The Entertainer

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s often said that role of Archie Rice is a dream role for any actor; it’s an actor’s role, a role filled with pathos, a real rollercoaster of emotions. The likes of Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, Robert Lindsey and Michael Gambon have all played this iconic character, either on stage or screen, and now it’s the turn of one of the nation’s favourite song-and-dance men, Shane Richie.

The original production was set during the 1950’s in the shadow of the Suez crisis, however director Sean O’ Connor has shifted the action to 1982: Britain has just gone to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands and comic Archie Rice is working the club scene, with diminishing success. His act is a string of sexist gags and mother-in-law jokes, think a cross between Bernard Manning and David Brent and you’re on the right track. Rice is struggling to adapt to a changing world of alternative comedy and so-called political correctness.

As Rice’s routine is in the gutter, his home life isn’t fairing much better: he is unhappily married to his second wife, Phoebe (played tonight by Alice Osmanski), his father Billy (Pip Donaghy) holds some pretty extreme views about their neighbours and the state of the country, his daughter, Jean (Diana Vickers) has come back home after splitting with her fiancé, and finally his son Mick, has been captured whilst serving in the Falklands.

The majority of the action takes place in the Rice’s flat as the family bicker about the current state of the country, argue about Archie’s womanising, Phoebe’s desire to move Canada, and Jean’s moralistic view of the world, which strongly differs from that of her family. This is all done with the support of copious amounts of gin, as all of the family struggle with their own alcoholism. This is punctured with brief snapshots of Archie’s faltering act, some 1980’s bangers, and some genuine/fictious tabloid headlines of the day. As the Rice’s situation becomes more desperate, the already fractured family begins to come apart at the seams.

This is a challenging, gritty piece of work, there is a great deal to admire about the production. Despite being well over 60 years old, the themes Osbourne was addressing back then are just as relevant today. The setting of Thatcher’s Britain gives the production a gritty realism: the club spots and the scenes at the flat are quite grimy, so much so that you want to jump in the shower as soon as you get home.

The excellent performances are what make this production that little bit special. All five actors do a solid job throughout and it’s the dynamic between Shane Richie and Diana Vickers that is the real heartbeat of this production. Richie does a fantastic of job making you care about Archie. He knows his best days are behind him,  he knows he’s made mistakes yet despite his many flaws, you cannot but help but want him to succeed, and it’s purely down to the strength of Richie’s performance: if you don’t have that connection then it doesn’t work.

In Diana Vickers you have the moral compass of the family, someone that has yet to be tainted by her environment, and someone who has a chance of making a difference, it’s the conflict between the two of them that drives the narrative along and it’s a credit to both actors that this works so well.

It is a tough watch and one that is short on laughter, unless you like your comedy uncomfortable and cringy, however this is a production that is certainly worth a watch and one that will split audiences and more importantly spark debate and that is always good in my book.

The Entertainer is on at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 2nd November. Tickets available here.

The Exorcist

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When it it was announced that the stage version of The Exorcist was coming to Manchester I freely admit I was more than a little excited for a couple of reasons. The first being that this is one of my favourite films, when growing up the film had mystic about it mainly due to it being unavailable for some 11 years, to get hold of a copy was seen as a right of passage when growing up and when you finally did get to see it it did not disappoint. The second is that the film seldom out of your consciousness if like me you’re a fan of film critic and broadcaster Mark Kermode (Hello to Jason). There is seldom a week that goes by where the good Dr doesn’t manage to shoehorn an ‘exorcist story’ into his radio programmes and podcasts.

The stage adaptation from writer John Pielmeier, draws more from the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty more so then William Fredkin’s film. It tells the story, of Hollywood actor Christine MacNeil (Susan Ward) and her daughter Regan (Susannah Edgley), they’re staying in a big creepy house, in Georgetown, Washington whilst Christine shoots her latest movie. However, with Regan’s birthday coming up and anxiety of her estranged father not contacting Regan along with the strange noises coming from the attic not all is well at home.

Regan soon begins speaking of an imaginary friend, Captain Howdy, who she claims to have encountered her whilst playing with a Ouija board. Her behaviour becomes more erratic, as she self harms, uses profanity, urinates on the floor, and more disturbingly predicts the death of Christine’s friend the movie director Burke Dennis (Tristram Wymark).

As Regan’s behaviour worsens, her health deteriorates and with doctors, medication and psychologists providing no cure Christine is running out of time to save her daughter. In the meantime, a Father, Damien Karras (Ben Caplan) is having a crisis of faith, having lost his mother, feelings of resentment, regret and remorse surround the priest, as he comes to terms with his own guilt at her passing. A meeting between Karras and Christine prompts the desperate mother to enquire about an exorcism; Karras acquiesces to Christine’s proposal and so begins a battle to save not just the life of a little girl but also the souls of those around her.

Director Sean Mathias has done a great job of bringing this classic of the silver screen to life. From the moment you enter the theatre there was a sense of trepidation in the air, right from the the get go, there are some big jump scares to get you in the mood. However, these are soon dispensed with in favour of the more shocking elements of the text: vomiting, foul language, murder and the ordeal that this girl and her family are going through.  All the key elements that caused and still cause outrage to this day are there, of which I will not spoil, yet they still manage to shock even now, and I knew what was coming.

The performances are solid throughout, Susannah Edgley has the difficult job of an adult playing a child, which she manages to do brilliantly, she fully captures the sweet innocence and absolute horror of Regan. Sophie Ward is equally as good in her role, its one you could easily go OTT with, yet she refrains from doing so giving a measured but heartfelt turn.

If this were a Hollywood blockbuster, Paul Nicholas would get the ‘and’ or ‘with’ billing on the poster, but here he gets top billing for what is essentially supporting role, however Nicholas brings a real presence to his role as Father Merrin, an experienced priest drafted into help with exorcism ritual. It is a restrained, understated but no less vital performance.  Finally, there is the un-credited performance of Sir Ian McKellen as the voice of the demon, the potty-mouthed thesp, pretty much steals every scene he’s in without being even being there! If there is filmed footage of this being recorded, then get it online quick because it would look fantastic. A huge amount of praise must be heaped on Edgley who does an excellent job of lip-syncing with McKellen’s fruity dialogue.

However, for me the most impressive aspect of the production is its look, the team have created a haunting, atmospheric and terrifying space, from the iconic window, Regan’s bedroom, to the creepy house, complete with exploding lights, through to the pews and confessional boxes of the church this is lynch pin of the production. The scene transitions weren’t as smooth as they could be, with sliding panels but it really didn’t matter. To create the big scares and the more shocking elements of the play the lighting, sound, and projection team have done some fantastic work here.

This is a creepy, tense production that will have enough to please fans of the film/book but is also fine introduction to this controversial, yet entertaining piece of work, I would say that the more controversial elements will still create debate and polarise people’s opinion, but that for me mean’s it’s done its job.

The Exorcist is on at the Manchester Opera House until 26th October. Tickets available here.

Cinderella | Opera House

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First staged in 2016 at the London Palladium then last year at Birmingham’s legendary Hippodrome Qdos Entertainment’s Cinderella has been brought bang up to date by writer Alan McHugh with Corrie jokes a plenty and hilarious local references a go-go. Both Ben Nickles who plays Buttons and Ugly Sister Les Dennis adding material to the laugh a minute script ensuring a riotous night out is guaranteed.

All the stops have been pulled out in this spectacular production; lavish sets, colourful costumes, catchy songs and a superb cast ensuring the Opera House panto remains at the top of theatre goers agenda for another festive season.

Our Ugly Sisters Phelina (Connor McIntyre) and Michaela (Les Dennis) are mad for it as they blend the silly with the slapstick and throw in some cheeky charm for good measure, the pairing is genius as panto pro Les leads the way, reminding us all just why he’s one of the best in the business.

Rochdale comedian Ben Nickless quickly becomes an audience favourite as Buttons; he laps up the applause and delights with outrageously funny comedy capers and hilarious impressions, a born entertainer who comes very close to stealing the show.

Gareth Gates and Shannon Flynn make for a perfect pairing as the dashing Prince Charming and the down on her luck Cinderella proving that they’re not afraid of getting stuck in with the slapstick when their romantic meeting turns into a hilarious battle of wills with lovesick Buttons.

Hayley-Ria Christian makes for a super sassy Fairy Godmother while Jack Wilcox is a commanding and charismatic Dandini.

The ensemble cast and young company, always a favourite of mine in panto add vibrancy with slick delivery of Fabian Aloise’s choreography adding additional charm to this feel-good family show.

Qdos Entertainment has got Cinderella just right in terms of pitch, the script is jam-packed with hilarious gags and witty one–liners while the innuendo we all expect from panto never tips into crudeness, its good old cheeky fun and plenty of it.

The transformation scene at the end of Act I really has to be seen to be believed and is worth the ticket price alone as the gasps of delight from the audience both young and old are heard loud and clear. While panto may one of theatre’s oldest traditions this production feels fresh and vibrant.

Cinderella really is the perfect package; it’s lavish, sparkly, sequined fun suitable for all the family. This extravagant production is everything panto should be and more.

Guaranteed to entertain from start to finish leaving you feeling suitably festive and full of Christmas cheer. Big, bold and brilliant!

Cinderella is on until Sunday 30th December tickets available here.

Sherlock Holmes – The Final Curtain

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Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

If I had a pound for every incarnation there has ever been of Sherlock Holmes on either the big or small screen, then I’d be a very wealthy man indeed. However, for his celluloid endeavours, Holmes has seldom trod the boards. Surely the world’s number one consulting detective is ripe for a turn on the stage, and writer Simon Reade has undertaken this task with mixed but entertaining results.

In Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain, it’s early 1920’s and we find Holmes (Robert Powell) and Dr Watson (Timothy Kightley) apart from one another. Watson is entering the brave world of broadcast radio, telling the world of his adventures with the super sleuth, whilst Holmes is a broken shell of his former self, riddled with arthritis and living a reclusive life keeping bees on the Sussex coast. With the discovery of a dead body on Holmes’ private beach, the sudden appearance of Mary Watson (Liza Goddard) and the fact that its 30 years since Holmes last encounter with nemesis, Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls….something doesn’t quite add up. In addition Holmes’ legendary powers of deduction seemingly failing him and his growing paranoia that someone is out to get him, is it time for him to come out of retirement and crack one final case?

©NOBBY CLARK +44(0)7941-515770 +44(0)20-7274-2105 nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk

This interesting, entertaining, if unremarkable production could be so much more. It takes a look at old-age, retirement, and how your body and mind can fail you when you need them the most. Also the issues of coping with an ever-changing world. You cannot help but feel more could have been done to explore Holmes’ vulnerability. That said, I found the plot engaging, with some neat little twists and turns, and fun ‘tips of the cap’ to the source material and its creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Powell is solid and engaging as Holmes, giving a seemingly effortless performance; you just want to see him make more of Holmes’ paranoia. Goddard is equally good as Mary, giving her strength and steel. The scenes between Goddard and Powell are a treat as they spar with one another; these scenes certainly highlight the undeniable chemistry between the two leads.

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The supporting cast are solid; Anna O’ Grady puts in a fun turn as Miss Hudson, whilst Roy Sampson is clearly having a ball as Mycroft Holmes. I do think more time could have been given to Kightley as Dr Watson, there seems to be more that could have been put his way, instead he is left with nothing more than a narrators role: surely more could have been made of Watson’s relationship with his wife.

It is odd really that this show should be called the final curtain, as there were a few opening night nerves with the curtain which notably affected scene changes. Hopefully these snags will be ironed out for the productions remaining run.

Overall this was an entertaining, enjoyable night at the theatre, however you can’t help but feel that there is a more interesting story ready to burst from the pages onto the stage. Certainly, worth seeing, but one that won’t live long in the memory.

Sherlock Holmes – The Final Curtain is on at the Opera House until 28th July, tickets available here.