The Secret of Christmas Eve

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

After the huge success of last year’s festive fairy-tale Hansel and Gretel Oldham Theatre Workshop return with an original Christmas musical which promises to be the perfect family treat.

The Secret of Christmas Eve introduces us to a very special little girl called Eve (Natasha Davidson) who is about to experience the most magical of adventures which sees elves brough to bright and brilliant life, adventures on flying carpets and a whole host of colourful characters as she’s tasked with the small job saving Christmas!

Brian the elf (Jabez Sykes) is bereft, this year’s Christmas wish letters have failed to reach the North Pole and without them the elves are redundant, there will be no presents and no Christmas! Thankfully and although she may not yet know it, Eve is the perfect person for the job.

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The intimate studio space at Oldham Library feels cosy and inviting as the small performance space is transformed into a welcoming home, grumpy Mrs Grimble’s Post Office and Nula Nu’s Shop of Lost Things throughout this enchanting production.

Creatives Sarah Nelson and James Atherton have worked together to create a piece of theatre which wouldn’t be out of place on a West End stage. Their imaginative storytelling is both poetic and utterly joyful capturing the Christmas spirit with warmth and wit. They have a unique ability to interweave heartfelt and important messages into seemingly simple stories packing them with an emotional depth you don’t often find in family shows.

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Audiences of all ages will take away something special from this show with its themes of family, hope, adoption and belonging all beautifully wrapped up in a feel-good story that will stay with you long after the Christmas decorations have come down.

The clever and catchy original songs are teamed with a melodic score and a hugely witty script which is delivered to perfection by a committed cast. Natasha Davidson captures entirely the wide-eyed wonder of Eve, fiercely determined to succeed despite the challenges life has given her. Jabez Sykes is a joy as Brian the Elf with bucketloads of charisma and a great gift for comedy he lights up the stage as the ever-so dramatic Elf.

Laura England is gloriously grumpy as Mrs Grimble while also displaying a wonderful warmth as Eve’s foster Mother Suzia. Purvi Parmar breathes life into the adorable Digby the Dog and is great fun as Eve’s friend Nisha while Madeleine Edmondson captivates as the mysterious and magical Nula Nu.

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Collectively the cast take on multiple roles whist also acting as narrators leading you through this delightful tale, delivering faultless harmonies with ease. There’s also an appearance from several members of the young company who add additional festive magic to this heart-warming production.

If you’ve yet to find your festive cheer then I prescribe a visit to The Secret of Christmas Eve immediately! This beautiful show packed full of heart and humour is a piece of theatrical magic. A truly enchanting Christmas adventure that will leave you feeling merry and bright well into the New Year. A truly wonderful production from Oldham Theatre Workshop and at an accessible £8 per ticket an absolute gift to us all.

The Secret of Christmas Eve is on at Oldham Library until Saturday 28th December tickets available here, you can also call the Box Office on 0161 770 3240.

 

Hansel & Gretel

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Following on from the huge success of last year’s Peter Pan, Oldham Theatre Workshop bring another classic to life with their spin on the much-loved fairy tale Hansel & Gretel.

The intimate performance space at Oldham Library is transformed into an atmospheric wintry wood as we follow Hansel & Gretel on their unexpected journey; cruelly abandoned in the forest at the request of their wicked Stepmother they think their luck has changed when they stumble upon a little house made of gingerbread and sweets, how wrong they are!

Creatives Sarah Nelson and James Atherton once again prove to be a formidable team with this joyful and poetic production; the use of songs, puppets and imaginative storytelling all marrying beautifully to bring this Brothers Grimm tale to vivid and vibrant life. The original songs are both inventive and enormously catchy….munch, munch, nibble, nibble and combined with a melodic score add humour and depth to this wonderful piece.

The strong cast deliver the story with real style and delightful conviction. Natasha Davidson and Sam Winterbottom are excellent as Hansel & Gretel whose childlike innocence develops into strength and determination when the going gets tough as this story becomes a great example of good triumphing over evil.

Daniel Harkshead makes for a strong and loving father, battling between the love for his children and the manipulating ways of his bitter wife. Sophie Ellicot is outstanding as both the stepmother and the calculating witch; clearly having great fun with both parts and proving once again what a fine character actor she is.

Madeleine Edmondson quite literally shines as the moon, doubling up as narrator she guides us through this enchanting story beautifully, young and old enthralled with every line. While the addition of three young performers playing the woodland animals brings extra cute factor to this charming production.

Oldham Theatre Workshop once again excels at delivering accessible and enthralling theatre. This magical production will enchant people of all ages, taking you on a feel-good, heart-warming festive adventure which at only £8 per ticket proves to be a festive treat for the pocket too.

Magical storytelling delivered with real heart, a delight for all the family.

Catch Hansel & Gretel at Oldham Library until 29th December tickets available here.

The Visitor’s Book

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Written by Sarah Nelson and Oldham Theatre Workshop’s Artistic Director James Atherton. New Musical The Visitor’s Book is an uplifting exploration on the impact of loss, abandonment and ultimately the importance of family and forgiveness.

Mum (Sophie Ellicott) holidays annually with children Jack, Sophie and Betty at Cathy’s (Jo Gerard) Cumbrian cottage. A sanctuary away from the city with clean air, green fields and an endless supply of fresh brews in the pot, problems however travel too and tensions soon rise as grief and confusion take hold.

Eldest in the family Jack is desperate for answers, a chance discovery however leads him to search for something else entirely when a strangers message in the Visitor’s book captures his imagination, offering a much-needed focus for his grief.

The play spans several years with scenes and stories beautifully interwoven. Younger and older versions of the children seamlessly move in and out of scenes as lies are uncovered and truths are told. The static set, a cosy living room within the holiday cottage allows the cast to move freely from one scene to the next, often inhabiting the stage at the same time to great effect. Slick direction ensures the clear narratives develop at just the right pace to both engage and entertain.

Sarah Nelson and James Atherton’s excellent writing ensures each character is entirely believable, from the moody teenager to the ‘holding everything together’ Mum to the baby of the family who entertains and amuses with her adorably quirky ways. There are many laugh out loud moments, moments you’ll entirely relate too as well as moments you’ll be gulping away the lump in your throat.

In Hope Mill’s intimate space there is no room for error and this hugely talented cast demonstrate superbly just how powerful and incredibly entertaining honest and heartfelt theatre can be. Each and every cast member giving their all.

Sophie Ellicott delivers a strong performance as Mum, warm and loving she embodies the role perfectly. Young and older Jack, Tommy Douglas and Jabez Sykes are both exceptional as anger and frustration is channelled into hopeful determination. The score is excellent allowing for some beautiful harmonies wrapped up in incredibly well observed lyrics delivered note perfect by the cast. Madeleine Edmondson and Poppy O’Brien shine performing their hilarious duet, big voices and even bigger personalities.

The Visitor’s Book is ultimately a story of hope, forgiveness and the real importance of family. This hugely entertaining production has the ability to both touch you deeply and entertain you enormously. Full of heart, deeply moving, beautifully told and superbly delivered, a joyous success.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Friday 11th May, tonight’s performance is SOLD OUT but follow @Visitor_Book and @OTWOldham for further information.