Little Women

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Louisa May Alcott’s much loved classic about the four March sisters growing up in Civil War-era New England has been a literary favourite for almost 150 years now. Seen previously on the big screen, radio plays, TV series and straight theatre plays the March sisters undoubtedly have a place in the hearts of many, this is the first time however the Broadway musical has made its way to European shores as the incredibly successful pairing of Hope Mill Theatreand Aria Entertainment continue their vision to deliver accessible musical theatre in Manchester.

The production offers a condensed take on the heart-warming story of trailblazer Jo and her three sisters, Meg, Beth and Amy March, with Jo at the spirited centre of the piece. With their father off at war and their mothers encouragement to be the best versions of themselves they can be, the sisters set out on their path to becoming ‘little women’.

Amie Giselle-Ward is outstanding as Jo, passionate, strong and always true to herself, Giselle-Ward embodies perfectly the brash and bold Jo Marsh with a raw energy that utterly captivates, fiercely loyal and defiantly proud her characterisation is honest and raw as she delivers an incredibly moving and deeply emotional performance. She fizzes and boils over with a determination to live the life she chooses not one society choses for her, a woman seemingly ahead of her time when the book was first published in 1868 and an absolute heroine to women today.

The ten strong cast are incredibly hard working and beautifully demonstrate the importance and strength of family, love and hope regardless of the situation or difficulties they face. Each of the sisters are perfectly cast, Jemima Watling is superb as Meg, sweet and sensible, with a heart full of love. Katie Marie-Carter makes for a fabulous Amy, spoiled and selfish she is wonderfully dramatic. Cathy Read plays Beth with sweet affection, gentle and kind with a real sincerity she is the calm to Jo’s perfect storm.

Bronagh Lagan’s direction ensures the production remains entirely committed to delivering Louisa May Alcott’s message of love, family and female empowerment with wonderful storytelling throughout.

Ben M Rogers light design gently warms the production, allowing Nik Corrall’s simplistic yet effective set to shine. The intimate setting of Hope Mill Theatre is perfect for this engaging production, giving audiences the most wonderful connection with the characters as Jason Howard’s music and Mindi Dickstein’s lyrics are brought to life by Rickey Long’s superb musical direction.

Little Women is a celebration, joyful, spirited and full of heart. The perfect festive treat for all ages, delivering an important and current message that into each life some rain must fall but never let that diminish the fire within you.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 9th December tickets available here

Spamalot

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Review by Matthew Forrest 

 The programme states that Spamalot is lovingly ripped off from the motion picture” of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Well for my money, this production is doing itself a disservice; if anything it’s enhancing the ‘Python’ legacy and introducing them to a wider audience. 

As a Python fan, you sometimes take it as a given that most people will love them and their work as much as you do. However that’s not always the case, as some people just “don’t get it” or have never seen the Python’s in action before. For die-hard fans like myself, the nay-sayers and the unacquainted, Spamalot is the perfect night out, suitably ridiculous, occasionally bewildering, but always hilarious! 

Following the plot of the film, Spamalot sees King Arthur and his faithful servant Patsy, as they attempt to enlist various brave and not so brave knights to join him at his court in Camelot. It is here that the voice of God or, more accurately Eric Idle, send Arthur and his Knights on a quest to seek out the Holy Grail. 

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As you would expect it’s absolutely bonkers: most of the set-pieces are in there, from The Knights who say Nee and Black Knight: with the welcome addition of a new character in the Lady of Lake. 

The cast are on great form: Bob Harms is excellent as the pompous, self-absorbed King Arthur, Rhys Owens is on equally good form as Patsy, a polar opposite to his master but certainly the brains of the outfit. Sarah Harlington offers a scene stealing turn as the Lady of the Lake, who has an equally inflated opinion of herself, similar to that of King Arthur. 

They are supported by a fantastic, hard-working cast with most taking on multiple roles, who are all given their moments to shine. Standout scenes include Jonathan Tweedie’s Lancelot and his daring rescue of Prince Herbert and the cast’s spectacular Knights of the Round Table routine. 

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Eric Idle, along with John du Prez have come up with catchy and funny tunes that aren’t strictly in keeping with the show. The Song That Goes Like This takes a much-needed swipe at musicals and their big defining tunes, whilst You Won’t Succeed in Showbiz, takes a well-aimed shot at celebrity culture and has been updated with numerous topical references. In addition, there is the über-camp His Name is Lancelot and of course the old faithful Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. However, it’s Sarah Harlington’s vocals on Whatever Happened To My Part? and her duet with Norton James in Lady of the Lake that really bring the house down. Harlington’s voice is phenomenal: so much power blended with her comic timing certainly make you wish her part was that bit bigger. 

Director Daniel Buckroyd has certainly got the best out of his cast, with all involved displaying a gift for comedy, and allowing room for a spot of adlibbing as well.  Some cast members just about managed to told hold it together, which really added to the fun of it all. 

I really can’t fault this wonderful show. It has everything you would want in a musical: silly, uplifting fun, catchy tunes and a sing-a-long, to boot. You really can’t ask for more. Spamalot is currently on a nationwide tour and is well worth catching when it comes to a theatre near you. 

 On at the Manchester Palace Theatre till the 11th November tickets available here

 

 

Competition – Teletubbies


The Teletubbies are coming to Manchester this month with the premiere of their first EVER stage tour with the show, Big Hugs!
Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po will be taking to the stage at the Palace Theatre, Manchester from Friday 17th until Sunday 19th November in a show filled with love and laughter as they explore the magical world of Teletubbies Land.

We have 1 x family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) to give away for the 4pm performance on Friday 17th November. To be in with a chance to win simply like our Facebook page, leave your name in the comments box and share this post!

The winner will be announced at 7pm on Sunday 12th November!

Tickets and further information for this fabulous family adventure can be found at www.atgtickets.com/shows/teletubbies-big-hugs/palace-theatre-manchester/

Hound of the Baskervilles

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Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Over the years there has been many interpretations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles – at least 20 TV and film adaptations alone, not to mention countless theatrical productions. However I challenge anyone to say they have seen anything quite like Northern Rep’s version of this classic tale… and if you don’t believe me, the proof is currently at the King’s Arms for all too see. 

Arriving at the King’s Arms, Salford for a two week run, this fun filled murder mystery focuses on the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville and the apparent threat to the heir of the Baskerville estate, Henry Baskerville. Super sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his trustee sidekick Dr Jane Watson travel from their home on Baker Street all the way to the Devonshire moors, where they encounter all manner of suspects, with even more suspect accents! Can our daring duo not only solve the case but also survive the horrid hell hound? Time will of course tell. 

Those expecting a faithful and straight laced reworking of this classic tale are in for a shock. This is an innovative, funny and downright brilliant reworking of this classic tale. All parts are played by two hugely talented actors in Michael Justice and Angela Hazeldine. The performances alternate with two other actors, so it’s pot luck as to who you’ll get, however this is the second time I have seen this production with different cast members and in no way has it detracted from my enjoyment – if anything, it’s all the better as it keeps things fresh and slightly unexpected. The script is packed full of so many double entendres and just plain daft gags that maybe it should be called Carry on up the Baskervilles. However the joy really comes from Justice and Hazeldine’s adlibbing and doing their best to put the other off their stride.  

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Granted, they play fast and loose with the original story and by the end the convoluted plot becomes secondary as the show becomes an excuse to have a bloody good giggle.  A spot of audience participation is required and the audience tonight got into the swing of things, laughter is most definitely the order of the day. 

As I said earlier, this was my second time seeing this production and each time has been something different: the first time there were some children in attendance and the second there were none, but both performances were adapted to make all feel welcome, with the first performance being more child friendly, without losing any of the humour. 

It’s the job of any critic to critique any show as honestly as possible, however sometimes there’s no harm in leaving it to audience members to have the final say: I got talking to a lovely couple during the interval and the gentlemen claimed he’s been watching shows with his wife for over 45 years, this he told me is only second show he hasn’t fallen asleep in during all that time and I can assure you he made it through the second half too! 

Go and see this riotous romp at your nearest opportunity – you certainly won’t be disappointed! Fun, filthy and downright fabulous! 

Hound of the Baskervilles is on at Kings Arms till the 25th November 

Tickets available from: http://www.kingsarmssalford.com/whats-on/ 

 

Sunset Boulevard

SUNSET BOULEVARD. Ria Jones 'Norma Desmond'. Photo Manuel Harlan (4)

After firstly workshopping the role of Norma Desmond an incredible 26 years ago Ria Jones finally gets to shine as the leading lady in Leicester Curve’s revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s magnificent Sunset Boulevard which opened at Manchester’s Palace theatre last night.

Forgotten screen siren Norma Desmond (Ria Jones) lives a lonely and reclusive life in her mansion up on Sunset Boulevard, the silent movie star is surplus to requirement now that talkies have taken over tinsel town, yet she refuses to believe there could ever be a bigger star than her. She desperately needs a comeback, an opportunity to make people realise she is still a big deal, cue the arrival of penniless screenwriter Joe Gillis (Danny Mac) who stumbles into her fantasy world and becomes seduced by the luxurious lifestyle and the potential ‘masterpiece’ she feels will make them both their fortune and catapult her back where she belongs.

Ria Jones gives the performance of her life as Norma Desmond in this twisted and tragic love story. Her portrayal of the aging actress, clawing onto her past relevance is sublime. One minute she is carefree, laughing, smiling and full of joy the next full of rage as her insecurities suffocate and threaten to consume her. Fragile yet fearless, talented but tragically cast aside by Hollywood, Jones puts every ounce of her being into her performance and is an absolute triumph.

Danny Mac is equally superb as writer Joe Gillis, his desperation to succeed sucks him into Desmond’s fantasy, vocally this is a hugely demanding role and Mac is more than up to the job as he guides us through this tragic tale, rarely off stage he delivers and then some, he is perfectly cast and entirely believable, his voice smooth and strong.

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High praise must also go Molly Lynch as Betty Schaefer and Adam Pearce as Max Von Meyerling, both are superb in their supporting roles making each hugely memorable.

With deliciously dramatic staging, involving Norma Desmond arriving into most scenes via moving platforms or via theatrically winding staircases Sunset Boulevard really is a show of great style and serious quality. Ben Cracknell’s atmospheric lighting is outstanding, illuminating both Colin Richmond’s set and costumes to perfection, Norma Desmond’s costumes especially are delightfully opulent, velvets and silks are lavishly jewelled and feathered, further rubber-stamping the undeniable diva we see on stage.

Accompanied by a sublime sixteen piece orchestra Sunset Boulevard is not to be missed, dramatic, dark and utterly compelling.

★★★★★

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 4th November book tickets here; http://m.atgtickets.com/shows/sunset-boulevard/palace-theatre-manchester/

Interview – Sunset Boulevard’s Ria Jones

SUNSET BOULEVARD. Ria Jones 'Norma Desmond'. Photo Manuel Harlan SMALL

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s award-winning Sunset Boulevard opens at the Palace theatre next week starring Ria Jones, who received standing ovations every night when performing the role of Norma Desmond at the London Coliseum, joining Ria is Strictly Come Dancing‘s Danny Mac as Joe Gillis, in this compelling story of romance and obsession.

We chatted to Ria Jones ahead of the show opening at Manchester’s Palace theatre on Monday and discovered more about the show that critics have described as a masterpiece.

Opening Night (ON):You have a real history with Sunset Boulevard, where did your involvement first begin?

Ria: Well I first workshopped Sunset Boulevard 26 years ago at Andrew Lloyd Webbers home in Sydmonton where he workshops all his new shows, it’s in a beautiful converted chapel, so whenever he writes a new show he invites family , friends, agents, producers to come and see the piece and then discuss it afterwards, I was 24 at the time so I know I was way too young then to play Norma Desmond so I joked with him and said ‘Maybe one day I’ll do the revival’ then fast forward all those years and there I was stepping in for Glenn Close, very surreal.

ON: What is it about Norma Desmond that you love so much?

Ria: She’s such an iconic character, she’s such a dramatic, strong, powerful woman and yet underneath like us all so fragile and broken, and lonely and insecure. She’s a real mixture, she can flip on a coin, one minute she’s saying ‘Don’t mess with me’ and the next minute she’s absolutely in bits, like so many of us she just can’t deal with aging, she can’t deal with the fact that her career has fallen because talkies came in and she was a silent movie star, and not just a star, a big star, the biggest star of all as they say in the piece and she feels forgotten, she lives as a recluse in this huge mansion on Sunset Boulevard, with her butler Max where she lives a life of delusion, she happens upon a writer called Joe Gillis and their lives collide and they need each other for certain things in their lives that they’re lacking and they use each other, it becomes a very dark love story that results in a very dramatic ending, I think the most dramatic ending of any musical out there.

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ON: How important is it that there are strong lead roles for older ladies to play?

Ria: Very important, it’s so very current too particularly in Hollywood older stars such as Meryl Streep are saying there’s a real lack of parts for them out there and it’s the same in musical theatre too I think you have Mamma Rose in Gypsy, you have Dolly, Mame and Norma Desmond, and I think that’s about it. Also particularly with Norma is a tough role, my voice is different now to how it was when I was in my 20’s or 30’s it changes and I think this role really is a big sing, I’m doing 8 shows a week so I really have to ensure I look after my voice, I’m twice the age of most of the Company and I get envious sometimes when they’re going out after shows, I think ‘oh I wish I could do that’ but I know I can’t anymore, the role is so demanding that I really have to ensure I take care of myself. But I am really, really enjoying it and the challenge of her, I just think she’s such a great role to get your teeth into as an actresses well as a singer and to have more roles out there like this would be brilliant. There’s shouting, there’s some real emotion, I cry, I’m running up and down stairs, each performance is a real workout, I absolutely love it, the end of the show is just so dramatic and by that point I am so emotionally drained it’s a great way to be at the end of the show because it lends itself then to those final scenes.

ON: How does this production differ from recent London Coliseum version?

Ria: The one at the Coliseum was a staged concert, there were costumes and the whole score and dialogue was played out whereas this is a full production with set changes, costumes changes, full orchestra in the pit where the orchestra were on the stage at the Coliseum, this is a proper full production and there’s not been a full production on tour since 2002, there was an actor musicians one but it didn’t tour so this is the first full scale production in many years. Andrew Lloyd Webber doesn’t tour it often, he doesn’t give the right often, it’s a rare outing. We’ve got a 16 piece orchestra which is by far the largest touring orchestra in the UK so to hear the score alone just played by that incredible orchestra I think is worth the ticket price, it’s absolutely stunning.

ON: Are you looking forward to returning to Manchester?

Ria: I cannot wait, I did Evita there when I was 19 at the Opera House, I also did Les Mis in 1992 at the Palace, when I played Fantine, that was the first time Les Mis had been performed outside of London, I had such a great time there. I’ve been back several times since then with High Society, Anything Goes, Acorn Antiques at the Lowry, directed by Victoria Wood playing Mrs Overall, what a difference to Norma Desmond! Manchester is very dear to me because some of my best roles and best times have been in Manchester, it’s such a great, great city and we’re there for 2 weeks which I’m thrilled about, I’m in my hometown at the moment which is wonderful and I’m having such a great week so I’m really happy our next stop is Manchester because after such a high this week I thought I need to go somewhere wonderful to continue this high so Manchester will be brilliant.

SUNSET BOULEVARD. Ria Jones 'Norma Desmond'. Photo Manuel Harlan (4)

ON: Do you have any superstitions or rituals you have to do before taking to the stage?

Rita: I always say a little prayer to myself and to my Nanna who I know watches over me, I’m not terribly religious but I do have a moment between me and her before every show. I’m not a fan of whistling in the dressing room, if I see one magpie I’ll always salute it and I’d never walk under a ladder, and always try to enjoy it as much as possible, when I get nervous I tell myself ‘come on this isn’t life or death’ I do actually get nervous before every show because I want it to be good, people have paid a lot of money so I always want to deliver.

ON: Finally we have to ask is Danny Mac as gorgeous in the flesh?

Ria: He’s an absolute dream, he’s a lovely person to work opposite, lots of people didn’t realise he could sing and I can tell you he’s absolutely brilliant, come and see it and you will be blown away, he’s so fantastic.

Sunset Boulevard opens at the Palace theatre on Monday 23rd October and runs for two weeks until Saturday 4th November, tickets available here; www.atgtickets.com/shows/sunset-boulevard/palace-theatre-manchester/

 

 

The Wipers Times – Ticket Offer!

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Ian Hislop and Nick Newman’s The Wipers Times tells the true and extraordinary story of the satirical newspaper created in the mud and mayhem of the Somme.

The Wipers Times arrives at Manchester’s Opera House on Tuesday 31st October for one week only, direct from a record breaking West End run.

Best available seats for Tuesday-Thursday are only £19.50 using the promotional code ‘WIPERSOFFER‘ at the online check out or via the booking line 0844 871 3018

For tickets head to http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-wipers-times/opera-house-manchester/