ENB – Cinderella

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

From the moment the curtain rises on Christopher Wheeldon’s production of Cinderella, you are transported into a fairytale world, rich with colour, majestic decadence, and lashings of magic and wonder.

The production opens with the young Cinderella dancing joyfully with her parents, however happiness soon turns to tragedy as Cinderella’s Mother becomes ill and sadly dies. Heartbroken, Cinderella’s tears fall to the ground, thus sprouting a mighty tree, which will have a huge impact on our heroine as the story unfolds.

As time passes by Cinderella’s father remarries a cruel woman: in disgust at her father’s supposed betrayal of her mother, she decides to act as servant rather than join the family. In the meantime, a young Prince called Guillaume, is being pressured into finding a wife by his father, King Albert. In order to facilitate this, a ball is arranged with invitations to be handed out across the Kingdom. However, Guillaume and his friend Benjamin decide to have a little fun and swap roles with each other. A chance meeting between Cinderella and the disguised Prince ignites a passion between the two; however, with a wicked stepmother, an ambitious stepsister, and other factors standing in their way, will they get there happy ever after?

This is a three-pronged assault on the senses that creates something quite special. First, we have the iconic score of Sergei Prokofiev, filled with joy, woe, grandeur and more than a nod to his Soviet roots.

The second is the story telling and choreography of the piece. Cinderella, is one of those stories most of us are hugely familiar with however Wheeldon has spiced things up: gone is the fairy godmother, replaced by four fates who watch over Cinderella from the moment her Mother dies. The ugly sisters aren’t particularly ugly, instead one is truly mean of spirit, whilst the other is a meek timid creature, also put down by her mother. The big change is in Cinderella herself, she is a strong, independent women.

The English National Ballet, has some absolute gems in their ranks, Joseph Caley as Prince Guillaume commands the stage throughout, an excellent leading man, with a performance of power and strength, whilst Erina Takahashi is graceful, light and fluid, yet feisty. They were supported by some fantastic comedic turns from Tamera Rojo, (stepmother Hortensia) Alison McWhinney stepsister Edwina) and Katja Khaniukova (stepsister Clementine), as well as a solid, yet fun performance from Jeffrey Cirico as Benjamin, you get two Prince’s for the price of one!

For me the aesthetic of the production really sets it apart from anything you’ll see anywhere else.  From floating chandeliers, dangling chairs, enchanted forest, to beautiful flowing ball gowns, the piece manages to marry fairytale magic and royal splendour seamlessly. Set and costume designer Julian Crouch, deserves a huge amount of credit, as do the rest of the production team, they have created something truly magical.

This a production filled with spectacular set-pieces, which include a mesmerising scene where Cinderella is readied for the ball and an enormously fun scene where Guillaume and Benjamin hold a shoe fitting for every woman in the Kingdom in order to find Cinderella. However, the real jewel in the crown is the spectacular palace ballroom scene, packed full humour and romance, we have shenanigans aplenty including drunken dance floor escapades, failed courting dances, and a spot of dance floor chunder, behaviour which regularly occurs in nightclubs the land!

As part of English National Ballet’s 70th anniversary the company are celebrating and thanking its touring communities by giving away 70 tickets during each run of performances in every city they tour to. In addition to this the ballet company has gifted tickets to staff from local charities and organisations including Talbot House, Mustard Tree, Frost Foundation, Lifeshare and Teenage Cancer Trust/Christie Hospital. English National Ballet will also give a ‘Golden Ticket’ for a special English National Ballet experience or piece of merchandise to one audience member per performance in Manchester.

Accessible, beautiful, light-hearted and magical this is a production that will cast a spell over you, an absolute treat for the whole family!

Cinderella is at the Palace Theatre until the 19th October. Tickets available here.

Curtains

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

We’ve all heard of opening night disasters when it comes to the theatre, from forgotten lines to sickly cast members, I’m certain actors and directors will have their fair share of horror stories. However, I’m sure none will match having their leading lady bumped off during the final curtain!

This is the premise for musical whodunit,  Curtains. This Tony Awarding winning  production is from the song writing duo John Kander and Fred Ebb, who  also wrote Chicago and Cabaret.

Set in 1950’s Boston we are backstage on the set oftroubled Broadway hopeful  Robbin Hood.  Leading lady Jessica Cranshaw (Nia Jermin) is murdered on opening night and, due to her rather shambolic performance, everyone is a suspect. Luckily, Boston’s finest, Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Jason Manford), who happens to be a theatre super-fan, is on hand to crack the case.

Placing the theatre on lock down, Cioffi begins to work his way through the list of suspects that include estranged couple and writing partners Georgia Hendricks (Carley Stenson) and Aaron Fox (Ore Oduba). Then there are show producers Carmen Bernstein (Rebecca Lock) and shady Sidney Bernstein (Mark Sangster) and flamboyant director Christopher Belling (Samuel Holmes). In addition, we have ambitious rising stars, Bambi Barnét (Emma Caffrey) and Niki Harris (Leah West), with the latter catching the eye of Lieutenant Cioffi. Everyone is a suspect with cast and crew beginning to drop like flies, can Cioffi catch the killer and save the show?

On the surface, this is a classic murder mystery, very much in the Agatha Christie mould, but on the other hand this is both a love letter to, and a critique of showbusiness, in particular the  theatre. 

There are caricatures aplenty from over-the-top directors, to ruthless money grabbing producers and mean-spirited critiques. Despite a few minor issues, this is an enjoyable, entertaining romp, filled with neat one liners, catchy tunes and some plot red herrings that will keep you engaged throughout.

The cast are at the top of their game, Jason Manford is a likeable leading man, whose comic timing is matched perfectly with a fine singing voice. Carley Stenson and Ore Oduba are also on good form as the warring writing partnership, with Stenson really given the opportunity to flex her vocal cords. There are scene stealing turns from Rebecca Lock and Samuel Holmes who between them get the lions share of the best lines and certainly make the most of them.

They are supported buy an exceptionally hard working cast who put in tremendous effort throughout which are exemplified in the company numbers The Women’s Dead, He Did It, and In the Same Boat III, which are the undoubted highlights of the show, and showcase Paul Foster’s exceptional direction and Alistair David’s intricate choreography.

The production is not without flaws; it’s a bit flabby in parts and there seems to be a bit of filler, it doesn’t quite hold your attention throughout its entire running time, in fairness the show gets off to such an intriguing start that it would be difficult to maintain that level of interest throughout. 

On the whole this is an entertaining, clever, production packed with solid performances, great tunes and some fantastic set pieces, which despite its darkly comic narrative has a heart of gold at its core and is a slice of fun, feel-good musical theatre!

Curtains is on the Place Theatre till 12th October tickets available here. 

MAME

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In the same week they celebrate their 4th birthday Hope Mill Theatre open their biggest and most ambitious show to date. Tony award-winning Broadway musical Mame hasn’t been seen in the UK since it’s original 1969 West End production starring the late, great Ginger Rodgers, but Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Entertainment don’t do things by halves. Teaming up with Ray Rackham Theatrical collectively they have created quite simply their most impressive and jaw-droppingly brilliant production since opening their doors in 2014.

Beginning in 1920’s New York City Mame Dennis really is the belle of every ball. Life truly is a banquet for Mame and her party loving friends so when her deceased brother’s 10 year old son Patrick is thrust into her care you may think the party may be over but then you haven’t met the magnificent Mame.

Even when she loses her fortune in the Wall St crash she perseveres with irrepressible positivity and her own unique sense of style, whoever let getting repeatedly fired get in the way of living their life anyway? Spanning several years through relationships, love and loss Mame captivates entirely, her exuberant soul is addictive, she thrills, delights, excites and entertains along the way.

Hope Mill Theatre has been transformed for this enchanting revival. Philip Witcomb’s design ensures that the intimate space seems to open up before your eyes as the jaw-dropping first number begins. Nick Winston’s choreography is sublime; transporting the audience from a rainy Manchester to a glittering Broadway with each full-out and fabulous number. Winston who also directed the piece leaves the audience open-mouthed at the sheer scale and brilliant of the production, it feels lavish, luxurious and deliciously decadent.

Tracie Bennett is entirely mesmerising as Mame she absolutely gives her everything to the role and is truly brilliant. Hilariously comedic one moment and utterly gut-wrenching the next her delivery of If He Walked Into My Life is spellbinding.

The pairing of Bennett and Harriet Thorpe who takes on the role of bosom buddy Vera is nothing short of iconic. They are a joy to watch as they barb off each other with booze fuelled brilliance. Tim Flavin is a suave and sophisticated Beauregard, the connection between Flavin and Bennett feels warm and genuine.

Special mention must also go to junior cast member Lochlan White who at tonight’s performance played Young Patrick. Demonstrating fine acting skills, a pitch perfect voice and the kind of charisma Mame would be proud of.

Every member of this talented cast deserves high praise. They work together in such slick harmony that each scene flows seamlessly into the next yet feels full of surprises. They deliver Nick Winston’s choreography to dazzling perfection, teamed with Tim Mitchell’s impressive lighting design and strong musical direction from Alex Parker each ensemble number packs a powerful and perfect punch.

The boldness and bravery shown by Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment and Joseph Houston and William Whelton of Hope Mill Theatre in bringing this all-new revival to such vibrant life must be commended. How lucky we are in a Manchester to have such committed and passionate theatre makers.

Mame is an absolute triumph, dazzling, daring and utterly delightful, world-class theatre right on our doorstep. A perfectly peachy slice of theatrical heaven. Mame feels like the start of something very, very special and I for one am here for the ride!

Catch MAME at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 9th November tickets available here.

Hope Mill Theatre | A Factory of Creativity |

Joseph Houston and William Whelton at Hope Mill Theatre. Photo Phil Tragen Photography

Hope Mill Theatre moved from private ownership to operating as a registered charity this week. The charity – A Factory of Creativity will operate the award-winning theatre which was founded by William Whelton and Joseph Houston in 2015, with the support of a board of trustees, made up of individuals who have supported the venue since it opened. Whelton and Houston will continue in their roles of Executive Director and Artistic Director respectively with the board of trustees supporting and guiding the charity as it moves forward.

In a joint statement Whelton and Houston said: “Hope Mill Theatre was set up four years ago with a £10K start up loan and has been operating since then as an independent business, receiving no local or national funding. In a small amount of time we have grown rapidly and have struggled to keep up with the expectations and sheer demand of operating such a large endeavour. It has become increasingly hard to support the level of work that we produce in-house as well as supporting a thriving arts community locally.

“Hope Mill Theatre is now in a very crucial stage of its journey with many exciting opportunities, as well as an ever-evolving and developing local landscape. We, along with our small team, recognise the importance of having the venue expand, which will allow us to focus more on nurturing new work and supporting artists.  It is our ambition to secure the venue’s home for many years to come and well as engaging more with our community and making our work accessible to varied audiences. We believe moving forward as a charity will allow us to achieve these ambitions.”

Hope MIll Theatre Patrons

The theatre will continue to build on its acclaimed partnership with Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment, with Hope Mill Theatre and Aria continuing to work together in the future, both at Hope Mill Theatre and around the UK, with their most ambitious show to date – Mame starring Tracie Bennett – which has it’s official opening this week.

Also announced is the news that award-winning writer Russell T Davies and stage and screen actress Denise Welch are to join Olivier Award-winning actress Tracie Bennett as a patrons of the theatre.

Russell T Davies said: “I’m thrilled and honoured to become a patron of Hope Mill Theatre.  It’s an amazing place, and I’ve followed Joe and Will’s journey right from the start. Their productions are wonderful, and I love their support for new writers and talent.  I think the future’s full of Hope!”

Denise Welch said: “I’m delighted to become a patron of Hope Mill Theatre. My love of theatre was formed in a company that started like this one and I’m thrilled to be a small part of Joe and Will’s journey. Coming to Hope Mill is not just a night at the theatre – it’s an experience from the minute you arrive, and the productions are first class. Exciting and vibrant…..just like me!”

Tracie Bennett said: “Being from the north myself, it is awe-inspiring to see the true and heartfelt passion and vision of mavericks Joe and Will, and the work they have done in creating Hope Mill Theatre. I had been following their work and have admired from afar the creation of this exciting new venue. I have long thought that a project of this ilk was a long time coming to Manchester. The work they are doing for regional theatre and musical theatre is extremely exciting not only for the city of Manchester but also the industry itself.”

First look photos -MAME *Credit Pamela Raith

In the first few months as a charity, there are planned funding applications to fund the purchase and upgrade of lighting and sound equipment. A ‘fund a chair’ scheme will be launched to help replace the venue’s current seating – to help make watching theatre at Hope Mill a more comfortable and accessible experience.  There are plans to also apply for funding to install hearing loops in the venue, as well as an upgrade of the ticket system used to improve the booking experience. There are also plans to launch ‘Friends of Hope Mill Theatre scheme.

Whelton and Houston concluded: “It’s now time to allow Hope Mill Theatre to grow and flourish as it enters the next phase of its very exciting future, regionally and nationally.”

 For more information on Hope Mill Theatre please visit Hope Mill Theatre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

& Juliet

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Some jukebox musicals come and go faster than you can say Hit Me Baby One More Time others like Mamma Mia really hit the spot becoming staples of the theatre scene; enter new kid on the block & Juliet a magnificent mash-up of legendary songwriter Max Martin’s biggest hits which judging by tonight’s thunderous standing ovation is without doubt here to stay.

Bursting into vibrant life with opening number ‘Larger Than Life’ & Juliet directed by Luke Sheppard gives an absolute masterclass in musical theatre. Visually stunning and with a cast that reads like a who’s who of theatre royalty & Juliet takes you on a joyous ride of empowerment, uplifting fun and star quality sass.

Forget what you know about Romeo & Juliet, this fresh production transforms the Bard’s tragic tale as Anne Hathaway (played spectacularly by Cassidy Janson) tells husband William Shakespeare (an impressive Oliver Tompsett) that his ending for the star-crossed lovers is…well basically shit; thus opening the gates for Juliet’s journey of sensational self-discovery as she explores for the first time what it means to truly get a life!

Oliver Tompsett and Cassidy Janson take on part narrator part player roles as the two inventively weave themselves into the narrative, influencing and entertaining throughout. Tompsett makes for a determined, unwavering Shakespeare that is until wife Anne (Cassidy Janson) takes his quill and sets about influencing not only Juliet’s but her own story. Both are perfectly cast, they spark wonderfully off each other with razor sharp comedic timing and genuinely warm wit.

Miriam-Teak Lee is simply outstanding as Juliet, giving an absolutely world-class performance, delivering powerhouse vocals with ease while her warm charisma combined with instant likability gets the audience immediately on side. It’s a thrill to join her on this fabulous ride as we will this fine heroine to find her own happy ending.

Best friend May is played beautifully by Arun Blair-Mangat his raw fragility when delivering Britney’s much-loved ‘I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman’ is packed with genuine heart and gut-wrenching emotion while Tim Mahendran is excellent as love interest Francois adding a perfect twist to proceedings while taking the story to another unexpected level.

Special mention must go to David Badella and Melanie La Barrie as Lance and Nurse who are quite simply a joy to watch, bringing the house down during their outrageously funny duet Teenage Dream/Break Free. Jordan Luke Gage introduces us to a very different kind of Romeo, an empty-headed heartthrob who may not be quite as innocent as he seems, Gage thrills with his spectacular arrival while his hilarious doe-eyed dorkish delivery is lapped up by the audience.

No review of the show would be complete without heaping praise on the insanely talented ensemble who look like they are having the time of their lives on stage. They deliver Jennifer Weber’s slick choreography with precision and a sass Beyoncé would be proud of just when you think they couldn’t get any better they crank it up a notch more, absolutely stunning.

Set designer Soutra Gilmour has created something epic here as the constantly evolving set continues to surprise while Paloma Young’s stunning costume design is a glorious meeting of period mixed with modern, think intricately detailed corsets teamed with sumptuous sports luxe and you’re halfway there.

It’s hard to believe the songs featured weren’t specifically written for the show Bill Sherman and Dominic Fallacaro’s arrangements of Max Martin’s mega hits fit the show like a glove while David West Read’s script finds a measured balance between hilariously funny and touchingly tender.

& Juliet is the musical we need right now, the ultimate in feel-good fun offering a joyous night of escapism while tackling modern themes with positivity and truth. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll dance your socks off before leaving with the biggest smile on your face with a heart well and truly warmed. Sensational fun from the first beat, we absolutely want Shakespeare that way!

& Juliet is on at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 12th October before it moves to London’s Shaftesbury Theatre tickers available here.

Preview | Disney on Ice

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Writer Kate Goerner

The ever-popular Disney on Ice spectacular returns to the rink at Manchester Arena next month – offering a timely opportunity to get a bit of Disney magic in your life in these unsettled times!
So why not grab those Mickey Ears and prepare to celebrate 100 Years of Magic in this all-new arena show that’s led by the Mouse-ter of Ceremonies (ahem, sorry!) Mickey Mouse with Minnie and lots of other pals and princesses alongside him.
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The family friendly production will be skating into Manchester from the 9th to 13th October and features more than 50 performers, a sing-along score of Disney musical masterpieces, exhilarating choreography and beautiful costumes and sets.
The show is packed with iconic Disney characters from much-loved films that Disney fans young and old will love seeing in the flesh – with added ice theatrics!
Audiences will travel to the heart of Africa with Disney’s The Lion King, come along for an adventure in friendship with the gang from DisneyPixar’s Toy Story, and watch as Belle breaks the Beast’s curse in the tale of Beauty & The Beast.
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And OR COURSE no Disney on Ice show would be complete without a trip to the kingdom of Arendelle from Disney’s Frozen and journey up the North Mountain with adorable snowman Olaf and hunky Kristoff, as they help royal sisters Anna and Elsa discover that true love conquers all.
Over 14 tales are featured, with some absolute classic songs like Hakuna Matata, You’ve Got A Friend in Me, Let It Go, At Last I See The Light, A Whole New World and loads more.
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Producer Kenneth Feld said: “This is a show, more than any other, which is truly for everybody. When I sit with the audience, I see those that are grandparents, like I am, enjoying a lot of the classic Disney stories, while young kids and parents really respond to modern day favourites like Frozen.”

Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Magic is produced by live family entertainment specialists Feld Entertainment.

Tickets and more information are available here.

Macbeth

Reviewed by Michelle Ewen

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“Double, double toil and trouble…”

In an era when the mere suggestion of a female Bond is enough to break the Internet, the Royal Exchange enters the fray with possibly the first ever mixed-gender professional production of MACBETH to have cast a woman in the lead.

That’s right, hang on to your coronets… Shakespeare’s titular character is played by a FEMALE. And what a woman she is! Dressed in combats, shaven-headed and brandishing assorted weaponry, Lucy Ellinson’s Macbeth is decorated for her valour; gripped by murderous ambition; and then strung up for her sins.

She parties in a blood-red ballgown, assassinates her Queen and shares her bed with a strong woman of colour, who prays: “Unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe topfull of direst cruelty”. (It’s enough to make your average Daily Mail reader’s head spin!)

In a further gender reversal, Duncan is played by Alexandra Mathie. It is an arresting moment when she enters the stage – a sharp bob framing a face that would usually bristle with whiskers.

Let us be clear, however… this is not about watching an inclusive ‘woke’ production. Every actor has earned their place and, with gender politics swept off the table, you’re free to focus on characterisation.

Macbeth is presented as an ambitious, conniving and deceitful person – not a woman breaking stereotypical convention – and in a major departure from classic portrayals, Lady Macbeth (Ony Uhiara) relies on scorn and reason instead of her womanly wiles.

They are part of an ensemble that is a tour de force. Each character is carefully etched and singularly memorable – delivering classic scenes with admirable gusto.

As brave and noble Banquo, Theo Ogundipe makes for a tender father and terrifying ghost, whilst Nima Taleghani and Rachel Denning bring comic relief as Lennox and the Porter/Lady Macduff.

Witches Nicola May-Taylor, Charlotte Merriam and Bryony Davies are scene-stealers whenever they appear – as “foul and fair” a motley crew as you could ever hope to encounter.

Christopher Haydon’s direction is spectacular, with the arrival of Banquo’s ghost at the feast his pièce de résistance. (Playful and sinister, think heads on platters, giant teddy bears and a malevolent game of musical chairs!)

Here, a special mention also to Designer Oli Townsend, Lighting Designer Colin Grenfell and Sound Designer Elena Pena, who infuse the whole production with a post-modern, industrial and militaristic feel.

Balloons, gunshots and strobe lights puncture the interior of ‘the round’ as – under the tutelage of Movement Director Lucy Hind – the players hurtle in through doors, drop down on ropes and swing from ladders with knife blades pointing venomously.

With no seat no more than 9m from the stage, MACBETH makes full use of the 360-degree performance space, which is a feat of engineering in itself. Suspended in the Grade II listed building, it is the perfect metaphor for this thrillingly entertaining show – a thoroughly modern offering rooted in the classic tradition of the theatre.

MACBETH is on at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 19 October. Ticket information can be found here.