The Osmonds : A New Musical | Casting Announced

The five actors who will be playing Osmond brothers in the world premiere of THE OSMONDS: A New Musical have been announced.

Ryan Anderson as Merrill Osmond, Jamie Chatterton as Alan Osmond, Alex Lodge as Jay Osmond, Danny Nattrass as Wayne Osmond and Joseph Peacock as Donny Osmond will lead the UK &  Ireland Tour which begins at Leicester’s Curve on 3 February 2022 and will arrive at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on Tuesday 9th until Saturday 13th August 2022.

THE OSMONDS: A New Musical with story by Jay Osmond tells the true story of the five brothers from Utah who were pushed into the spotlight as children and went on to create smash hits, decade after decade.  From their star residency on The Andy Williams Show from 1962 to 1969, to pop stars and ‘Osmondmania’ from 1971 to 1975, to the arrival of The Donny & Marie Show, a popular variety TV show, from 1976 to 1979, The Osmonds lived a remarkable life recording chart-topping albums, selling out vast arena concerts and making record-breaking TV shows – until one bad decision cost them everything. 

The musical features a list of 1970s anthems, including One Bad Apple, Down by the Lazy River, Crazy Horses, Let Me In, Love Me for a Reason, (We’re) Having a Party, Puppy LoveLong Haired Lover From LiverpoolPaper Roses and many more. 

Website:  TheOsmondsMusical.co.uk 

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/theosmondsmusical/

Twitter:  @OsmondsMusical 

Instagram:  Theosmondsmusical                   

Rock of Ages

Reviewed by Nicky Jones

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Bringing the audience straight back to 1987, Rock of Ages opens with a guitar solo which had the audience whooping, cheering and clapping from the very beginning!

This riotous rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza is back entertaining audiences of Manchester once again, featuring all your favourite 80s rock hits including Don’t Stop Believing (Journey), We Built This City (Starship) and Hit Me With Your Best Shot (Pat Benatar).

The show is put together in true jukebox style, with incredible vocals coming from both the leads and the ensemble.

The plot of Rock of Ages is a classic love story – a small-town girl Sherrie (Rhiannon Chesterman) has moved to the big city to achieve her dreams of being a Hollywood actress.

She meets wannabe rock star Drew (Luke Walsh) and they clearly have chemistry right from the start, however throughout the show the couple face challenges which prevent them being together. These include friend-zoning, following their dreams, love-rival rock stars like Stacee Jaxx (Kevin Clifton), who focuses his interests on making his ego bigger and doesn’t care who he hurts along the way – much to the disappointment of Sherrie – and two German property developers wanting to take away their hotspot venue and the place that’s given them a chance; The Bourbon Room.


Throughout the show, humour was embedded into both the writing and the performances. Lonny (Joe Gash) interacts with the audience with tongue and cheek jokes – even picking on an audience member and repeatedly returning to her as the subject of his jokes. All of his lines were delivered with endless amounts of energy and brought so much joy to the auditorium. This was a real highlight of the show. He had impeccable comedic timing and had everyone belly laughing after each delivered line. This is a really fun side to the script that really keeps the show moving, especially as the show doesn’t have a strong narrative. However, this doesn’t matter as the cast totally rock the stage without a strong plot – which is what the audiences are really there to see!


A stand out scene was Regina (Rhiannon Chesterman) and Franz (Andrew Carthy)’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot – it’s outrageous, camp and just a scream – it’ll keep you laughing right until the end of the show!


The staging and production totally make you feel like you’re back in the 1980s at a rock gig – the lighting is bright, retro amplifiers are all over back wall and the live band are centre stage.

The night was tied up with an audience favourite ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, which had everybody up dancing and clapping with huge smiles back on their faces.

Kevin Clifton gave a touching speech after the final few notes – thanking everybody for supporting live theatre once again.

Overall, this show is a complete team effort from the cast. There isn’t one or two stand out leads, but instead the whole cast continually bring each scene to life.

It’s big, it’s bold and it’s been entertaining audiences for years! It’s a fantastic night out of nostalgia – don’t miss it whilst it’s back in Manchester.


Rock of Ages is at the Opera House until Saturday 9th October 2021 tickets available here.

The Wiz – Full casting revealed

Hope Mill Theatre, Ameena Hamid Productions & Chuchu Nwagu Productions today announces the cast for a radical new version of the award-winning Broadway musical The Wiz, which will be this year’s festive offering.

Directed by Matthew Xia (‘Into the Woods’, Royal Exchange), The Wiz is a joyous retelling of L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s novel ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ reflecting contemporary African-American culture. Its 1975 Broadway premiere production won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Matthew Xia said: “The Wiz is approaching its 50th anniversary, it now exists within the canon of mainstream musicals and it’s due time for some bold reinvention. Originally a funk and soul-based analogy for the African-American experience, in 2021 Manchester we’re offering a contemporary take
on the discovery of self-determination and Black joy with this celebration of Black culture across the
African diaspora.”

The cast is made up of Cherelle Wiliams is Dorothy; Tarik Frimpong, Scarecrow; Llewellyn Graham, Tin Man; Jonathan Andre, Lion; Cameron Bernard Jones, The Wiz; Anelisa Lamola, Addaperle; Bree Smith,
Aunt Em & Glinda; Kofi Dennis, Lord High; Ashh Blackwood, Evillene. Ensemble: Andile Mabhena,
Shayna McPherson, Dylan Gordon-Jones, Samantha Shuma, Marisha Morgan.

The show is produced by Hope Mill Theatre, Ameena Hamid Productions & Chuchu Nwagu Productions.
Creative team: Director Matthew Xia; Musical Supervisor and Orchestrations Sean Green; Musical
Director Ehsaan Shivarani; Choreographer Leah Hill; Design Simon Kenny; Associate Costume Design
Maybelle Laye; Lighting Design Simisola Majekodunmi; Sound Design Tony Gayle; Casting Director
Ryan Carter; Casting Mentor Anne Vosser.

Musical Supervisor Sean Green has created new orchestrations. “In thinking about how much the music is loved, I had the thought What if the music was a love letter to black music? I started hearing all sorts of music within the DNA of the score. This exploration has allowed me to incorporate various genres from across the African Diaspora in the new orchestrations which, alongside the funk and soul in the original, really adds depth and colour to the world that we’re creating with this production.”

The Wiz will run from Wednesday 24 November 2021 to Sunday 16 January 2022 tickets are available here.

Glee & Me

Reviewed by Alison Ruck

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Oh, how wonderful it is to be back at The Royal Exchange Theatre, and what better timing than to be back on their 45th birthday! And what a way to celebrate with the world premiere of Glee & Me.

Let’s dive straight into the deep stuff – the eternal question…what is the meaning of life? A question I’m sure we’ve all pondered at some point in our lives… but the thought of it leads to some sort of existential dread. Well, that question is one that Lola seeks to find the answer to, after she gets the horrific news that she is terminally ill. So, she sets herself a promise to do two things: discover the meaning of life – and have all the sex!

Glee & Me is written by Stuart Slade and won The Bruntwood prize for playwriting in 2019. It tells the story of a sharp-witted, sixteen-year-old Lola, who is diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. Despite the way the title reads, it’s not at all a play filled with ‘glee’, on the contrary as glee stands for the shortened version of the particular brain tumour Lola is battling against, glioblastoma multiforme.

The one-woman play is as equally heart breaking as it is quick witted and humorous. Liv Hill as Lola is absolutely sensational. At no point did I believe I was watching an actress on stage: I was there with Lola, listening intently as she tells us her story. Raw, beautiful and poignant.

Slade’s story is a sad one, but its also one of love, hope and gratitude. There are some beautifully written lines, of an almost poetic nature, leaving you to ponder your own life and the love within it.  Contrasted with the sharp-witted character he has created, the humorous elements not only add light to what is a dark topic but draws you into Lola’s story even more, helping you relate to her relationships, her youthful nature and her troubles.

There is no better space for this production than The Royal Exchange, as the in-the round environment of the theatre only added to the conversational dimensions of the play. The stage and lighting design, by Anna Yates and Jess Bernberg, were carefully considered not only for the space but for the desolate moments with the play to draw you back to the painful reality that Lola was experiencing. The subtle lighting changes revealed and extenuated the pain and difficulties that Lola faced, becoming more frequent throughout the play and climaxing to a peaceful and enriching ending.

Yet even in these darkest moments of the play, you’re quickly snapped out of them back to the hilarious one liners and relatable topics that had the audience thoroughly amused. It’s an ode to a great writer and a great actress for a play such as this (and a relatively short 1 hour 25 minutes straight through), to make you both laugh out loud and then cry within minutes.

The heart wrenchingly beautiful play is one that needs to be experienced by audiences, and I hope and expect to see this production do great things in the future. Glee & Me is a reminder to us all to find joy even in the darkest of times, something which we have all strived for in the last year or so. As Lola says, “You’ve got to laugh, or it’ll destroy you”.

Glee & Me is on at The Royal Exchange until Saturday 30th October tickets available here.

Bat Out Of Hell

Reviewed by Michelle Ewen

Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The ‘Bat’ is back in town! Four long years since its world premiere at the Opera House Manchester in 2017, Bat Out of Hell – the award-winning hit musical – has finally come home to Quay Street. Announcing its return with a victorious lap of roaring motorcycles, smoking tyres, gasoline fumes and lashings of leather, this is a production you could see, hear and taste before anyone had even set foot on stage!  

A frenetic fusion of Peter Pan meets Mad Max, Jim Steinman originally conceived Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell as a musical. It took four decades for that vision to be fulfilled – and it was worth the wait.

Enter Strat (Glenn Adamson), the charismatic leader of The Lost – a collective of rock n’ roll-loving misfits who, following a DNA-freezing earthquake, are condemned to be forever 18. Living in a network of tunnels beneath Obsidian (formerly known as Manhattan), The Lost are the scourge of city leader Falco (Rob Fowler), whose disaffected daughter Raven (Martha Kirby) and hilariously disenchanted wife Sloane (Sharon Sexton) reside with him in Falco Towers.

When Raven discovers a discarded T-shirt following The Lost’s latest protest in Falco Square, she locks eyes with its owner – Strat – setting the two on a romantic collision course that bristles with high-octane energy. Raven is as determined to become one of The Lost as her parents are to stop her, but with their own relationship in dire need of a fuel injection, can Falco and Sloane get on the same page when it comes to their daughter’s future?

Scored with nearly 20 Meatloaf and Jim Steinman classics, this rambunctious rock opera comes screaming out of the gates with ‘All Revved Up with No Place to Go/Wasted Youth’. Act One continues to pack a punch with a sizzling ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ – memorably staged atop of a convertible car – and an achingly tender rendition of ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’ by out-of-step lovebirds Zahara (Joelle Moses) and Jagwire (James Chisholm). 

By contrast, Act Two starts its engine in comparative idle – a flurry of duets slowing the pace right down. Once again, Fowler and Sexton – reprising their original roles – stand out with ‘What Part of My Body Hurts the Most’, whilst Tink (Killian Thomas Lefevre) infuses ‘Not Allowed to Love’ with palpable yearning. When ‘Dead Ringer for Love’ kicks in, the production bursts back into life; then it’s a home run of stone-cold classics right to the final curtain.

This is one sexy, fleshy, no-holds-barred production with flashes of pink thong, straddled laps galore and blood-smeared abs all making an appearance on stage. Not for the faint-hearted, Jay Scheib’s superb direction errs towards comedy rather than grotesque – lending a light-hearted feel to the whole production.

There was so much to love about the cast in Version 1.0 of this musical, but rest assured, those who are returning for Version 2.0 can find joy in the performances of the latest additions to the billing. 

Glenn Adamson’s Strat is fresh and enchanting, embodying the ‘forever young’ aesthetic of The Lost, whilst Martha Kirby’s Raven is his perfect ‘Wendy’ – a wistful romantic on the cusp of love; however, the standout performance is BOOH veteran Sharon Sexton as Sloane, who goes for every laugh and smashes every vocal.  

Jon Bausor understood the assignment – bringing us a set and costume design that hits every dystopian note. Falco Towers, suspended above ‘The Deep End’ and revealed to us via roaming videocam, is a particular triumph. It feels like a truly innovative use of space, as throbbing motorcycles, a vintage car and a sofa take it in turns to appear and disappear stage left and right.

Xena Gusthart’s clever choreography gives every member of the ensemble the opportunity to shine – especially during the riot scenes and the ‘push me-pull me’ love ballads.  

Of course, this production is all about Steinman’s music. Under the supervision of Michael Reed, the band are an absolute knockout – bringing us home with a final surprise number dedicated to the hitmaker who passed in April this year. Having bounced around in their seats and sung their hearts out, the audience is finally unleashed to give a roaring ovation. 

For this reviewer, Bat Out of Hell continues to be the benchmark by which all musicals are measured… For Crying Out Loud, You Know I Love You.  

Bat Out of Hell is on at the Opera House until Saturday, 2 October. Find out more and purchase tickets here.

The Rocky Horror Show

Reviewed by Nicky Jones

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Manchester’s Opera House re-opening week has been filled with glitz, glamour and fabulous fancy dress – the raucous Rocky Horror Show is back in town on Manchester Pride week!

As we headed into the venue surrounded by fishnet stockings, French maid’s outfits and copious amounts of sparkle, it was certain we were in for an incredible night of entertainment.

Rapidly heading towards its 50th anniversary, cult phenomenon The Rocky Horror Show is still as popular as ever. Even before the show began the audience erupted in cheers and applause, as the best-dressed audience member stole the limelight – entering the auditorium in his very own fabulous Frank-N-Furter costume.

The show begins with high energy from the audience, as the opening number Science Fiction/Double Feature proved a big hit. The story begins with Janet (Hayley Flaherty) and Brad (Ore Oduba)’s day not really going as planned, as the prim and proper couple break down in their car and attempt to seek help at the creepy castle two miles down the road. Considering all they wanted to do was borrow a phone, the pair get a lot more than they bargained for.

The show really kicks in once we meet Frank-N-Furter (Stephen Webb) and the full ensemble – everybody was up dancing and singing along within the first 30 minutes of the show. There was no waiting for the inevitable Time Warp curtain call here! The audience also built up a gorgeous atmosphere during Brad and Janet’s A Light Over at the Frankenstein Place, taking out their phone torches and glow sticks out for the number.

A stand-out performance comes from Narrator – Philip Franks. His quick wit, cheeky jokes and comedic timing had the audience shouting out heckles from his first line, and his jokes rely on an equally quick-witted loyal audience playing along with him. He did not get caught out once, and he gave it back as quick as he got it!

The Time Warp arrived in the show much earlier than I expected, and it had the whole auditorium up and dancing. Frank-N-Furter’s entrance was another stand out moment, with Sweet Transvestite being lapped up by the audience. It was raunchy, sassy and vocally powerful.

The creative team have done a superb job to create such a visually stunning show, from the set to the costumes. The set transitions beautifully from rainy windswept roads to the castle interior, and each one sets the scene perfectly. The costumes have a modern twist, but keep a close match to the character’s classic outfits from the original 1975 film. All of the costumes are clearly well loved throughout the show’s loyal fanbase, with some remarkable fancy dress being showcased within the auditorium and all over the cities bars following the show, I’m sure.

This show is a guaranteed party which features many timeless classics, including the show-stopping Time Warp. Catch The Rocky Horror Show in Manchester until Sunday 29th August – it’s the perfect way to start your Pride weekend! Tickets available here: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-rocky-horror-show/opera-house-manchester/

The Woman In Black

Reviewed by Alison Ruck

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


A horror on stage? How on earth will that work? A question I asked myself before seeing this production. Susan Hill’s acclaimed ghost story: you may or may not be familiar with the 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe, whilst the big screen benefits from visual trickery and CGI effects that would have you believe everything you see, a live theatrical performance with a mere cast of two doesn’t benefit from these luxuries.

As stated from The Actor played by Antony Eden, an audience can use their imagination, and as truth be told your imagination will be the thing that haunts you the most through this production.


Arthur Kipps, played by Robert Goodale, is a lawyer obsessed with a curse that he believes was cast over him by The Woman in Black. He engages a young actor, played by Mr Eden, to help him tell his terrifying story. As we begin to observe the innocent and jovial play within a play, the story delves deeper into Kipps’ darkest memories, and you find yourself whisked away to an eerie estate in the country as they share his chilling tale.

Goodale and Eden present two very well-rounded characters. Goodale’s initial reservations about ‘acting’ out his tale of dread soon give way to a brilliant multi-role performance through which he changes with ease. His farcical moments give the piece much needed release from tension, ultimately lulling you into a false sense of security!

Eden offers a solid performance from start to finish, mimicking the reality of the audience by experiencing the horror as he tells it.

The sparce, seemingly small spacing is drenched with cloth and minimal décor, immediately creating that unsettling atmosphere, and as the production unravels the wonder of the staging is made apparent. The clever use of staging combined with simple yet effective lighting, creates the illusion of the manor house where the terrifying events took place. The shadows, created by the lighting designer (Kevin Sleep) epitomises a true and classic horror façade, amplifying those eerie scenes of anticipation and fear.

The Palace theatre seams the perfect setting: the theatre that dates back to 1891, seemed to creek through the silences, and every footstep or rustling from the audience was magnified by the expectant thrill of horror within the production.

The simple yet well-timed elements of surprise and jumpy moments were presented ingeniously. The audience follow each one with a laugh at their own vulnerability, which instinctively and somewhat disappointingly releases you from the clutches of Kipps’ tale. 

The sound design, by Sebastian Frost, is yet another element that makes your spine tingle and your hands grip ever so slightly tighter to the seat. This in some ways achieves that big screen cinema feel of surround sound, with the clinkering noises and deathly screams echoing all around you and the theatre, thus mirroring perfectly the horror unfolding on stage from the two brilliant actors.

The power of the production truly lies in the suspense and expectancy. As a piece of theatre I really enjoyed it, but as a big horror fan watching a horror play, I wanted more: more suspense, more jumps, more thrill. However, this could be seen as a testament to the production that it left me wanting more of the elements it does so well. 

Overall a brilliant piece of theatre – though not for the weak of heart. If you’re looking for a thrilling evening of suspense and classic horror then this thrilling ghost story will satisfy your imagination. 

Playing at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until Saturday 28thAugust. 

Tickets from £13: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-woman-in-black/palace-theatre-manchester/

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, aand 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