South Pacific

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Credit: Johan Persson

Rather surprisingly that hottest place in Manchester last night wasn’t the mythical island of Bali Ha’i central to the plot of South Pacific (this was due the fabulous air con at the Manchester Opera House), however make no bones about Daniel Evans’s revival of this Roger and Hammerstein classic is one of the hottest tickets in town!

From the much-praised Chichester Festival Theatre production, South Pacific is a dual love story. The first involves a French plantation owner and an American nurse; the second an American GI, and a native Tonkinese woman. All four find themselves on an island in the South Pacific, with the spectre of World War 2 hanging over them. However, it’s not war that threatens their relationships, but their past lives, clashes of culture and most certainly current prejudices that stand in the way of true love.

Credit: Johan Persson

Cards on the table I’ve never seen South Pacific, so seeing racism tackled in such a forthright manner was quite unexpected, especially when the prejudice came in the guise of the production’s ‘heroine’, nurse Ensign Nellie Forbush. When Oscar Hammerstein penned the lyrics to ‘You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’ over 70 years ago he hoped that the subject of racial equality would have improved but sadly we’re not quite there yet.

With such a weighty subject matter the production requires some powerhouse performances and lucky for us that’s exactly what we get. Julian Ovenden is in sublime form as plantation owner, Emile de Becque. Charming, charismatic, and tortured, his rendition of ‘This Nearly was Mine’ is the highlight of the night from a show jam-packed with highlights. Opposite him is the equally excellent Gina Beck as Nurse Forbush, a performance packed with energy, like a 4tth of July firework set she draws your attention throughout, radiating warmth and joy which makes the characters prejudices all the more shocking.

Credit: Johan Persson

In addition, there are some fine supporting performances Joanna Ampil puts in a great comedic turn as Bloody Mary, the personification of a survivor, doing all she can to protect herself and family. Whilst Rob Houchen as Lieutenant Cable and Sera Maehra as Liat, bring something wonderfully different to the second love story. Houchen with his delicate vocals on the aforementioned, ‘You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’ is superb while Maehara opens the production with a beautifully haunting dance routine, which then feature throughout.

As well as Amil’s Bloody Mary, there is additional light relief from Douggie McMeekin’s scene stealing, Luther Billis, a dodgy GI, with a lot of fingers in a lot of pies, think Dad’s Army’s Private Walker and you’re on the right track.

Credit: Johan Persson

Of course, being such a classic South Pacific has some big ensemble numbers in its arsenal, from the hugely infectious ‘There is Nothin’ Like A Dame’ to the bright and breezy ‘I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa my Hair’, that will have you itching to sing along.

Director Daniel Evans’ South Pacific has a contemporary feel to it and is all you could want from a night at the theatre, fantastic performances, great show tunes and more importantly a social commentary on racism, which sadly still blights society today. 

South Pacific is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 23rd July tickets available here.

Lord of The Dance

Reviewed by Robyn Molyneux

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Last night I had the pleasure of attending one of Manchester’s most beautiful theatres, the Palace theatre. The architecture is just stunning, and having taken my seats with no pre-conceptions of what I was about to see, I was blown away by the talent shown by the dancers that made up the troupe for this mid-week evening performance; the energy was infectious, and it is clear to see the hard work and dedication that goes into preparing for and delivering each performance.

I wont lie, I’m not sure what I had expected but this felt like a dream you have had when you’ve had too much cheese before bed, the kind of randomness that just sort of works!

In almost equal measure was the cheesiness and fun that the show delivered, with a loose storyline of good triumphing over evil! The show was full of charisma and embodied the famous style of Michael Flatley, cut from the same cloth with light-hearted comedy moments and showcasing the talents of those toes whilst flexing and “blue steel” posing all at once.

Between the main acts of dancers was a solo female singer who although talented, felt like she was drafted in to give the audience a break from the high energy show however, I found a bit out of kilter with the rest of the shows essence. Also, there were two violinists who played beautifully that accompanied the dancers throughout some numbers, maybe they should stick to playing the violin and avoid the awkward dance moves that went with it?

In terms of the difference numbers, my favourite part has to be when a dance off takes place. The slow build of articulate noise that can be created from their tap shoes is amazing, you feel the beat and excitement build in the rhythm as it comes to point.

Overall, the show was great fun and something a little different that everyone should see at some point in their life, full of feel-good vibes and incredible talent!

Lord of the Dance is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Sunday 17th July tickets available here.

Anything Goes

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

First seen on Broadway in 1934, Anything Goes premiered at a time when the general public were unable to afford a theatre ticket due to the Great Depression, and those who were lucky enough to be able to buy a ticket needed a distraction from the drudgery of living in such difficult times. Fast forward nearly 90 years (I know! Can you believe it – nearly 90 years! ) and here we are again sitting in those velvet seats waiting to be transported to a world away from Brexit and partygate and fuel hikes.

Anything  Goes is a spectacular revival of a classic musical from a golden age and it doesn’t disappoint. It is predominantly set aboard a cruise liner crossing the Atlantic from New York to London. Where celebrities are in short supply and high demand.

We begin by meeting the Elisha Whitney (Simon Callow), a successful business man who is preparing to sail to England for the Henley Regatta. His trusted young assistant Billy Crocker (Samuel Edwards) is to organise Whitney’s paperwork for his trip and meet him with his passport ready to board. When Billy discovers that Hope Harcourt, a young lady that he had a brief romantic encounter with is to also sail to England, where she will marry Lord Evelyn, he stows away on board with hilarious consequences.

Hope Harcourt (Nicole-Lilly Baisden) is promised to another, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (played by the hilarious Haydn Oakley) . Her mother, Evangeline Harcourt (played by the legend that is Bonnie Langford) wants Hope to marry the Lord in order to secure their financial future.

Billy Crocker along with his new found friend Moonface Martin (Olivier Award winner Denis Lawson) hatch a plan or two to win Hope’s heart and call off the upcoming nuptials. Samuel Edwards is a delight in the role of Billy, he’s easy to love and he wins the audience over quickly, and what a voice – he was 100% pitch perfect in every number. 

Kerry Ellis as Reno Sweeny guides us majestically and magnificently through the narrative. She dominates the stage- her vocals are outstanding and it’s easy to see why she has been cast in so many big productions both in the West End and on Broadway. 

The big numbers such as Anything Goes and Blow Gabriel Blow bring the house down- they are glitzy, glamorous and the audience lap it up! Kerry Ellis owns this stage: her singing and dancing is top-class. Personally, I would have liked to have seen more of these incredible big numbers: Some of the scenes in the opening of Act one were slow paced and lacking in the same pizzazz as the bigger numbers. But it didn’t distract from the sleekness of the production and the talent of all of the cast including the brilliant ensemble acting as sailors, passengers, and angels.

Denis Lawson was a revelation to me in his role as Moonface Martin. He was polished in his delivery and his comedic timing was second to none. Every scene that he played was a roaring delight- he was also super quick and light on his feet too. A highlight was his duet “Friendship” with Kerry Ellis, which I sang the whole way home in the car.

Credit to the set and costume designers, whose creativity takes us back to a magical age of glamour and glitz. The orchestra was also impeccable. 

It’s impossible to write a review of this show without giving high praise to Carly Mercedes Dyer in her role as the ever randy Erma. She had the audience in stitches and the chemistry between her and  Denis Lawson was spectacular. 

This show is for musical lovers, it has a star studded cast who deserve all of the praise they receive. It’s a super fun way to spend the evening and it had the entire audience on its feet, cheering during the finale.

Anything Goes is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 18th June tickets available here.

The Cher Show

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’m not sure what I was expecting from “The Cher Show”; but it certainly wasn’t what I got. I have never ever considered myself to be a fan of Cher’s music, but what I learned tonight is that my entire life has been punctuated by Cher songs. You do not realise just how many Cher songs you know until you hear approximately 35 of them and you know every single one. 

The success of this show is the clever use of the three versions of Cher: Star (Debbie Kurup), Lady (Danielle Steers) and Babe (Millie O’Connell). These characters share with us the life story of this incredibly courageous and successful woman – The legend that is Cher.

They take us on a journey together, each representing a different period of Chers life, romantically, professionally, musically and stylistically. But these women are not karaoke versions or impersonators of Cher: yes they each use Cher’s well known mannerisms, such as the hair flick and the sway, but each of them showcase their own talent in their performances, and their talent is MIGHTY.

You cannot compare them to each other, they each stand out for their performances in equal measure. The script, the choreography and the costumes for each are perfection. Each performer supports the other and together they are magical.

The whole cast is spectacular – when Lucas Rush sang his first note as Sonny I was left speechless, his comic timing and chemistry with all three versions of Cher was marvellous. Tori Scott as Cher’s mother was kind, funny and engaging. Special mention to Jake Mitchell as fashion designer Bob Mackie, an all-round performer who the audience loved! I’m embarrassed to say that I had no ideas that Sam Ferriday played as many roles as he did until the curtain call when only one of his characters appeared – four characters played in one production so sleekly is a triumph.

The whole production is intelligent and original. Tom Rogers set design is simple, but powerful. The use of the ensemble to guide us through the eras worked really well. Wigs, hair, make up and costume are all outstanding, everything was flawless. I’m sure Cher herself will be putting in a special request to have some of the outfits flown out to her.

The audience were informed at the beginning of the show that the singing should be left to the cast until the finale – most took this on board, but some just couldn’t help themselves, even I had to hold back when “strong enough” came on!

And then we had the finale – and what a finale it was. It was hands down the finale of all finales, and Manchester lapped it up. Everyone was up on their feet, there was dancing in the aisles, singing along and cheering for the cast and the wonderful orchestration.


Arlene Phillips, Rick Elise and Oti Mabuse have created something magical here, something that will delight audiences again and again and perhaps just give us all a little bit of Cher in our lives when we need it most.

A special little mention to the proud husband of Debbie Kurup, who was sitting behind us, his knowledge of Chers music during the interval was incredible and much appreciated for this Cher convert!

The Cher Show is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 21st May, tickets available here.

Passion

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

With a book by long standing Sondheim collaborator James Lapine, (Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods) plus music and lyrics by the late, great Stephen Sondheim, Passion finds a new home in Manchester’s intimate Hope Mill Theatre with a stellar cast led by musical theatre legend Ruthie Henshall.

Based on the 1981 film, Passione d’Amore, which was inspired by Tarchetti’s 1869 gothic novel Fosca; the story introduces us to Giorgio, (Dean John-Wilson) a handsome young officer who is posted to a remote garrison in the mountains; separating him from Clara (Kelly Price), his married mistress in Milan. Once there, his Colonel’s intense and uncompromising cousin Fosca (Ruthie Henshall) begins a relentless pursuit of him, her obsessive chase as manipulative as it is mesmerising.

Henshall is wonderfully expressive as Fosca, her moments of lunacy and lucidity adding depth to this complex character. She is a tortured soul, her mental anguish leaking into her physicality, wringing her hands & cowering under her shawl one moment, shrieking and wailing the next. Her obsession with Giorgio sends him on a fascinating journey from self-assured soldier to self-doubting shell, as the absurd becomes actuality.

Dean John-Wilson makes an excellent Giorgio and portrays the characters complex transition convincingly. Kelly Price is a wonderful Clara, initially frothy and bright her journey too is compelling.

Director Michael Strassen uses the intimacy of Hope Mill Theatre to its full advantage, the synergy of the ensemble fills the theatre with the most sublime harmonies while the claustrophobia felt by Giorgio feels palpable and close.

Elin Steele’s set and costume design is simple but effective, while Charlie Morgan Jones’ atmospheric lighting brings light and shade to the piece. The five-piece band fit perfectly within the setting with Dan Samson’s sound design ensuring every note is crystal clear.

This is a piece I must confess I knew little about and was not disappointed. The storytelling is strong while Sondheim’s undeniable melodic style is identifiable from the first note. The cast are superb, their star quality ensuring this intense and strange tale never feels too heavy in this lovingly staged revival.

It’s a joy to see this impressive cast in such an intimate setting, they draw you into the emotion of the piece and keep you on your toes. It’s fascinating to see the joyful lyrics about love and happiness transfer from the light and carefree delivery of Clara into Fosca’s intense ownership by the end of the production. Special mention must also go to the ensemble who act as almost narrators at times, in the most perfect of harmony.

Passion is a quality piece of theatre, powerful, dramatic and beautifully crafted.

Passion is on at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre until Sunday 5th June tickets available https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/passion

Interview | Ruthie Henshall | Passion

Olivier Award winner and Musical Theatre icon Ruthie Henshall will lead a reimagining of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s multi-award-winning Passion at the Hope Mill Theatre. Directed by Michael Strassen this revival will reenergise the tale of love, sex and obsession in a new dynamic staging.

Arguably Sondheim’s most lyrical and romantic work, Passion is a legendary musical based on Ettore Scola’s Italian film, Passion d’Amore. Situated in 19th Century Italy, the production tells the tale of a young soldier, Giorgio, who is obsessively pursued by the relation of his superior officer, Fosca – a woman prone to severe melancholy and mania.  

Exploring the consequences of intense passion and obsessive adoration, Passion is a ravishing and thought-provoking look at the lengths people go to for desire.

We spoke to Ruthie about the new production, her role and honouring Stephen Sondheim.

Opening Night: Why did you want to play Fosca in this new production of Passion?

Ruthie: The productions I have seen of Passion have never touched me personally in a way that I would have liked them to therefore for me I wanted to find a new way of connecting with it. 

ON: Can you tell us a little bit about the role?

Ruthie: I am just discovering her as I go in rehearsals. I’ll let you know on opening night! “ 

ON: What can audiences expect from Passion?

Ruthie: Phenomenal music by Stephen Sondheim. The man is a professor of the human condition. There is no one better to know how to describe feelings than that man. So you will leave the theatre having been changed in some way.  

ON: How are rehearsals going so far?

Ruthie: Very very good. It’s not an easy piece to put together because it’s very complicated. It is  like an opera. However it’s going really really well!

ON: This is one of the first revivals of one of Stephen Sondheim’s shows since he passed away last year – does this make it extra poignant for everyone involved?

Ruthie: Yes it does. It’s makes us feel like we really have to honour Stephen Sondheim. The biggest shame is that he will not get to see this. We will do everything we can to honour his memory. 

ON: Are you looking forward to performing in Manchester? And are you familiar with the Hope Mill Theatre?

Ruthie: I spent two weeks in Manchester doing the tour of Fosse and I loved it. It’s a really fun, happening place so I am looking forward to Manchester. I have never been to Hope Mill or seen anything there but their reputation is such that they have become a Donmar Warehouse outside London. 

ON: You’ve played some of the most iconic roles in Musical Theatre – from Velma & Roxie to Fantine and Mrs Wilkinson. Are there any roles out there that you’d still really love to play?

Ruthie: I think there are some iconic roles I’ve yet to have played that I would definitely like to play – like Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly and Mama Rose in Gypsy. I think they are right of passage for any older woman so yes I would I like to play those two.  

Passion runs at Hope Mill Theatre from 5th May to 6th June 2022 tickets available here.

The Addams Family

Reviewed by Alison Ruck

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Everyone’s favourite, kooky, spooky and downright creepy family The Addams, have returned to Manchester. A family everyone knows whether you’ve seen the multiple film adaptations, either cartoon or live action, the various television series or if you remember back to the creation of the family from cartoonist Charles Addams in the 1930s… Everyone is familiar with the crazy family, and of course its catchy theme tune you can’t help but ‘click, click’ along to.

The musical can attract all Addams Family, Halloween and musical theatre fans alike, a bonus that is never a negative when it comes to drawing new audiences into theatres across the country. In this musical version we’re introduced to the gothic Addams Family: Morticia and Gomez the lovingly strange parents, princess of darkness and eldest child Wednesday, and youngest pain-lover, Pugsley. They’re joined by extended family members Uncle Fester, Lurch and Grandma. The family are shocked to hear Wednesday has fallen in love with ‘boy next door’ type Lucas, but when the time comes for both families to meet, the Addams family are forced to act normal as two different worlds collide.

Andrew Lippa, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s 2010 Broadway musical The Addams Family premiered in the UK in 2017. With the book from the writers of Jersey Boys, this show’s shining light is absolutely the writing. It’s clever and injected with witty comedy, funny enough to make the adults titter yet family-friendly enough to engage the kids.

Gomez Addams, played by Cameron Blakely, and Uncle Fester, played by Scott Paige (coincidentally both returning cast members from the original tour) are really the standout characters from the show, with brilliant lines between them combined with the actors’ hilarious embodiments. They have the audience belly laughing – at times for long enough for the actors to have to wait for them to finish – and totally commanding the stage each time they enter.

Joining the cast in 2021 is Joanne Clifton as Morticia Addams. Clifton, most well known for her stint on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, takes on the role as the family matriarch. Joanne certainly nails Morticia’s sleek, slender and sexy physicality as she sleuths across the stage in the customary black full-length gown. However, she falls a little flat against some of the more engaging performers such as Blakely; perhaps not quite finding the right balance between the darkness the character needs and the energy a musical needs.

Wednesday Addams is played by Kingsley Morton. The character requires strong vocals, as she takes on some of the best songs in the show, ‘Pulled’ and ‘Crazier Than You’. Despite the stunning vocals from Morton, ‘Pulled’ felt disappointingly shallow, as the performance felt to only scratch the surface of the inner conflict she feels between her family’s traditions and her new love, leaving a sense of restraint from the actress.

Despite not saying much, Lurch is always an audience favourite, played by Ryan Bennett. The tall butler is a continuous comedy character, never really doing much but thanks to the brilliant comedic writing and comedy timing from the cast around him, always achieved a giggle from the audience. 

The musical as a whole does lack the energy and panache that’s enjoyed in your ‘standard’ (jazz hands style) musical theatre production. Albeit purposefully dark and different to fit with the characters and themes, the elements that make the show different take away the ‘wow factor’ from the production. Ironically the most energetic scenes are those led by ‘the dead’ ensemble, and in particular ‘Tango De Amor’ where Clifton lets loose and really impresses with her dance skills in the sharp and sexy Tango.

Despite this, the cast are strong, the witty writing and hilarious performances will have audiences laughing, regardless of age. A great family show with a hint of obscurity and darkness and as crazy as they are, the Addams family can teach us all a little something about love…

You can catch The Addams Family at The Opera House in Manchester until Saturday 23rd April tickets available here.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

‘But if you think it, want it, dream it, then it’s real. You are what you feel…’


Fresh from London’s Palladium, this new production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat kicks off it’s UK & Ireland tour right here in Manchester. Although it feels as though Joseph has been around since ‘way way back many centuries ago…’ with it being the first of Lloyd Webber and Rice’s musical collaborations to be performed publicly over 50 years ago, originating in 1968 (albeit in a school setting and only 15 minutes in length), it is still as much loved and adored by audiences today as ever.


Joseph, the biblical story of Jacob’s first born (and favourite) son, who is sold by his jealous brothers for being gifted a (pretty fabulous) multi-coloured coat by his father and being a bit of a show off claiming to be able to read people’s dreams… you know the rest, has become not only a staple in schools and colleges alike but theatres and tours around the world too. However this latest version certainly throws a spanner in the works and isn’t afraid of shaking things up…

Yes, this version of Joseph has its ‘star cast’ appeal with Jason Donovan and Alexandra Burke billed as headliners and whilst it must be said the later of which provides an astonishing turn not just as Narrator but doubling up as multiple roles, leading the entire show with panache whilst simultaneously entering her third trimester of pregnancy to our (and probably her own) amazement, this version of Joseph is much more than just names. Paying homage to it’s humble beginnings, at the heart of the show is the talented cast of children, often playing roles you wouldn’t necessary expect them too; they provide a warm and sweet cornerstone to this production.

Jac Yarrow who has quickly made a name for himself in the title role, is most certainly the real deal. His onstage charisma is matched by his sensational vocals, with his version of Close Every Door proving to be ‘goose-pimpley-good’ and providing a stand-out moment. The ensemble are tight and slick and deliver some of the most entertaining scenes of the evening, including One More Angel In Heaven and Go, Go, Go Joseph.

A first class creative team has also been assembled here with Laurence Connor directing at the helm. Large’s set and costume design provides all the colour and more that you’d expect from a production of Joseph, whilst Rigby’s orchestra hits powerful perfection with every note, remaining pitch perfect throughout, culminating in Act 2’s Entr’acte getting its own (and much deserved) rapturous applause from an eager audience still clearly lapping up being back watching live theatre. However, what is most revolutionary for me is Hunter’s choreography which adapts and evolves impressively at each modern twist the production takes.

Michael Harrison’s refashioned production keeps the sentimentality and romanticism that a production of Joseph should have, whilst at the same time re-invigorates and brings it up-to-date, with (spoiler alert) tap-dance, cheerleading and can-can routines thrown in for good
measure. Although it may be said at times the modernisation can seem a little over the top and in your face, making it occasionally hard to digest, this newest production certainly can’t be accused of resting on its laurels.

There is still something really warm and reminiscent at the core of this modernised updated version of a much loved classic, that particularly in a world currently full of so much uncertainly, feels hugely soothing, nostalgic and incredibly uplifting.

This newest interpretation of Joseph certainly throws some curve balls to what we are used to expecting with this one, however what we do get is a quirky, funny, bold, modern take on an old familiar musical tale, which certainly makes for an entertaining evening!

Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is at the Manchester Opera House until the 2nd tickets are available here.

Vignettes

Reviewed by Paris Rogers

Vignettes follows the format of six short plays written and directed by females. The show screamed from the rooftop how diverse and talented Greater Manchester is. When walking into the theatre, you are immersed into the show immediately, the casts each play remain on stage throughout adding background detail and intensity to the individual pieces.

The show starts powerfully with Misha Duncan Barry’s, Limerence starting Keziah (Maz Hedgehog). Kaziah had a way of pulling me in to the action straight away, it usually takes a while for me to be drawn in alongside a long build up, but Kaziah did this effortlessly with her epic expressive body language and firework energy. Because of this energy being so high, some words were lost from the fast speech, but this was quickly and professionally rectified.

The second piece was The Demon dog of Waterhead by Cathy Crab. Firstly, hats off to the actors, Dom (James Quinn) and Sue (Sarah Legg) for their commitment to these roles, I had an aching stomach from laughing so much at their comedic timings. As much as the comedy carried the piece, it lacked structure and left me a little confused with the overall message and purpose for the piece and characters.

My notes were minimal for Perspective by Alex Keelen. This is because I was hugely captivated from start to finish. This play was perfectly pitched. The story telling by Janice (Emily Heyworth) was exactly what story telling should be, engaging, climatic and stimulating. Kevin (George Miller) was a breath of fresh air in the whole show, he brought a true charismatic spin. Not only were the actors outstanding, but it was also equally matched with impeccable writing and directing.

My favourite piece of the night was Tangled by Debbie Oates. The acting felt effortless and unbelievably easy to watch, I enjoyed the hilarious heartfelt journey I was taken on by Sally Ann Matthews. It reminded us how important young people are today. This piece stuck with me throughout the night and continued to be discussed into the busy streets of Manchester. 

The Reference by Hannah Ellis Ryan stood out amongst the others as it shone a light on competition between sisterhood and cleverly made me question what each character’s intentions truly were. It could have easily gotten lost amongst the comedy from the other pieces but instead made me go silent with the intense atmosphere the actors portrayed so brilliantly.

The show was finished with a bang, Halal Hens by Zoe Iqbal. Often amongst comedy the purpose of the piece can be lost. This was not the case with Halal Hens, controversial topics were cleverly addressed throughout while keeping us entertained. The actors had a clear strong connection on stage which really helped the flow of the piece and energy. I especially enjoyed the directing in this, it was quick paced, thought provoking and well timed.

Overall Vignettes was a varied evening, taking me on a fascinating emotional roller coaster and truly reminding me of the importance of storytelling like never before. I left feeling empowered, educated and more importantly with a strong belief in womanhood.

Vignettes is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday March 26th tickets and further info can be found here.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The National Theatre’s multi award-winning production The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time, retuned to the North West this week, taking up residency until Saturday 12th March at Manchester’s Opera House.

The stage adaptation of Mark Haddon’s international best-selling novel is both captivating and deeply moving. Telling the story of fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone (David Breeds) who at the very beginning of the play discovers the murder of his neighbour’s dog, Wellington. Immediately under suspicion himself, Christopher sets about on a thorough and detailed investigation to discover exactly who has caused Wellington’s demise.

Christopher is an extraordinary boy; complex and remarkable; he sees the world in super fine detail. Colours are more vivid, sounds are louder, people are confusing, and the world is often a very overwhelming place.

As the story develops, we learn more about Christopher’s complexities as he struggles with communication and physical touch, even from his parents in the most difficult of situations. This proves extremely challenging for his parents at times, which results in an extremely powerful alternative connection being portrayed where he uses only his fingertips to connect with them. You can really feel the pain his mother is going through in these scenes which are beautifully portrayed.

David Breeds makes for an excellent Christopher, physically giving his all to the role you desperately want him to succeed and are utterly transfixed by his every move. His interaction with his schoolteacher Siobhan portrayed perfectly by Rebecca Root is wonderful, this gorgeous pairing really complement each other, her belief in his abilities is unshakable while her ability to calm him when life gets overwhelming is truly special.

Movement is a huge part of what makes this play so exceptional, Director Marianne Elliot along with Movement Directors Scott Graham, Steven Hoggett and Adrian Sutton have created something extremely memorable. The piece is visually stunning while the cast mesmerise as their fluid movement is seamless throughout.

Designer Bunny Christie, Lighting Designer Paule Constable, Video Designer Finn Ross and Sound Designer Ian Dickinson give the audience a remarkable insight into the heightened sensory world Christopher lives in. A real standout scene being when Christopher goes on a journey to London. The use of sound, lighting and physical theatre really brings the busy, bustling London Underground to life and allows us to see the world through Christopher’s eyes. It shows starkly just how harrowing navigating the world can be with a social disorder.

This thought-provoking, funny, inspiring play proves once again why it’s one of The National Theatre’s most loved productions. It’s full of heart, packed with humour and most importantly hope. Visually stunning with unforgettable storytelling, Curious Incident is theatre at its finest.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 12th March, tickets available here.

Footloose

Reviewed by Alison Ruck

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Everybody cut loose… Footloose has returned to Manchester!

The feel-good all singing, all dancing musical follows the story of teenage rebel Ren McCormack who arrives in the small town of Bomont, and to his dismay finds that music, dancing and rock n roll is banned following a tragedy that struck the town 5 years prior. Ren, along with the town’s teenagers, take matters into their own hands and fight to bring joy back to the town. And what brings more joy than dancing!

The cast is led by Joshua Hawkins as Ren McCormack, the charming big city boy who shakes up the small town. Joshua is joined by Lucy Munden as the girl next door-cum-hellraiser Ariel Moore. The duo make a good pair and their effortlessly beautiful voices shine, particularly within their romantic duet ‘Almost Paradise’.

The leads are joined by TV personality, and star of numerous West End productions, Darren Day, as the firm Reverend Shaw Moore. Darren gave a strong performance, but the character as a whole leaves something to be desired. The deep scenes only seem to scratch the surface of the emotion that could be portrayed, although Day’s musicality and voice hold its own within this very talented cast.

The biggest surprise and star of the show has to be Jake Quickenden in the role of Willard Hewitt. Quickenden – best known for his role in Hollyoaks, winner of Dancing on Ice and previous Dream Boy – is a great fit for the role of tough boy Willard, really giving the character the energy and spark it needs and deserves. His comedy was sincere and easy and he displayed top notch vocals and dancing whilst even playing guitar on stage too.

One of the best elements of the show has to be the musicality that runs through the core of the production, as each member of the cast take on the role of orchestra within the midst of the onstage action. From flutes to guitar and saxophones, the cast wows as they bring the music right into the story. Not only playing an instrument but singing and dancing whilst doing so, making the cast not only triple threats but quadruple threats (if that’s even a thing?).

The choreography is fun and athletic, with lots of playful thrusting and the odd typical 80’s dance move thrown in, simply adding to the overall joyous nature of the musical.

The cast is very small, which sometimes can be felt in the dance numbers, as it misses the full stage production feel that can be expected with such large-scale musicals. With a main cast of 6 doing most of the dancing throughout, as other cast members do their best to join in whilst playing instruments, this does restrict the energy and scope of the choreography.

If you’re familiar with the film version, either the 1980’s Kevin Bacon classic or the more modern 2011 remake, you’ll know the musical features 80’s pop hits such as ‘Holding Out for a Hero, ‘Almost Paradise’, ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’ and of course the unforgettable title track ‘Footloose’. However, the other songs are more than forgettable in-between, which really holds the production back from its full potential.

Despite this, the songs that are known and loved from the show are its stand out moments. ‘Lets Hear it For The Boys’ is a real crowd pleaser – and not only because the audience is treated to a dance from a particularly popular cast member in gold hot pants…

‘Holding Out For A Hero’ is the perfect female powerhouse song, bringing together the wonderful voices of Lucy Munden, Oonagh Cox and Jess Barker combined with some pure 80’s music video vibes.

Overall Footloose is a joyful spectacle that will leave your toes tapping and face smiling. Just as in the story, the musical will remind you how amazing it can feel to really let loose and dance the night away.

You can catch Footloose at the Opera House, Manchester until Saturday 5th March, tickets available here.

9 to 5 The Musical

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer: Matthew Forrest

Back in 1980, the film 9 to 5, was released, it starred Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton and was a huge box office success. It still often makes the top 100 list of funniest films of all time. In addition, it took Parton from being a hugely popular singer to the global superstar and cultural icon that she is today.

On the basis of crowd reaction tonight, there is a great deal of affection for the film and that has rubbed off onto 9 to 5: The Musical, as throughout tonight’s performance many audience members could be heard uttering the next line before it was delivered, and those that didn’t still lapped up this fun and at times outrageous show!

Adapted for the stage by its original screenwriter Patricia Resnick, the plot remains true to the original as three secretaries extract revenge on their sexist, bigot of a boss, Frank Hart Jnr. Opening with narration from Dolly herself, via a video message we are introduced to Violet Newstead (Claire Sweeny), a widowed single mum, who runs the office in everything but pay grade and title. Then there is Doralee Rhodes (Stephanie Chandos), a happily married secretary to Hart Jnr, who he constantly sexually harasses.  Finally, Judy Bernly (Vivian Panka) is a timid young woman starting her first job after separating from her husband.

Following a series of injustices inflicted on all three women by Hart Jnr (Sean Needham) the ladies set out to not just extract revenge on the ‘boss from hell’ but also change the culture of the office and parity with their male counterparts plus better working conditions for all employees.

This is a fun romp that judging from tonight’s audience will go down a storm for its run at the Palace. Chandos does a great job of bringing “Dolly” to life with her turn as Doralee, full of sass and charm. Sweeney is equally good as Violet, the focal point of the production, her comic timing and fantastic voice highlight why she continues to have such a notable career in musical theatre. Making up the tremendous trio is UK stage debutant Panka who brings the house down with her rousing and powerful rendition of ‘Get Out and Stay Out’.

For me the highlight of the night belonged to Needham as the vile boss. His comic timing was bang on point, although his accent slipped at times it didn’t matter he was brilliant throughout even making the loathsome Hart Jnr, likeable.  His rendition of ‘Here for You’, was as hilarious as it was grotesque.

I would like to give special mention to Julia J Nagle, as Roz, whose unrequited love for the boss is a subplot that runs throughout, who very nearly steals the show, with the ridiculous ‘Heart to Hart’. Nagle, like the rest of the ensemble cast, are solid throughout.

9 to 5 The Musical is a fun show that provides much-needed escapism for 2 ½ hours, so what you are waiting for? Dig out your hairspray and your shoulder padded suit, for an office party like no other!

9 to 5 The Musical is on at the Palace Theatre till 5th March 2022

Tickets available: here.