The Wiz – Full casting revealed

Hope Mill Theatre, Ameena Hamid Productions & Chuchu Nwagu Productions today announces the cast for a radical new version of the award-winning Broadway musical The Wiz, which will be this year’s festive offering.

Directed by Matthew Xia (‘Into the Woods’, Royal Exchange), The Wiz is a joyous retelling of L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s novel ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ reflecting contemporary African-American culture. Its 1975 Broadway premiere production won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Matthew Xia said: “The Wiz is approaching its 50th anniversary, it now exists within the canon of mainstream musicals and it’s due time for some bold reinvention. Originally a funk and soul-based analogy for the African-American experience, in 2021 Manchester we’re offering a contemporary take
on the discovery of self-determination and Black joy with this celebration of Black culture across the
African diaspora.”

The cast is made up of Cherelle Wiliams is Dorothy; Tarik Frimpong, Scarecrow; Llewellyn Graham, Tin Man; Jonathan Andre, Lion; Cameron Bernard Jones, The Wiz; Anelisa Lamola, Addaperle; Bree Smith,
Aunt Em & Glinda; Kofi Dennis, Lord High; Ashh Blackwood, Evillene. Ensemble: Andile Mabhena,
Shayna McPherson, Dylan Gordon-Jones, Samantha Shuma, Marisha Morgan.

The show is produced by Hope Mill Theatre, Ameena Hamid Productions & Chuchu Nwagu Productions.
Creative team: Director Matthew Xia; Musical Supervisor and Orchestrations Sean Green; Musical
Director Ehsaan Shivarani; Choreographer Leah Hill; Design Simon Kenny; Associate Costume Design
Maybelle Laye; Lighting Design Simisola Majekodunmi; Sound Design Tony Gayle; Casting Director
Ryan Carter; Casting Mentor Anne Vosser.

Musical Supervisor Sean Green has created new orchestrations. “In thinking about how much the music is loved, I had the thought What if the music was a love letter to black music? I started hearing all sorts of music within the DNA of the score. This exploration has allowed me to incorporate various genres from across the African Diaspora in the new orchestrations which, alongside the funk and soul in the original, really adds depth and colour to the world that we’re creating with this production.”

The Wiz will run from Wednesday 24 November 2021 to Sunday 16 January 2022 tickets are available here.

HopeFest

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

The sunshine has arrived just in time to herald the start of Hope Fest, a 3-week program of outdoor arts and cultural events located in the heart of trendy Ancoats.

The festival takes place from the 16th July through to 8th August and promises a mix of comedy, music, theatre and special events that will cater to all tastes!

Events include various shows from Matt & Phred’s music sessions, a celebration of Jazz, Funk and Soul. There is also Dog Fest, a family friendly event, showcasing some talented, paw-fect pooches, hosted by Hope Mill Patron Hayley Tamaddon. In addition,there is a tip of the hat to some iconic mega stars, including Dolly Parton, with The Dolly Show, performed by one of the best Dolly impersonators around; as well as a musical extravaganza in the form of Judy & Liza, which looks at Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli’s 1964 London Palladium show.

The festival kicked off with a huge statement of intent, in the guise of Jason Manford’s Comedy Club: a comedy showcase highlighting the cream of British stand up, and an opportunity to unearth some undiscovered comedic gems.

Tonight’s show featured four comics Matt Rees, James Allen, Julian Deane and our MC for the evening Sally-Anne Hayward. Hayward offers a mix of razor sharp observations on feminism, along with a scathing critic of clap-for-carers, which is bang on point. This, interspersed with lewd gags, and the tried-and-tested audience ‘banter’ sees Hayward do a solid job of setting the tone for the evening.

First on is Matt Rees, whose sardonic routine mainly centres on his battle with alcoholism and his continued sobriety. In addition, there are some set pieces focusing on a Mega Bus journey and his stint working at Poundland that are good fun. However, it is Rees’ darker material that is his main strength, with gags about dwarf sex and dementia, which are as funny as they are smart. It is a low-key, droll, but welcome offering from Rees.

Next up is James Allen, a Salford University Graduate, who packs a great deal into his short set. Focusing on Allen’s awkwardness. This is a set filled self-deprecating gags, about awkward first sexual encounters and his time as a drama student. It’s a silly, light routine from Allen, and because of its short running time leaves you wanting more from his awkward adventures.


Following the interval is the show’s headline act Julian Deane. The gags come thick and fast, with Deane working through a-near-the-knuckle routine focusing on relationships, and fatherhood. Some punch lines are as brutal as they are funny, helped along by Deane’s deadpan delivery. What is appealing about his routine is that despite the confidence with which it is delivered Deane is often the butt of his own jokes, which is somewhat refreshing. This was a great headline set from a comic who I’d definitely be interested in seeing again.

The opening night of Hope Fest was an absolute triumph, a great indicator of what lies ahead for this bold, innovative festival and a wonderful addition to Manchester’s vibrant cultural scene.

More information on Hope Fest as well as tickets can be found at https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/hope-fest

Hope Mill Theatre’s Play Reading Club celebrates 3rd Birthday

Hope Mill Theatre’s Play Reading Club has celebrated its third birthday having gone from strength to strength during the past year providing a way for theatre-lovers to connect during the ongoing pandemic.

Established in early 2017 the drop-in group, which meets from 11am to 1pm on the last Friday of every month, now has over 40 participants, who enjoy reading aloud a play together.

Participants read a wide variety of different plays by different playwrights, from William Shakespeare to Arthur Miller and anything from adaptions to new plays by Manchester-based writers. 

Open to professional performers and non-professionals alike, the group is a positive way for people to come together socialise, enjoy culture and make friends.

Prior to the current Covid-19 pandemic the group would meet at the theatre and enjoy tea and coffee before sitting down and reading a play. When Hope Mill was forced to close its doors in March 2020, the theatre took the group online and since last March has been meeting monthly via Zoom. 

In 2020 the Ancoats venue also took their Play Reading Club out into the wider community and hosted a session with charities Mood Swings and Mary and Joseph House allowing their users to participate in, in a safe and fun way – something the venue plans to repeat in the future with other local charities.

Originally the venue charged a small fee for the session, but thanks to a grant from I Love Manchester as well as funding from the Culture Recovery Fund, the group is now free of charge with participants invited to make a voluntary donation if they wish.

Hope Mill has just appointed a new group facilitator to run the sessions, Janelle Thompson, a Manchester-based actress, who said: “I am absolutely delighted to be joining the team and facilitating this wonderful, long standing project. I’m really looking forward to reading new works and seeing old favourites in a different light.”

Joseph Houston, Artistic Director, of Hope Mill Theatre, said: “It has been incredible to see how our Play Reading Club has grown since opening Hope Mill. It has always been, and continues to be, a great asset to our organisation and our charitable aims to inspire, connect and challenge the local community. I am glad that we have managed to maintain the group though the pandemic and have received much-needed funding to make it free for participants.

“Of course there are challenges, and not all of our users are able to access the group online. As soon as it is possible and safe to do so we will be hosting our Play Reading Group live again from the venue. 

“It’s amazing to see such an amazing group of people from a range of different backgrounds, ages, races, genders and localities coming together to read a range of works from the world of plays – it is truly inspiring. You don’t have to be a professional actor to attend, although some participants are. It’s about the reading and listening and exploring plays, rather than the performance.”

Members of the Play Reading Club explain its appeal; says Kathy Holland: “It’s a wonderful opportunity to read outside the box and try something new, whilst also celebrating and supporting the arts” while first-timer Charlotte Bennett added: “I’ve not tried anything like this during any of the lockdowns but I’m not sure why I haven’t as that was brilliant. More funding needs to be put into groups like this – they are amazing for people’s mental health, socialisation and confidence.”

The next Play Reading Club is on Friday 26th February at 11am (over Zoom) and Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker. For more information on Hope Mill Theatre and the Play Reading Club visit https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/hope-mill-theatres-play-reading-club.

Interview | William Whelton & Joseph Houston talk RENT

Earlier this month Hope Mill Theatre celebrated the bittersweet opening – and closing – of its sold-out production of RENT on the same night. The venue had become one of the first venues in England to stage an indoor theatre production since the Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of theatres back in March.

This new production of the show – initially scheduled for August then moved to Autumn – was due to run at the Grade II-listed former cotton mill from Friday 30th October to Sunday 6th December, following all recommended Covid-secure measures.

The entire run sold out in 48-hours following the announcement of an exciting and diverse young cast, with Hope Mill being granted permission by the rights holders to make up the shortfall in capacity (a result of the necessary social distancing measures) by filming the production and broadcasting it online over four weekends. The filmed version was something that Hope Mill founders William Whelton and Joseph Houston say was crucial in terms of the viability of the production – and even more so when the live run was cut short due to the new national lockdown.

Ahead of the first streamed performance this evening we caught up with William Whelton and Joseph Houston to reflect on the challenges of 2020 and their excitement at bringing RENT to audiences online.


Opening Night: Tell us about RENT and why you wanted to bring it to Hope Mill Theatre and Manchester?
WILL – “RENT is a rock musical loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera La Bohème. The story evolves around a group of struggling artists living in New York City and dealing with issues surrounding the AIDS epidemic, regeneration, drug abuse and homelessness. It is also a celebration of diversity, individuality and creativity at its core. All of these themes are so relevant not only to our current climate but to the city of Manchester and we feel that this show has never felt more poignant and important.”

ON: What about the show makes you think it will be the perfect fit for the venue?
JOE: “It’s always very exciting reimagining musicals for a smaller scale and RENT is no exception. The music in RENT and the relationships between characters are so beautifully told and it really lends itself to a more intimate setting. The show is also set in an old apartment block in New York with exposed brick and feels very bohemian. I think aesthetically Hope Mill fits this setting perfectly.”

ON: The cast is incredibly exciting – and extremely diverse. Why is presenting a diverse cast important to you as producers?
WILL: “It is always so important to us as an organisation to celebrate diversity in all of its forms and we are always very proud of the casts we assemble. Especially for a show like RENT, it was even more important that we put together a cast which celebrates individuality and inclusivity. The cast and wider team that we have assembled is so exciting and all of these amazingly talented unique individuals brought so much heart and hope to this production.”

ON: The director Luke Sheppard directed Spring Awakening at Hope Mill – were you excited to have him back at the venue?
JOE: “We loved working with Luke on our production of Spring Awakening, which was such a success for our venue. After seeing &Juliet when it premiered at the Opera House we knew that Luke was the perfect choice to reimagine RENT for a new age. He brings together the most incredible creative team and always gets the best out of his cast members. His vision and creativity is spectacular and RENT was also a musical which is very close to him and was a real inspiration for him pursuing a career in this industry.”

ON: There must have been times this year when you felt RENT wouldn’t be possible in 2020 – what made you so determined to stage the production this year if you could?
WILL: “The past 6 months have been a roller coaster of emotions for everyone, especially in the arts sector. We postponed RENT from the summer, not knowing if it would be at all possible for us to produce this year, but as more guidance was released around inside performances we started planning on trying to make it possible and safe. RENT has really never felt so relevant to now and this time and in our hearts we knew that it was the right time to tell this story. It was also so important to us to give all of the amazing actors and freelancers involved in this production the opportunity of working and earning in a time when many have been badly affected by the pandemic.”

ON: Just how challenging was it making the production and venue ‘covid-secure’?
JOE: “It has been extremely challenging trying to navigate opening and producing in a covid-secure world. The main issue has been the financial impact on making the venue and process of making and running the show. Obviously we have had zero income since we closed our doors in March and along with high production values and the equipment needed to make the venue fully covid-secure we have had to spend a lot of money that we don’t currently have to spend. However, we were always determined to only progress with the production and opening if we felt we could deliver it in the safest possible way for everyone involved. We have made a significant investment in PPE equipment, safety screens, hand sanitising stations, signage, fogging systems and testing for the team which gave us the confidence to be able to open our doors once again.”

ON: How important was being able to offer a digital streaming version of the show for audiences who are unable to attend for whatever reason?
WILL: “We were operating the run of RENT at 50% capacity, which is only 70 seats per performance. This meant that the production would have had a deficit of around £100,000, which made it completely unviable. Having the extraordinary option to offer an online viewing of the show has allowed us to take our lost capacity and offer it as a digital ticket, and helping us make up lost income. It is also important for us that audiences could not attend or still didn’t feel ready to return to the theatre can still enjoy RENT from the comfort of their own homes. The digital version obviously took on even greater significance when we were forced to close the show early due to the second national lockdown.”

ON: Opening and closing RENT on the same night must have been a bittersweet experience – what was the evening like?
JOE: “We heard the news that we would be entering a second lockdown half an hour before curtain up on our second preview and it was very upsetting for everyone involved. We were so glad that we could at least make it to our official opening and press night on Wednesday 4th November which allowed us to invite press to review the show. The reviews have been incredible and we are so proud of the hard work from everyone involved. The final performance was very emotionally charged but it was really electric and showed Just how special this production is.”

ON: RENT has been a long time in the planning, especially given the situation this year. What was it like finally getting to see the show and the cast come to the stage?
WILL: “Working towards opening our doors and staging RENT is what really got us through the last year and gave us the hope and drive to push on, when times became very difficult. I know that this feeling echoed with the whole team involved and it was a beacon of light in a dark time for the arts. I knew that the show had the recipe to be exceptional from the amazing creative team to the cast and it really lived up to expectations and then some. The whole experience of the show, the design, the band, the performances, it was worth only 5 performances to feel that energy and watch.”

ON: Now it has been filmed, what can you tell us about the filmed version of RENT and what can audiences expect?
JOE: “This production was created for the stage and to be experienced live and although in the current climate that can’t be, we have worked so hard to film the show for online, whilst trying to keep that live theatrical experience. Having seen some of the initial footage, the film company have managed to capture the whole essence, heart and overall look of what was experienced live in the venue. It really is the next best thing!”

ON: Hope Mill has recently celebrated its 5th birthday – looking back what have been the highlights during this time?
JOE: “We can’t believe we have reached 5 years since opening Hope Mill Theatre, it’s incredible. There have been so many highlights since opening our doors, from winning awards to transferring shows. But believe it or not the biggest highlight has got to be working on RENT, yes it’s been tough and difficult to navigate and there is the constant fear that anything could happen and it all comes crashing down, but the level of positivity, hard work, passion and hope that has come from everyone involved is truly why we do what we do and what gives us the drive to keep going.”

ON: What next for Hope Mill in 2021?
WILL: “Once again we will work hard towards opening our doors and welcome back audiences. We won’t be opening this year, however, we have our queer arts festival: Turn On Fest launching again in January 2021 and we also have an incredible programme lined up and of course we will he doing everything within our power to bring back RENT.”

• Online streamed performances of RENT are available on selected dates from Friday 27th Nov until Sunday 20th December.

More information and online tickets can be found www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk

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.

Hope Mill Theatre to stage UK premiere of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella

Manchester’s award-winning Hope Mill Theatre is to stage the UK theatrical premiere of the Broadway version of Rodgers +Hammerstein’s Cinderella in 2020.

Cinderella will be the first musical produced by A Factory of Creativity – the charity recently formed to take over the running of Hope Mill Theatre. Co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre Joseph Houston and William Whelton will direct and choreograph Cinderella, respectively.

The production will run at Hope Mill Theatre from Saturday 9th May to Saturday 6th June 2020 and then at Clonter Opera Theatre, Cheshire from Tuesday 9th to Sunday 14th June.

This will be the first time a fully-staged version of the show has been performed in the UK (following a recent one-night concert version in London).

Hope Mill Theatre will be holding open auditions in its search for the title role of Cinderella. The venue is committed to finding new and emerging talent across the regions and will be sharing details very soon of how to register interest in auditioning. 

Ted Chapin, President of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, said: “I am thrilled that the modern Broadway version of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella will be getting its U.K. theatrical premiere at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester. When this version opened on Broadway in 2013, its tagline was “Glass slippers are so back.”  With a wink to the Cinderella traditions of the past – except pantos! – and a solid foot in a world where people take more control over their own lives, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella has already charmed new generations of musical theatre enthusiasts.”

Joseph Houston, Artistic Director, said: The first ever show I watched as a boy was the story of Cinderella and so to be able to work on the UK premiere of the most recent Broadway version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s story is a dream come true. Having the opportunity to also collaborate alongside Will, who is both my business partner and life partner – and of whose work I have long admired – makes this journey even more special. I want this unique version of Cinderella to captivate audiences young and old, just as the timeless story did for me. This is the perfect spring treat and I cannot wait to see this story come to life at Hope Mill Theatre.”

William Whelton, Executive Director and Choreographer, said: “For many years I have wanted to produce  Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, so for this to be the first musical to be brought to life by Hope Mill Theatre’s new charity is very special. It is a more modern take on the classic fairy tale that everyone is familiar with, add to the story the musical and lyrical genius of Rodgers & Hammerstein and you have real musical theatre magic. We are also thrilled to announce that as part of our casting process we will be holding open auditions in our search for Cinderella. As a regional venue we are passionate about finding and nurturing professional talent from all over the country so find this really exciting and we can’t wait to meet new artists.”

Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella runs at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre from Saturday 9th May to Saturday 6th June 2020

The production then moved to Clonter Opera Theatre, Trap Road, Congleton from Tuesday 9th to Sunday 14th June 2020

Tickets on sale soon!

http://www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk

 

 

MAME

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In the same week they celebrate their 4th birthday Hope Mill Theatre open their biggest and most ambitious show to date. Tony award-winning Broadway musical Mame hasn’t been seen in the UK since it’s original 1969 West End production starring the late, great Ginger Rodgers, but Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Entertainment don’t do things by halves. Teaming up with Ray Rackham Theatrical collectively they have created quite simply their most impressive and jaw-droppingly brilliant production since opening their doors in 2014.

Beginning in 1920’s New York City Mame Dennis really is the belle of every ball. Life truly is a banquet for Mame and her party loving friends so when her deceased brother’s 10 year old son Patrick is thrust into her care you may think the party may be over but then you haven’t met the magnificent Mame.

Even when she loses her fortune in the Wall St crash she perseveres with irrepressible positivity and her own unique sense of style, whoever let getting repeatedly fired get in the way of living their life anyway? Spanning several years through relationships, love and loss Mame captivates entirely, her exuberant soul is addictive, she thrills, delights, excites and entertains along the way.

Hope Mill Theatre has been transformed for this enchanting revival. Philip Witcomb’s design ensures that the intimate space seems to open up before your eyes as the jaw-dropping first number begins. Nick Winston’s choreography is sublime; transporting the audience from a rainy Manchester to a glittering Broadway with each full-out and fabulous number. Winston who also directed the piece leaves the audience open-mouthed at the sheer scale and brilliant of the production, it feels lavish, luxurious and deliciously decadent.

Tracie Bennett is entirely mesmerising as Mame she absolutely gives her everything to the role and is truly brilliant. Hilariously comedic one moment and utterly gut-wrenching the next her delivery of If He Walked Into My Life is spellbinding.

The pairing of Bennett and Harriet Thorpe who takes on the role of bosom buddy Vera is nothing short of iconic. They are a joy to watch as they barb off each other with booze fuelled brilliance. Tim Flavin is a suave and sophisticated Beauregard, the connection between Flavin and Bennett feels warm and genuine.

Special mention must also go to junior cast member Lochlan White who at tonight’s performance played Young Patrick. Demonstrating fine acting skills, a pitch perfect voice and the kind of charisma Mame would be proud of.

Every member of this talented cast deserves high praise. They work together in such slick harmony that each scene flows seamlessly into the next yet feels full of surprises. They deliver Nick Winston’s choreography to dazzling perfection, teamed with Tim Mitchell’s impressive lighting design and strong musical direction from Alex Parker each ensemble number packs a powerful and perfect punch.

The boldness and bravery shown by Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment and Joseph Houston and William Whelton of Hope Mill Theatre in bringing this all-new revival to such vibrant life must be commended. How lucky we are in a Manchester to have such committed and passionate theatre makers.

Mame is an absolute triumph, dazzling, daring and utterly delightful, world-class theatre right on our doorstep. A perfectly peachy slice of theatrical heaven. Mame feels like the start of something very, very special and I for one am here for the ride!

Catch MAME at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 9th November tickets available here.

Hope Mill Theatre | A Factory of Creativity |

Joseph Houston and William Whelton at Hope Mill Theatre. Photo Phil Tragen Photography

Hope Mill Theatre moved from private ownership to operating as a registered charity this week. The charity – A Factory of Creativity will operate the award-winning theatre which was founded by William Whelton and Joseph Houston in 2015, with the support of a board of trustees, made up of individuals who have supported the venue since it opened. Whelton and Houston will continue in their roles of Executive Director and Artistic Director respectively with the board of trustees supporting and guiding the charity as it moves forward.

In a joint statement Whelton and Houston said: “Hope Mill Theatre was set up four years ago with a £10K start up loan and has been operating since then as an independent business, receiving no local or national funding. In a small amount of time we have grown rapidly and have struggled to keep up with the expectations and sheer demand of operating such a large endeavour. It has become increasingly hard to support the level of work that we produce in-house as well as supporting a thriving arts community locally.

“Hope Mill Theatre is now in a very crucial stage of its journey with many exciting opportunities, as well as an ever-evolving and developing local landscape. We, along with our small team, recognise the importance of having the venue expand, which will allow us to focus more on nurturing new work and supporting artists.  It is our ambition to secure the venue’s home for many years to come and well as engaging more with our community and making our work accessible to varied audiences. We believe moving forward as a charity will allow us to achieve these ambitions.”

Hope MIll Theatre Patrons

The theatre will continue to build on its acclaimed partnership with Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment, with Hope Mill Theatre and Aria continuing to work together in the future, both at Hope Mill Theatre and around the UK, with their most ambitious show to date – Mame starring Tracie Bennett – which has it’s official opening this week.

Also announced is the news that award-winning writer Russell T Davies and stage and screen actress Denise Welch are to join Olivier Award-winning actress Tracie Bennett as a patrons of the theatre.

Russell T Davies said: “I’m thrilled and honoured to become a patron of Hope Mill Theatre.  It’s an amazing place, and I’ve followed Joe and Will’s journey right from the start. Their productions are wonderful, and I love their support for new writers and talent.  I think the future’s full of Hope!”

Denise Welch said: “I’m delighted to become a patron of Hope Mill Theatre. My love of theatre was formed in a company that started like this one and I’m thrilled to be a small part of Joe and Will’s journey. Coming to Hope Mill is not just a night at the theatre – it’s an experience from the minute you arrive, and the productions are first class. Exciting and vibrant…..just like me!”

Tracie Bennett said: “Being from the north myself, it is awe-inspiring to see the true and heartfelt passion and vision of mavericks Joe and Will, and the work they have done in creating Hope Mill Theatre. I had been following their work and have admired from afar the creation of this exciting new venue. I have long thought that a project of this ilk was a long time coming to Manchester. The work they are doing for regional theatre and musical theatre is extremely exciting not only for the city of Manchester but also the industry itself.”

First look photos -MAME *Credit Pamela Raith

In the first few months as a charity, there are planned funding applications to fund the purchase and upgrade of lighting and sound equipment. A ‘fund a chair’ scheme will be launched to help replace the venue’s current seating – to help make watching theatre at Hope Mill a more comfortable and accessible experience.  There are plans to also apply for funding to install hearing loops in the venue, as well as an upgrade of the ticket system used to improve the booking experience. There are also plans to launch ‘Friends of Hope Mill Theatre scheme.

Whelton and Houston concluded: “It’s now time to allow Hope Mill Theatre to grow and flourish as it enters the next phase of its very exciting future, regionally and nationally.”

 For more information on Hope Mill Theatre please visit Hope Mill Theatre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Applications Now Open For Hope Aria Academy September Intake

William Whelton, Katy Lipson and Joseph Houston. Founders of Hope Aria Academy in Manchester

Following a hugely successful inaugural 12-week programme Hope Aria Academy have now opened applications for their Autumn/Winter intake.

The Manchester based part-time drama course focuses on acting, singing and dancing with students able to choose to take classes in all three disciplines or opt for single modules in one specific area.

Hope Aria Academy founders Katy Lipson, Joseph Houston and William Whelton all have backgrounds in Musical Theatre training and are currently full time producers and theatre owners.

The second course which will begin in September is tailored for individuals who have either already trained professionally and are looking for a fresh approach to training within a smaller more focused atmosphere, individuals who are not yet ready to make the leap to full time drama training and require further tuition, and mature students who have experience in musical theatre and want to re-skill to return to the industry.

Students will also be introduced to the wider creative industry with regular guest teachers in all three disciplines of acting, singing and dance. There will be one full scholarship place available, funded by Hope Aria Academy, with auditions for this taking place in August, date TBC.

Patron of Hope Aria Academy, actress Hayley Tamaddon

Stage and screen actress Hayley Tamaddon is patron of Hope Aria Academy and taught a workshop as part of the last programme.

Hayley said: “I’m thrilled to be a patron of Hope Aria Academy. The work they produce is outstanding. Ranging from dance to musical theatre to tv acting, the students here are taught everything to do with this wonderful profession we call show business! And I’ll look forward to doing a spot more teaching there myself in the new term!”

Hope Aria Academy’s next intake will launch on Monday 16th September 2019 and run on Monday (dance), Tuesday (singing) and Wednesday (acting) evenings from 6.30pm to 9.30pm at Hope Aria House, Unit 15 Wellington House, Manchester, M40 7FS. Students can take the full course or can opt for single modules.

More information on Hope Aria Academy, fees and how to apply can be found here.

 

The Exonerated

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Since its premiere off-Broadway in 2002 Jessica Blank and Eric Jensen’s The Exonerated has been performed all over the world picking up multiple awards along the way and even making it onto the big screen in the 2005 film starring Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover.

This ambitious adaptation embraces the nation’s current obsession with binge-worthy true-crime Netflix style documentaries by cleverly combining recorded first person accounts with live theatrical flashbacks of interrogations, murders, court scenes and the grim reality of life on death row.

Jessica Stanton’s innovative design places audiences as central observers as a Netflix style menu dominates the large screen above the stage. The click of a remote control can be heard as this evening’s viewing selection is made. Audiences sit either side of a central stage which is surrounded by prison style wire fencing and rough barbed wire, only glimpsing sight of each other when the stark interrogation lighting illuminates the space.

Grant Archer’s documentary style film feels authentic and grips from the start as the lives of the wrongly convicted play out before us. The fusion of film and live action works exceptionally well as the six extraordinary stories of those wrongfully sentenced to death unfold.

Joseph Houston has directed the pre-recorded interviews in such a way that they feel entirely genuine, the pain, the emotion and most touchingly the hope expressed by each character is as fascinating as it is moving.

The live action scenes work superbly well, adding depth and authenticity to the harrowing accounts of injustice, exposing the corruption of the authorities and their manipulation of these damaged individuals. The shattering and lasting impact of their lost years on Death Row bringing devastation not only to themselves but to the lives of their friends and families also.

Charles Angiama as Delbert takes on a measured narrator style role, the Texan who spent many years on death row for a rape and a murder he did not commit guides the audience throughout, observing with us the injustices and manipulation taking place. He weaves together the other five stories as the rest of the small cast take on several roles bringing life and vision to the harrowing real-life stories.

Though the subject matter is intense and the corruption utterly horrifying the production is delivered in a way which allows for a heart-warming portrayal of the human ability for hope even in the most desperate of situations. Sunny Jacobs being the most perfect example of this: a gentle mother of two who lost not only 16 years of her life to Death Row but even more tragically her beloved husband whose wrongful execution was made all the more horrific when the electric chair malfunctioned. Pippa Winslow’s performance as the good-natured hippie is exceptional, portraying her class and composure to perfection.

The Exonerated directed by Joseph Houston. Hope Mill Theatre Manchester. Photo Shay Rowan

This inspired and impressive adaptation telling six interwoven stories marks a bold innovation in story-telling theatre. The decision to mix live theatre with pre-recorded footage pays off adding an element of authenticity to proceedings. The second half feels a little screen heavy compared to the first but this does not take away from the power of the piece. While you go into the production expecting to hear about harrowing miscarriages of justice you don’t quite anticipate the impact these stories of survival and hope will have, a true testament to the quality and care that’s been put into this inspired and innovative production.

The Exonerated is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Sunday 16th June, tickets available here.

Images by Shay Rowan Photography

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 | Darragh Cowley & Jabez Sykes | Spring Awakening

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.