This House is an inspired and engaging production, the eccentricities of Westminster acted out by the enormously talented cast is genius. Where there is plotting and scheming there is also camaraderie and genuine affection. The superbly crafted characters have exactly the same demons we see today, do they put principles before party in the battle of idealism versus reality? This beautifully scripted piece could so easily be set in 2018, scarily relevant and a sobering testament to the fact that despite the stakes being so high nothing ever really changes.

This House will make you laugh out loud and possibly cry at the state of modern day politics but undoubtedly will entertain. It’s a pacy, penetrating examination of the political world as differences and similarities are thrillingly exposed. A must-see.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 28th April tickets available here. For those who may fancy themselves as a back bencher there a limited on stage tickets available.