Glee & Me

Reviewed by Alison Ruck

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Oh, how wonderful it is to be back at The Royal Exchange Theatre, and what better timing than to be back on their 45th birthday! And what a way to celebrate with the world premiere of Glee & Me.

Let’s dive straight into the deep stuff – the eternal question…what is the meaning of life? A question I’m sure we’ve all pondered at some point in our lives… but the thought of it leads to some sort of existential dread. Well, that question is one that Lola seeks to find the answer to, after she gets the horrific news that she is terminally ill. So, she sets herself a promise to do two things: discover the meaning of life – and have all the sex!

Glee & Me is written by Stuart Slade and won The Bruntwood prize for playwriting in 2019. It tells the story of a sharp-witted, sixteen-year-old Lola, who is diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. Despite the way the title reads, it’s not at all a play filled with ‘glee’, on the contrary as glee stands for the shortened version of the particular brain tumour Lola is battling against, glioblastoma multiforme.

The one-woman play is as equally heart breaking as it is quick witted and humorous. Liv Hill as Lola is absolutely sensational. At no point did I believe I was watching an actress on stage: I was there with Lola, listening intently as she tells us her story. Raw, beautiful and poignant.

Slade’s story is a sad one, but its also one of love, hope and gratitude. There are some beautifully written lines, of an almost poetic nature, leaving you to ponder your own life and the love within it.  Contrasted with the sharp-witted character he has created, the humorous elements not only add light to what is a dark topic but draws you into Lola’s story even more, helping you relate to her relationships, her youthful nature and her troubles.

There is no better space for this production than The Royal Exchange, as the in-the round environment of the theatre only added to the conversational dimensions of the play. The stage and lighting design, by Anna Yates and Jess Bernberg, were carefully considered not only for the space but for the desolate moments with the play to draw you back to the painful reality that Lola was experiencing. The subtle lighting changes revealed and extenuated the pain and difficulties that Lola faced, becoming more frequent throughout the play and climaxing to a peaceful and enriching ending.

Yet even in these darkest moments of the play, you’re quickly snapped out of them back to the hilarious one liners and relatable topics that had the audience thoroughly amused. It’s an ode to a great writer and a great actress for a play such as this (and a relatively short 1 hour 25 minutes straight through), to make you both laugh out loud and then cry within minutes.

The heart wrenchingly beautiful play is one that needs to be experienced by audiences, and I hope and expect to see this production do great things in the future. Glee & Me is a reminder to us all to find joy even in the darkest of times, something which we have all strived for in the last year or so. As Lola says, “You’ve got to laugh, or it’ll destroy you”.

Glee & Me is on at The Royal Exchange until Saturday 30th October tickets available here.

Bat Out Of Hell

Reviewed by Michelle Ewen

Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The ‘Bat’ is back in town! Four long years since its world premiere at the Opera House Manchester in 2017, Bat Out of Hell – the award-winning hit musical – has finally come home to Quay Street. Announcing its return with a victorious lap of roaring motorcycles, smoking tyres, gasoline fumes and lashings of leather, this is a production you could see, hear and taste before anyone had even set foot on stage!  

A frenetic fusion of Peter Pan meets Mad Max, Jim Steinman originally conceived Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell as a musical. It took four decades for that vision to be fulfilled – and it was worth the wait.

Enter Strat (Glenn Adamson), the charismatic leader of The Lost – a collective of rock n’ roll-loving misfits who, following a DNA-freezing earthquake, are condemned to be forever 18. Living in a network of tunnels beneath Obsidian (formerly known as Manhattan), The Lost are the scourge of city leader Falco (Rob Fowler), whose disaffected daughter Raven (Martha Kirby) and hilariously disenchanted wife Sloane (Sharon Sexton) reside with him in Falco Towers.

When Raven discovers a discarded T-shirt following The Lost’s latest protest in Falco Square, she locks eyes with its owner – Strat – setting the two on a romantic collision course that bristles with high-octane energy. Raven is as determined to become one of The Lost as her parents are to stop her, but with their own relationship in dire need of a fuel injection, can Falco and Sloane get on the same page when it comes to their daughter’s future?

Scored with nearly 20 Meatloaf and Jim Steinman classics, this rambunctious rock opera comes screaming out of the gates with ‘All Revved Up with No Place to Go/Wasted Youth’. Act One continues to pack a punch with a sizzling ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ – memorably staged atop of a convertible car – and an achingly tender rendition of ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’ by out-of-step lovebirds Zahara (Joelle Moses) and Jagwire (James Chisholm). 

By contrast, Act Two starts its engine in comparative idle – a flurry of duets slowing the pace right down. Once again, Fowler and Sexton – reprising their original roles – stand out with ‘What Part of My Body Hurts the Most’, whilst Tink (Killian Thomas Lefevre) infuses ‘Not Allowed to Love’ with palpable yearning. When ‘Dead Ringer for Love’ kicks in, the production bursts back into life; then it’s a home run of stone-cold classics right to the final curtain.

This is one sexy, fleshy, no-holds-barred production with flashes of pink thong, straddled laps galore and blood-smeared abs all making an appearance on stage. Not for the faint-hearted, Jay Scheib’s superb direction errs towards comedy rather than grotesque – lending a light-hearted feel to the whole production.

There was so much to love about the cast in Version 1.0 of this musical, but rest assured, those who are returning for Version 2.0 can find joy in the performances of the latest additions to the billing. 

Glenn Adamson’s Strat is fresh and enchanting, embodying the ‘forever young’ aesthetic of The Lost, whilst Martha Kirby’s Raven is his perfect ‘Wendy’ – a wistful romantic on the cusp of love; however, the standout performance is BOOH veteran Sharon Sexton as Sloane, who goes for every laugh and smashes every vocal.  

Jon Bausor understood the assignment – bringing us a set and costume design that hits every dystopian note. Falco Towers, suspended above ‘The Deep End’ and revealed to us via roaming videocam, is a particular triumph. It feels like a truly innovative use of space, as throbbing motorcycles, a vintage car and a sofa take it in turns to appear and disappear stage left and right.

Xena Gusthart’s clever choreography gives every member of the ensemble the opportunity to shine – especially during the riot scenes and the ‘push me-pull me’ love ballads.  

Of course, this production is all about Steinman’s music. Under the supervision of Michael Reed, the band are an absolute knockout – bringing us home with a final surprise number dedicated to the hitmaker who passed in April this year. Having bounced around in their seats and sung their hearts out, the audience is finally unleashed to give a roaring ovation. 

For this reviewer, Bat Out of Hell continues to be the benchmark by which all musicals are measured… For Crying Out Loud, You Know I Love You.  

Bat Out of Hell is on at the Opera House until Saturday, 2 October. Find out more and purchase tickets here.

The Rocky Horror Show

Reviewed by Nicky Jones

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Manchester’s Opera House re-opening week has been filled with glitz, glamour and fabulous fancy dress – the raucous Rocky Horror Show is back in town on Manchester Pride week!

As we headed into the venue surrounded by fishnet stockings, French maid’s outfits and copious amounts of sparkle, it was certain we were in for an incredible night of entertainment.

Rapidly heading towards its 50th anniversary, cult phenomenon The Rocky Horror Show is still as popular as ever. Even before the show began the audience erupted in cheers and applause, as the best-dressed audience member stole the limelight – entering the auditorium in his very own fabulous Frank-N-Furter costume.

The show begins with high energy from the audience, as the opening number Science Fiction/Double Feature proved a big hit. The story begins with Janet (Hayley Flaherty) and Brad (Ore Oduba)’s day not really going as planned, as the prim and proper couple break down in their car and attempt to seek help at the creepy castle two miles down the road. Considering all they wanted to do was borrow a phone, the pair get a lot more than they bargained for.

The show really kicks in once we meet Frank-N-Furter (Stephen Webb) and the full ensemble – everybody was up dancing and singing along within the first 30 minutes of the show. There was no waiting for the inevitable Time Warp curtain call here! The audience also built up a gorgeous atmosphere during Brad and Janet’s A Light Over at the Frankenstein Place, taking out their phone torches and glow sticks out for the number.

A stand-out performance comes from Narrator – Philip Franks. His quick wit, cheeky jokes and comedic timing had the audience shouting out heckles from his first line, and his jokes rely on an equally quick-witted loyal audience playing along with him. He did not get caught out once, and he gave it back as quick as he got it!

The Time Warp arrived in the show much earlier than I expected, and it had the whole auditorium up and dancing. Frank-N-Furter’s entrance was another stand out moment, with Sweet Transvestite being lapped up by the audience. It was raunchy, sassy and vocally powerful.

The creative team have done a superb job to create such a visually stunning show, from the set to the costumes. The set transitions beautifully from rainy windswept roads to the castle interior, and each one sets the scene perfectly. The costumes have a modern twist, but keep a close match to the character’s classic outfits from the original 1975 film. All of the costumes are clearly well loved throughout the show’s loyal fanbase, with some remarkable fancy dress being showcased within the auditorium and all over the cities bars following the show, I’m sure.

This show is a guaranteed party which features many timeless classics, including the show-stopping Time Warp. Catch The Rocky Horror Show in Manchester until Sunday 29th August – it’s the perfect way to start your Pride weekend! Tickets available here: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-rocky-horror-show/opera-house-manchester/

The Woman In Black

Reviewed by Alison Ruck

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


A horror on stage? How on earth will that work? A question I asked myself before seeing this production. Susan Hill’s acclaimed ghost story: you may or may not be familiar with the 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe, whilst the big screen benefits from visual trickery and CGI effects that would have you believe everything you see, a live theatrical performance with a mere cast of two doesn’t benefit from these luxuries.

As stated from The Actor played by Antony Eden, an audience can use their imagination, and as truth be told your imagination will be the thing that haunts you the most through this production.


Arthur Kipps, played by Robert Goodale, is a lawyer obsessed with a curse that he believes was cast over him by The Woman in Black. He engages a young actor, played by Mr Eden, to help him tell his terrifying story. As we begin to observe the innocent and jovial play within a play, the story delves deeper into Kipps’ darkest memories, and you find yourself whisked away to an eerie estate in the country as they share his chilling tale.

Goodale and Eden present two very well-rounded characters. Goodale’s initial reservations about ‘acting’ out his tale of dread soon give way to a brilliant multi-role performance through which he changes with ease. His farcical moments give the piece much needed release from tension, ultimately lulling you into a false sense of security!

Eden offers a solid performance from start to finish, mimicking the reality of the audience by experiencing the horror as he tells it.

The sparce, seemingly small spacing is drenched with cloth and minimal décor, immediately creating that unsettling atmosphere, and as the production unravels the wonder of the staging is made apparent. The clever use of staging combined with simple yet effective lighting, creates the illusion of the manor house where the terrifying events took place. The shadows, created by the lighting designer (Kevin Sleep) epitomises a true and classic horror façade, amplifying those eerie scenes of anticipation and fear.

The Palace theatre seams the perfect setting: the theatre that dates back to 1891, seemed to creek through the silences, and every footstep or rustling from the audience was magnified by the expectant thrill of horror within the production.

The simple yet well-timed elements of surprise and jumpy moments were presented ingeniously. The audience follow each one with a laugh at their own vulnerability, which instinctively and somewhat disappointingly releases you from the clutches of Kipps’ tale. 

The sound design, by Sebastian Frost, is yet another element that makes your spine tingle and your hands grip ever so slightly tighter to the seat. This in some ways achieves that big screen cinema feel of surround sound, with the clinkering noises and deathly screams echoing all around you and the theatre, thus mirroring perfectly the horror unfolding on stage from the two brilliant actors.

The power of the production truly lies in the suspense and expectancy. As a piece of theatre I really enjoyed it, but as a big horror fan watching a horror play, I wanted more: more suspense, more jumps, more thrill. However, this could be seen as a testament to the production that it left me wanting more of the elements it does so well. 

Overall a brilliant piece of theatre – though not for the weak of heart. If you’re looking for a thrilling evening of suspense and classic horror then this thrilling ghost story will satisfy your imagination. 

Playing at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until Saturday 28thAugust. 

Tickets from £13: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-woman-in-black/palace-theatre-manchester/

HopeFest

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

The sunshine has arrived just in time to herald the start of Hope Fest, a 3-week program of outdoor arts and cultural events located in the heart of trendy Ancoats.

The festival takes place from the 16th July through to 8th August and promises a mix of comedy, music, theatre and special events that will cater to all tastes!

Events include various shows from Matt & Phred’s music sessions, a celebration of Jazz, Funk and Soul. There is also Dog Fest, a family friendly event, showcasing some talented, paw-fect pooches, hosted by Hope Mill Patron Hayley Tamaddon. In addition,there is a tip of the hat to some iconic mega stars, including Dolly Parton, with The Dolly Show, performed by one of the best Dolly impersonators around; as well as a musical extravaganza in the form of Judy & Liza, which looks at Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli’s 1964 London Palladium show.

The festival kicked off with a huge statement of intent, in the guise of Jason Manford’s Comedy Club: a comedy showcase highlighting the cream of British stand up, and an opportunity to unearth some undiscovered comedic gems.

Tonight’s show featured four comics Matt Rees, James Allen, Julian Deane and our MC for the evening Sally-Anne Hayward. Hayward offers a mix of razor sharp observations on feminism, along with a scathing critic of clap-for-carers, which is bang on point. This, interspersed with lewd gags, and the tried-and-tested audience ‘banter’ sees Hayward do a solid job of setting the tone for the evening.

First on is Matt Rees, whose sardonic routine mainly centres on his battle with alcoholism and his continued sobriety. In addition, there are some set pieces focusing on a Mega Bus journey and his stint working at Poundland that are good fun. However, it is Rees’ darker material that is his main strength, with gags about dwarf sex and dementia, which are as funny as they are smart. It is a low-key, droll, but welcome offering from Rees.

Next up is James Allen, a Salford University Graduate, who packs a great deal into his short set. Focusing on Allen’s awkwardness. This is a set filled self-deprecating gags, about awkward first sexual encounters and his time as a drama student. It’s a silly, light routine from Allen, and because of its short running time leaves you wanting more from his awkward adventures.


Following the interval is the show’s headline act Julian Deane. The gags come thick and fast, with Deane working through a-near-the-knuckle routine focusing on relationships, and fatherhood. Some punch lines are as brutal as they are funny, helped along by Deane’s deadpan delivery. What is appealing about his routine is that despite the confidence with which it is delivered Deane is often the butt of his own jokes, which is somewhat refreshing. This was a great headline set from a comic who I’d definitely be interested in seeing again.

The opening night of Hope Fest was an absolute triumph, a great indicator of what lies ahead for this bold, innovative festival and a wonderful addition to Manchester’s vibrant cultural scene.

More information on Hope Fest as well as tickets can be found at https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/hope-fest

Bloody Elle – A Gig Musical

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Sitting inside one of Manchester’s most beautiful buildings, the excitement and anticipation for what is for many the first time back inside a theatre in over fifteen months cannot be underplayed.

From front of house, to centre stage, you could see the effort, love and pure joy that has gone into this re-opening. The atmosphere was palpable, and that wasn’t because England had just beaten Germany in a knockout game of football for the first time in over fifty-five years (although that might have just added a little extra something). Being in the audience, for the Royal Exchange and Rebel Productions’ world premiere in the current climate felt like a secret special treat.

Bloody Elle isn’t like your usual Royal Exchange offering, immediately the audience barrier is not only broken but well and truly smashed, as Elle addresses the audience directly from the off, refreshingly introducing the sound and lighting operating team as if it were part of the set of her gig.

‘Bloody Elle – A gig Musical,’ is a one-woman-show, set to an original score, written and performed by the astonishing Lauryn Redding. The story is of self-professed ‘potty mouth’ Danielle (Elle) who has been brought up on ‘cloud rise,’ by her widowed mother. Elle or ‘Gobshiiiite’ as her mother calls her, works at Chips and Dips which is ‘pretty good craic…and you get free chips.’ Here she meets newbie Eve, and the rest as they say is…. a two and a half hour, hilarious, uncompromising, fresh, original, genre-breaking, ‘gig musical.’

Redding is a force of nature and you can’t take your eyes off her. Not only does she fully command the auditorium for two and a half hours, she has the audience firmly in the palm of her hand. Full of witty, punchy one-liners, and hard-hitting truths that make you laugh out loud, and your insides squirm simultaneously, Redding’s writing is sensational, and the audience not only clings on to Elle’s every word, but we feel it deeper than maybe we are comfortable admitting. The way the piece takes a free-flowing route in and out of spoken word, prose and song is remarkable and as if performing a one-woman-show, playing an acoustic and an electric guitar whilst cleverly looping your whole set isn’t enough, Redding’s singing voice is equally sublime, effortlessly moving from northern busker vibes to more soulfully fueled riffs that really show off her excellent vocal capabilities. This original score is raw and current, yet also feels long-established and familiar as you find yourself nodding in enjoyment.

Bloody Elle’ is directed by the Royal Exchange’s joint Artistic Director Bryony Shanahan, who does a wonderful job here of bringing all the elements together seamlessly. Stoodley’s stripped back design, together with Webster’s atmospheric lighting, are both extremely effective. It makes the whole evening feel really intimate, almost like you’ve cheated your way inside a live gig and a theatre show all in the one ticket and it’s almost too good to be true.

Towards the end you can see Redding shedding her character’s layers and allowing the rawness and truth of the story to surface. Coming out isnt easy it cuts you open from the inside,’ this is a story of love, heartbreak, acceptance and everything in between and the poignancy of watching Elle’s story unfold whilst Pride is being celebrated throughout the world is certainly not lost.

The entire experience is a cathartic and hugely uplifting one at the same time.

Yes, ‘the gig’ could quite possibly have been condensed a little, but your eyes are never left wandering, aand your attention doesn’t stray for that matter, either.

Shanahan admits in her Director’s note that without Covid this piece may not have even been written and it’s no mistaking that a piece like this would possibly never have been programmed on the main stage at the Royal Exchange; certainly a little nugget of joy to come out of this past year.

Bold, bright and brash, the Royal Exchange’s first socially distanced, re-opening offering certainly packs a hefty punch.

‘Bloody Elle- A Gig Musical’ runs until the 17th July tickets available via » Bloody Elle (royalexchange.co.uk)

Vignettes

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Following a hugely successful run back in February of 2020, HER Productions in conjunction with Alex Keenlan, return to Hope Mill Theatre with a new set of Vignettes: a series of short plays from some of Manchester’s finest writers.

With six stories showcased, there is something for everyone, from family drama to sci-fi, kitchen sink to sitcom, all sharing the common theme of humanity. All have something to say about the world we live in.

It’s a smart choice to open with Fresh Meat: a sharp, fun story of empowerment as Abbi (Carrie Crookall) takes the plunge to visit a strip club, where she meets sassy dancer Frankie (Shireen Ashton). Despite their initial difference, the two ladies have more in common than they think. The script is packed with some punchy dialogue and two really fun performances.

The next offering  is Wildfires, a story looking at discovery and being out of your comfort zone. Niamh (Amy Gavin) reluctantly joins a retreat in the hope of making new friends and seeking out some answers, but things don’t quite pan out as they should. Again, a sharp, witty script with some solid work from the ensemble cast.

Closing the first act is XYV, a dystopian science fiction drama, which explores themes of gender, power, and the consequences of our actions. Performed by Elaine McNicol and Emily Dowson, with terrific sound design from Andrew Glassford, this bold, daring piece attempts to pack a great deal into its short running time.

First up following the interval is To Have and to Hold, a beautifully written, directed and performed piece focusing on the relationship between Ange (Joanne Heywood) and Barry (Shaun Hennessy), a pair of championship winning ballroom dancers stopped from doing the thing they love by an oh so familiar enemy. Containing some great gags and more laugh-out-loud one-liners, this is the perfect way to start act two.

The penultimate offering is, It’s a Pea Picking Privilege, a bitter sweet slice of social realism, as Aggie (Sophie Ellicott) and her daughter, Alice (Carla Rowe) discuss identity, and life’s struggles in a not-too-distant past. With a script filled with humour and pathos, it certainly leaves you wanting to learn more about this fractured mother and daughter unit.

The show closes with Signs, a look at loss, grief and forgiveness. Spiritualist Eileen (Wendy Albiston) works with sisters Amanda (Francesca White) and Jess ( Liz Simmonds) as they both deal with their sister’s illness in very different ways. Packed with emotion and a sprinkling of humour, this dark comedy seems the fitting finale to bring the production to a close.

Vignettes will have something for everyone, containing a tale or two that we can all relate to and a timely reminder that whilst live entertainment has been decimated throughout this pandemic, there are still stories to be told, with talented creative’s ready to tell them by whatever means they can.  

Vignettes is on at Hope Mill Theatre till 3rd July

Tickets available from: https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/vignettes

Hushabye Mountain

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First performed at the Crewe Lyceum in 1999, Hope Mill Theatre’s streamed revival of Hushabye Mountain brings the Jonathan Harvey penned play to a new audience at a time when living through a pandemic is something we can all relate to.

The strong opening where we see Danny pass from his earthly life to the sounds of his mother Beryl singing one of his childhood favourites ‘Feed The Birds’ sets the scene for this heartfelt piece where the brutality of the HIV/AIDS epidemic rips through the very heart of each character, leaving its unflinching and tragic mark.

As Danny sits in limbo waiting for confirmation that he can officially ‘pass on’; his friends and family left behind reflect and reforge their relationships and lives without him.

Though the timeline moves about considerably from Danny’s life pre-diagnosis to after his passing Nick Bagnall’s strong direction ensures clarity allowing the audience to closely follow events as they unfold and reflect in real time with the characters.

Despite the heavy subject matter Harvey’s wit and skill for creating characters with true grit and huge heart shines through. This stellar cast pour themselves into this piece and the reward for the audience is deeply moving.

Nathan McMullen floods Danny with life, making his diagnosis all the more tragic. He draws you in & quickly establishes the character as someone you’d always have at the top of any guest list, fun, flirty and bursting with heart. His fears are displayed openly and honestly as reality hits and his dreams fade.

The scene between McMullen & Layton Williams where Danny makes plans for his funeral is devastating in its impact. Beautifully delivered by both and although heartbreaking is peppered with wit, genuine affection and buckets of love. Williams gives a superb performance as Connor, a role very different from what we’ve seen him in before, he convinces entirely.

Similarly the hospital scene between Matt Henry as Lee and McMullen as Connor is powerful in its poignancy as the reality of what is to come hits home.

Jodie Prenger as Beryl, Connor’s Mum gives a truly memorable performance. Through her seemingly manic ramblings we see a mother searching for atonement from the guilt she feels after Connor’s farther forced her to cut ties with Connor when he came out. Her mind has been destroyed by the overwhelming guilt she feels as she appears as Mary Poppins and Judy Garland, two of Connor’s favourite icons, we’re transported to a happier time for them both where we imagine them watching Hollywood classics accompanied by snuggles on the sofa. Not physically able to protect her baby anymore her song now gently sends him peacefully to sleep.

This strong cast lift Harvey’s words and deliver them with heartfelt commitment shining a light on the complexities of love and loss. There is also hope as combination therapies begin to make an impact while Jonathan Harvey’s wit is never far away, shining through the tension and tragedy.

Powerful theatre bursting with heaps of heart.

Streaming until 20th June tickets available https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/hushabye-mountain

Meet Me at Dawn

Reviewed by Alison Ruck


Indoor theatre is back! And where better to see your first live piece of theatre in over a year than at the beautiful Hope Mill Theatre. 

There’s honestly no better feeling than being back sat in a theatre waiting for the lights to go down and in HER Production’s ‘Meet Me At Dawn’, once the lights went down I was engrossed from start to finish. 

With it being a relatively small theatre, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of Covid restrictions and audience numbers but was pleasantly surprised to see how much the theatre has done to ensure the seating can be socially distanced whist not affecting the full audience atmosphere too much. With added Perspex screens and wider rows, I felt I could enjoy the fulltheatre-feel safely. 

The stage is set rather sparsely with minimal set and lighting. We’re immediately thrown into the action and introduced to Robyn (played by Helen O’Hara) and Helen (played by Susan Jayne-Robinson), a young couple who find themselves washed up on a distant shore, following a boating accident. It’s clear from the offset that something is amiss, but it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what until much later in the piece.

Some key themes are introduced briefly early on and later revisited more in depth; this gives the piece a nice flow and allows it space to grow.

I found myself initially wondering where the story would go and how much could be explored on what seemed to be a simple, static set, located on an island beach.

However, as the piece went on, emotions rose and the actors really hit their stride and I was pleasantly surprised with the range and depth the actors displayed during some of the more emotional moments of the piece. Sound and lighting enhanced the emotional moments of the piece in the most subtle way, which truly draws you in at those times. 

HER Productions produce a range of work with a female voice at the core, and this is clear to see through the pure and honest connections that actors Helen, Susan and director Ellie Rose bring to life throughout this production. As a woman watching this show, it is so easy to see your own relationships through the characters, be that friendships, mother/daughter, or romantic. This adds to the emotion at the end of the piece (without giving too much away) when the plot resolves.

The production, which is 1 hour 20 minutes straight through, is a touching story about love and grief and all the emotions that come with it: sadness, anger and eventually peace. The production really takes you with it on its journey through these emotions and by the end leaves you with a real sense of heartbreak and considering your own relationships and their importance.

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2


Meet Me At Dawn is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 29th May. Tickets are available at: hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/meet-me-at-dawn

C.O.N.T.A.C.T

📷 Phil Tragen

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest


Over the last 14 months many of us have had a great deal of time to take stock and reflect on the world around us, so wouldn’t it be exciting to enter the head space of someone different for a short while, and become immersed in their world.

Well for 50 minutes you can, with the unique production of C.O.N.T.A.C.T brought to audiences by Aria Entertainment, WEF Productions and The Lowry, staged either at Media City and/or a Manchester City Centre.

We were told prior to the event to meet near the tram stop at Media City and to bring a brolly: this after all is Salford where the city and grey sky fit like hand in glove. In addition we were asked to download the C.O.N.T.A.C.T app for your smartphone of choice and to bring a set of earphones.

📷 Phil Tragen

We are soon introduced to Sarah (Chloe Gentles), a young women with a lot going on in her head: from the uncomfortable fitting of her bra to the odd feeling in the pit of her stomach, all the while taking in the sounds of the city, lost in her own little bubble.

However her world is soon turned on it’s head with the introduction of Raphael (Cellan Scott), a mysterious stranger who knows more about Sarah then she knows about herself.

Sarah and Raphael soon begin a journey of discovery and reflection which will change Sarah forever.

C.O.N.T.A.C.T was first performed in Paris at the height of the pandemic, moving to London last summer and garnering huge praise for it’s bold, innovative attempt to stage live theatre. After all we can’t order a drink without an app, so why shouldn’t we enjoy theatre in the same way?

📷 Phil Tragen

Both Gentles and Scott do not utter a world throughout, with both giving visual, expressive performances whilst their dialogue is drip fed into our conscious’ via the app. The two actors performances, in conjunction with the highly impressive 3-D sound design allow you to switch off and become totally immersed in Sarah’s world, so much so that as we strolled around the grounds of the Blue Peter Garden I became aware that I was part of the production, as baffled on lookers watched a group of people with headphones observing two others have a silent but very heated debate.

This unique, production is the perfect reminder of how much we need human connection and the importance of looking after not only ourselves but also looking out for others. No matter what challenges we may face, there can always be a solution found.

C.O.N.T.A.CT is on in Manchester and at Media city until the 27thJune. Tickets available at: https://thelowry.com/whats-on/contact-salford-quays/

Critically-acclaimed outdoor show C-O-N-T-A-C-T comes to Salford & Manchester in May

Aria Entertainment and WEF Productions have announced that the critically-acclaimed
outdoor production C-o-n-t-a-c-t will run for six weeks from Tuesday 18 May – 29 June 2021.


This immersive, two-hander outdoor performance featuring a captivating 3D sound design will
run in partnership with The Lowry in two locations – Salford Quays and central Manchester following a hugely successful run in London in autumn 2020.

This innovative production opened to 4* reviews from The Guardian and the i, with The Times
calling it “a tantalising vision of a new kind of theatre.” It will be one of the first live theatre show to open in Manchester & Salford following theatre closures last year.

Originally created by Samuel Sené and Gabrielle Jourdain and premiering in France with
French production company Musidrama last summer in a world where social distancing became
the ‘new normal’, this timely story of a moving and unexpected encounter explores the themes
of mental health and anxiety through the eyes of Sarah as she is approached by someone she
believes to be a stranger. She discovers that he can hear her thoughts but how? Who is this
man? Dive into her mind in this unique sensory and immersive new show and experience
theatre like never before.

The show runs for 50 minutes without an interval and audiences download the audio from the
app which is a completely new piece of technology synchronizing the spectators and actors,
allowing the show to play with theatrical concepts and a new form of dramaturgy. Audiences of
no more than 17 per show will purchase their tickets online and will then receive a link to
download the app and exact location details.

The show complies with the safety and hygiene measures arts as set out by the government. This pedestrian performance is an outdoor promenade experience for small groups of up to 17 and adheres to strict social distancing
between audience members. It is also an audio experience which involves no direct speaking of
any actor in the play.

Tickets can be purchased via The Lowry’s website Contact | What’s On | The Lowry


Immersive drive-in cinema SecretCity comes to Manchester

Reviewed by Nicky Jones

As one of the first live events to happen in Manchester after the third national lockdown,
it was a welcome treat to attend SecretCity’s Opening Night!

Happening at EventCity throughout summer 2021, we were given chance to have an early experience and watch the 2020 remake of The Secret Garden at the drive-in cinema.

Arriving into SecretCity, we were greeted by an immersive Alice in Wonderland enchanted tunnel, complete with a water pistol armed dancing mushroom and a zebra on stilts.

As we followed the journey round, we saw an Alice in Wonderland scene with a vibrant butterfly who threw a giant beach ball our way! This was a fantastic welcome, and really set the tone for the rest of the event.

Before the film, a DJ set was blasted out of speakers and on radio waves – perfect for a party in the car!

The SecretBar was a huge hit with attendees, including a popular beer garden area for catching up with friends. The drinks were flowing and plenty of hot food was on offer to warm us up.

Spectacular aerial artists and roaming performers put on a stunning show throughout the build up to the film.

Popcorn in hand, we headed back to the car for the film to begin. A light show and pyrotechnics were a feast for the eyes in the last few moments before the film began, whilst the DJ encouraged the audience to flash their car lights and honk their horns!

Various films are being shown throughout the summer on the UK’s biggest LED outdoor screen, but the stunning remake of The Secret Garden was the perfect choice for opening night.

There are plenty of photo opportunities at SecretCity – so dress up and enjoy a night out from the comfort of your own car!

Fancy it?
Tickets are £35 per car, available to purchase on: https://parknpartymcr.co.uk/secret-city/

What’s on the schedule?
Wonder Woman (1984) | Thursday 15th April | 9pm
Bridesmaids | Wed 21st April | 8:30pm
Onward | Saturday 24th April | 4pm
Greenland | Sunday 2nd April | 8pm
Mulan (2020) | Saturday 7th May | 4pm
The Greatest Showman | Sunday 8th May | 4pm