Insane Animals

Insane Animals press pic 4 (2026). Photo by Drew Forsyth

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Back in 2017 HOME launched it’s T1 project, the idea was to commission new projects and bring them to the art houses 500 seat theatre. The first of these commissions went to the writing duo of George Heyworth and Liv Morris, better known as comedy double-act, Bourgeois & Maurice. What they’ve come up with is Bourgeois & Maurice’s Insane Animals.

This is an epic sci-fi, comedy journey takes us right from the dawn of civilisation through to a bleak looking future for humanity, along the way there are catchy tunes, biting gags, costume changes and sequins… lots of sequins!

Bourgeois & Maurice are a pair of alien gods who have arrived on earth in the present to see what a mess human are making of the world and to bear witness to our inevitable destruction. However, the pair decide to offer humanity a chance of salvation, by looking at the story Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is believed to have formed the basis of the world’s first every recorded story. He is an arrogant, cruel ruler, who persecutes his people. However, with the help of our extra-terrestrial visitors, we will see Gilgamesh, fall in love, suffer and learn what it is to be human, but will it be enough to save humanity?

Insane Animals press pic 9 (2323). Photo by Drew Forsyth

If Bourgeois & Maurice’s Insane Animals is an indicator HOME’s future output then we are in for a treat: this is a silly, surreal, and smart musical, filled with great tunes, cracking one-liners, and great gags. Any show that has references to Ru Paul’s Drag Race and the British Museum’s questionable attitude to how it acquired its collection is of course going to be quite special.

As well as Heyworth and Morris, that cast includes great comic turns from Emer Dineen and Kay Mohamed-Mason playing multiple roles, with the remaining cast double us the backing band, The Forgettables. The songs are catchy, with some great, cutting lyrics with standout numbers being Brink of Extinction and the hilarious, self-aggrandising Thank God.

Michael Hankin’s set design is clearly a love letter to to the B movies of the 1950’s with the set during the first act resembling an unopened buffet at a labour club, there’s lots of silver foil which is by no mean a criticism, it adds to the shows charm.  Julian Smith’s costumes are OTT and look absolutely fabulous, perfect for the production.

Insane Animals press pic 5 (2054). Photo by Drew Forsyth

The show isn’t without its flaws at times the choreography is a bit all over the place whilst adding to the sense of fun can become a little distracting.

With Bourgeois & Maurice’s Insane Animals the writing team of Heyworth, Morris and director Philip McMahon have created the natural successor to Rocky Horror Picture Show (no one really remembers 1981 follow up Shock Treatment), knowingly kitsch, often camp and occasionally crude, this is an original, fun, entertaining romp where nothing is off limits and everything is fair game!

Bourgeois & Maurice’s Insane Animals is at HOME till the 14th March 2020 tickets available here.

 

Curtains

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything is Absolutely Fine

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

While talking about anxiety is thankfully receiving more positive media attention than ever before we still have a long way to go before we truly stamp out the stigma many people attach to mental health discussion. With their new musical comedy Everything is Absolutely Fine, Lowry Developed With artists House of Blakewell approach the topic of anxiety in an exploratory and wonderfully witty way.

Alice (played by book & lyric writer Alice Keedwell) is making a fresh start, smaller town, job at a smaller hospital & hopefully smaller problems. While a new situation is scary for most it’s made worse by the fact that Alice’s old friend anxiety (portrayed by musician and lyricist Harry Blake)has made the move with her too; constantly there in the background reminding Alice of her insecurities, drip-feeding doubt into every situation. “You’re too loud, you’re so embarrassing, your voice is annoying, you’re so awkward”.

While the subject matter may sound heavy House of Blakewell tackle this important topic in a creative and incredibly entertaining way. The snapshot of Alice’s life is delivered in various melodic, funny and extremely relatable songs. From small incidents like a trip to Waitrose where the choice of courgettes becomes overwhelming to the enormity of deciding you completely embarrassed yourself after one to many at the pub this inspired piece highlights just how all-consuming anxiety can be.

Every thought is questioned as anxiety attempts to drown Alice in negativity and destroy her self-esteem. The feeling of being the only one who doesn’t have their shit together looms large, amplified by the deadpan delivery from Harry Blakes while Alice attempts to soldier on regardless.

The lyrics are contemporary and clever, never before have I heard the words ‘garmin’ or ‘wingardium leviosa’ worked into songs and the genius of ‘shiter-er’ rhyming with ‘lighter’ certainly raised a smile. All delivered with great charm by both Keedwell and Blake.

House of Blakewell succeed in creating not only an entertaining piece of theatre but an enormously accessible piece which gently invites discussions about anxiety in a relaxed and innovative way. The performance is pitched just right allowing plenty of opportunities for relatable humour while reminding us of the importance of speaking out and seeking support from one another. Engaging and entertaining theatre.

Everything is Absolutely Fine has one more performance at The Lowry this evening Friday 28th June tickets available here.

The Book of Mormon

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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

 

 

Little Shop of Horrors

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Little Shop of Horrors – Storyhouse, Chester

Director: Stephen Mear

Music and Lyrics: Howard Ashman

Music: Alan Menken

Reviewer: Matt Forrest

Star rating: ****

Little Shop of Horrors has all the ingredients of a great story: a love story between two beautiful souls who life has constantly mistreated. Throw into the mix themes of greed, fame and lust, and of course a giant man-eating plant!

The much-loved musical arrives at the Storyhouse for a spring run that is filled with toe-tapping tunes, absurd comedy and a hefty splattering of blood-soaked gore.

Based on the original film by B-movie maestro Roger Corman, we meet timid florist Seymour, the much put-upon assistant shop for Mr Mushnik. Seymour has a lot to deal with; Mushnik’s flower shop is going under fast due to its location on Skid Row, the wrong part of town. He is head-over-heels in love with his co-worker, Audrey and to cap it all off Seymour has discovered a new strange and unusual plant, which he has named the Audrey II. The trouble is, Audrey II is wilting away before his eyes. Following an accident with a rose bush, Seymour soon learns that Audrey II has an appetite for something a little stronger than Miracle Grow. However, as the plant grows bigger, Mushnik rakes in more and more money. Could this little botanic marvel be Seymour’s ticket to winning the girl of his dreams and the chance to leave behind Skid Row for ever, and if so, at what cost?

Little Shop of Horrors at Storyhouse, Chester, 2019

Little Shop of Horrors is an absolute treat and well worth catching. Some great catchy numbers from Alan Menken and lyrists Howards Ashman, stand out songs being the company ensemble sung Skid Row (Downtown) and the up tempo yet sinister Feed Me (Get it).

The cast are on great form with Joshua Lay and Michelle Bishop showing great chemistry as Seymour and Audrey: their rendition of the musical’s signature tune Suddenly Seymour brought the house down. The supporting cast are also great. Cindy Belliot, Tanisha Spring and Emily-Mae, are in fine voice as the sassy residents of Skid Row, Chiffon Crystal, and Ronette. Tony Timberlake is equally impressive as the devious Mr Mushnik, whilst Stephane Anelli, puts in a hilarious and scene-stealing turn as Orin, Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend.

Ryan O’ Gorman and Brett Sheils do an amazing job bringing Audrey II to life, with Gorman giving the plant attitude and menace, Audrey II gets all the best lines and Gorman makes the most of them.

Tonight’s performance was not without its flaws, there were a few timing issues but these are minor quibbles for what is a fun enjoyable, heartfelt darkly comic night at the theatre. If you don’t enjoy this then maybe you need to take a closer look inside Audrey II, she’ll take all of those reservations away!

 

Little Shop of Horrors is at the Storyhouse, Chester till the June 2nd tickets available at:

https://www.storyhouse.com/event/little-shop-of-horrors

 

Annie

Annie 2

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Nikolai Foster’s revival of family favourite musical Annie has gone from strength to strength since it first debuted at the West Yorkshire Playhouse back in 2011. With a sell-out UK tour in 2015/16 followed by an extended run in the West End plus a recent sell-out season in Toronto all safely tucked under its belt; Annie is back on the road for 2019 opening a new UK tour here in Manchester.

Set in New York during the Great Depression it is indeed a hard-knock life for 11 year old orphan Annie who finds herself living in miserable, gin-swilling Miss Hannigan’s all-girl orphanage. Consumed with a fierce determination to find her real parents Annie manages to escape the boozy clutches of Miss Hannigan when she is picked to spend Christmas at the residence of famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks. However Miss Hannigan and her good-for-nothing brother Rooster aren’t quite done with orphan Annie and set about trying their best to get in the way of her happy ending.

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Based on Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie comic strips the original musical opened on Broadway in 1977, it is however the 1982 film starring Albert Finney, Bernadette Peters and Eileen Quinn that remains most firmly etched in many people’s minds. It was without doubt one of the most worn out VHS tapes in my house, my sisters and I knowing every line, my eldest sister can still be called upon to belt out a deafening rendition of ‘Rover, why not think it over?’ should the need arise. With clearly many other Annie fans at the Opera House tonight it’s a welcome relief to see that director Nikolai Foster’s production respects the audiences love for this piece and has kept the changes to a minimum. It is still packed full of unforgettable classics including Hard Knock Life, Tomorrow, Easy Street and Little Girls while Miss Hannigan remains gin-guzzlingly awful but has a new technicoloured vibrancy about it.

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Its colourful escapism is reflected in Colin Richmond’s intricate set and costume design, jigsaw pieces scattered across the set reflecting Annie’s journey as piece by piece her life and identity come together all beautifully lit by Ben Cracknell. Yes at times it is schmaltzy but heck if Annie can make the President of the United States sit up and listen just imagine what she could do if unleashed into Brexit negotiations!

A large part of what makes Annie so endearing is of course the kids in the show and they really do make this production. Taziva-Faye Katsande is a charming and confident Annie supported perfectly by Team Chrysler for this evenings press night, each girl is outstanding bursting with life and vibrant energy with little Orla McDonagh threatening to steal the show as Molly on what is her professional debut.

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Anita Dobson makes for a cranky and world weary Miss Hannigan while Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks transforms before our eyes from hardnosed business man to smitten adoptive father. The ensemble deliver Nick Winston’s inventive choreography with sass and style adding exuberant energy to the much-loved musical numbers.

Annie is feel-good family fun, a real celebration of courage and innocent optimism as well as a wonderful reminder to us all that when the hard knocks come we need to find our inner strength and fight back remembering what seems impossible today will look different tomorrow. Joyful family entertainment with a great story at it’s heart.

On at The Opera House until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.

 

 

 

Wizard of Oz Interviews | Part 2 | Holly Tandy

Holly Tandy

Following on from our chat with Kelvin Fletcher, we caught up with Holly Tandy who is about to step into the ruby slippers and play Dorothy in Sellador’s Blackpool Christmas extravaganza, The Wizard of Oz.

Opening Night: This is your first musical theatre role, how are you feeling?

Holly: I’m super excited; it’s such a good opportunity for me. I’ve never done anything like this before and have always wanted to, it’s one of those things where I’m constantly learning which has just been just great. I know the skills I’m learning in addition to the things I already feel I have strength in together are preparing me for not only this role but my future career, it’s brilliant.

Opening Night: Are you looking forward to performing in Blackpool?

Holly: I’m so excited to get on stage and perform, being back up North feels really special for me too. I’m so excited for the audiences to see this show, my family are all coming along as well and they can’t wait, it’ll be really nice to share this with them.

Company of The Wizard of Oz

Opening Night: What is it about The Wizard of Oz that makes it so appealing?

Holly: It’s such an iconic show, a total classic that everybody knows and loves. There’s something very comforting about The Wizard of Oz and the familiarity and affection we all have for it. It’s such an engaging piece of theatre too, great for kids, just a really good feel-good show and the perfect Christmas musical for all the family.

Opening Night: How are you finding working in a cast as opposed to as a soloist on X Factor and how does the performance vary?

Holly: It’s so much fun. We all get on so well, everyone’s been so great, we’ve really clicked. There’s so much talent in this show, every cast member from the ensemble to the leads, I couldn’t be happier really with how everything’s going.

X Factor was a great was to build my confidence but this is very different. Pop elements don’t really fit with musical theatre so I’ve been really disciplined in adapting my style and the way I work for this show. I’m enjoying the challenge so much, I’ll always be grateful for my X Factor experience; it’s given me a platform to build on and led to this great opportunity.

Holly Tandy as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz

Opening Night: What’s are the challenges working on the show?

I was feeling a little nervous about working with Toto at first before we started rehearsals but we’ve got such a great team that I know it will be great. They’re so well trained. Also the amount of lines at first was something I didn’t quite anticipate, I knew there were lots but didn’t realise quite how many, but that’s come on great and you soon pick things up, the show is looking and sounding really good.

Opening Night: Are you feeling any nerves ahead of officially opening?

A little, but I think that’s healthy. It’s a nervousness of wanting to do well, wanting to do the role justice etc. it’s not the kind of nerves that are eating me up. I’m really enjoying it and I think a little bit of nerves shows just how much you care and I do really care about getting this role right and doing a good job.

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Opening Night: Selladoor are known for being inventive and dynamic how are you finding working with them?

Holly: It’s been amazing, they are just so good at what they do and such a great bunch of people, all so good at their jobs, they are all so talented, from the director, to the choreographer to the musical director each and every person I’m working with is just so brilliant and so good at getting each cast member to be the best they can be. It’s been an absolute pleasure so far and no doubt will continue to be.

The Wizard of Oz opens on Friday 7th December at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens and runs until Sunday 30th tickets available here.

Wizard of Oz Interviews | Part 1 | Kelvin Fletcher

Kelvin Fletcher

Following on from the huge success of Peter Pan last year Selladoor Productions return to Blackpool with an iconic musical adventure as we see Dorothy click her heels together and arrive at the legendary Opera House.

This highly acclaimed adaptation from The Royal Shakespeare Company promises to be a magical treat for all the family featuring timeless classics: We’re Off To See The Wizard, Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead!, The Merry Old Land Of Oz and Over The Rainbow, add to this lavish sets and spectacular costumes and you really do have the prefect festive treat.

We were lucky enough to catch up with cast members Kelvin Fletcher (Tin Man), Holly Tandy (Dorothy), Scott Gallagher (Cowardly Lion) and Kate Milner-Evans(The Wizard) ahead of opening night on 7th December to hear a little more about what audiences can expect from this theatrical adventure.

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Opening Night: How are rehearsals going?

Kelvin: Absolutely brilliant, it’s been such a whirlwind. We’re doing full run-throughs now and tech rehearsals are getting closer, the whole process has been amazing for me, a lot of new firsts, coming into musical theatre, I’ve never done this sort of thing before, anything I have been a little bit anxious about the team who have been great have reassured me and offered some brilliant advice. I feel like I’m really growing in confidence every day, we’re all really looking forward to getting to Blackpool now and performing in front of an audience.

ON: We all know you so well from Emmerdale, how is acting on stage different to TV acting?

Kelvin: Day to day it’s very different, yes I’m used to acting but acting on stage is so much more expressive, especially in musical theatre with such larger than life characters. It’s been wonderful really to get a chance to do things I know are in my repertoire but that I’ve never had chance to express before. I’m also really excited for people to see this different side of me, a very different side to what they’re used to seeing; it will be a lot of fun for everyone including me.

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ON: As the Tin Man you have one of the most restrictive costumes in the show, how are you finding that?

Kelvin: First couple of dances I thought it would be best to try and be quid rigid with my movement but then I was struggling a little to get the fluidity of the dance so I decided to do it the opposite way and master the dance first then add the rigidity of the Tin Man. This is the great benefit of rehearsals it allows us to try different ideas and see what works best. Then of course there’s the silver makeup which looks amazing but I’ll definitely need help with that, I managed to leave some on the other day and caught myself in the mirror still wearing a bit of guy liner!

ON: Will your family be making the trip to Blackpool?

Kelvin: Yes, they are so excited, when I first started acting it was on the stage, that’s where my love for acting blossomed so it will be nice for us all really to get back to where it all started and it couldn’t be a better show, a big flamboyant musical like this is just so exciting for us all.

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ON: How does it feel knowing you’ll be performing at the Winter Gardens?

Kelvin: I’d never actually been despite knowing how iconic it is, it’s got such a great reputation, so to be performing there is going to be unbelievable. It’s such a great space, it’s huge, we can’t replicate the size of the set in the rehearsal space because it’s so huge which gives a sense of the sheer scale and spectacle of this production.

ON: We know you’re used to working with animals from your Emmerdale days but how about on stage?

Kelvin: I keep thinking to myself “If the dog doesn’t run at that particular point what will we do?” ha ha but I don’t have a lot of interaction with the dog to be honest it’s more Holly, as if playing Dorothy isn’t tough enough! The dogs are so well trained thought that no doubt they’ll be as good as gold and more than likely steal the show!

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ON: How are you finding the singing?

Kelvin: Our Musical Director has been amazing, I’ve never had any singing training before so I’ve just been like a sponge really taking on any piece of advice. We’ve all got numbers throughout and mine’s a lovely little number which starts off with some dialogue then breaks out into a song, I really can’t wait. Then of course there are lots of great songs throughout, choreographed dances, there’s so much going on it really will be spectacular.

The Wizard of Oz opens at Blackpool’s Opera House on Friday 7th December until Sunday 30th December tickets available here.

Legally Blonde

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

High energy, fizzing with fabulousness and full of heart Legally Blonde bursts onto the Palace theatre stage this week for the final stop of the current UK tour.

Based on the 2001 film starring Reece Witherspoon which later became an award winning Broadway musical, Legally Blonde continues to be a massive crowd pleaser with every audience member up on their feet by the end of the show.

Dumped by law student boyfriend Warner for not being a serious enough girlfriend, Elle decides to take matters into her own hands and sets about gaining a place of her own at Harvard Law School in a bid to prove she is the perfect accessory.

The tongue-in-cheek innocence of the story ensure this camp, bright and fluffy production raises smile after smile while never taking itself too seriously.

Lucie Jones bursts with personality as the Malibu marvel, with great comedic timing and a voice that packs a punch her goofy but smart Elle proves her status as a musical theatre star is secured.

Rita Simons excels as Paulette, fun and feisty she ensures the loveable hairdresser gets her moment of glory with snake-hipped UPS guy Kyle, played superbly by Ben Harlow.

Special mention must also go to Laura Harrison as Vivienne and Helen Petrovna as Brooke Wyndham, both shine in their respective roles, with Petrovna’s skills with a skipping rope during Whipped Into Shape simply mind-boggling!

Director and choreographer Anthony Williams ensures this is a production bursting with energy, enthusiasm and most of all fun. There! Right There! Being a real highlight of Act II and further cementing Legally Blonde as a kitsch, camp couple of hours of perfectly pink uplifting escapism.

With a winning energy this pink princess succeeds against the odds to find her own perfect prince and sends a reminder about the importance of sisterhood that is more than just skin-deep.

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 30th June tickets available here.

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From 10am on Tue 12 Jun, you can get a free child’s ticket (age 16 and under) to one of 40+ London theatre shows, including Aladdin, Bat Out Of Hell, Wicked, Brief Encounter, and Les Misérables, throughout August when you buy a full-priced adult ticket via the Kids Week website.

There are 172,000 tickets available in total (this includes adult and child tickets) through Kids Week and you can book until the offer ends on Fri 31 Aug – some shows have excluded days and the offer will end once all tickets are sold.

Last year, 104,839 tickets sold within the first 24 hours, so you’ll need to go quick if you’re after a particular performance!

There are no booking or postage fees, and you can save £11.50-£80 depending on the show and seats you choose. You can also get 50% off for up to two more children per adult, so what are you waiting for!

Head to Kids Week for further information and to check out the available shows!

 

Blood Brothers

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Running at Manchester’s Palace Theatre for the next two weeks, Blood Brother’s remains as deeply moving and powerfully relevant as ever.

Willy Russell’s award-winning epic tale tells the tragic story of twin boys separated at birth only to be reunited by a twist of fate, a mother haunted by a dark secret and the heart-breaking reality of social depression. As they boys grow up on opposite side of the track the draw the timeless themes of inequality, social class and mental health struggles remain sadly as relevant today as the day it was written. Despite the though subject matter, Blood Brothers is by far one of the wittiest scripts of any musical with laugh out loud moments perfectly measured against the heartache.

Taking on the lead role is Lyn Paul, who first stepped into Mrs Johnstone’s shoes back in 1997 when she made her musical theatre debut in the West End production. She makes for a compelling and impressive Mrs Johnstone, with a depth of emotion that tugs on your heart strings, making you feel every ounce of her heartfelt pain.

Matthew Craig is exceptional as the ever-present and ominous narrator, a dark and menacing reminder of the shady deeds of the mother’s pact; he has a strong and foreboding presence on stage. With just the right amount of Scouse rasp his harmonies with Lyn Paul are simply beautiful.

Veterans of their respective roles as ill-fated twins Mickey and Eddie, Sean Jones and Mark Hutchinson captivate the audience with performances that will have you howling with laughter one moment and reaching for the tissues the next. Sean Jones gives a masterclass in character acting, lighting up the stay as care-free young Mickey making the journey he goes on, to broken and defeated young man in Act II all the more devastating.

The ensemble cast are impressively strong, delivering Willy Russell’s witty script with fresh energy as they take on multiple roles with gusto. Special mention must go to Sarah Jane Buckley, Danielle Corlass and Daniel Taylor who each shine as Mrs Lyons, Linda and Sammy respectively.

Blood Brothers has the ability to take you on a roller coaster of emotion from joyful highs to heart aching lows. The tear filled finale one of the most moving fifteen minutes of any musical, repeatedly followed night after night by a full standing ovation, a testament to the enduring appeal of this powerful production.

It is a story that will stay with you long after the final curtain, a timeless classic which no doubts cements Will Russell as one of Britain’s best loved and most talented storytellers. It is a show that appeals to all ages from eager school groups to audiences returning for the second, third, fourth visit and more, each and every audience member stunned into silence. The phrase ‘must-see’ is often banded about but in the case of Blood Brothers it is entirely true, a powerful, captivating and entirely moving production.

On at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 26th May rickets available here.

Interview | Richard Fleeshman | The Last Ship

Having started his career at age 12 on the cobbles of Coronation Street, Richard Fleeshman has gone from strength to strength, moving into musical theatre and quickly establishing himself as one of the most in demand actors in the country.

Fleeshman’s latest role which brings him to the Lowry in July sees him perform in Sting’s self-penned musical, The Last Ship. Inspired by Sting’s own childhood as well as his 1991 album The Soul Cages, The Last Ship focuses on a community amidst the dying days of the shipbuilding industry in Tyne and Wear. Fleeshman takes on the role of Gideon, a sailor by trade who returns home 17 years after turning his back on his hometown to become a sailor. He returns to reconnect with a lost love, however tensions soon rise as the once proud town he left is in demise and life for the girl he loved has changed dramatically.

“It’s based in what was a real working shipyard, the Swan Hunter shipyard.” Richard Fleesham explains. “I play Gideon Fletcher who was expected to follow in his Father’s footsteps and go working in the yard but he decides that life is not for him, I suppose similar to Sting really, so he joins the navy and heads off to sea, returning 17 years later when he returns to find the place he left behind is very different to the one he has returned to.”

The Last Ship originally made its premiere in Chicago in 2014 ahead of opening on Broadway where it was nominated for two Tony Awards for Best Original Score and Best Orchestrations. Since Sting brought the show to the UK it’s had a new book from director Lorne Campbell as well as the addition of new songs. The focus too has shifted to concentrate much more on the political aspects of the story. “Audience responses have been amazing, I was confident that audiences would enjoy the show as the story is fantastic and the music is beautiful but it’s been lovely to see just how much it’s resonated with audiences. At its heart it’s a story about people, about people being repressed and how they respond to that. As a company we get a real rush of energy from the audience, it’s a very powerful story and it’s clearly affecting people and moving audiences which is fantastic to see from up on stage, we’ve had standing ovations every night so far which is just incredible.”

Fleeshman having starred in both the West End and Broadway productions of Ghost, the Musical, came close to taking a break from musical theatre before hearing about the opportunity to audition for the role, “I’d actually decided before taking this role that I needed a break from eight shows a week and then literally an hour after having that conversation with my agent she called me back and said ‘Look I know what you said about having a break from musical theatre but….Sting…’ as soon as I heard that I said, scrap everything I said!”

Fleeshman was incredibly nervous when he first auditioned for the role knowing Sting was going to be present but has nothing but praise for the award-winning musician. “It’s been so fantastic working with Sting, he is one of the most humble, gracious guys you could wish to meet then you add onto that his unbelievable talent and passion for this project, it really is unbelievable.”

While Fleeshman may not relate to events that have happened in Gideon’s life he certainly relates to the draw of family and a love for his hometown, “In terms of his pride at the end of the show in the town that made him I can fully relate to that, I still go back to Manchester every month, my family are there, my best friends are there, I feel proud of Manchester every single day.”

With Fleeshman deciding he needed a break from musical theatre we wondered what it was that was so special about The Last Ship which made him change his mind, “One of the things that drew me to this show was that it’s a play that has incredible music rather than a musical, there are long periods of time, sometimes 7-8 minute scenes with just dialogue, there’s no underscore, nothing just dialogue so from an acting point of view you get the best of both worlds. The freedom you’re granted when doing a straight play mixed in with the joy of having a full band and full ensemble singing, that’s one of the things I love the most about it.”

As the Last Ship is due to dock at The Lowry in July we asked what audiences can expect from the large scale production. “At its heart it’s a brilliant, gritty story about people, about pride and about resilience. Audience responses have been amazing, I was confident that audiences would enjoy the show as the story is fantastic and the music is beautiful but it’s been incredible to see just how much the audiences have related to and enjoyed the show, I absolutely can’t wait to bring the show to the Lowry, it will be really special.

The Last Ship opens at The Lowry on Tuesday 3rd July and runs until Saturday 7th July tickets available here.