An Evening of Eric and Ern

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

There are so many iconic images associated with Christmas: a piping hot turkey with all the trimmings, presents under the tree, pictures of drunken revellers plastered across the national press, and of course Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise dancing a merry jig. The Morecambe and Wise Christmas specials have been engraved into the festive TV listing since 1969 the reason simply being that they’re just bloody funny!

Well if you need your Eric and Ernie fix this Christmas you can go one better and see the pair in the flesh as An Evening of Eric & Ern comes to the Lowry for the festive season. Staring the Olivier nominated Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel as the comedy duo, they treat us to an evening of cabaret and familiar sketches which include, Eric’s Mr Memory, the pairs take on ventriloquism and the iconic Greig’s Piano concerto sketch.

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Adding a touch of glamour, as well as acting as a comedic foil to the pair is super talented singer Becky Neale who pops up throughout the evening, at one point belting out a fantastic version of the Mariah Carey hit All I Want for Christmas is You.

Despite an initial slow start, this is a hugely fun, trip down memory lane. All the classic gags are there, including those infamous well aimed barbs at Des O Connor. Stand out sketches include are of course the ventriloquist dummy which is brilliant in its simplicity and a beautiful rendition of the Stephen Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns by Neale which Eric and Ernie do there best to ruin.

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The main strength of the show comes in the performances of Stephens and Ashpitel. The physical resemblance is clearly noticeable from the outset, but it’s more about how the mannerisms and facial tics are matched to perfection. You can see the two actors have analysed their heroes to give a genuine, authentic performance which sucks you in. Add to that the undoubted chemistry between the two as well as some exceptional choreography from Nicola Keen and you have all the parts for a heart-warming night of comedy and nostalgia.

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The show inevitably closes with a rendition of Bring Me Sunshine, from all three performers as well as the audience; and like a nice mug of hot mulled wine, it sends you out into the cold winter’s night with a nice warm glow, a spring in your step, and the perfect way to start the Christmas celebrations.

An Evening with Eric and Ern is at the Lowry till 6th January. Tickets available here.

Interview | Doctor Dolittle’s Brian Capron

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Doctor Dolittle returns to the stage this Christmas in Leslie Bricusse’s acclaimed family musical which opens at the Lowry on Tuesday 11th December.

Based on the much loved 1967 film with Rex Harrison, Leslie Bricusse’s family favourite promises fun for all as eccentric Doctor (Mark Williams) takes us on a magical adventure in his quest to find the Giant Pink Sea Shell which holds the secret of life and making the world a happier place.

Not only will we meet the Pushmi-Pullyu and the Doctor’s trusty sidekick Polynesia the Parrot but we’ll also meet many wonderful human companions along the way. Here at Opening Night we were lucky enough to catch up with one of the talented humans taking to the stage this festive season in the form of Brian Capron.

Coronation Street legend and much admired theatre actor Brian give us the inside info on what we can expect from this Christmas spectacular.

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Opening Night: This production sounds absolutely spectacular, especially the puppets.

BC: It’s going to be wonderful, so much thought and planning has gone into this production. The planning alone for the puppets has been incredible. It almost doesn’t feel right saying puppets as they are so lifelike, they’re such characters which their own individual personalities.

ON: Are you looking forward to performing with the puppets?

BC: Absolutely, I have a number with the Pushmi-Pullyu, which is a double headed llama & when I first saw the puppet it wasn’t quite finished but even then I could tell just how impressive it was going to be, it was already taller than me! It’s absolutely huge and has a performer in either end. It will be performing a dance in the middle of the number, Never Seen Anything Like It, which will be just magical.

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ON: It sounds like the show is really going to impress visually.

BC: Tom Piper the designer is one of the best theatre designers in the country. The way he has envisaged the whole thing, coming out of a storybook really is so very, very exciting.

The show will still be a period show but some things will be a little updated. It’s amazing really just how relevant to today this show is. There’s a charming message that comes through about the preservation of flora and fauna, conservation of animals etc. and it is presented so beautifully.

ON: You’re playing two characters in the production, can you tell us a little about them?

BC: Yes I play two characters; the 1st is Albert Blossom who owns the circus. He’s a big, fun character to play and of course I get to perform the fabulous Never Seen Anything Like It which is one of the big turns in the show. He’s a wonderful character to play. The second character is a complete contrast, a character called Straight Arrow, he is head of the natives on Sea-Star Island, the island Doctor Dolittle visits. He’s very posh so a wonderful contrast to the 1st half.

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ON: Are you looking forward to spending the festive season at the Lowry?

BC: Absolutely, I often do panto at Christmas, in fact last year I was at the Stockport Plaza so I’m really excited to be coming back to the North West with such a wonderful Christmas show.

Doctor Dolittle really is a genuine family show, suitable for young and old to enjoy together. It’s going to be wonderful, there’s a great cast, spectacular songs, incredible scenery and costumes, it really will be something special.

Doctor Dolittle opens at The Lowry on Tuesday 11th December and runs until Saturday 5th January tickets available https://thelowry.com/whats-on/doctor-dolittle/

 

When We Built A Rocket Ship

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

The Oldham Theatre Workshop is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary, and what better way to celebrate than by going on an adventure, When We Built A Rocket Ship is exactly that, a celebration of adventure and just how far your imagination can take you.

Opening in 1968, we are introduced to a group of childhood friends who meet up in a secluded woodland setting: they have a den, they each have each other, and they have a place to let their imagination run free: there are battles with pirates, encounters with mermaids and sea monsters, and later even an appearance from Charlie’s Angels. Accompanying the gang on the journey is a troop of forest friendly sprites who are always there to lend a hand.

With imagination knowing no limits, the gang decide to embark on an adventure into out-of-space: an adventure that will span 50 years and see them go through personal heart ache and tragedy, with the only constants being their friendship and the group’s haven.

As we go from decade to decade with the group and whilst struggling with the cruel blows that life can send their way from time to time: however, with every one of them knowing that they have each other’s back and no matter what happens they will face each problem together.

This is an ambitious, smart piece of musical theatre that is heavy on the feel-good factor, and has something for everyone: catchy tunes, an engaging story we can all relate to and a heavy dose of nostalgia.

With a cast boasting over 40 actors they all work their socks off throughout, especially during the exceptionally well-choreographed dance routines. The costumes are outstanding, especially on the forest elves: there is more than a wink to the lost boys from Peter Pan, the forest setting looks fabulous and has everything you would want for a secret hideaway.

The production is not without its flaws: Act 1 and 2 are slick and engaging whereas the final act felt a little laboured. There is a huge dramatic event that has is front and centre to the narrative and when this is first broken to the audience it isn’t done with the magnitude it fully deserves.

In addition, there were a few notable mis-queues and mis-steps which were quite distracting, although these may be down to opening night nerves.

Overall this is an entertaining and rewarding piece of theatre and the perfect birthday celebration for the OTW: with such a young talented cast, the OTW can go from strength to strength and we can all look forward to 50 more years of success.

When We Built A Rocket Ship is on till July 28th tickets are available here.

 

 

Interview – Sting | The Last Ship

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Undoubtedly one of the most successful UK artists of all time having sold millions of records, won every award & prestigious accolade imaginable including multiple Grammy’s, Brits, a Golden Globe, 4 Oscar’s nominations, an induction to the Hollywood walk of fame and a CBE to name but a few, Sting has now set his sights on musical theatre with the self-penned, The Last Ship. We were lucky enough to be invited to an intimate launch of the musical which docks at the Lowry Theatre from 3rd July 2018.

Sting may have come a long way since his childhood days spent in the shadows of the shipyard in Tyneside but he has never forgotten his roots. In writing The Last Ship Sting rediscovers the impact industrialisation & loss of identity has on a town and it’s inhabitants. As a child Sting thought of the shipyard as a dark and dangerous place, his biggest fear that he would end up there, unable to fulfil his dreams of being a singer. “Many years later I realised I owed a debt to my community, a community who’d had their incredible skills set thrown on the scrap heap, their dignity in working taken away, I wanted to explore what happens when you take this away, economics does not exist without community.”

Not strictly autobiographical but certainly very influenced by Sting’s childhood, lead character Gideon has turned his back on his hometown, leaving to become a sailor, after 17 years away her returns to reconnect with a lost love, however tensions between his past and his future flare as the once proud town he left is now a community in demise as the local shipyard is closing and fear for the economic stability of the town is overwhelming.

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Of the story Sting said “I know how difficult it is to write an original story, many musicals are based on stories we already know, films, even cartoons but I wanted to take on that challenge, it was fun, it was hard-work, inspiring, challenging, disappointing, thrilling so many emotions, almost like a ship, there are so many moving parts and elements that need to come together, effectively you are the captain of the ship. It was hugely challenging but also so much fun.”

The musical has a very strong sense of regional identity, having lived away from the North East for so many years now Sting feels he is in the perfect place to look from the outside in, “I live an international life, I’m from a community but I live outside of it which to me feels like a good place to be impartial and give a voice to a community who maybe don’t have one.”

Giving his childhood community a voice is clearly a huge driving force behind The Last Ship as well as the emotional debt Sting feels he has to pay. “I was formed by the North East, my engine of ambition was created there, I was very lucky to be able to do what I did and it was only through good fortune when I left at aged 18/19 that I was able to, I am enormously grateful for the environment in which I was raised. It was rich and full of symbolism, the launching of a ship makes me tearful even now, something so enormous being launched by the hands of its makers, the workers of the town, happy and proud of what they have created yet at the same time anxious at when their next job might be.”

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Sting explained what drove him to take on the challenge of musical theatre, “I’m undoubtedly driven by curiosity, driven always by the thought of ‘What’s next?’ I never want to keep pressing the same buttons, creativity is an elusive animal, hunting creativity means putting yourself out of your comfort zone, I’m not driven by success but driven by my own curiosity, I’m an eternal student.”

After a runs on Broadway, Chicago, Salt Lake City and now Finland, Sting explained how the piece has been altered slightly for the UK and Ireland tour which opens in Newcastle in March. “I felt the show needed slightly refitting for this tour, it’s more political than it was on Broadway, the struggle of the men takes precedence here as opposed to the love story which was very much focussed on for Broadway. Once I’d started with the characters the songs then came very, very quickly, almost like it was stored up deep inside, a story just waiting to be released. I’ve never been so passionate about anything I’ve done.”

Directed by Lorne Campbell with set design by the Tony Award-winning 59 Productions The Last Ship promises to a powerful, emotional and inspiring piece of theatre. Steeped in the proud history of the North with a stunning score, melodic folk music as well as rousing ensemble numbers The Last Ship starring Jimmy Nail sails into the Lowry from Tuesday 3rd July 2018, tickets available here

 

 

Hope Mill Theatre announces 2018 season!

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Award-winning Hope Mill Theatre and resident producer Aria Entertainment today announce their much anticipated 2018 season, with three bold, exciting and ambitious in-house productions.

The converted mill in Ancoats currently hosting the European premiere of Little Women enjoyed a landmark 2017 season which saw 5* critically acclaimed productions and London transfers for Yank! and Hair with Pippin following in early 2018 will begin the season with the world premiere of new British musical The ToyBoy Diaries (on sale today).

This new musical comedy which runs from 18 January to 10 February 2018 charts the hilarious and sometimes heart-breaking sagas of mid-life dating. When twice-divorced Lily inadvertently finds herself under a much younger man, it opens the door to a wild new world of inappropriate relationships. From Tom the Tender to Sam the Submissive, via Paul the Policeman, Hat Trick Patrick and Matt the Monstrous (with Old Willy and Philandering Phil mixed in along the way) Lily finally finds Ben the Bountiful.

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Spring Awakening will run from 19 March to 3 May 2018. A production hailed as “one of the great musicals of the last decade” (New York Times) and the winner of eight Tony and four Olivier Awards, Spring Awakening follows a group of teenagers in late-19th-century Germany navigating the struggles and virtues of blossoming youth, with an electrifying fusion of morality, sexuality and a Grammy award-winning rock score. This landmark musical will be presented in an intimate and bold new production helmed by director Luke Sheppard (In The Heights, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole).

Third show to be announced is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s romantic classic Aspects of Love which will run from 5 July to 4 August 2018. Featuring the iconic “Love Changes Everything” Aspects of Love tells the story of passion, love and loss across three generations of a family and their artistic companions, against a background of 1940’s France and Italy.

The hugely successful partnership between Joseph Houston and William Whelton, the co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre and producer Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment is further testament to their commitment to make Hope Mill Theatre the home of new musicals and revivals in the north and beyond with two more yet-to-be announced productions in Autumn/Winter.

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William Whelton and Joseph Houston, co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre said: “We wanted to make sure our third season was even more ambitious and we feel we have managed to achieve that with the world premiere of the new British musical The ToyBoy Diaries, an exciting revival of Spring Awakening with an Olivier Award-winning creative team and our first staging of an Andrew Lloyd Webber classic – Aspects of love. Once again we have proved the power of regional theatre and continue to spearhead Hope Mill Theatre as a leading player in new musical staging, musical premieres and exciting revivals.”

Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment, who has just seen her production of The Addams Family transfer to Singapore stated “I have enjoyed working with the theatre on taking our shows to new commercial levels in London and am extremely delighted to announce the first three shows of our 2018 season, it is an honour to share this diverse selection of work with you. We hope to continue to champion the genre and bring in audiences from far and wide.”

Further information can be found here

@Hopemilltheatr1

@ToyBoyDiaries