An Officer and a Gentleman

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

Officer-Dr2-214-retouched(1)forwebsite

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

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

Officer-Dr2-091-retouched

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

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

Officer-Dr2-034-retouched

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

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

Officer-Dr2-071-retouched

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

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

Interview | Jonathan O’Boyle | Aspects of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON: What’s next for you?

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

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

Blackpool – What a Shit Place to Die

Three Minute Theatre, Manchester – Fri 20 July 2018

Starring Mark Newsome

Writer – Phil Pearson

Director – Grace Cordell

Reviewed by Eric Potts

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

Aspects of Love

Kelly Price (Rose) & Felix Mosse (Alex) in Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre. Credit Anthony Robling

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Stripped back, elegant and intensely intimate Aspects of Love, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s romantic classic is given its North West professional premiere by award-winning pairing Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Productions and what a sensational premiere it is.

Based on the 1995 novella by David Garnett, Aspects of Love is a multi-layered and deeply fascinating exploration into the complexities of love. The story moves from one lustful entanglement to the next as intertwining relationships based around multiple characters within 3 generations of one family develop and change over a 17 year time scale. Love, lust, loss and obsession all feature in this spellbinding sung-through musical, the third of Hope Mill’s five in-house productions for 2018.

Kelly Price (Rose) & Felix Mosse (Alex) in Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre 2. Credit Anthony Robling

17-year-old Alex is hopelessly smitten with glamorous actress Rose, Rose loves the thrill of attraction, desperately craving sexual freedom and adoration yet is terrified at the thought of loneliness . Despite a passionate affair Rose turns to Alex’s Uncle George for commitment who in turn introduces her to his long-standing lover, free-spirited Italian Sculptor Giulietta. Further complexities arise when years later Alex is reconciled with lover Rose whose 15-year-old daughter Jenny enthusiastically pursues him, much to the horror of protective father George.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle’s stripped back approach to this iconic musical ensures the storytelling and emotion of piece lie firmly at its heart. Conversations flow as witty song exchanges while melodic vocals develop into passionate protests. The intimate staging of this piece takes the intensity of each relationship to another level as the audience is carried along immersed in the fizzing action.

Kelly Price is sensational as Rose Vibert, passionate and demanding yet heart-achingly vulnerable, she gives an utterly compelling and deeply moving performance. Her delivery of Anything But Lonely is raw and heart-felt.

Felix Mosse is perfectly cast as Alex, displaying an incredible vocal rage, he is sensitive and entirely believable, guarded and intense yet simmering with passion and explosive rage. He judges the character perfectly and ensures the audience now have a new actor to associate with perhaps one of the most well-known songs in any musical, Love Changes Everything.

Jerome Pradon (George) & Kimberley Blake (Giulietta) in Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre. Credit Anthony Robling

Jerome Pradon’s character acting as the worldly George authenticates his journey from decadent philanderer to aging father, afraid of what love may do to his precious daughter. His delivery of The First Man You Remember sung to daughter Jenny (the sweet and endearing Eleanor Walsh) captures the tenderness of the piece perfectly.

Kimberley Blake’s vivacious and alluring Giulietta is a joy to watch, her stunning vocals accompanied by slickly delivered choreography during post-funeral Hand Me The Wine and The Dice a real highlight of the show, pacy, passionate and full of sass.

Designer Jason Denvir has transformed the intimate setting with an expanse of shutter doors which are used to great effect as we glide through multiple cities bathed in Aaron J Dootson’s atmospheric shafts of light.

Kelly Price (Rose) in Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre. Credit Anthony Robling

The stripped back orchestration of 2 pianos and percussion ensures Lloyd Webber’s soaring score is delivered beautifully; it’s melodic, dreamy and devastatingly dramatic.

Every aspect of this show has been crafted beautifully, scene changes are delicately choreographed while each ensemble member captivates and leaves an impact. The sheer quality of this production combined with the uniquely intimate setting of Hope Mill Theatre breathes new life into Lloyd Webber’s work. Slick, stylish and oozing with passion, Aspects of Love is another sure-fire hit for the mighty Hope Mill Theatre/Aria Productions pairing. An absolute must-see!

ON at Hope Mill Theatre until

Mamma Mia!

Opening night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Chock-full of classic Abba anthems, witty one-liners that will have you roaring with laughter and more feel-good factor than you could shake your Fernando at, Mamma Mia! arrives at Manchester’s Palace Theatre for a 2 week stop as part of its current UK tour.

The popularity of the global smash-hit, written by British playwright Catherine Johnson, based on the classic songs penned by Benny and Bjorn shows no signs of waning and nor should it. The joyful party atmosphere is infectious, as each song is greeted with affectionate sighs of recognition and a spontaneous audience clap-along…and that’s just during the overture!

Lucy May Barker returns to the role of Sophie, a naive twenty year old on the verge of getting married to her sweetheart Sky (Phillip Ryan). Having never known her real father Sophie is desperate to have him at her wedding. She takes matters into her own hands and through some stealth investigation narrows it down to three potential candidates, unbeknown of course to Sophie’s fiercely independent, free-spirited mother Donna (Shona White). So, what’s the best way to work out which of her Mum’s ex-boyfriends is her birth father? Invite them all of course!

White is superb as Donna, hugely comedic with also a great ability to play the more tender heartfelt scenes beautifully, her performance during The Winner Takes It All no better evidence of this as she belts out the big notes with real heart and vulnerability.

Laughs are delivered in bucket loads by Donna’s two best mates Rosie (Nicky Swift) and Tanya (Helen Anker) who together are hilarious and individually deliver hugely entertaining solo performances. Rosie, during a lightbulb moment sets her sights firmly on Aussie adventurer Bill (Matthew Rutherford) and makes sure he knows it through her outrageous delivery of Take a Chance on Me, whilst Tanya teaches wannabe toyboy Pepper (Matt Jordan-Pidgeon) more than a thing or two about women during her fab rendition of Does Your Mother Know.

Daniel Crowder, Matthew Rutherford and Tamlyn Henderson who play Harry, Bill and Sam respectively are perfectly cast in their roles. Each very different from the next, adding a entertaining injection of charisma to proceedings.

The ensemble are superb, their delivery of Anthony Van Laast’s choreography is slick as they literally burst with energy in every scene offering some of the real stand-out moments in this glorious campfest full of fun and sprinkled with sparkle.

Mamma Mia will undoubtedly release your inner dancing queen; laugh out loud funny, touchingly tender, immensely uplifting feel-good theatre at its absolute finest!

On at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 14th July tickets available here.

Legally Blonde

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

High energy, fizzing with fabulousness and full of heart Legally Blonde bursts onto the Palace theatre stage this week for the final stop of the current UK tour.

Based on the 2001 film starring Reece Witherspoon which later became an award winning Broadway musical, Legally Blonde continues to be a massive crowd pleaser with every audience member up on their feet by the end of the show.

Dumped by law student boyfriend Warner for not being a serious enough girlfriend, Elle decides to take matters into her own hands and sets about gaining a place of her own at Harvard Law School in a bid to prove she is the perfect accessory.

The tongue-in-cheek innocence of the story ensure this camp, bright and fluffy production raises smile after smile while never taking itself too seriously.

Lucie Jones bursts with personality as the Malibu marvel, with great comedic timing and a voice that packs a punch her goofy but smart Elle proves her status as a musical theatre star is secured.

Rita Simons excels as Paulette, fun and feisty she ensures the loveable hairdresser gets her moment of glory with snake-hipped UPS guy Kyle, played superbly by Ben Harlow.

Special mention must also go to Laura Harrison as Vivienne and Helen Petrovna as Brooke Wyndham, both shine in their respective roles, with Petrovna’s skills with a skipping rope during Whipped Into Shape simply mind-boggling!

Director and choreographer Anthony Williams ensures this is a production bursting with energy, enthusiasm and most of all fun. There! Right There! Being a real highlight of Act II and further cementing Legally Blonde as a kitsch, camp couple of hours of perfectly pink uplifting escapism.

With a winning energy this pink princess succeeds against the odds to find her own perfect prince and sends a reminder about the importance of sisterhood that is more than just skin-deep.

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 30th June tickets available here.

The Play That Goes Wrong

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer: Matt Forrest

With the World Cup in full swing, the whole nation seems to have gone football crazy: we’ve seen great goals, controversial refereeing decisions and some calamitous howlers, however not even the biggest goal keeping blunder would compare to the chaos that goes into The Play That Goes Wrong.

Now in its sixth year, this Tony award-winner sees the plucky but flawed local Am-dram group ‘The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’ stage a classic ‘whodunit’, with their production of Murder at Haversham Manor. However the production is blighted from the outset: there is a missing dog, a misplaced Duran Duran CD, and a faulty shelf hampering proceedings and all this before the house lights have gone down and the show has begun.

Chris Bean (Jake Curran) the stressed director head of the drama society, and lead role of Inspector Carter, welcomes us to the show and informs us of some of the society’s less successful productions which include James and his Peach, and The Lion and the Wardrobe. It’s the perfect setup to introduce a hilarious evening of mirth and mayhem.

Along the way we are introduced to the various society players which include Max Bennett, who plays Cecil Haversham, (Bobby Hirston) a first time performer milking his role for all it’s worth, Sandra Wilkinson as Florence Colleymoore (Elena Valentine) somewhat over-egging her part in a desperate bid to steal the show, and Dennis Tyde as Perkins (Benjamin McMahon) clearly nervous and not very good at learning his lines. In addition they are supported by the technical crew of Trevor (Gabriel Paul) and Annie (Catherine Dryden) who try to fight the flames of disaster (quite literally) and will play bigger roles then either would have envisaged.

As the action continues we see the play go from one catastrophe to another, taking a mental and physical toll on all the cast and crew, just thankful it’s over and that they all survived… even if not entirely in one piece.

This is the third time I’ve watched this production within the last year and I’m not ashamed to say I love it. It seems to get better and better with every viewing; you notice things you missed the first time and second time around as a result of laughing so much. Director Mark Bell has crafted a night of pure unadulterated fun and frolics. The production pokes fun at the self-important, pompous world of amateur dramatics, with a biting, scathing pitch perfect script by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields.

The cast certainly put in a shift, with an endless barrage of slapstick and physical comedy very much in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy or Michael Crawford from classic BBC sitcom Some Mother’s Do Have ‘em.

All of the cast do exceptionally well but the stand out performance goes to David Kristopher-Brown, as Robert and Thomas Colleymoore, whose performance at one point had audience members howling with laughter, with a little a hint of fear for the actors safety, made all the more impressive by the fact that Brown is the understudy for this touring production, and certainly highlights the depth of quality this production company has at its disposal. In addition, Steven Rostance as Jonathan, and Charles Haversham who plays the least convincing dead body you are likely to see and really should change his name to Lazarus!

There are a few minor issues: at times there is so much going on that it is hard to keep track of the action. In addition, because of all the turmoil, some of the dialogue is lost and hard to hear adding to the chaos and confusion

Overall this fantastically fun night at the theatre that will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear, and aching sides to boot. At the close of the show the cast let us know that their next production: The Comedy About a Bank Robbery will be going to the Lowry in September: hopefully I’ll have recovered from this performance by the time that comes around!

They Play That Goes Wrong is on at the Manchester Opera House till 30th June tickets available here.