HopeFest

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

The sunshine has arrived just in time to herald the start of Hope Fest, a 3-week program of outdoor arts and cultural events located in the heart of trendy Ancoats.

The festival takes place from the 16th July through to 8th August and promises a mix of comedy, music, theatre and special events that will cater to all tastes!

Events include various shows from Matt & Phred’s music sessions, a celebration of Jazz, Funk and Soul. There is also Dog Fest, a family friendly event, showcasing some talented, paw-fect pooches, hosted by Hope Mill Patron Hayley Tamaddon. In addition,there is a tip of the hat to some iconic mega stars, including Dolly Parton, with The Dolly Show, performed by one of the best Dolly impersonators around; as well as a musical extravaganza in the form of Judy & Liza, which looks at Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli’s 1964 London Palladium show.

The festival kicked off with a huge statement of intent, in the guise of Jason Manford’s Comedy Club: a comedy showcase highlighting the cream of British stand up, and an opportunity to unearth some undiscovered comedic gems.

Tonight’s show featured four comics Matt Rees, James Allen, Julian Deane and our MC for the evening Sally-Anne Hayward. Hayward offers a mix of razor sharp observations on feminism, along with a scathing critic of clap-for-carers, which is bang on point. This, interspersed with lewd gags, and the tried-and-tested audience ‘banter’ sees Hayward do a solid job of setting the tone for the evening.

First on is Matt Rees, whose sardonic routine mainly centres on his battle with alcoholism and his continued sobriety. In addition, there are some set pieces focusing on a Mega Bus journey and his stint working at Poundland that are good fun. However, it is Rees’ darker material that is his main strength, with gags about dwarf sex and dementia, which are as funny as they are smart. It is a low-key, droll, but welcome offering from Rees.

Next up is James Allen, a Salford University Graduate, who packs a great deal into his short set. Focusing on Allen’s awkwardness. This is a set filled self-deprecating gags, about awkward first sexual encounters and his time as a drama student. It’s a silly, light routine from Allen, and because of its short running time leaves you wanting more from his awkward adventures.


Following the interval is the show’s headline act Julian Deane. The gags come thick and fast, with Deane working through a-near-the-knuckle routine focusing on relationships, and fatherhood. Some punch lines are as brutal as they are funny, helped along by Deane’s deadpan delivery. What is appealing about his routine is that despite the confidence with which it is delivered Deane is often the butt of his own jokes, which is somewhat refreshing. This was a great headline set from a comic who I’d definitely be interested in seeing again.

The opening night of Hope Fest was an absolute triumph, a great indicator of what lies ahead for this bold, innovative festival and a wonderful addition to Manchester’s vibrant cultural scene.

More information on Hope Fest as well as tickets can be found at https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/hope-fest

Bloody Elle – A Gig Musical

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Sitting inside one of Manchester’s most beautiful buildings, the excitement and anticipation for what is for many the first time back inside a theatre in over fifteen months cannot be underplayed.

From front of house, to centre stage, you could see the effort, love and pure joy that has gone into this re-opening. The atmosphere was palpable, and that wasn’t because England had just beaten Germany in a knockout game of football for the first time in over fifty-five years (although that might have just added a little extra something). Being in the audience, for the Royal Exchange and Rebel Productions’ world premiere in the current climate felt like a secret special treat.

Bloody Elle isn’t like your usual Royal Exchange offering, immediately the audience barrier is not only broken but well and truly smashed, as Elle addresses the audience directly from the off, refreshingly introducing the sound and lighting operating team as if it were part of the set of her gig.

‘Bloody Elle – A gig Musical,’ is a one-woman-show, set to an original score, written and performed by the astonishing Lauryn Redding. The story is of self-professed ‘potty mouth’ Danielle (Elle) who has been brought up on ‘cloud rise,’ by her widowed mother. Elle or ‘Gobshiiiite’ as her mother calls her, works at Chips and Dips which is ‘pretty good craic…and you get free chips.’ Here she meets newbie Eve, and the rest as they say is…. a two and a half hour, hilarious, uncompromising, fresh, original, genre-breaking, ‘gig musical.’

Redding is a force of nature and you can’t take your eyes off her. Not only does she fully command the auditorium for two and a half hours, she has the audience firmly in the palm of her hand. Full of witty, punchy one-liners, and hard-hitting truths that make you laugh out loud, and your insides squirm simultaneously, Redding’s writing is sensational, and the audience not only clings on to Elle’s every word, but we feel it deeper than maybe we are comfortable admitting.

The way the piece takes a free-flowing route in and out of spoken word, prose and song is remarkable and as if performing a one-woman-show, playing an acoustic and an electric guitar whilst cleverly looping your whole set isn’t enough, Redding’s singing voice is equally sublime, effortlessly moving from northern busker vibes to more soulfully fueled riffs that really show off her excellent vocal capabilities. This original score is raw and current, yet also feels long-established and familiar as you find yourself nodding in enjoyment.

Bloody Elle’ is directed by the Royal Exchange’s joint Artistic Director Bryony Shanahan, who does a wonderful job here of bringing all the elements together seamlessly. Stoodley’s stripped back design, together with Webster’s atmospheric lighting, are both extremely effective. It makes the whole evening feel really intimate, almost like you’ve cheated your way inside a live gig and a theatre show all in the one ticket and it’s almost too good to be true.

Towards the end you can see Redding shedding her character’s layers and allowing the rawness and truth of the story to surface. Coming out isnt easy it cuts you open from the inside,’ this is a story of love, heartbreak, acceptance and everything in between and the poignancy of watching Elle’s story unfold whilst Pride is being celebrated throughout the world is certainly not lost.

The entire experience is a cathartic and hugely uplifting one at the same time.

Yes, ‘the gig’ could quite possibly have been condensed a little, but your eyes are never left wandering, and your attention doesn’t stray for that matter, either.

Shanahan admits in her Director’s note that without Covid this piece may not have even been written and it’s no mistaking that a piece like this would possibly never have been programmed on the main stage at the Royal Exchange; certainly a little nugget of joy to come out of this past year.

Bold, bright and brash, the Royal Exchange’s first socially distanced, re-opening offering certainly packs a hefty punch.

‘Bloody Elle- A Gig Musical’ runs until the 17th July tickets available via » Bloody Elle (royalexchange.co.uk)

Vignettes

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Following a hugely successful run back in February of 2020, HER Productions in conjunction with Alex Keenlan, return to Hope Mill Theatre with a new set of Vignettes: a series of short plays from some of Manchester’s finest writers.

With six stories showcased, there is something for everyone, from family drama to sci-fi, kitchen sink to sitcom, all sharing the common theme of humanity. All have something to say about the world we live in.

It’s a smart choice to open with Fresh Meat: a sharp, fun story of empowerment as Abbi (Carrie Crookall) takes the plunge to visit a strip club, where she meets sassy dancer Frankie (Shireen Ashton). Despite their initial difference, the two ladies have more in common than they think. The script is packed with some punchy dialogue and two really fun performances.

The next offering  is Wildfires, a story looking at discovery and being out of your comfort zone. Niamh (Amy Gavin) reluctantly joins a retreat in the hope of making new friends and seeking out some answers, but things don’t quite pan out as they should. Again, a sharp, witty script with some solid work from the ensemble cast.

Closing the first act is XYV, a dystopian science fiction drama, which explores themes of gender, power, and the consequences of our actions. Performed by Elaine McNicol and Emily Dowson, with terrific sound design from Andrew Glassford, this bold, daring piece attempts to pack a great deal into its short running time.

First up following the interval is To Have and to Hold, a beautifully written, directed and performed piece focusing on the relationship between Ange (Joanne Heywood) and Barry (Shaun Hennessy), a pair of championship winning ballroom dancers stopped from doing the thing they love by an oh so familiar enemy. Containing some great gags and more laugh-out-loud one-liners, this is the perfect way to start act two.

The penultimate offering is, It’s a Pea Picking Privilege, a bitter sweet slice of social realism, as Aggie (Sophie Ellicott) and her daughter, Alice (Carla Rowe) discuss identity, and life’s struggles in a not-too-distant past. With a script filled with humour and pathos, it certainly leaves you wanting to learn more about this fractured mother and daughter unit.

The show closes with Signs, a look at loss, grief and forgiveness. Spiritualist Eileen (Wendy Albiston) works with sisters Amanda (Francesca White) and Jess ( Liz Simmonds) as they both deal with their sister’s illness in very different ways. Packed with emotion and a sprinkling of humour, this dark comedy seems the fitting finale to bring the production to a close.

Vignettes will have something for everyone, containing a tale or two that we can all relate to and a timely reminder that whilst live entertainment has been decimated throughout this pandemic, there are still stories to be told, with talented creative’s ready to tell them by whatever means they can.  

Vignettes is on at Hope Mill Theatre till 3rd July

Tickets available from: https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/vignettes

Hushabye Mountain

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First performed at the Crewe Lyceum in 1999, Hope Mill Theatre’s streamed revival of Hushabye Mountain brings the Jonathan Harvey penned play to a new audience at a time when living through a pandemic is something we can all relate to.

The strong opening where we see Danny pass from his earthly life to the sounds of his mother Beryl singing one of his childhood favourites ‘Feed The Birds’ sets the scene for this heartfelt piece where the brutality of the HIV/AIDS epidemic rips through the very heart of each character, leaving its unflinching and tragic mark.

As Danny sits in limbo waiting for confirmation that he can officially ‘pass on’; his friends and family left behind reflect and reforge their relationships and lives without him.

Though the timeline moves about considerably from Danny’s life pre-diagnosis to after his passing Nick Bagnall’s strong direction ensures clarity allowing the audience to closely follow events as they unfold and reflect in real time with the characters.

Despite the heavy subject matter Harvey’s wit and skill for creating characters with true grit and huge heart shines through. This stellar cast pour themselves into this piece and the reward for the audience is deeply moving.

Nathan McMullen floods Danny with life, making his diagnosis all the more tragic. He draws you in & quickly establishes the character as someone you’d always have at the top of any guest list, fun, flirty and bursting with heart. His fears are displayed openly and honestly as reality hits and his dreams fade.

The scene between McMullen & Layton Williams where Danny makes plans for his funeral is devastating in its impact. Beautifully delivered by both and although heartbreaking is peppered with wit, genuine affection and buckets of love. Williams gives a superb performance as Connor, a role very different from what we’ve seen him in before, he convinces entirely.

Similarly the hospital scene between Matt Henry as Lee and McMullen as Connor is powerful in its poignancy as the reality of what is to come hits home.

Jodie Prenger as Beryl, Connor’s Mum gives a truly memorable performance. Through her seemingly manic ramblings we see a mother searching for atonement from the guilt she feels after Connor’s farther forced her to cut ties with Connor when he came out. Her mind has been destroyed by the overwhelming guilt she feels as she appears as Mary Poppins and Judy Garland, two of Connor’s favourite icons, we’re transported to a happier time for them both where we imagine them watching Hollywood classics accompanied by snuggles on the sofa. Not physically able to protect her baby anymore her song now gently sends him peacefully to sleep.

This strong cast lift Harvey’s words and deliver them with heartfelt commitment shining a light on the complexities of love and loss. There is also hope as combination therapies begin to make an impact while Jonathan Harvey’s wit is never far away, shining through the tension and tragedy.

Powerful theatre bursting with heaps of heart.

Streaming until 20th June tickets available https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/hushabye-mountain

Meet Me at Dawn

Reviewed by Alison Ruck


Indoor theatre is back! And where better to see your first live piece of theatre in over a year than at the beautiful Hope Mill Theatre. 

There’s honestly no better feeling than being back sat in a theatre waiting for the lights to go down and in HER Production’s ‘Meet Me At Dawn’, once the lights went down I was engrossed from start to finish. 

With it being a relatively small theatre, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of Covid restrictions and audience numbers but was pleasantly surprised to see how much the theatre has done to ensure the seating can be socially distanced whist not affecting the full audience atmosphere too much. With added Perspex screens and wider rows, I felt I could enjoy the fulltheatre-feel safely. 

The stage is set rather sparsely with minimal set and lighting. We’re immediately thrown into the action and introduced to Robyn (played by Helen O’Hara) and Helen (played by Susan Jayne-Robinson), a young couple who find themselves washed up on a distant shore, following a boating accident. It’s clear from the offset that something is amiss, but it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what until much later in the piece.

Some key themes are introduced briefly early on and later revisited more in depth; this gives the piece a nice flow and allows it space to grow.

I found myself initially wondering where the story would go and how much could be explored on what seemed to be a simple, static set, located on an island beach.

However, as the piece went on, emotions rose and the actors really hit their stride and I was pleasantly surprised with the range and depth the actors displayed during some of the more emotional moments of the piece. Sound and lighting enhanced the emotional moments of the piece in the most subtle way, which truly draws you in at those times. 

HER Productions produce a range of work with a female voice at the core, and this is clear to see through the pure and honest connections that actors Helen, Susan and director Ellie Rose bring to life throughout this production. As a woman watching this show, it is so easy to see your own relationships through the characters, be that friendships, mother/daughter, or romantic. This adds to the emotion at the end of the piece (without giving too much away) when the plot resolves.

The production, which is 1 hour 20 minutes straight through, is a touching story about love and grief and all the emotions that come with it: sadness, anger and eventually peace. The production really takes you with it on its journey through these emotions and by the end leaves you with a real sense of heartbreak and considering your own relationships and their importance.

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2


Meet Me At Dawn is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 29th May. Tickets are available at: hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/meet-me-at-dawn

C.O.N.T.A.C.T

📷 Phil Tragen

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest


Over the last 14 months many of us have had a great deal of time to take stock and reflect on the world around us, so wouldn’t it be exciting to enter the head space of someone different for a short while, and become immersed in their world.

Well for 50 minutes you can, with the unique production of C.O.N.T.A.C.T brought to audiences by Aria Entertainment, WEF Productions and The Lowry, staged either at Media City and/or a Manchester City Centre.

We were told prior to the event to meet near the tram stop at Media City and to bring a brolly: this after all is Salford where the city and grey sky fit like hand in glove. In addition we were asked to download the C.O.N.T.A.C.T app for your smartphone of choice and to bring a set of earphones.

📷 Phil Tragen

We are soon introduced to Sarah (Chloe Gentles), a young women with a lot going on in her head: from the uncomfortable fitting of her bra to the odd feeling in the pit of her stomach, all the while taking in the sounds of the city, lost in her own little bubble.

However her world is soon turned on it’s head with the introduction of Raphael (Cellan Scott), a mysterious stranger who knows more about Sarah then she knows about herself.

Sarah and Raphael soon begin a journey of discovery and reflection which will change Sarah forever.

C.O.N.T.A.C.T was first performed in Paris at the height of the pandemic, moving to London last summer and garnering huge praise for it’s bold, innovative attempt to stage live theatre. After all we can’t order a drink without an app, so why shouldn’t we enjoy theatre in the same way?

📷 Phil Tragen

Both Gentles and Scott do not utter a world throughout, with both giving visual, expressive performances whilst their dialogue is drip fed into our conscious’ via the app. The two actors performances, in conjunction with the highly impressive 3-D sound design allow you to switch off and become totally immersed in Sarah’s world, so much so that as we strolled around the grounds of the Blue Peter Garden I became aware that I was part of the production, as baffled on lookers watched a group of people with headphones observing two others have a silent but very heated debate.

This unique, production is the perfect reminder of how much we need human connection and the importance of looking after not only ourselves but also looking out for others. No matter what challenges we may face, there can always be a solution found.

C.O.N.T.A.CT is on in Manchester and at Media city until the 27thJune. Tickets available at: https://thelowry.com/whats-on/contact-salford-quays/

Critically-acclaimed outdoor show C-O-N-T-A-C-T comes to Salford & Manchester in May

Aria Entertainment and WEF Productions have announced that the critically-acclaimed
outdoor production C-o-n-t-a-c-t will run for six weeks from Tuesday 18 May – 29 June 2021.


This immersive, two-hander outdoor performance featuring a captivating 3D sound design will
run in partnership with The Lowry in two locations – Salford Quays and central Manchester following a hugely successful run in London in autumn 2020.

This innovative production opened to 4* reviews from The Guardian and the i, with The Times
calling it “a tantalising vision of a new kind of theatre.” It will be one of the first live theatre show to open in Manchester & Salford following theatre closures last year.

Originally created by Samuel Sené and Gabrielle Jourdain and premiering in France with
French production company Musidrama last summer in a world where social distancing became
the ‘new normal’, this timely story of a moving and unexpected encounter explores the themes
of mental health and anxiety through the eyes of Sarah as she is approached by someone she
believes to be a stranger. She discovers that he can hear her thoughts but how? Who is this
man? Dive into her mind in this unique sensory and immersive new show and experience
theatre like never before.

The show runs for 50 minutes without an interval and audiences download the audio from the
app which is a completely new piece of technology synchronizing the spectators and actors,
allowing the show to play with theatrical concepts and a new form of dramaturgy. Audiences of
no more than 17 per show will purchase their tickets online and will then receive a link to
download the app and exact location details.

The show complies with the safety and hygiene measures arts as set out by the government. This pedestrian performance is an outdoor promenade experience for small groups of up to 17 and adheres to strict social distancing
between audience members. It is also an audio experience which involves no direct speaking of
any actor in the play.

Tickets can be purchased via The Lowry’s website Contact | What’s On | The Lowry


Immersive drive-in cinema SecretCity comes to Manchester

Reviewed by Nicky Jones

As one of the first live events to happen in Manchester after the third national lockdown,
it was a welcome treat to attend SecretCity’s Opening Night!

Happening at EventCity throughout summer 2021, we were given chance to have an early experience and watch the 2020 remake of The Secret Garden at the drive-in cinema.

Arriving into SecretCity, we were greeted by an immersive Alice in Wonderland enchanted tunnel, complete with a water pistol armed dancing mushroom and a zebra on stilts.

As we followed the journey round, we saw an Alice in Wonderland scene with a vibrant butterfly who threw a giant beach ball our way! This was a fantastic welcome, and really set the tone for the rest of the event.

Before the film, a DJ set was blasted out of speakers and on radio waves – perfect for a party in the car!

The SecretBar was a huge hit with attendees, including a popular beer garden area for catching up with friends. The drinks were flowing and plenty of hot food was on offer to warm us up.

Spectacular aerial artists and roaming performers put on a stunning show throughout the build up to the film.

Popcorn in hand, we headed back to the car for the film to begin. A light show and pyrotechnics were a feast for the eyes in the last few moments before the film began, whilst the DJ encouraged the audience to flash their car lights and honk their horns!

Various films are being shown throughout the summer on the UK’s biggest LED outdoor screen, but the stunning remake of The Secret Garden was the perfect choice for opening night.

There are plenty of photo opportunities at SecretCity – so dress up and enjoy a night out from the comfort of your own car!

Fancy it?
Tickets are £35 per car, available to purchase on: https://parknpartymcr.co.uk/secret-city/

What’s on the schedule?
Wonder Woman (1984) | Thursday 15th April | 9pm
Bridesmaids | Wed 21st April | 8:30pm
Onward | Saturday 24th April | 4pm
Greenland | Sunday 2nd April | 8pm
Mulan (2020) | Saturday 7th May | 4pm
The Greatest Showman | Sunday 8th May | 4pm

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK Queen’s sashay into Manchester!

Join the queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK for an evening of endless eleganza extravaganza as this brand-new tour takes in 19 theatres and venues across England, Scotland and Wales including a date at Manchester Opera House on February 12.

Acclaimed for their amazing production values, expect the unexpected in this glittering tour featuring UK Season 2 Finalists Tayce, Bimini Bon Boulash, Dundee’s Ellie Diamond and WINNER Lawrence Chaney from Glasgow, along with stars from Drag Race UK.

Ben Hatton, Director of Theatre Touring for Cuffe and Taylor, said: “We are thrilled to be working with the Voss Events Team for what will be Drag Race’s biggest ever UK theatre tour.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race is an exciting show and is always a huge hit so we look forward to presenting a series of outrageously entertaining shows.”

Tickets start at £35 and there are exclusive VIP options where guests can enjoy a private meet and greet with the queens before the show!

Tickets go on general sale 10am Friday 26th March RuPaul’s Drag Race UK Tickets | Opera House Manchester in Manchester | ATG Tickets

Interview | William Whelton & Joseph Houston talk RENT

Earlier this month Hope Mill Theatre celebrated the bittersweet opening – and closing – of its sold-out production of RENT on the same night. The venue had become one of the first venues in England to stage an indoor theatre production since the Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of theatres back in March.

This new production of the show – initially scheduled for August then moved to Autumn – was due to run at the Grade II-listed former cotton mill from Friday 30th October to Sunday 6th December, following all recommended Covid-secure measures.

The entire run sold out in 48-hours following the announcement of an exciting and diverse young cast, with Hope Mill being granted permission by the rights holders to make up the shortfall in capacity (a result of the necessary social distancing measures) by filming the production and broadcasting it online over four weekends. The filmed version was something that Hope Mill founders William Whelton and Joseph Houston say was crucial in terms of the viability of the production – and even more so when the live run was cut short due to the new national lockdown.

Ahead of the first streamed performance this evening we caught up with William Whelton and Joseph Houston to reflect on the challenges of 2020 and their excitement at bringing RENT to audiences online.


Opening Night: Tell us about RENT and why you wanted to bring it to Hope Mill Theatre and Manchester?
WILL – “RENT is a rock musical loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera La Bohème. The story evolves around a group of struggling artists living in New York City and dealing with issues surrounding the AIDS epidemic, regeneration, drug abuse and homelessness. It is also a celebration of diversity, individuality and creativity at its core. All of these themes are so relevant not only to our current climate but to the city of Manchester and we feel that this show has never felt more poignant and important.”

ON: What about the show makes you think it will be the perfect fit for the venue?
JOE: “It’s always very exciting reimagining musicals for a smaller scale and RENT is no exception. The music in RENT and the relationships between characters are so beautifully told and it really lends itself to a more intimate setting. The show is also set in an old apartment block in New York with exposed brick and feels very bohemian. I think aesthetically Hope Mill fits this setting perfectly.”

ON: The cast is incredibly exciting – and extremely diverse. Why is presenting a diverse cast important to you as producers?
WILL: “It is always so important to us as an organisation to celebrate diversity in all of its forms and we are always very proud of the casts we assemble. Especially for a show like RENT, it was even more important that we put together a cast which celebrates individuality and inclusivity. The cast and wider team that we have assembled is so exciting and all of these amazingly talented unique individuals brought so much heart and hope to this production.”

ON: The director Luke Sheppard directed Spring Awakening at Hope Mill – were you excited to have him back at the venue?
JOE: “We loved working with Luke on our production of Spring Awakening, which was such a success for our venue. After seeing &Juliet when it premiered at the Opera House we knew that Luke was the perfect choice to reimagine RENT for a new age. He brings together the most incredible creative team and always gets the best out of his cast members. His vision and creativity is spectacular and RENT was also a musical which is very close to him and was a real inspiration for him pursuing a career in this industry.”

ON: There must have been times this year when you felt RENT wouldn’t be possible in 2020 – what made you so determined to stage the production this year if you could?
WILL: “The past 6 months have been a roller coaster of emotions for everyone, especially in the arts sector. We postponed RENT from the summer, not knowing if it would be at all possible for us to produce this year, but as more guidance was released around inside performances we started planning on trying to make it possible and safe. RENT has really never felt so relevant to now and this time and in our hearts we knew that it was the right time to tell this story. It was also so important to us to give all of the amazing actors and freelancers involved in this production the opportunity of working and earning in a time when many have been badly affected by the pandemic.”

ON: Just how challenging was it making the production and venue ‘covid-secure’?
JOE: “It has been extremely challenging trying to navigate opening and producing in a covid-secure world. The main issue has been the financial impact on making the venue and process of making and running the show. Obviously we have had zero income since we closed our doors in March and along with high production values and the equipment needed to make the venue fully covid-secure we have had to spend a lot of money that we don’t currently have to spend. However, we were always determined to only progress with the production and opening if we felt we could deliver it in the safest possible way for everyone involved. We have made a significant investment in PPE equipment, safety screens, hand sanitising stations, signage, fogging systems and testing for the team which gave us the confidence to be able to open our doors once again.”

ON: How important was being able to offer a digital streaming version of the show for audiences who are unable to attend for whatever reason?
WILL: “We were operating the run of RENT at 50% capacity, which is only 70 seats per performance. This meant that the production would have had a deficit of around £100,000, which made it completely unviable. Having the extraordinary option to offer an online viewing of the show has allowed us to take our lost capacity and offer it as a digital ticket, and helping us make up lost income. It is also important for us that audiences could not attend or still didn’t feel ready to return to the theatre can still enjoy RENT from the comfort of their own homes. The digital version obviously took on even greater significance when we were forced to close the show early due to the second national lockdown.”

ON: Opening and closing RENT on the same night must have been a bittersweet experience – what was the evening like?
JOE: “We heard the news that we would be entering a second lockdown half an hour before curtain up on our second preview and it was very upsetting for everyone involved. We were so glad that we could at least make it to our official opening and press night on Wednesday 4th November which allowed us to invite press to review the show. The reviews have been incredible and we are so proud of the hard work from everyone involved. The final performance was very emotionally charged but it was really electric and showed Just how special this production is.”

ON: RENT has been a long time in the planning, especially given the situation this year. What was it like finally getting to see the show and the cast come to the stage?
WILL: “Working towards opening our doors and staging RENT is what really got us through the last year and gave us the hope and drive to push on, when times became very difficult. I know that this feeling echoed with the whole team involved and it was a beacon of light in a dark time for the arts. I knew that the show had the recipe to be exceptional from the amazing creative team to the cast and it really lived up to expectations and then some. The whole experience of the show, the design, the band, the performances, it was worth only 5 performances to feel that energy and watch.”

ON: Now it has been filmed, what can you tell us about the filmed version of RENT and what can audiences expect?
JOE: “This production was created for the stage and to be experienced live and although in the current climate that can’t be, we have worked so hard to film the show for online, whilst trying to keep that live theatrical experience. Having seen some of the initial footage, the film company have managed to capture the whole essence, heart and overall look of what was experienced live in the venue. It really is the next best thing!”

ON: Hope Mill has recently celebrated its 5th birthday – looking back what have been the highlights during this time?
JOE: “We can’t believe we have reached 5 years since opening Hope Mill Theatre, it’s incredible. There have been so many highlights since opening our doors, from winning awards to transferring shows. But believe it or not the biggest highlight has got to be working on RENT, yes it’s been tough and difficult to navigate and there is the constant fear that anything could happen and it all comes crashing down, but the level of positivity, hard work, passion and hope that has come from everyone involved is truly why we do what we do and what gives us the drive to keep going.”

ON: What next for Hope Mill in 2021?
WILL: “Once again we will work hard towards opening our doors and welcome back audiences. We won’t be opening this year, however, we have our queer arts festival: Turn On Fest launching again in January 2021 and we also have an incredible programme lined up and of course we will he doing everything within our power to bring back RENT.”

• Online streamed performances of RENT are available on selected dates from Friday 27th Nov until Sunday 20th December.

More information and online tickets can be found www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk

RENT

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

When Hope Mill Theatre announced their summer revival of RENT back in January the buzz about the show quickly engulfed social media; this felt like the most perfect choice for the boundary-pushing, award-winning theatre. Punchy, loud, proud and fuelled by hope, RENT was swiftly propelled into many a ‘must-see list’; billed as the show we all needed in our lives, then…well we all know what happened next.

While the pandemic closed theatres across the country, devastating the Arts, Hope Mill Theatre never lost faith that their much-anticipated production would play to audiences this year. Safeguards were made to film the production should the worst-case scenario of a second lockdown happen and so unbelievably we find ourselves at the show’s official opening which heartbreakingly is also its closing.

The exposed brickwork and anti-Reagan graffiti of David Woodhead’s set transports us to Manhattan’s East Village where a group of young, penniless bohemians strive to live, love and create underneath the looming shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As the devastation and desperation increases so does their sense of family and the ultimate need to make a lasting mark on the world before their lights are extinguished.

Director Luke Sheppard and his team of creatives have truly embraced this piece resulting in a bold, dynamic and meticulously crafted production. The love bursts from each character while their palpable desperation combined with a spirit of defiance is as heart-breaking as it is heart-warming. There is an undeniable sense of urgency; these are stories that need to be told, experiences that need to be shared and a love that needs to be felt.

The cast sit around the stage throughout, feeling and experiencing the heartache, pain and joy of each other’s stories. Touch is infrequent, marked by a fizz of electricity as Howard Hudson’s light design flickers in reaction, making those infrequent yet delicious moments all the more powerful.

Tom Francis makes an incredible stage debut as Roger, his strong swagger is ripped away as his fear of dying takes hold, cradled collectively by the soothing ensemble of resolute voices. Blake Patrick Anderson’s Mark has a quirky sweetness, hiding behind his camcorder in a bid to save him from connecting too deeply thus exposing him to ultimate loneliness while ex-housemate Benny (Ahmed Hamad) plays a strong enemy to the bohemian life he once embraced.

Mimi’s (Maiya Quansah-Breed) strutting and sass is replaced by a heart-breaking vulnerability while Maureen (Millie O’Connell) and Joanne’s (Jocasta Almgill) fractious relationship bubbles and simmers throughout. Deeply entwined in the story is the moving relationship between HIV positive Angel (Alex Thomas-Smith) and older lover Collins (Dom Hartley-Harris) their purity and commitment to each other brings heartening joy to the piece while Hartley-Harris’ delivery of I’ll Cover You – Reprise is gut-wrenchingly brilliant.

RENT is truly an ensemble piece and is at it’s most powerful when this talented cast together with outstanding featured ensemble members Kayla Carter, Allie Daniel, Isaac Hesketh and Bethany Terry unite to deliver Larson’s anthemic score. From the iconic Seasons of Love to the stirring No Day But Today the sheer brilliance of this production envelopes you entirely. Tom Jackson Greaves’ choreography adds an edgy punch while Musical Supervisor Katy Richardson ensures the pounding score will long echo after the curtain comes down

While 2020 has been a year of unprecedented heartbreak and bitter disappointments this incredible piece stands proud, shouting from the rooftop for all to hear, not only is RENT viable it is vital; it’s pounding energy combined with gut-wrenching optimism confirming to all that the show most definitely MUST go on.

Rent is available to view online on selected dates from Friday 27th November until Sunday 20th December booking is essential tickets available via https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/rent-online

My Night with Reg

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First premiered at The Royal Court in 1997, Kevin Elyot’s ground-breaking play My Night with Reg was loved by critics and audiences alike. A transfer to the West End followed as well as Olivier and Evening Standard awards, a successful Broadway run and even a feature film so it comes as no surprise that Manchester-based Green Carnation should choose this moving play as their first touring production.

Set in Guy’s apartment over various years the story focuses upon the relationships of a group of gay men, all have in some form a connection with the eponymous Reg. What initially seems like a light-hearted look into the lives and loves of the group soon develops into a perceptive exploration or love and friendship as secrets and betrayals are exposed while the ever-present threat of the 1980’s AIDS crisis looms large.

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Guy (Simon Hallman) is hopelessly in love with John (Nicholas Anscombe) yet doesn’t have the courage to tell him. Eager to please he puts everyone else’s needs before his own while his hesitancy to put himself out there results in a life unfulfilled and free from any real intimacy.

Old mates John (Nicholas Anscombe) and Daniel (David Gregan-Jones) joke and jostle while never actually having an honest conversation. Interestingly it’s primarily the youngest character in the play Eric (Alan Lewis) who speak freely, unafraid of sharing his thoughts and feelings about the way he sees the world while couple Bernie and Benny bicker and bark at each other by way of communication.

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As Guy, Simon Hallman perfectly captures the frustration of a man thwarted by his own niceness, hopelessly in love yet lacking in the courage to do anything about it. He endears himself to the audience as he flusters and fusses around his friends making the final part of the play all the more affecting.

David Gregan-Jones flounces spectacularly as charismatic Daniel while showing great skill in his ability to switch from carefree to devastated with ease. Nicholas Anscombe plays John as a cool and composed figure who becomes increasingly lost as the piece develops.

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Steve Connolly and Marc Geoffrey as Benny and Bernie play off each other brilliantly offering some of the most cutting humour in the piece while Alan Lewis is refreshingly real as the much lusted after Eric.

Co-directors Dan Jarvis and Dan Ellis has succeeded in creating a piece that’s as funny as it is moving. This dark comedy doesn’t sugar-coat nor should it, Green Carnation’s affecting revival will resonate with many. Designer George Johnson-Leigh’s set is simplistic yet effective with neon lighting pulsating as the intensity rises.

A well-crafted, well-acted piece which will leave you more than happy you’ve spent the night with Reg.

My Night with Reg is on at The Lowry until Saturday 25th January tickets available here.

Further information about regional tour dates can be found here.