West Side Story

07RET WestSideStory - Andy Coxon (Tony) & Gabriela Garcia (Maria) - image Richard Davenport of The Other Richard

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Expectation has been at an almighty high since West Side Story was announced as part of the Royal Exchanges Spring/Summer 2019 season. So successful of late has the theatre been at reimagining classic musicals the run had almost sold-out before the first preview even took place.

This epic tale based on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet sees star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria fighting to be together in 1950’s Manhattan where warring gangs make the rules and stepping into enemy territory is strictly taboo. As a story there is everything from love and conflict to hope and heartbreak as the Sharks and Jets fierce rivalry shapes their very existence.

011RET WestSideStory -The Jets - image Richard Davenport of The Other Richard

Since it first premiered in 1955 Jerome Robbins choreography is something that’s always come as part and parcel of any West Side Story production. So iconic in its style it’s hard to imagine the Sharks and the Jets moving in any other way. Step forward Aletta Collins who not only takes on the challenge of reimagining the instantly recognisable choreography but does so in the most beautifully inspired way.

There are still enough elements of the original choreography to keep the traditionalists amongst us happy but these elements are now combined with a pulsating fusion of Latin, street, lindy hop, jazz and even a touch of northern soul to create the most vibrant melting pot of movement.

05RET WestSideStory - Gabriela Garcia (Maria) & Andy Coxon (Tony) - image Richard Davenport of The Other Richard

Director Sarah Frankom ensures this new choreography is allowed to take centre stage as moments of breath-taking beauty unfold; highlighted perfectly during the switch from punchy ensemble piece to the stillness of Tony and Maria’s first meeting which bursts with joyful innocence. A genuine moment of calm & purity during the heady tension of the dancehall scene.

The cast are outstanding and as an ensemble work together to perfection, fuelled by hatred, fear, anger, love and loss, they fizz with pent up emotion. The era is unspecific making it feel just as relevant today as it did 62 years ago as we seemingly are once again in the midst of a swathe of violent knife crime.

03RET WestSideStory - Andy Coxon (Tony) - image Richard Davenport of The Other RichardCROPPED

Andy Coxon finds the true heart of Tony, delivering a powerful and emotive performance; his rendition of Maria a real highlight while fellow lead Gabriela García is completely captivating as Maria. Her operatic vocals are note perfect and pure. Their duets are sublime while the innocence of their love is blissfully uplifting.

Jocasta Almgill is superb and sassy as streetwise Anita, Fernando Mariano makes for a passionate and proud Bernardo while Michael Duke as Riff is convincing and committed.

The cast make full use of Anna Fleischle’s innovative design which is skilfully lit by Lee Curran. They weave, jump and balance on Fleischle’s vertical geometric sets, one minute gone, the next high up emerging from the shadows. The balcony scenes in particular during Tonight really showing off the impressive staging of this piece as each character vies for the audience’s attention, from all sides of the theatre’s intimate space.

West Side Story ©The Other Richard

The eleven piece orchestra powerfully deliver Leonard Bernstein’s classic score with new arrangements by Jason Carr giving it a modern and fresh feel. Led by Tom Chester the score is packed with emotion and fundamental to the impact of this piece.

The Royal Exchange have created something truly special here, the standing ovation a clear indicator that this production marks another success for the innovative Manchester theatre makers. Bold, inspired theatre at its best.

West Side Story is on at the Royal Exchange until Saturday 25th May tickets can be found here.

The Weir

Weir

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

English Touring Theatre and Mercury Theatre Colchester’s revival of Conor McPherson’s Olivier award-winning play The Weir arrives at the Lowry’s Quays theatre this week, proving it is as fresh and as engaging as it was when it took the west-end by storm back in 1997.

Set in a rural in a rural Irish pub, vastly unvisited out of tourist season apart from by its entirely male regulars, conversations are familiar amongst Brendan (Sam O’Mahony) the happy-go-lucky landlord and middle aged locals cantankerous Jack (Sean Murray) and mild mannered Jim (John O’Dowd), both bachelors with their own crosses to bear. Tonight however something is different, Finbar (Louis Dempsey) the local fella turned successful businessman has been seen with a woman, not only has he been seen with a woman but he has been bold enough to bring her to the pub, and him a married man and all, changing the landscape of the status quo from the minute she arrives.

Weir 3 The Weir is a play based entirely round the art of storytelling in which writer Conor McPherson delivers the loneliness of small-town life in Ireland for his isolated characters with humanity and heart. Past and present intertwine as stories are shared and the ghosts of times gone by are reimagined and redelivered. Links to folklore litter the narratives as incidents and goings on become more peculiar and harder to explain, lives woven together by circumstance bonded over many years through the sharing of tales and the comfort of company now have a new source of narrative in the intriguing and attractive out of towner, Valerie (Natalie Radmall-Quirke).

The regaling of stories to entertain their visitor ultimately exposes their anxieties and loneliness, when finally it’s Valerie’s turn to share her chilling tale, unexpected and deeply powerful, the truth she calmly reveals bonds her to the group, comrades now in their complexities.

Weir 2 At approximately 90 minutes straight through The Weir captivates entirely, each actor on stage delivering a compelling and gripping performance, from the deadpan put downs to the infectious Irish charm. Director Adele Thomas is happily includes awkward silences, a taste of the daily norm in The Weir. While there is great poignancy there is also great wit in McPherson’s script, presented with impressive skill by this incredibly strong cast.

Just as important as the storytelling is the listening, director Adele Thomas ensures that each storyteller is the focus of their moment with fellow cast members their audience, perfectly placed around Madeline Girling’s set, while Lee Curran’s lighting design further adds depth, atmosphere and weight to each tale.

The Weir is a cleverly constructed and entirely compelling piece of theatre, goosebump chilling in parts with laugh out loud moments of deliciously sharp humour. Perfectly paced with an excellent cast and exceptional writing which will leave you longing to pull up a chair, grab a Guinness and revel in the delights of the storytellers.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 27th January tickets available here.