The Mousetrap

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It is incredible to think that this play has been performed by so many actors in its 70 year run. 70 years of different generations of theatre goers sitting in auditoriums gripped by this timeless murder mystery. Laughing at the same jokes, and all asking themselves over and over “who dunit?”.

As the curtain rises for Act one, we encounter the splendid view of Mr and Mrs Ralston’s drawing room, which has been converted into Monkswell Manor guest house in order to for them to be able to afford to keep this family home. Firstly, Mrs Ralston (Joelle Dyson) enters wearing a dark overcoat, a felt hat and a light scarf and hurriedly hides something in a bureau, before quickly leaving the room. Next to enter is Mr Ralston (Laurence Pears) wearing a dark overcoat, a felt hat and a light scarf and he too hurriedly hides something before disappearing off stage. I’m fact all of the guests who arrive, arrive wearing the same garments, something that becomes extremely significant as the plot unfolds.

The Ralstons are keen to welcome their first ever guests, but with no staff to help them they appear slightly out of their depth, with the cooking, cleaning and entertaining to take care of. As they ready themselves for their opening night, we learn from the news report on the wireless of a brutal murder that has taken place in London earlier that day. 

Before long the guests begin to arrive; firstly, is the nit-picking Mrs Boyle, played by Gwyneth Strong. From the moment she arrives she is less than impressed with the guest house and her fellow guests, especially the second guest to arrive: the animated and hilarious Christopher Wren, played by Elliot Clay. His arrival is followed by the kind-hearted, and ever helpful Major Metcalf (Nicholas Maude) and finally the last scheduled guest – the unconventional Miss Casewell.

As all the guests settle into their rooms and get to know each other a loud knock at the door catches them unawares. There are no other guests due to arrive….Enter Mr Paravicini (John Altman) who claims to have rolled his flash car further down the lane and is in need of a place to stay. Something doesn’t seem right about this chancer, but there is no option but to welcome him in from the cold. 

The guests are barely settled when a telephone call from the police puts everyone on edge. A detective is to descend on the guest house with some important news.

Young and dashing Detective Sergeant Trotter, arrives on skis to inform all at Monkswell house that they are infact now murder suspects, and at least one of them could be the next murder victim. With everyone now cut off from civilisation, thanks to a timely blizzard and the unfortunate cutting of the telephone wire, it’s is up to the detective to solve the crime and keep everyone safe. But who could possibly be a violent killer and what is their motive?

I was not expecting this play to be as witty and funny as it is. The pace is mostly quick, the set really helps with the pacing of the narrative, as the cast enter and leave through varying doors and corridors.

The cast are absolutely superb, each and every one of them. Dyson and Pears make a wonderful duo as husband and wife, they are perfectly charming. Elliot Clay is exceptional – he was the stand out performer for me tonight: he is funny and energetic and portrays Christopher Wren’s vulnerability in a way that we are able to see the depth of his character. Gwyneth Strong is excellent as the cantankerous Mrs Boyle, she really gets the audience against her from the get go! Nichola Maude and Essie Barrow are perfectly cast in their roles and both have a wonderful presence on stage. John Altman plays Paravincini with the right balance of humour and sleaziness. And finally Joseph Reed: he takes command of this play, his dialogue is sharp and controlled. He controls the pace and the narrative with professionalism throughout. 

I watched this play continually questioning who was the nurderer and who was a red herring – and low and behold I didn’t have a clue and would never have guessed it! But it’s a secret, so I’m not telling! 

I’m generally not a big Agatha Christie fan, but this isn’t a typical Christie play, it’s got something more wonderful to it. The issues raised in this 70 year old play are still relevant today, the characters are easy to identify with, it isn’t just about posh people and a murder plot. It’s about acceptance, truth, the class system, gender stereotypes and dealing with your past before it catches up with you. This play is genuinely funny, and captivating yet tragic at the same time, a great night out.

The Mousetrap is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 3rd December tickets available here.

Bugsy Malone

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Put on your trilby, shake your tail feather, and grab your splurge gun because one of the most beloved musicals, Bugsy Malone is in town this week providing the perfect night out for all the family.

The Lyric Hammersmith Theatre Group first performed this version of the late film maker, Sir Alan Parker’s timeless classic back in 2015 and it is now on a nationwide tour.

The cinematic version premiered in 1976 and garnered huge critical and commercial success. This mainly due to its original premise: that of children playing gangsters and showgirls, bringing together classic tropes of film noir and musicals.

Directed by Sean Holmes, this is the tale of a mob turf war between speakeasy owner, Fat Sam and crime kingpin, Dandy Dan. Caught in the middle of it all is wise-guy and boxing promoter, Bugsy Malone, and promising singing starlet, Blousy. As the bodies pile up can Bugsy and Blousy escape the criminal underworld and start a fresh life in Hollywood?

This is such a fun production packed with great performances, catchy musical numbers and well executed set-pieces that will have you smiling throughout. Highlights come thick and fast, with the high energy ‘Fat Sam’s Grand Slam’ perfectly setting the tone of the show. In addition, there is the superbly choreographed ‘We Could Have Been Anything’ and ‘So You Wanna be a Boxer’ which shine a spotlight on choreographer’s Drew McOnie’s outstanding work. All pack a punch and fill the production with such vibrance that you can’t help getting sucked in and taken along for the ride.

As you may expect, this is a showcase for some fine young actors, some of whom are making their professional stage debuts with this production. Mixing these super talented kids with adult performers is a treat to watch. It never seems jarring or takes you out of the action, which can happen when you have children playing adults and vice-versa. This is a super talented ensemble cast that works so hard throughout, providing big laughs and lots of fun.

The costumes and set design by Jon Bausor look great. The costumes fully encapsulate 1920’s America, lots of glitz and glamour for the ladies, and pin stripes suites for the gents. The clever set design, along with Philip Gladwell’s lighting design gives the production a darker element to it, fully evoking criminality, mob assassinations and scenes from old gangster films we are all too familiar with.

The finale may actually be one of my favourite show endings of all the productions I’ve had the good fortune to cover and perfectly captures the immense joy you get from the show.  A huge dance number for all the cast, with absolute joy etched on all their faces, so infectious that the audience were up on their feet and joining in. Bugsy Malone is a big pie in the face full of fun and fabulous performances, and one that will entertain young and old alike.

Bugsy Malone is at the Manchester Opera House till the 12th November. Tickets available here.

The Lion King

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The award-winning musical which has been seen by over 110 million people worldwide has returned to Manchester for an incredible 19 week run, taking up residency at the city’s Palace Theatre.

Based on the 1994 Disney animated feature film, The Lion King has been wowing audiences on Broadway for 25 years while also running continually in the West End since 1999; so it feels like a real treat to have this record-breaking show visit us here in the North West.

Telling the story of Simba who is tricked into thinking he is responsible for the demise of his father Mufasa , The Lion King opens with a burst of brilliance as the iconic Circle of Life plays out in all its theatrical glory, no spoilers here but this truly is one of the most spectacular openers you’ll ever see as the animals of the Kingdom burst into beautiful, vibrant life, immersing the audience fully as they take their places in the Pridelands.

Julie Taymor’s stunning costume design combined with Richard Hudson’s minimalist scenic design, vibrant lighting from Donald Holder and expressive choreography from Garth Fagan unite impressively to bring the sights and the sounds of Africa’s expansive savanna to the stage. Each scene fills you with wonder, often drawing spontaneous applause from the audience as the sheer magnificence of this production plays out. Julie Taymor and Michael Curry’s puppetry combined with intricate masks are spectacular and lift this production to a whole other level.

This is a true ensemble piece with a cast of over 50 talented performers, each and every one bringing their own piece of Disney magic to the stage. The vibrancy of the group numbers is an absolute joy, visually stunning and a total feast for the eyes, you honestly don’t know where to look, there’s so much happening on stage, every corner of the Palace Theatre feels alive.

Stephenson Ardern-Sodje and Nokwanda Khuzwayo are perfectly cast as Simba and Nala delivering the beloved characters with real heart and depth. Jean-Luc Guizonne is superb as Mufasa, commanding and calm with a gentle ease about him. Matthew Forbes is a wonderfully witty Zazu who gets the audience on side immediately with his strong characterisation and incredible puppetry skills. Another audience favourite is Thandazile Soni who is an absolute delight as Rafiki, Alan McHale and Carl Sanderson bring the laughs as Timon and Pumbaa while Richard Hurst as the brooding villain Scar is fantastic.

The show is jam-packed with much loved musical numbers including Can You Feel the Love Tonight, Hakuna Matata, I Just Can’t Wait to Be King, Be Prepared and of course Circle of Life while stunning additions for the stage include the powerful Shadowland and the stirring, He Lives in You.

The Lion King is an astonishing piece of theatre, adults will be wowed while children will be filled with awe and wonder. Magical memories will be made every night of this run in Manchester as The Lion King roars out until Saturday 11th March.

Tickets for The Lion King can be booked here.

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK Series 4 Tour announced!

The Queen’s will make two stops in the North West as part of their official UK Tour

Visiting theatres and arenas across England, Scotland and Wales, the tour will include two north west nights of endless extravaganza visiting Manchester Opera House on Wednesday April 19 and Liverpool Empire on Monday April 24th

ALL 12 queens from Series 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK will feature in the tour including Liverpool’s Danny Beard, Manchester’s Cheddar Gorgeous and Lancashire’s Sminty Drop.

Tickets go on sale at 10am Friday November 4 from www.cuffeandtaylor.com 

Dreamgirls

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Dream girls is a roller coaster of a story that introduces us to three talented young singers, who are starting out singing in a world where not everyone wants to hear them and not everyone has their best interests at heart.

The girls enter a singing competition, but they don’t stand a chance when small time star “Jimmy Early” (Brandon Lee Jones) loses his backing singers s and his manager Marty (Jo Servi) fails to entice the girls to go on tour with Jimmy. Enter Curtis Taylor Jr (Matt Mills) the man who will stop at nothing to convince the Dreamettes to do the tour and let him be their new manager. And he has big plans, which don’t always include everyone.

Curtis Taylor and songwriter C.C White (Shem Omari James) begin their dream to get the girls to the top of the charts, and in Curtis’ case, at all costs. The story tells the tale of fames, fortune and heartbreak. And most of all friendship.

And I am telling you , I am not going to ever stop raving about this show. 

Wow, wow, wow. I have never seen a show with such power and strength, in storyline, cast and music. This show is something else.

The casting are incredible: each and every cast member plays their part perfectly and with immense talent and emotion. The hits just keep coming. One after another. The staging is clever and functional. We are told the story through seeing, not by being told. We feel the emotions of the characters because the actors show us and pull us along for the ride.

The Dreamettes have a bond, both in script and onstage. Their performances as a group are electric and note perfect. Paige Peddie, who plays Lorrell, works the audience perfectly and we adore her within seconds. She starts of as a timid young girl, and we see her grow into a strong woman. Natalie Kassandra, who plays Deena, is excellent in her portrayal of a young woman who is manipulated by a man who is controlling and coercive. That is until she absolutely comes into her own in Act two in her duet of Listen, with Effie White (Nicole Raquel Dennis). I was mesmerised and moved by this number. These women are incredible.

Now I knew that Nicole Raquel Dennis was going to be good, because I follow her on Twitter and I’ve seen what she can do, but I was not prepared to see her live. This woman is something else. I have no idea how it is humanly possibly to do what she does, day in and day out. I have never, ever seen an audience jump to its feet in the middle of a song in Act One. “And I am telling you I’m not going”, was the single greatest performance I have ever seen. Nothing could have prepared me for how I would feel during that performance. I’ve heard Nicole compared to Jennifer Hudson, she doesn’t need comparing to anyone. She is exceptional in every single way, she’s beautiful, majestic and talented.  I can’t wait to see what she does next. 

Now, while it may seem that the women dominate this show, their talent is matched by the male leads also. Brandon Lee Sears performance as Jimmy is energetic, humorous and at times heart wrenching. And boy can that man move his hips! Shem Omari James is beautiful in his role of Effie’s brother C.C, he is a great talent, and I’m sure we are going to see him in the West End over and over again in the coming years.

Matt Mills, who plays Curtis Taylor is multi talented and plays the greedy, desperate manager fantastically. Another excellently cast performer, who delivers in every scene.

The entire cast deserves a mention, they are slick and powerful and deserve every standing ovation that they receive. This show is big, bold, loud and full to the brim with talent. 

The music, oh the music, I grew up with my parents listening to Motown, so I was always going to love the music. I wanted to get up and dance many a time during the show. Tom Eyen and Harry Krieger deserve every accolade they receive, they know how to write a hit.

This show is everything it should be- glitzy, glamorous and oozing with talent. It’s not to be missed. I want to go back again and again and again.

Dreamgirls is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 24th September tickets available here.

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.