Rotterdam

 

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Every once in while a play comes along that really strikes the right chord, one that you would encourage as many people as possible to go and see, writer Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam is that play!

First performed in 2015, this Olivier Award winning play offers an honest, raw portrayal of gender dysphoria and the impact that it can have not just on the individual but their loved ones as well.

Set in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, a vibrant port town where people come and go as much as the cargo that passes through its docks; however, this isn’t the case for Alice (Rebecca Banatvala) and her partner Fiona (Lucy Jane Parkinson).

The pair have been living there for seven years now, with both trying to come to terms with who they are. It’s New Years Eve and Alice has finally decided to come out as gay to her parents, with much encouragement from Fiona. However, before Alice undertakes this brave step, Fiona also has a confession to make that she wishes to be recognised as a man and would like to be called Adrian from now on.

This revelation has a huge impact on the pair and their relationship as Adrian seeks acknowledgement from a world that he sees will not accept him as a man, whilst Alice questions her own sexuality. Through their journey of discovery, the pair are supported by Lelani, (Stella Taylor) Alice’s free-spirited work colleague, who has more than friendship on her mind as it pertains to Alice. Making up the quartet, is Josh (Paul Heath) Fiona/Adrian’s brother who is also the former boyfriend of Alice.

This could so easily fall into a ‘preachy’ message driven play about transgender issues, instead focusing on the impact Adrian’s decision to transition impacts on those around him. The script handles its subject intelligently and sensitively, whilst pulling no punches. There are moments of levity throughout with some sharp, funny throw away lines.

The cast under Donnacadh O’ Brian, skilful direction are superb, with Parkinson giving a raw at times feral turn as Adrian: filled with conflict and heartbreak. Whilst Banatvala is also outstanding giving a more restrained but no less gut-wrenching turn as Alice. Both Taylor and Heath are on good form in their supporting roles, with the pair turning in great comedic performances, demonstrating a gift for timing and delivery.

There are some plot contrivances that test plausibility, such as Josh’s decision to stick around despite losing the women he loves to his sibling, but this is a minor quibble on what is a weighty, heartfelt, powerful piece of theatre that will make you laugh and may even cause you to get the odd bit of sand in your eye too.

Transgender issues despite having some media coverage are still hugely unrepresented. Productions like Rotterdam are much needed and important to help educate and hopefully create more positive conversations. This however is not the shows key drawing power, that comes because it is a beautifully told story about the struggles of relationships and real life that will resonate with us all.

Rotterdam is at the Manchester Opera House till 15th June. Tickets available here.

 

 

 

The Book of Mormon

10-The-cast-of-The-Book-of-Mormon-Manchester-Palace-Theatre-Credit-Paul-Coltas

The cast of Book Of Mormon Manchester – Credit Paul Coltas

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ever since those first whispers  of “The Mormons are coming” way back in November, excitement levels have been sky high for the multi-award winning, (Tony’s, Olivier’s and Grammy’s to name but a few) smash-hit Broadway musical’s Manchester arrival.

Penned by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone along with Robert Lopez co-creator of Avenue Q as well co-writer for songs from Disney’s Frozen and Coco you quickly get the idea that this is going to be one seriously creative and wildly outrageous piece of theatre…and you wouldn’t be far wrong.

From the minute the bright-eyed, Colgate smiling, super-positive Mormons take to the stage with witty opening number Hello! you know you’re in for quite the ride, so buckle up, embrace the outlandish and leave the easily-offended at home.

M-Jae – Cleopatra, Issac – Kevin Clay, Conner Peirson in The Book Of Mormom, Manchester, Palace Theatre Credit Paul Coltas

The story introduces us to Elders Price (Kevin Clay) and Cunningham (Conner Peirson) a mismatched pair thrust together on their Mormon mission to convert the natives of a country far flung from Salt Lake City (no spoilers here), despite knowing nothing about the country nor the traditions or beliefs of the locals who live there. While Elder Price feels his mission is to “Blow God’s freakin’ mind” Elder Cunningham lies…a lot; what could possible go wrong?

From the off The Book Of Mormon pokes wicked and downright profane fun at every stereotype imaginable; nothing is off-limits in this all-out comedy assault and the audience lap up every close to the bone second of it.

The bouncy, infectious score with lyrics to make your toes curl is as outrageous as it is brilliant. There’s a genius borrowing from several other musicals: hilarious hints of The Sound of Music’s ‘I Have Confidence’ can be heard during ‘I Believe’ while ‘Joseph Smith American Moses” is a riotous, profanity laden homage to ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ from The King and I; as for the jaw-droppingly offensive yet hysterically funny Hasa Diga Eebowai, The Lion King’s Mufasa would be turning in his buffalo trodden grave.

Nicole-Lily Baisden and Conner Peirson Book of Mormon, Manchester, Credit Paul Coltas

This ‘borrowing’ sends up other musicals so brilliantly yet feels incredibly original; at one point during ‘You and Me (But Mostly Me) you are almost prepared for Elder Price to rise up Elphaba style a la Wicked.

Kevin Clay is outstanding as Elder Price, full of ego and bursting with confidence his self belief seemingly unshakable. Conner Peirson makes for a perfect sidekick as Elder Cunningham so desperate is he to please that his wild exaggerations and implausible bending of the truth brings its own type of bedlam to proceedings. The two together are an absolute joy, their love/hate relationship being the backbone of the story and they deliver it with heart-warming conviction, ultimately teaching both characters a generous life lesson.

Nicole-Lily Baisden shines as Nabulungi, sweet yet sassy she brings a wide-eyed innocence to the role making her duet with Peirson during ‘Baptize Me’ all the more entertaining.

The cast of The Book of Mormon Manchester – Palace Theatre, credit Paul Coltas

Special mention must also go to Will Hawksworth and his outstanding troop of Mormons, every scene they feature in is perfection with Turn It Off and I Am Africa being two of the standout moments of the night, camp, completely over the top and laugh out loud funny.

There is not one weak link in this entire company, with many cast members taking on several parts and delivering each to the highest of standards with the vocal arrangements and choreography taking this production to the next level.

While the show happily tears through taboos with all the subtlety of Satan at a baptism its ultimate message is one of faith. Yes it’s outlandish, yes it’s irreverent but the core message is that it really doesn’t matter what you believe in just as long as you believe in something, be that yourself, your community or each other. While it pokes fun at organised religion it makes clear the message that faith is no bad thing once you see past the bonkers constraints that surround it.

The cast of The Book of Mormon Manchester – Palace Theatre, credit Paul Coltas

Rarely do you see a whole theatre leap to their feet but judging by tonight’s thunderous standing ovation The Book of Mormon is without doubt the hottest ticket in town. Riotous fun from start to finish, believe the hype this is without doubt a little piece of heaven on earth.

Outrageous and original this sensational production will leave you desperate to convert to that marvellous Mormon tribe!

The Book Of Mormon is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 24th August, tickets available here.

📷 Paul Coltas

 

 

The Exonerated

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Since its premiere off-Broadway in 2002 Jessica Blank and Eric Jensen’s The Exonerated has been performed all over the world picking up multiple awards along the way and even making it onto the big screen in the 2005 film starring Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover.

This ambitious adaptation embraces the nation’s current obsession with binge-worthy true-crime Netflix style documentaries by cleverly combining recorded first person accounts with live theatrical flashbacks of interrogations, murders, court scenes and the grim reality of life on death row.

Jessica Stanton’s innovative design places audiences as central observers as a Netflix style menu dominates the large screen above the stage. The click of a remote control can be heard as this evening’s viewing selection is made. Audiences sit either side of a central stage which is surrounded by prison style wire fencing and rough barbed wire, only glimpsing sight of each other when the stark interrogation lighting illuminates the space.

Grant Archer’s documentary style film feels authentic and grips from the start as the lives of the wrongly convicted play out before us. The fusion of film and live action works exceptionally well as the six extraordinary stories of those wrongfully sentenced to death unfold.

Joseph Houston has directed the pre-recorded interviews in such a way that they feel entirely genuine, the pain, the emotion and most touchingly the hope expressed by each character is as fascinating as it is moving.

The live action scenes work superbly well, adding depth and authenticity to the harrowing accounts of injustice, exposing the corruption of the authorities and their manipulation of these damaged individuals. The shattering and lasting impact of their lost years on Death Row bringing devastation not only to themselves but to the lives of their friends and families also.

Charles Angiama as Delbert takes on a measured narrator style role, the Texan who spent many years on death row for a rape and a murder he did not commit guides the audience throughout, observing with us the injustices and manipulation taking place. He weaves together the other five stories as the rest of the small cast take on several roles bringing life and vision to the harrowing real-life stories.

Though the subject matter is intense and the corruption utterly horrifying the production is delivered in a way which allows for a heart-warming portrayal of the human ability for hope even in the most desperate of situations. Sunny Jacobs being the most perfect example of this: a gentle mother of two who lost not only 16 years of her life to Death Row but even more tragically her beloved husband whose wrongful execution was made all the more horrific when the electric chair malfunctioned. Pippa Winslow’s performance as the good-natured hippie is exceptional, portraying her class and composure to perfection.

The Exonerated directed by Joseph Houston. Hope Mill Theatre Manchester. Photo Shay Rowan

This inspired and impressive adaptation telling six interwoven stories marks a bold innovation in story-telling theatre. The decision to mix live theatre with pre-recorded footage pays off adding an element of authenticity to proceedings. The second half feels a little screen heavy compared to the first but this does not take away from the power of the piece. While you go into the production expecting to hear about harrowing miscarriages of justice you don’t quite anticipate the impact these stories of survival and hope will have, a true testament to the quality and care that’s been put into this inspired and innovative production.

The Exonerated is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Sunday 16th June, tickets available here.

Images by Shay Rowan Photography

Hobson’s Choice

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Innovative adaptations and the Royal Exchange Theatre go hand in hand; just looking at this week’s Autumn/Winter programme announcement confirms the theatre’s reputation as bold decision makers who delight in mixing things up. Interestingly Hobson’s Choice doesn’t relocate too far from its Salford origins, settling on the streets of a fledgling Northern Quarter but it’s reimagining by playwright Tanika Gupta brings a fresh vibrancy to this classic Northern comedy. The Hobson’s are now an enterprising Ugandan-Asian family running a tailor’s business in the city’s 1980’s backstreets thanks to the diamonds Mrs Hobson (then Patel) managed to smuggle out of Uganda in a batch of pakoras.

Hari Hobson (Tony Jayawardena) is a firm believer in what we’d now describe as wildly out-dated attitudes, his social standing means the world to him, a world in which he thinks women should be seen but preferably not heard and that at age 30 any female is well and truly past her prime. He delights in reminding his daughters that it is indeed a man’s world whilst he attempts to keep up appearances as head of the household despite it being clear for all to see that eldest daughter Durga (Shakini Peiris) clearly rules the roost.

His second generation daughters are desperate to break the mould, led by eldest sister Durga who has grown increasingly sick and tired of being the brains behind the business with little in gratitude or reward.

Tanika Gupta’s innovative adaptation enriches the story with well-timed humour, sparkling exchanges and touching sincerity which are made all the better by the well-researched Ugandan-Asian historical references. The strength of the cast is key to the success of this piece with each and every cast member giving a performance that is second to none.

Tony Jayawardena is outstanding as the ill-tempered family patriarch Hari who revels in his adopted Britishness yet despairs when his daughters attempt to explore their new culture. His comedic timing is perfection particularly during his superb exchanges with eldest daughter Durga (Shakini Peiris). They butt heads throughout with both hilarious and touching consequences.

Shakini Peiris is commanding as determined and hardworking Durga, the real innovator in the family. She convinces entirely as ambitions Durga whilst achieving a relatable balance of frustration and love for her infuriating father.

Special mention must go to Esh Alladi whose portrayal of introverted tailor Ali Mossop is an absolute joy. The journey he goes on is remarkable, starting out as a quaking bundle of nerves he is shaped with genuine tenderness by Durga, never losing his warmth and innocent charm and providing the audience with some of the best laugh out loud moments in the production.

Rosa Maggiora’s set design uses the Exchange’s unique space to great effect with Matt Haskins lighting design adding atmosphere and depth to proceedings.

This brilliantly portrayed and beautifully developed comedy piles on the laughs while director Atri Banerjee also ensures the moments of calm and consideration are allowed to gently develop. Family life in all its ugly complexities and wonderful contradictions are exposed in this delightful production. There is very little to criticise here, a slight lull in pace during Act II perhaps but this really is a minor quibble. This is an innovative and fresh take on a classic Northern tale with storytelling brought to beautiful and brilliant life by a skilled cast and creative team. Uplifting and joyous theatre told with true heart.

Catch Hobson’s Choice at the Royal Exchange until Saturday 6th July tickets available here.

 

Club Tropicana

 

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

The cheesy, cheery and oh so cheeky Club Tropicana sashayed its way into Manchester this week taking audiences right back to the 80’s with an outrageously camp night of good natured theatre escapism.

Bride Lorraine’s (Karina Hind) hair may be big but her doubts are even bigger as with a little help from her friends she decides to play runaway bride and head to her honeymoon with the girls for some sun, sea and soul searching.

Heartbroken groom Olly doesn’t need much convincing that a little break in the sunshine could be what he needs to forget being jilted at the alter and you guessed it, heads with his pals to the same hotel! Add to this their arrival coincides with that of a mystery hotel inspector, hotel owners who are secretly in love and an ill-tempered Spanish housekeeper and you’ve got a great recipe for a night of hilarious mischief and raucous mayhem.

Fan favourite Joe McElderry is at the helm of the production as entertainment host Garry; camp, colourful and absolutely chockfull of charisma he is every inch a star performer. From teaching the audience a Macarena style dance routine at the start of Act I to leading the cast in an 80’s singalong he more than rises to the occasion. Oozing charm and bursting with talent his panto style interaction is lapped up while he takes every opportunity to prove what a vocal talent he is in the multiple 80’s classics which come thick and fast in this jukebox jape.

Club Trop 2

Kate Robbins is hilarious as Spanish housekeeper Consuela, full of sarcasm and dry wit she proves what a talented character actress she is, her scene stealing performance is lapped up by the audience who are treated to several of her most loved impersonations.

Former Sugababe Amelle Berrabah is in fine voice as hotel owner Serena, her strong vocals if anything are a little underused while Nye Rees does a fine job of covering for Neil McDermott who is unable to perform tonight.

Club Trop 1

Nick Winston’s choreography adds sass to the production and offers something visually solid when the paper thin plot needs a boost. The ensemble scenes are high energy and delivered with enthusiasm and precision by the incredibly talented cast.

Shakespeare is it not, nor is it trying to be and judging by the riotous standing ovation Club Tropicana will keep audiences entertained even when the drinks aren’t free. While the plot may be as shallow as a paddling pool and as predictable as Brits abroad tucking into a full English the audience are getting exactly what they came for, feel-good, frivolous fun and are loving every minute of it.

Club Tropicana is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 8th June, tickets available here.

 

The King and I

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Bartlett Sher’s production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic which wowed both New York and London audiences opened at Manchester’s Opera House this week; its first stop on an extensive UK and Ireland tour which sees the multi-award winning production hitting the road until May 2020.

Starring Jose Llana direct from Broadway as The King of Siam and Annalene Beechey from the West End production as Anna, The King and I remains without doubt one of the all-time greats from the golden age of musicals.

Featuring a company of over 50 as well as a full-scale orchestra no expense has been spared in ensuring this lavish production impresses from the moment the overture begins.

Following the death of her beloved husband, English widow Anna takes on the job as teacher to the King of Siam’s children. She soon discovers however that the job isn’t entirely what she expected as she ends up teaching not only the King’s many children but several of his wives too. Further complications arise when the house she was promised fails to materialise and conflict begins with the stubborn King: a dictator whose command all must obediently obey.

Although set in the 1860’s the story is still surprisingly relevant as we see Anna set about changing the King’s old fashioned and out dated views on women. While there is an element of civilised Westerner going to the East to teach what is decent and right the context here feels more like a meeting of minds proving both can learn from and benefit each other.

Michael Yeargan’s exquisite set design combined with Catherine Zuber’s sumptuous costumes mark this production out from the start as a lavish and beautifully enthralling revival.

Christopher Gattelli’s additional choreography breathes new life into Jerome Robbins original 1950’s choreography adding a fresh vibrancy which the strong ensemble deliver with impressive precision.

Annalene Beechey is everything you’d wish for as Anna: wonderfully engaging, gracious and warm, with a strong sense of self while gifted with the most sublime voice she embodies to perfection the compassionate teacher.

Jose Llana equally impresses as the King of Siam. Brilliantly sharp and incredibly witty he has a playful, cheeky charisma winning the audience over in an instant despite his characters archaic opinions on women.

The connection between the two feels genuine and well developed cementing the climactic scene as they waltz around the stage during Shall We Dance? as one of the most joyful moments you’re likely to witness in the theatre.

They are supported by a superbly talented supporting cast with special mention going to both Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thiang, Aaron Teoh as Prince Chulalongkorn and Kamm Kunaree as Tipton.

High praise must also go to the incredibly talented children in the show who together with Beechey deliver a delightfully endearing version of audience favourite Getting To Know You while Billy Marlow impresses enormously as young Louis Leonowens.

The pace of this rich production is consistent throughout with the significance of the story convincingly expressed. The King and I proves there is no puzzlement in its status as a timeless classic: this is a truly epic and joyous production both visually and musically. Thrilling in its scale and spectacular in its delivery, the King and I is a dazzling must-see.

The King and I is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 11th May here.

 

Take That – Greatest Hits LIVE

Writer Kate Goerner

Regular readers of Opening Night will know that we’re pretty big fans of The Band, the musical based around the songs of Take That.

Combining a moving coming-of-age story of acceptance and loving yourself with the many hits of Gary, Robbie, Howard, Mark and Jason was a recipe for theatre magic in our (often tear-filled) eyes.

But disclaimer, we were fans of the group itself first – so as such here at Opening Night we were looking forward to going back to The Band’s roots thanks to Take That’s current Greatest Hits 2019 tour. Always theatrical, always dramatic – what would the group have in store this time?

The tour, which is in Manchester all this week, followed their recent album Odyssey – itself a tribute to those hits, reimagined.

Looming over proceedings is a giant orb, recreated from the from the Odyssey album cover, in spectacular fashion. Part stage, part projections, it really is a spectacular backdrop to the show.

And what a show! It’s as nostalgic as you’d expect – but with dazzling hi-tech staging that means the material and performances never feel old hat.

In fact it feels like the freshest tour in a while – while being a genuine love letter to a 30 year career.

There’s a feeling of the passing of the decades that’s reflected throughout the evening in the staging – from the Seventies-style Evel Knievel jumpsuits the lads wear to open the show (to the uplifting Greatest Day) to the monochrome Sixties section, the Eighties hair metal motorcycle tribute and a nice nod to the Nineties.

The hits are all there – with some real ‘lump in the throat’ moments on the big screen like a video of Robbie performing Everything Changes, or the Bee Gees in How Deep is Your Love.

We even got Mark singing Babe, a beautifully stripped back version of Pray with sign language (although we did miss the Pray dance!) and Lulu – YES LULU – joining Gary, Mark and Howard for Relight My Fire.

The evening ended in magical fashion with Rule The World complete with fireworks.

So while Opening Night hopes to see The Band hit our stages again some day, Take That prove that the original is usually the best!

Further tour information can be found here.