Hushabye Mountain

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Powerful theatre bursting with heaps of heart.

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

Interview | Layton Williams | Hushabye Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hairspray

Hairspray-2017-3

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ever popular audience favourite Hairspray burst into Manchester last night for a fun, feisty and feel-good two week stop at the city’s Opera House theatre.

Multi-coloured and multi-layered this is an uplifting and vibrant production with a serious and important message at its heart. Based on the 1988 John Waters film, Hairspray follows Baltimore teenager, Tracy Turnblad’s dream to dance on The Corny Collins Show. Tracy isn’t as conventionally looking as the show’s usual crew and faces an uphill battle from the start. What begins as a burning ambition to win a role on her favourite teen show soon becomes a campaign for social change which sees Tracy crusade to promote racial integration as she battles not only bigots but body shamers too.

Hairspray-2017

Newcomer Rebecca Mendoza makes her professional debut and as the bright, bold and beautiful Tracy Turnblad with a big voice and personality to match her buoyant bouffant she perfectly embodies the impassioned teen. Her comedic acting really raises her performance from excellent to exceptional and she puff and pants to perfection every time teen idol Link Larkin (Edward Chitticks) comes near.

Annalise Liard-Bailey smashes her professional debut as Penny Pingleton, the stunning pairing of Liard-Bailey and Layton Williams being a real highlight of the show, Williams shines as Seaweed, ensuring all eyes are upon him as he twists and flips across the stage, both are an absolute joy to watch.

Brenda Edwards returns as the mighty Motormouth Maybelle and raises the roof with her soulful and emotional rendition of I know where I’ve been. While theatre has a job to entertain it also has important role in educating audiences, which Edwards and cast do so with gusto.

Matt Rixton (Edna) and Graham MacDuff (tonight covering the role of Wilbur) solidify their status as audience favourites with each outrageous and hilarious scene, they’re clearly having just as much fun on stage as the audience off stage as they delight and deliver in style.

While it promotes a message of equality and inclusion Hairspray does it with such wit and charm it is anything but preachy. Drew McOnie’s punchy choreography ensures the pace always remains high while Takis’ sets and costumes are bright, blingy and whisk us straight back to the sixties.

With a vibrant and memorable score including numbers such as You Can’t Stop the Beat, Welcome to the Sixities and Good Morning Baltimore Hairspray never fails to entertain as the audience leapt to their feet in approval. Empowering, uplifting and most of all enormously entertaining!

On at the Opera House until Saturday 7th April tickets available here.