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.

The Toyboy Diaries

The ToyBoy Diaries at Hope Mill Theatre. Credit Anthony Robling 2

Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

As part of their pledge to champion new musical theatre, the award-winning pairing of Aria Entertainment and Hope Mill Theatre deliver their first offering of 2018 in the form of The Toyboy Diaries, a new British Musical based on the best-selling memoirs of Wendy Salisbury.

Directed by Tania Azevedo with music & lyrics by Andy Collyer, The Toyboy Diaries is an sharp, fresh & outrageously funny musical. Twice-divorced Lily (Johanne Murdock) has reached a point in life where she yearns for adventure, her children have flown the nest, she’s been jilted by a younger lover and at forty something she’s entirely done with the mundane. So with the hilarious encouragement of friend and neighbour Penny (Nicola Blackman) Lily sets about placing a personal ad & is soon reaping the rewards and in some cases dodging the bullets of her broadsheet biog.

The ToyBoy Diaries at Hope MIll. Credit Anthony Robling 1

Spanning the chapters of her life over approximately 15 years between her early 40s and 50s we live out an animated & hugely entertaining series of sexual encounters as seen through Lily’s eyes, some shockingly funny, some seriously sexy and some downright dirty but all with one thing in common, our sassy heroine is loving and living life to the full.

While there are many tongue in cheek moments, the writing ensures while we laugh with Lily we also care deeply for her, she is a woman of a certain age who proves there’s no shame in seeking out new experiences and taking life by the balls (quite literally). Johanne Murdock is an absolute joy as Lily, strong, self-assured and utterly fearless she shines in the role and captivates entirely. Present on stage for the entirety of the production her energy and enthusiasm is infectious.

Sidekick to Lily is loyal friend and neighbour Penny played brilliantly by Nicola Blackman. Always on hand to offer advice, even if it’s not wanted, and quick with the witty one-liners, Penny goes on her own journey of self and indeed sex discovery.

Matt Beveridge, Sharif Afifi and Alistair Higgins take on the roles of the multiple and varied toyboys, all are exceptional, hugely versatile with great characterisation and impressive comedic performances they each give their all in this production, morphing into various lovers with ease and believability. Incredibly hardworking in addition to playing various lovers they pop up mid scene to cha cha and harmonise around Lily and Penny almost like a glorious Toyboy Greek chorus adding a little flamboyance to each scene.

The ToyBoy Diaries at Hope Mill Theatre 2. Credit Anthony Robling 3

Composer Andy Collyer has gifted the production with an immensely expressive and poetic score which has a beautiful Sondheim feel about it. The cast deliver the lyrics with heart and precision, accompanied by musical director Andrew Griffiths talented band. Designer Jason Denvir has transformed the intimate space at Hope Mill with his innovative and multi-functional set, allowing characters to move from scene to scene with ease.

The Toyboy Diaries is not Shakespere, nor is it trying to be, it’s a great fun night out and unquestionably wonderful to see a woman of a certain age showed in such a self-assured and refreshing way. I felt myself grinning from ear to ear the whole way through. The show paints women in a wonderfully strong and empowering light. Lily knows what she wants and is not afraid to go and grab it, as the character says herself her legs might be in the air but her feet are firmly on the ground. It feels liberating to see such a strong female lead unashamedly celebrating who she is and what she stands for. A perfect tonic to beat the January blues.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 10th February its sexy, sassy & will undoubtedly convince you to seize the day! Tickets available here.

First look – The Toy Boy Diaries

TB Matt Beveridge and Johanne Murdock in rehearsals for The ToyBoy Diaries 2 credit Claire Bilyard

Highly anticipated new British musical comedy, The Toyboy Diaries which runs from Thursday 18th January to Saturday 10th February at Hope Mill Theatre, offers a first look at the production today with these newly released images from the rehearsal rooms.

Charting the hilarious and sometimes heart-breaking ups and downs of mid-life dating, The Toyboy Diaries is the first of 2018’s five in-house musicals from the hugely successful collaboration between Joseph Houston and William Whelton, co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre and producer Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment.

TB Sharif Afifi and Johanne Murdock in rehearsals for The ToyBoy Diaries credit Claire Bilyard

The production, which is adapted from the best-selling memoirs by Wendy Salisbury follows twice-divorced Lily as she inadvertently finds herself under a much younger man, which then opens the door to a whole new world of inappropriate relationships.

The lead role of Lily will be played by Johanne Murdock who was recently seen as Brutus in Julius Caesar and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth (Guildford Shakespeare Company). The production also features Olivier Award-nominee Nicola Blackman (Destiny Rides Again, Babe the Sheep Pig, Gilgamesh and Just to Get Married) as Lily’s best friend Penny.

TB Matt Beveridge and Johanne Murdock in rehearsals for The ToyBoy Diaries 1 credit Claire Bilyard

Matt Beveridge (The Frontier Trilogy, Titanic – Toronto and House of Therapy – Off Broadway). Sharif Afifi (Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, Wonderland – UK Tour) will play ToyBoy 2, while Alistair Higgins (Dreamboats and Petticoats – UK Tour, Sweeney Todd – Brighton, Charlotte’s Web) plays ToyBoy 3.

TB Johanne Murdock in rehearsals for The ToyBoy Diaries credit Claire Bilyard

The Toyboy Diaries will be directed by Tania Azevedo, with a book by Simon Warne, music and lyrics by Andy Collyer.

Tickets are available here.

 

 

Hope Mill Theatre announces 2018 season!

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Award-winning Hope Mill Theatre and resident producer Aria Entertainment today announce their much anticipated 2018 season, with three bold, exciting and ambitious in-house productions.

The converted mill in Ancoats currently hosting the European premiere of Little Women enjoyed a landmark 2017 season which saw 5* critically acclaimed productions and London transfers for Yank! and Hair with Pippin following in early 2018 will begin the season with the world premiere of new British musical The ToyBoy Diaries (on sale today).

This new musical comedy which runs from 18 January to 10 February 2018 charts the hilarious and sometimes heart-breaking sagas of mid-life dating. When twice-divorced Lily inadvertently finds herself under a much younger man, it opens the door to a wild new world of inappropriate relationships. From Tom the Tender to Sam the Submissive, via Paul the Policeman, Hat Trick Patrick and Matt the Monstrous (with Old Willy and Philandering Phil mixed in along the way) Lily finally finds Ben the Bountiful.

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Spring Awakening will run from 19 March to 3 May 2018. A production hailed as “one of the great musicals of the last decade” (New York Times) and the winner of eight Tony and four Olivier Awards, Spring Awakening follows a group of teenagers in late-19th-century Germany navigating the struggles and virtues of blossoming youth, with an electrifying fusion of morality, sexuality and a Grammy award-winning rock score. This landmark musical will be presented in an intimate and bold new production helmed by director Luke Sheppard (In The Heights, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole).

Third show to be announced is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s romantic classic Aspects of Love which will run from 5 July to 4 August 2018. Featuring the iconic “Love Changes Everything” Aspects of Love tells the story of passion, love and loss across three generations of a family and their artistic companions, against a background of 1940’s France and Italy.

The hugely successful partnership between Joseph Houston and William Whelton, the co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre and producer Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment is further testament to their commitment to make Hope Mill Theatre the home of new musicals and revivals in the north and beyond with two more yet-to-be announced productions in Autumn/Winter.

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William Whelton and Joseph Houston, co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre said: “We wanted to make sure our third season was even more ambitious and we feel we have managed to achieve that with the world premiere of the new British musical The ToyBoy Diaries, an exciting revival of Spring Awakening with an Olivier Award-winning creative team and our first staging of an Andrew Lloyd Webber classic – Aspects of love. Once again we have proved the power of regional theatre and continue to spearhead Hope Mill Theatre as a leading player in new musical staging, musical premieres and exciting revivals.”

Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment, who has just seen her production of The Addams Family transfer to Singapore stated “I have enjoyed working with the theatre on taking our shows to new commercial levels in London and am extremely delighted to announce the first three shows of our 2018 season, it is an honour to share this diverse selection of work with you. We hope to continue to champion the genre and bring in audiences from far and wide.”

Further information can be found here

@Hopemilltheatr1

@ToyBoyDiaries

 

Pippin

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First premiered on Broadway an incredible 45 years ago, Katy Lipson, Guy James and Hope Mill Theatre’s revival of Tony award winning Pippin shows no signs of age and is as magical and enchanting as we hoped it would be.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson, Pippin tells the tale of a young man in search of something to believe in, a path to follow, ultimately, he is in search of himself. Loosely based on ‘Pepin’ the son of 8th Century King Charlemange, Pippin sets about trying out life and all it has to offer via different careers and different directions in order to find his corner of the sky. Maeve Black’s stunning Victorian Vaudeville setting paired with stunning lighting design from Aaron J. Dootson allows the players to truly tell this tale in the most theatrical and immersive of ways, making Pippin a remarkably bold and striking production.

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Pippin’s search and the different paths it leads him down illustrates clearly that with all its craziness and drama the world is indeed a stage, as the players perform and indulge Pippin his desires, we realise everything we see is an act. Leading player Genevieve Nicole is a wholly commanding presence, she steers and controls her fellow players who perform beautifully on her instruction, she shines in the role and bursts with sass and dangerous charisma as she steers Pippin through his search for fulfilment.

Jonathan Carlton is brilliantly cast as Pippin, he perfectly portrays the young Prince’s naivety and frustrations, the development in his character is wonderful to see as each experience leaves its mark and changes his outlook on life. Carlton’s delivery of Corner Of The Sky is especially beautiful, full of emotion and wonderfully displays the hopelesness he feels with his inability to fit in and understand his path in life.

The whole ensemble are superb, hardworking and utterly captivating. Director Jonathan O’Boyle has created a tight and incredibly slick team who are entirely in sync with each other. William Whelton’s choreography is sharp and precise and really adds to the beauty of this special piece while musical director Zach Flis delivers the sublime score to perfection.

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High praise must also go to Mari Barclay who plays both Fastrada and Berthe, her characterisation is exceptional, with brilliant comic timing and larger than life delivery she excels in both roles and also as a member of the superb ensemble.

The quality and delivery of Pippin is top class, the pairing of Katy Lipson and Hope Mill Theatre is a true gift to Manchester. Engaging, captivating and entirely magical, Pippin convincingly worked its magic and enchanted completely. A real gem of a show delivered with real style and sass.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until 23rd September tickets£20, concessions £18 available via the following link http://www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk/whats-on/

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The Addams Family preview

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The Addams Family, photo credit for images: Matt Martin

They’re creepy, kooky, and all together ooky and are heading to the Lowry for two weeks of fiendish fun this August. From the writers of multi-award winning Jersey Boys with music and lyrics from Tony Award nominated Andrew Lippa, The Addams Family are in for a shock when they realise Wednesday Addams (Carrie Hope Fletcher), the ultimate moody teenager, has grown up and has a truly shocking secret that only her Father Gomez (Cameron Blakely) knows; she’s fallen in love with a normal boy! So begins a riotous evening of spooktacular fun as the Addams’ host a dinner for Wednesday’s normal boyfriend and her ever so conservative parents.

We caught up with Carrie Hope Fletcher who plays Wednesday and Les Dennis who plays Uncle Fester ahead of their arrival in Salford to hear all about the witty and wicked show critics are describing as ‘gloriously ghoulish!’

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Les Dennis as Uncle Fester

While both actors are hugely experienced in all aspects of entertainment with Les starting his career back in 1971 at the tender age of 17 on the iconic Opportunity Knocks and Carrie treading the boards in the West End as a child actor in Les Mis, Mary Poppins and Chitty the both know exactly how best to develop their characters and put their stamp on this production. Les explained how he wanted to bring his own Fester to the production, “I wanted him to be childlike and have a sense of fun, in the breakdown it said a tenor voice and also a vaudevillian so I knew straight away he had musical roots”

Carrie is a huge fan of the movies, in particular Christina Ricci, describing the challenges in taking on such an iconic role Carrie said; “It’s difficult to take on board bits of a character you really loved and think can’t be lost because they’re so iconic while trying to make it yours at the same time. When I was in Les Mis playing Eponine, Trevor Jordan said to me ‘The character has got to find you as much as you have got to find the character’ which is something that has always stayed with me”.

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Oliver Ormson as Lucas and Carrie Hope Fletcher as Wednesday.

Les too is a huge fan of the family telling us, “As soon as my agent said they wanted me to read for Fester I said, absolutely! I’ve grown up with the series, then watched the films with my kids recently as they wanted to know more about the Addams Family, but I really wanted to try and bring my own Fester, I love playing him, he’s such fun and he’s the one character who gets to talk to the audience and of course he champions the love affair”.

Both Les and Carrie are clearly having a huge amount of fun touring with this weird and wonderful production which sees the famous cartoon creations of Charles Addams turned into a musical comedy. Carrie describes working on the show as an absolute scream, stating she has never seen a cast as in love with a show as this one; “We have as much fun back stage as we do on stage, it’s just as crazy” Les added, “If you’re anywhere with Cameron Blackley (Gomez) it’s going to be fun and can’t be anything but crazy, he is just life and soul!” Carrie added “On stage he is absolutely brilliant as Gomez and backstage he is basically Gomez without the Spanish accent! It’s such a wonderful company, the cast, the crew, everyone just has so much fun and I think that comes across on stage too, we all hang out together, we all get on so well and we are just having the best time”

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Cameron Blakley as Gomez and Samantha Womack as Morticia.

We asked Les and Carrie which were their favourite numbers in the show, Les particularly loves Happy Sad which Gomez sings, “I think any Dad that has a young daughter and has that heartbreak of her growing up and losing her that song will literally have them in tears, it’s a beautiful song”, Carrie picked a line out that she really loves singing “In Crazier Than You, there is a line I love singing, ‘I’m gonna cut you with my love and with my knife’ for me it just sums up Wednesday completely, loving and terrifying all at the same time”.

The Addams Family opens at The Lowry on 29th August and runs until 9th September, book now for this fabulous family treat, tickets are available via www.theaddamsfamily.co.uk/tourdate/the-lowry-salford/