Disney on Ice | Dream Big

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Kate Goerner

Created in the late 1980s and seen in over 65 countries around the world, Disney on Ice as a brand is now a firmly established part of the Disney family. And the current tour – billed Dream Big – is indeed a  bit of a dream for fans young and old.

Produced by live family entertainment specialists Feld Entertainment, Dream Big is a lavish all-twirling, all-jumping show that packs in more than enough Disney princes and princesses, songs (and special effects) to keep audiences in a Disney dreamworld.

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For those who are unfamiliar with a Disney on Ice production. Minnie and Mickey act as hosts and introduce segments devoted to various iconic movies – this time round including Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Tangled, Cinderella (complete with coach) and recordings of the soundtracks are played that the skaters perform and mime too.

With a stunning set backdrop and literally dazzling costumes and perfect wigs – we really do see our favourite heroes brought to life in front of our eyes. (It was particularly lovely to see them all regularly waving at audience members throughout the show). The skating was stunning – and for some of the performers (Maui and Sebastian the Crab – I’m looking at you) some in what must be quite tricky costumes.

A real highlight was the (new for this tour) Moana section – the solo skating routine performed by ‘Moana’ to How Far I’ll Go was a perfect example of music, performance and skating combining perfectly. I had goosebumps and a large lump in my throat – just stunning! It was as it had always been on ice!

Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast was a big company number, and a real crowd pleaser, as was Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid.

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Another favourite was the extra-long segment donated to Frozen, that was basically a mini version of the movie. Yes we’ve all heard Let it Go a million times, but it was pretty special seeing a version on ice! With twirling! Yet more goosebumps.

My 3 year old was admittedly a little scared of Ursula the sea witch from The Little Mermaid and the fire-breathing dragon from Sleeping Beauty (we took the opportunity to beat the loo queues and later on get an ice cream when it got a bit too scary for him), but he loved the Genie from Aladdin, Mickey and Minnie, Belle and (of course) seeing Elsa. He genuinely did not want to leave when the house lights went up.

Cynics begone – if there’s a more magical and uplifting way to spend an autumn evening, well…..I’ll get my skates on!

Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages UK Tour ©The Other Richard

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

Big hair, big laughs and even bigger voices, Rock of Ages is lewd, loud and most definitely proud!

This riotous rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza return’s to Manchester this week as part of a new UK tour, with uncomplicated debauchery at the top of its agenda. Right from the opening scenes it’s clear that Rock of Ages is a show which doesn’t take itself too seriously and is more than happy to poke fun at the era, the script, the cast and even the audience who absolutely lap it up.

Rock of Ages UK Tour ©The Other Richard

Rock of Ages transports us back to the 1980’s where small town girl Sherrie (Danielle Hope) and wannabe rock God Drew (Luke Walsh) have headed to Hollywood to pursue their dreams. Things of course don’t quite go according to plan and despite clearly fancying the pants off each other their love story seems more stop than start as they search for their happy ending on the Sunset Strip. Add to this a couple of German property developers who want to turn their beloved Bourbon Room into a snazzy mall and we soon find that not only do they have to try to save themselves but the Strip too.

There’s so much to enjoy about this show that the lack of narrative really doesn’t matter, the cast came here to rock our socks off and that is exactly what they do. It’s clear to see why this feisty and fun show has a huge cult following, not only are the performances top class the show is also incredibly witty with an infectious energy.

Rock of Ages UK Tour ©The Other Richard

Lucas Rush shines as the cheeky narrator Lonny, his boundless energy and naughty charisma make him an absolute joy to watch. Danielle Hope is perfectly cast as Sherrie, belting out the big ballads with apparent ease while her love interest Luke Walsh comes close to stealing the show with his knock-out performance as Drew, add to this a power-house performance from Zoe Birkett as Justine and you’ve got some of the finest voices in musical theatre right there on one stage.

Rhiannon Chesterman and Andrew Carthy as Regina and Franz respectively are an absolute scream, their outrageous duet during Hit Me with Your Best Shot has the audience howling; while audience favourite Kevin Kennedy strikes the right note as bar owner Dennis.

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Director and Choreographer Nick Winston ensures the pace is fast and the choreography is as tight as a rock stars jeans as the incredibly talented cast belt out rock classic after rock classic including The Final Countdown, We Built This City, In Want to Know What Love Is and the infectiously uplifting Don’t Stop Believin’.

It’s cheesy and it knows it but oh so entertaining. With its tongue firmly in its cheek, stunning performances and lots of cheeky fun, Rock of Ages is big, bold, in-your-face theatre which entertains from start to finish.

Catch it at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 29th September tickets available here.

Closets

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

Written by Lloyd Eyre-Morgan and Neil Ely, Closets is an emotive and colourfully courageous journey of self-discovery, strength and celebration.

It’s 1988 and 16 year old Henry (Sam Redford) is struggling to express freely who he is for fear of his bolshy Mum’s (Hayley Tamaddon) refusal to accept his sexuality. In a desperate bid to disappear and escape the daily battles Henry steps inside his closet, travelling forward in time to the very same bedroom 20 years later where he finds shy, tormented Ben (Lloyd Daniels). The year may be different but the difficulties are the same. So begins a coming-of-age journey of exploration as Hope Mill Theatre becomes the scene of the 1969 Stone Wall Riots, Ben’s school toilets and modern day Manchester as the boys travel through time experiencing life defining moments along the way.

Closets is a cleverly constructed, deeply emotive and heart-warmingly joyful piece of theatre. The story touches on many relatable themes such as bullying, suicide and first love as we are swept along on a rollercoaster on emotions. The lovingly crafted script focusses not only on challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community but examines changing attitudes across the years in an honest and relatable way.

Sam Retford is exceptional as Henry, hard to believe this is his musical debut; his performance is confident and assured, engaging the audience entirely. Complementing Retford perfectly is X-Factor’s Lloyd Daniels, as the quiet but tormented Ben whose heartfelt delivery of Neil Ely, Lloyd Eyre-Morgan and Jack Bennetts lyrics packs an emotional punch.

Hayley Tammerdon shines as Henry’s Mum Susan, confused and angry she gives an honest & engaging portrayal of a mother who is ultimately scared of losing her son. Adding many delightful slices of humour is the sensational Sophie Ellicott, she brings genuine wit and laugh out loud joy to the production, her delivery of Protection is a real highlight of the show.

Special mention must also go to powerhouse Kim Tatum, her soulful delivery and witty one-lines add further depth and poignancy to the story.

Ashley M A Walsh’s score creates the perfect soundtrack to this relevant and thought-provoking journey through both hostile and happy times. The 13 original songs ranging from up beat pop numbers to contemporary ballads evoke the sounds of the 80’s perfectly. While Joseph Thomas perfectly lights William Whelton’s punchy choreography.

Closets strikes the perfect balance, delivering both humour and powerful drama, highs are beautifully woven into emotion lows ensuring the story is told with sensitivity and real heart. There is little to criticise here, a quickening up of a couple of scene changes and some tightening tweaks here and there would very quickly take this already brilliant show to the next level, but none of this affects your enjoyment of this uplifting piece of theatre in which the message of love and loving freely is strong, powerful and perfectly judged.

Closets is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Thursday 23rd August, tickets available here.

Madagascar

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Eve and Maisy Powell

Family favourite Madagascar burst onto our screens and incredible 13 years ago, it spawned several sequels and now takes the leap from screen to stage in an all-new Dreamworks musical adaptation.

For those who haven’t seen the film, Madagascar tells the story of four friends from New York’s Central Park Zoo, Alex the Lion, Gloria the Hippo, Marty the Zebra and Melman the Giraffe. The four find themselves on a rather unexpected journey to the crazy world of King Julien’s Madagascar after Marty the Zebra’s dreams of living in the wild don’t quite go according to plan.

We sent out mini reviewers Eve (aged 10) and Maisy (age 7) to give us their verdict on this brand new Selladoor and Hartshorn-Hook Production.

Eve Powell

I absolutely loved the show, it was so colourful and so funny. The dancing was incredible, the cast really worked hard and at one point the animals even did the floss which was a big hit with everyone in the audience.

The adults in the audience enjoyed the show just as much as all the kids. All the characters were brilliant and so inventive but my favourite has to be King Julian who was just so funny. It’s a really, really fun show suitable for all ages.

Maisy Powell

I just loved all the animal costumes, they were brilliant, the songs were great and the dancing was really good too but my favourite thing about the show was how funny it was, my tummy was hurting at the end because I laughed so much especially at King Julian.

Out of all the costumes Melman the Giraffe was my favourite and I thought the penguins were really cute although they are a bit naughty. Children will really love this show and will laugh all the way through.

Madagascar without doubt won over our mini reviewers with its host of colourful characters who impress from the word go. Director Kirk Jameson makes full use of Max Humphries exceptional puppetry design ensuring even the youngest of children will be captivated by this visually engaging and totally charming piece of theatre, while choreography from Fabian Aloise makes certain that the anthem ‘I Like To Move It’ isn’t the only opportunity for the characters to throw some impressive shapes as they twist and twirl to George Noriega and Joel Someillan’s high energy soundtrack.

Matt Terry impresses as the charismatic Alex, he is clearly loving every moment of this his professional stage debut while Jo Parsons has the audience in the palm of his hand with his sensational performance as the brilliantly bonkers King Julien.

Kevin Del Aguila’s script is incredibly witty and keeps young and old entertained from start to finish, with an enormously talented cast, hugely impressive design and an important message of friendship at its heart Madagascar will without doubt leave a great big smile on your face, charming, feel-good family fun!

You can catch Madagascar at Manchester’s Palace theatre until Saturday 18th August tickets available here.

An Officer and a Gentleman

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

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Based on the 1982 Oscar-winning film and bursting with feel-good 80’s favourites including ‘The Final Countdown’, ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ and of course the ultimate ear-worm from the original score ‘Up Where We Belong’, An Officer and a Gentleman marches into Manchester this week.

In true 80’s romantic fashion we have a troubled bad boy in need of taming and a feisty female determined to live life her way until of course romance comes calling, complicating everything. When Zack Mayo rocks up at military boot camp full of swagger, he doesn’t bank on falling for local factory girl Paula nor being put through his paces by drill Sergeant Foley who has had his fill off wannabee officers. The challenge is on; can this angst filled rebel make it as not only an officer but also a gentleman?

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Jonny Fines makes for a convincing Zack, with strong vocals and impressive acting skills he convinces as both the macho cadet and the dependable gentleman, he is playful and hugely likeable. Alongside Fines is an impressive Emma Williams as the strong-willed Paula Pokrifiki who knows her mind and is damned if she’s gonna be stuck in a factory for the rest of her life. Her vocals are sublime as she belts out hit after hit effortlessly. The chemistry between the two is strong and their interactions engaging and believable.

Equally convincing are Jessica Daley and James Darch as Lynette and Sid. Jessica’s stellar vocals and sassy attitude perfectly embody the role of Lynette while James Darch, covering the role of Sid at tonight’s press night, impresses with his strong vocals and powerful performance.

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Yes in parts it’s pretty cheesy with some songs feeling a little shoe-horned in but if you’re looking for an uplifting and entertaining night at the theatre then this certainly hits the spot. The immensely talented cast deliver some stunning performances and offer a fresh take on several 80’s classics via George Dyers inventive orchestration and arrangement, the use of Martika’s ‘Toy Soldiers’ is particularly poignant.

Douglas O’Connell’s video design is projected to great effect against Michael Taylor’s set which is beautifully lit by Ben Cracknell and gives a great sense of entrapment and the need to escape the humdrum of small town life.

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The script may be thin in parts and the action predictable but An Officer and a Gentleman does exactly what it says on the tin, it undoubtedly uplifts and entertains. This is feel-good jukebox fun, the fizz in the air as ‘that scene’ approaches is palpable ensuring the audience get exactly what they came for, escapism, incredible talent, a little bit of drama, a whole lot of romance.

An Officer and a Gentleman is on at the Opera House until Saturday 18th August tickets available here.

Interview | Jonathan O’Boyle | Aspects of Love

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart, Aspects of Love has been wowing audiences at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre. Now as it approaches its final week of performances we caught up with Director Jonathan O’Boyle to hear a little more about his experience directing his third production at the award-winning Ancoats theatre.

Opening Night: How familiar with Aspects of Love were you before joining this production? Is it a show you’ve always wanted to work on?

Jonathan O’Boyle: I’ve always loved the score of Aspects, but I’ve never seen it on stage. I grew up listening to mix tapes of musicals, several being Andrew Lloyd Webber compilations. So invariably Love Changes Everything was on there. I grew up seeing his work and when I trained as an actor, I wanted desperately to be in one of his shows. Now, as a director, it’s an honour to be working on one of his shows. Aspects has a fantastic story and a brilliant score. To me, it’s his most narrative, actor driven show and this really appealed to me. We treated it like a play, where the characters just happened to be singing rather than speaking.

ON: How do you approach directing a new and reimagined production of a classic show like Aspects of Love?

Jonathan: I wanted it to be intimate. Now, I know everyone always says ‘intimate and stripped back’ but that’s really what I wanted and how I saw the show. The audience at the Hope Mill is so close to the action they can touch the actors. This influenced the design. I wanted the audience to be on stage with actors. Many of the locations in Aspects happen to be in cafes, so we decided to have a couple of the front rows of seats at cafe tables as if they were part of the action.

We then approached the rehearsals as if we were working on a play. We looked at character, character backstories, timelines and what the characters wanted and how they went about achieving this. This really deepened the actors connection to the material.

ON: Did the intimate space the production would be presented in play a major part in your directing decisions?

Jonathan: Absolutely. You have to respond to the space you’re directing in, and the Hope Mill is a very specific space with its own unique challenges. I think about the space at every stage of the process, from the casting to the design to the lighting rig to the sound design. Every choice I make has to be for the theatre.

ON: The reviews have been absolutely phenomenal, people are really responding to the show, this must be very gratifying to the cast and creative team?

Jonathan: It’s been incredible yes. We’re all thrilled with how it’s gone down. I’m so proud of the brilliant cast and creative team. We had a joyous rehearsal process (one of my favourite so far) and we said – if no one gets it, at least we had a great time rehearsing it! Thankfully, the audiences are responding to it in the way I’d hoped. I’m in constant awe of the cast and their talent.

We never presume it’s going to be good. In fact, I never know what the audiences are going to make of it or how it’s going to be received until we get an audience in the room. I trust my instinct and hope it resonates with people.

ON: This is your third production at Hope Mill Theatre – what makes this space/team so appealing to direct in?

Jonathan: I love the theatre and the team there. They’re all so welcoming and it’s always a pleasure being back. I’m from Derbyshire myself but my parents grew up in Salford and Rochdale, so I’ve been going to Manchester all my life. I love the vibe and the people there, so Manchester feels like my second home.

ON: Your previous shows at Hope Mill – Hair and Pippin – have both transferred to London. How much of a challenge was restaging them for London? Do you have a favourite of the three?

Jonathan: It is challenging re-staging for a different venue, primarily because the space is never the same and there are often idiosyncrasies that pop up here and there. What’s so brilliant though, is revisiting the material with the company and developing the show even further. You’re able to improve on things from the first time and the actors often find a deeper connection with the show and their characters.

They’re all so different! They had different challenges and were very different in tone. It’s hard to pick between them because I loved all three companies.

ON: What’s next for you?

Jonathan: I’m currently directing the UK Tour of Rain Man starring Mathew Horne and Ed Speleers. Then later in the year I’ll be directing the UK premiere of Ken Urban’s A Guide for the Homesick at Trafalgar Studios and Peter Pan at The Park this Christmas.

Catch Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre until 9th August tickets available here.

Blackpool – What a Shit Place to Die

Three Minute Theatre, Manchester – Fri 20 July 2018

Starring Mark Newsome

Writer – Phil Pearson

Director – Grace Cordell

Reviewed by Eric Potts

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

At only fifty minutes long with no interval this is a real emotional roller-coaster.  We follow the mental descent of Billy Costello – a young, gay, depressed, autistic actor with a drug problem during what could prove to be his last few days on the planet…in Blackpool.

Oldham based actor Mark Newsome portrays Billy with truth, integrity, clarity and a real passion.  Although a one-man play, Newsome delivers duologues within the text as Billy encounters both random strangers and problematic family.  He does this with aplomb, the audience quickly buying into the theatrical device and enjoying the well-scripted content.

Writer, Phil Pearson has delivered a tight and fast-moving script, which Newsome delivers with apparent ease.  Costello’s downward spiral towards attempted suicide is, as you would expect, emotionally charged but deliciously peppered with acidic one-liners and asides that allow the audience to laugh through the tears and create a real empathy with the main character and his demons within.

The main thrust of Costello’s mental anguish would appear to be both his and his family’s struggle with his sexuality.  His other issues, drug-use and autism are featured secondarily within the play by means of some clever writing which came across as half-rap, half incantation.  It worked well.

A few minor directorial tweaks would solve some positioning issues and allow better use of the cleverly conceived projection sequences within the narrative, which should be expanded in any future production to augment the staging.  That said, director Grace Cordell has done a very good job and presented an almost full house with both a production and a performer that should go much further in the future.