Ghost

 

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Although it seems like five minutes ago it’s actually an incredible 8 years since Ghost the Musical first premiered in Manchester before opening in London’s West End ahead of a successful Broadway transfer and judging by audience responses at the Palace Theatre the love for this classic story shows no sign of waning.

Based on Bruce Joel Rubin’s iconic 1990 film, starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg, Ghost tells the tragic love story of Brooklyn residents Sam (Niall Sheehy) and Molly (Rebekah Lowings) whose lives are cruelly torn apart when Sam is heartbreakingly murdered in a street robbery gone wrong. As Sam watches the scene of his death from a distance, stuck between two worlds he realises what at first seemed like a tragic accident is anything but and his beloved Molly is now in danger too. In order to find his own peace he must find a way to connect with and ultimately protect his love from beyond the grave, cue Oda Mae Brown an outrageous and questionable psychic who has made a living off receiving messages from the dead and passing them onto their living relatives for a fee of course; Problem is she’s never actually connected to anyone from the afterlife until now.

039_Ghost 2019_Pamela Raith Photography

Rebekah Lowings is hugely endearing as Molly, tentatively attempting to navigate life after the loss of her soulmate she skilfully takes us along for the turbulent ride. Her voice is beautiful; she delivers each solo with fabulous control. The chemistry between Lowings and Niall Sheehy feels genuinely convincingly further adding to the emotion and impact of this production. Sheehy is lively and charismatic as Sam, his commitment to protecting Molly from danger genuinely touching.

Jacqui Dubois is brass, bold and boisterous as Oda Mae Brown, her razor sharp comedic timing is a joy to watch and her hilarious interactions with Sheehy are a real highlight. The scene where we first meet her and her two abetting sisters Louise (Jochebel Ohene MacCarthy) and Clara (Sadie-Jean Shirley) is hilarious with their exaggerated gestures and punchy harmonies.

Special mention must also go to Sergio Pasquariello and Jules Brown who both impress as evil duo Carl and Willie.

063_Ghost 2019_Pamela Raith Photography

Impressive set and costume design from Mark Bailey adds to the slickness and authenticity of this production while Dan Samson’s sound design although vibrant occasionally overpowers the vocals of the performers. Nick Richings lighting design really makes this piece stand out visually, particularly impressive is the way Sam is lit once he passes from the real world.

The production translates exceptionally well from screen to stage with the addition of some great illusions from Richard Pinner delivered convincingly by an excellent cast.

Ghost will please fans of the original film and is also strong enough as a standalone production for those coming to the show with fresh eyes. It’s heavy on both emotion and humour while the dramatic and engaging story unfolds. There’s love, hope, comedy, deception and drama all neatly packed into this impressive production and while Dave Stewart’s  songs may not be the most memorable they are enjoyable and beautifully delivered.

This reworked incarnation directed by Bob Tomson feels faithful and impressive. Gone is the celebrity casting allowing this production the delivery it deserves ensuring Ghost once again cements itself as a modern theatre classic. Hugely entertaining theatre which engages on every level and will leave you with more than a little tear in your eye.

Ghost the Musical is at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 20th April tickets available here.

West Side Story

07RET WestSideStory - Andy Coxon (Tony) & Gabriela Garcia (Maria) - image Richard Davenport of The Other Richard

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Expectation has been at an almighty high since West Side Story was announced as part of the Royal Exchanges Spring/Summer 2019 season. So successful of late has the theatre been at reimagining classic musicals the run had almost sold-out before the first preview even took place.

This epic tale based on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet sees star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria fighting to be together in 1950’s Manhattan where warring gangs make the rules and stepping into enemy territory is strictly taboo. As a story there is everything from love and conflict to hope and heartbreak as the Sharks and Jets fierce rivalry shapes their very existence.

011RET WestSideStory -The Jets - image Richard Davenport of The Other Richard

Since it first premiered in 1955 Jerome Robbins choreography is something that’s always come as part and parcel of any West Side Story production. So iconic in its style it’s hard to imagine the Sharks and the Jets moving in any other way. Step forward Aletta Collins who not only takes on the challenge of reimagining the instantly recognisable choreography but does so in the most beautifully inspired way.

There are still enough elements of the original choreography to keep the traditionalists amongst us happy but these elements are now combined with a pulsating fusion of Latin, street, lindy hop, jazz and even a touch of northern soul to create the most vibrant melting pot of movement.

05RET WestSideStory - Gabriela Garcia (Maria) & Andy Coxon (Tony) - image Richard Davenport of The Other Richard

Director Sarah Frankom ensures this new choreography is allowed to take centre stage as moments of breath-taking beauty unfold; highlighted perfectly during the switch from punchy ensemble piece to the stillness of Tony and Maria’s first meeting which bursts with joyful innocence. A genuine moment of calm & purity during the heady tension of the dancehall scene.

The cast are outstanding and as an ensemble work together to perfection, fuelled by hatred, fear, anger, love and loss, they fizz with pent up emotion. The era is unspecific making it feel just as relevant today as it did 62 years ago as we seemingly are once again in the midst of a swathe of violent knife crime.

03RET WestSideStory - Andy Coxon (Tony) - image Richard Davenport of The Other RichardCROPPED

Andy Coxon finds the true heart of Tony, delivering a powerful and emotive performance; his rendition of Maria a real highlight while fellow lead Gabriela García is completely captivating as Maria. Her operatic vocals are note perfect and pure. Their duets are sublime while the innocence of their love is blissfully uplifting.

Jocasta Almgill is superb and sassy as streetwise Anita, Fernando Mariano makes for a passionate and proud Bernardo while Michael Duke as Riff is convincing and committed.

The cast make full use of Anna Fleischle’s innovative design which is skilfully lit by Lee Curran. They weave, jump and balance on Fleischle’s vertical geometric sets, one minute gone, the next high up emerging from the shadows. The balcony scenes in particular during Tonight really showing off the impressive staging of this piece as each character vies for the audience’s attention, from all sides of the theatre’s intimate space.

West Side Story ©The Other Richard

The eleven piece orchestra powerfully deliver Leonard Bernstein’s classic score with new arrangements by Jason Carr giving it a modern and fresh feel. Led by Tom Chester the score is packed with emotion and fundamental to the impact of this piece.

The Royal Exchange have created something truly special here, the standing ovation a clear indicator that this production marks another success for the innovative Manchester theatre makers. Bold, inspired theatre at its best.

West Side Story is on at the Royal Exchange until Saturday 25th May tickets can be found here.

Hair

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This inventive production of Hair The Musical has been on quite a journey these past few years, from first opening at the intimate Hope Mill Theatre back in 2016 to a sell-out London run winning a WhatsOnStage Award along the way; it now makes its return to Manchester opening at the city’s Palace Theatre as part of an extensive 50th anniversary UK tour.

Set in New York’s East Village at a time when the emerging youth counterculture was rejecting mainstream America and growing increasingly disenfranchised by the controversial war in Vietnam, Hair still remains one of the most iconic rock musicals of all time. A tribe of free thinkers who turned their backs on convention creating their own family in which to belong, advocates of peace, love and liberal thinking. Central to the story is the plight of Claude (portrayed brilliantly by Paul Wilkins) torn between rejecting his military drafting and embracing this non-violent, peace loving tribe.

Very much an ensemble production Hair showcases a cast of incredible talent. Opening number Aquarius vibrantly and powerfully sets the scene, drawing the audience into this joyous celebration of love, freedom and pacifism right from the start. Maeve Black’s beautiful set design and costumes transforming the Palace Theatre into a psychedelic heaven lit to perfection by Ben M Rogers.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle ensures the audience are taken along for the ride involving them in this exuberant trip on multiple occasions. Jake Quickenden as Berger confidently leaps into the stalls in little more than a thong while Tom Bates takes great delight in perching on an audience members knee during his hilarious performance as Margaret Mead.

Paul Wilkins heads up the strong cast proving what a talent he is in the role of Claude. Thrown into turmoil at the life changing decision he faces, his anguish and torment delivered with passionate energy. Jake Quickenden makes for a confident and flamboyant Berger, athletically strutting around the stage dishing out powerful vocals along the way. Daisy Wood-Davis shines in the role of Sheila, her voice as powerful as it is beautiful.

Tom Bates has the audience in the palm of his hand as Margaret Mead while Natalie Green as soulful Cassie is a joy. Other notable performances in this excellent ensemble are Alison Arnopp as the enigmatic Jeanie, Aiesha Pease whose rich tones warm the soul and Bradley Judge who is enormously entertaining as Woof.

The cast work together superbly and all deserve praise, they deliver William Whelton’s inspired choreography to perfection, often moving as one, pulsing together in perfect harmony. Musical Director Gareth Bretherton leads the small group of on stage musicians confidently ensuring this electrifying score is given the platform it deserves.

While the themes may not be so shocking to audiences now in more free-thinking, accepting times its message still remains enormously relevant; the despicable quote from Donald Trump heard ringing through the auditorium at the very start proving this point entirely.

Hair gives a touchingly symbolic reminder of the fact that we really are just one tribe. Its hippie, trippy vibe is deliciously infectious bringing every audience member to their feet in celebration of this triumphant piece of theatre while the power of final song Let The Sun Shine In offers hope and proves just how powerfully emotive theatre can be. Hair’s transition from Hope Mill Theatre to the much larger stage of the Palace theatre is seamless as this beautifully crafted and joyously affecting theatre absolutely lets the sun shine in.

On at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 13th April tickets available here.

 

Abigail’s Party

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First premiered in 1977 at London’s Hampstead Theatre then broadcast on the BBC that same year, Mike Leigh’s ingenious Abigail’s Party brings to brilliant life the most painfully awkward cocktail party in the most hilarious & enthralling of ways.

Suburban housewife Beverly has set the scene for her soirée; she’s prepped the cheese & pineapple on sticks, switched on the fibre optic lamp & stocked the drinks cabinet in readiness for the arrival of new neighbours Angela (Vicky Binns) and Tony (Callum Callaghan). Also invited is neighbour Sue (Rose Keegan) who is escaping 15-year-old daughter Abigail’s party over at her own house. Beverly’s husband Lawrence (Daniel Casey) is also in attendance in between running errands while his wife prepares to schmooze.

Janet Bird’s inspired set transports us right back to the 70’s as knowing giggles ripple through the audience from the off when Beverly enters the chintzy wood panelled living room cigarette in mouth, gin in hand, decked head to toe in garish paisley she glides around the stage to the sensuous sounds of Donna Summer.

Some spikey exchanges take place between Beverly and husband Lawrence before their guests arrive offering the opportunity for our brash hostess to really come into her own. She is liberal with both the booze and her opinions as some of the small talk soon begins to sting.

Jodie Prenger is exceptional as the infamous Beverly, getting more and more grotesquely brilliant as the gin flows. So versatile in her skills she embodies the desperate housewife to perfection. Daniel Casey gives a great performance as Lawrence keeping his pent-up irritation with wife Beverly hidden to begin with until pushed to breaking point when things quickly start to unravel.

Vicky Binns as Angela is eager to please her new neighbour, her genuine naivety and optimism making her all the more endearing. Her inane chatter leads to some terse tellings off from frustrated husband Tony whom Callum Callaghan portrays convincingly.

Rose Keegan shines as fifth party guest Sue, quiet and polite despite some overly familiar probing questions she gives a hilarious performance as the single guest caught in the middle of two clearly unhappy couples.

Director Sarah Esdaile at times focuses less on the uncomfortable interactions and undercurrent of frustration & more on the humour of the piece. Traditionally tense moments are played a little more for laughs than they were in the famous Alison Steadman led version, this does dilute the emotional impact of the ending a little however with such superbly executed performances the is no doubt that this is an enormously entertaining piece.

Although Abigail’s Party is very firmly set in the 1970’s its genius lies in its hilarious and at times painfully honest study on human interaction, ambition and all the complexities that come with it. Littered with laugh out loud humour and moments to make your toes curl Abigail’s Party is wonderfully entertaining theatre with themes as relevant today as they were 40 years ago, the most eventful party you’ll ever be invited to.

Abigail’s Party is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 13th April tickets available here.

Trainspotting Live

TSLnycast889x470(1)

Reviewed by: Michelle Eagleton

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

There’s no denying that Irvine Welsh’s cult novel Trainspotting made a huge mark on the Nineties generation. His book charting the antics of drug fueled youths in Scotland hit the shelves in 1993 with the Danny Boyle film coming three years later, making an overnight star of Ewan MacGregor. Trainspotting Live, currently on tour, takes the story to another level and whether you are fans or newbies to the tale of Renton, Tommy, Sick Boy and Begbie it is an immersive experience like no other.

The King’s Head Theatre and In Your Face Theatre are at the helm of this ground breaking production which has made Manchester’s former bus quarters, the Mayfield Depot, its home for their run in the city. The vast venue is the ideal location for the raw material on display with its exposed brickwork and abandoned warehouse feel adding to the atmosphere and giving the impression of you entering an underground rave from the start.

TRAINSPOTTING LIVE

Trainspotting Live CREDIT Geraint Lewis

Convention goes out of the window as soon as you enter…Glo bands replace tickets and there’s no seat reservations, the choice is yours where you perch for the 75 minutes duration of the play (I’d avoid anywhere near the exposed loo as ‘the worst toilet in Scotland’ scene gets a little messy). If you are easily offended then this maybe isn’t the show for you…nakedness is a plenty, as is the swearing and sex. Don’t get me wrong though it’s all in context and is played out with such raw energy and realism from the five-strong cast that you are seriously swept away with them on an emotional rollercoaster that sees you witness their chemical highs and the subsequent sombre come downs.

TRAINSPOTTING LIVE

Trainspotting Live CREDIT Geraint Lewis

Greg Esplin delivers a powerful performance as Tommy, Renton’s best mate who suffers the consequences of the drug scene. His descent from fun loving chappy to distraught junkie is mesmerising to watch.

The last time Trainspotting Live toured there was a cast of seven which meant there were two females sharing the roles on offer, with the cast cut down the weight falls on to the only woman in the line-up Lauren Downie to step up to the plate. Downie rises to the challenge and is outstanding in her plethora of roles each one carefully crafted, especially Renton’s Mum which she plays with such painstaking desperation.

TRAINSPOTTING LIVE

Trainspotting Live CREDIT Geraint Lewis

It would be wrong not to mention all of the actors who make up the cast as they are a hugely talented bunch. Oliver Sublet (Begbie), Michael Lockerbie (Sick Boy) and, stand in for press night, Dean Gribble (Renton) put in stellar performances that are fizzing with realism.

Each performance of Trainspotting Live is unique as it very much relies on the reactions of the crowd who have turned out to see it. Part of the fun is watching people’s faces as they witness some of the shocking scenes on display and the humorous interaction between the actors and the audience is priceless. The show manages to balance the darkest of themes with lighter shades of humour and the sheer speed at which the productions runs echoes the film perfectly.

Don’t ‘choose something else’…choose Trainspotting Live before it heads off to its next station.

Runs at Mayfield Depot until 21st April

Tickets available via http://www.trainspottinglive.com/#buytickets

 

 

The Stretch

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Following on from its success as part of JB Shorts 19, MAP Productions have reworked and extended The Stretch from its original 15 minutes into an hour-long piece as they examine the lasting & devastating impact one moment of madness can have.

We follow Lee (James Lewis) through his long 10 years in prison, joining him on a brutal and soul-destroying journey as he visually charges before us from strong self-assured new kid on the block to defeated & destroyed shadow of his former self, broken by the brutality of life on the inside.

Through atmospheric lighting & inspired design the arches of 53Two have been transformed into a menacing & moody environment adding an almost immersive feel to proceedings. The cast make full use of the multi-layered set, lurking in the shadows as new boy Lee is led in to serve his time before powerfully making their presence known.

Joe Ainsworth’s script is melodic and pacy as with each year that passes hope fades and survival instinct takes hold before the reality of abandonment & isolation takes over.

4 - Photo by Sean Mason

James Lewis gives a superb performance as Lee, honest and real in his portrayal he takes us on an incredibly raw and deeply poignant journey. His measured performance transitions from witty and light to heartbreakingly raw as he becomes increasingly broken by the failing prison system.

The ensemble add depth and authenticity to this production, taking on various roles depicting individuals on both the inside and outside of the prison walls and the impact Lee’s one monumental mistake has on them.

Simon Naylor’s fluid direction creates pace and adds poignancy to the quieter more emotional moments allowing them the impact they deserve.

The Stretch offers powerful performances which movingly highlight the tragic repetitive cycles happening daily in prisons around the country if not the world. A brave and honest account of one man’s devastating descent into hopeless institutionalisation. Affecting and important theatre.

The Stretch is on at 53Two until Friday 15th March, tickets available here

Tickets £10 with unwaged tickets available for every performance. Please bring proof of being in receipt of Universal Credit, Job Seekers Allowance or Income Support to the box office when collecting tickets.
Tuesday 12th March performance is BSL interpreted

 

 

 

 

Les Misérables

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Les Misérables is one of those few tour de force musicals that need no introduction; the buzz surrounding its arrival in Manchester a rare phenomenon. Performances sold out within days while the shows return to the region in May 2020 at the Lowry was announced even before Jean Valjean had uttered ‘24601’ on this current visit; within minutes of the curtain raising at tonight’s performance it becomes abundantly clear why.

While the West End production of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s masterpiece has been running at the Queens Theatre since 1985 it is a newly conceived touring version that has been taking the country by storm since opening in Leicester in November 2018. 

This stunning production first conceived by producer Cameron Mackintosh in 2009 in celebration of the shows 25th anniversary offers a fresh vibrancy which will no doubt recruit a new generation of theatre fans while making devoted fans fall in love with Les Misérables all over again.

Laurence Connor and James Powell’s inspired direction ensures that the almost three-hour duration whizzes by; keeping the audience fully engaged throughout this epic spectacle. There is not one drop in pace nor lull in action. Act I ending with the rousing One Day More perhaps the most epic way to lead into an interval ever.

The biggest change from the current production running in the West end is Matt Kinley’s striking design. Gone is the famous revolve and in its place come vibrant and visually stunning projections; this new design still triggering the heartfelt emotion of the traditional show whilst adding the thrill of a cinematic feel to proceedings.

Kinley’s designs (expertly animated by 59 Productions) are based on Victor Hugo’s original paintings, and offer a new depth and authenticity to the material while Paule Constable lights each scene with atmospheric perfection. Benefitting from this design creativity the scenes in the underground sewers of Paris are outstanding while Javert’s demise is quite simply jaw-dropping.

The journey Killian Donnelly takes us on as Jean Valjean is bursting with gut-wrenching emotion; from embittered convict through to tired elder nearing ultimate redemption his commitment to the role never wavers. His voice is perfection, from the gentle soothing tones during the opening of Bring Him Home to the full-out goosebump-inducing Who Am I? Nic Greenshields is equally convincing as the brooding Javert, commanding in his presence and convincing in his delivery, his stunning performance during Stars receiving one of the biggest applause of the evening.

The Thénardier’s (Sophie-Louise Dann and Martin Ball) comical interludes are an absolute joy, both clearly delighting in their roles and cementing themselves as audience favourites.

Both Katie Hall as Fantine and Tegan Bannister as Eponine break audience hearts with their moving performances while Harry Apps’ emotional delivery of Empty Chairs At Empty Tables convinces further that this is a company for who nothing less than perfection will do.

The inevitable and well-deserved standing ovation confirms the power of this enduring story; combine that with the beauty of its soaring score and the astonishing quality of talent on stage and you quite literally have the perfect piece of theatre. Every person in the ensemble gives their heart and soul to this production and the result is sensational. Epic in its scale and breath-taking in its brilliance. If you only ever see one piece of theatre make it Les Misérables.

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 30th March, currently sold out but check here for returns otherwise tickets go on general sale for The Lowry on Friday 1st March and can can be purchased here.