The Play That Goes Wrong

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer: Matt Forrest

With the World Cup in full swing, the whole nation seems to have gone football crazy: we’ve seen great goals, controversial refereeing decisions and some calamitous howlers, however not even the biggest goal keeping blunder would compare to the chaos that goes into The Play That Goes Wrong.

Now in its sixth year, this Tony award-winner sees the plucky but flawed local Am-dram group ‘The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’ stage a classic ‘whodunit’, with their production of Murder at Haversham Manor. However the production is blighted from the outset: there is a missing dog, a misplaced Duran Duran CD, and a faulty shelf hampering proceedings and all this before the house lights have gone down and the show has begun.

Chris Bean (Jake Curran) the stressed director head of the drama society, and lead role of Inspector Carter, welcomes us to the show and informs us of some of the society’s less successful productions which include James and his Peach, and The Lion and the Wardrobe. It’s the perfect setup to introduce a hilarious evening of mirth and mayhem.

Along the way we are introduced to the various society players which include Max Bennett, who plays Cecil Haversham, (Bobby Hirston) a first time performer milking his role for all it’s worth, Sandra Wilkinson as Florence Colleymoore (Elena Valentine) somewhat over-egging her part in a desperate bid to steal the show, and Dennis Tyde as Perkins (Benjamin McMahon) clearly nervous and not very good at learning his lines. In addition they are supported by the technical crew of Trevor (Gabriel Paul) and Annie (Catherine Dryden) who try to fight the flames of disaster (quite literally) and will play bigger roles then either would have envisaged.

As the action continues we see the play go from one catastrophe to another, taking a mental and physical toll on all the cast and crew, just thankful it’s over and that they all survived… even if not entirely in one piece.

This is the third time I’ve watched this production within the last year and I’m not ashamed to say I love it. It seems to get better and better with every viewing; you notice things you missed the first time and second time around as a result of laughing so much. Director Mark Bell has crafted a night of pure unadulterated fun and frolics. The production pokes fun at the self-important, pompous world of amateur dramatics, with a biting, scathing pitch perfect script by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields.

The cast certainly put in a shift, with an endless barrage of slapstick and physical comedy very much in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy or Michael Crawford from classic BBC sitcom Some Mother’s Do Have ‘em.

All of the cast do exceptionally well but the stand out performance goes to David Kristopher-Brown, as Robert and Thomas Colleymoore, whose performance at one point had audience members howling with laughter, with a little a hint of fear for the actors safety, made all the more impressive by the fact that Brown is the understudy for this touring production, and certainly highlights the depth of quality this production company has at its disposal. In addition, Steven Rostance as Jonathan, and Charles Haversham who plays the least convincing dead body you are likely to see and really should change his name to Lazarus!

There are a few minor issues: at times there is so much going on that it is hard to keep track of the action. In addition, because of all the turmoil, some of the dialogue is lost and hard to hear adding to the chaos and confusion

Overall this fantastically fun night at the theatre that will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear, and aching sides to boot. At the close of the show the cast let us know that their next production: The Comedy About a Bank Robbery will be going to the Lowry in September: hopefully I’ll have recovered from this performance by the time that comes around!

They Play That Goes Wrong is on at the Manchester Opera House till 30th June tickets available here.

Awful Auntie

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewers Eve and Maisy Powell

Following their award-winning production Gangsta Granny, Birmingham Stage Company return to Manchester with their newest David Walliams adaptation, Awful Auntie. This enormously entertaining tale of friendship, fights and not to mention frights is on at the Opera House until Sunday 24th June.

We sent our mini-reviewers Eve age 10 and Maisy age 7 and a half to give the show that’s been thrilling audiences around the UK their verdict.

Eve Powell

I really, really enjoyed it, I thought it was really inventive and cleverly created, very funny and also very child friendly as the story was easy to follow.

I loved how they changed the scenery, I thought it was amazing. One of my favourite things was Wagner the owl puppet who was operated by Roberta Bellekom, it was so realistic and looked just like a real owl.

I would absolutely recommend Awful Auntie, it is great fun.

Maisy Powell

I really enjoyed Awful Auntie, my favourite part of the show was the little puppets, I loved them.

Aunt Alberta really made me laugh especially when Stella and Soot played tricks on her.

I would definitely recommend Awful Auntie to everyone especially children.

AA

Packed with laugh out loud moments, a superb storyline chock-full of colourful characters brought brilliantly to life by a talented cast Awful Auntie is a perfect family show. With a running time of just over 2 hours including an interval this is another stonking hit for Birmingham Stage Company.

Awful Auntie is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Sunday 24th June tickets available here.

Further information on Birmingham Stage Company can be found here.

Kindertransport

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Timely and relevant, Diane Samuels’ absorbing play Kindertransport opened at Manchester’s Opera House last night.

Focussing on the remarkable time when child refugees were welcome on our shores as thousands of frightened Jewish children were forced to flee Nazi Germany between 1938 and 1940 to the safety of Great Britain.

In this Anne Simon directed production we focus on one such child, a young Jewish girl named Eva who is sent to the safety of Manchester by her desperate mother Helga, to live a hopefully free life under the protection of foster family Mr & Mrs Miller. As Eva matures she moves further and further away from her past, changing her name to Evelyn and locking away every reminder of her tragic origins in the attic. One day Evelyn’s daughter Faith discovers the documents, uncovering the truth about her mother’s complex beginnings and forcing Evelyn to face up to her past and relive her haunting nightmares.

There is a recurrent figure brought to life in Evelyn’s evocative memories, the Ratchatcher, a creeping, lurking and terrifying child catcher portrayed by Matthew Brown to interesting effect. He is a haunting reminder of Evelyn’s childhood fears and now adult guilt, he is however in large parts unseen as he fails to creep far enough into vision on many occasion, a great element that could have been exceptional sadly poorly orchestrated.

Leila Schaus makes for a compelling and believable Eva, she fully embodies the role of frightened, frustrated child while portraying beautifully the shattered innocence of a young evacuee whose childhood is gradually destroyed by the horrors of war.

Jenny Lee is excellent as the vociferous Lil, as the Mancunian Mother she brings some welcome laughter to this poignant drama.

Suzan Slyvester and Hannah Bristow in their roles as Evelyn and Faith portray a difficult and cold mother/daughter relationship. Lacking in warmth, they are spiky and cruel to each other, as Evelyn wallows in her misery and Faith lacks the compassion to empathise with her mother’s plight.

Past and present appear on stage simultaneously to great effect with Nic Farman’s atmospheric lighting gently but convincingly differentiates between the two.

The production features some strong performances with a visually impressive set from Marie-Luce Theis it just doesn’t quite impact the way this moving exploration on the effects of war should do. That said it is a compelling and educational production which puts the spotlight firmly on the lasting plight of the innocent during war, something that should always be at the forefront of our minds.

On at the Opera House until Saturday 5th May tickets available time.

Interview | Douglas Day Stewart | An Officer and a Gentleman

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Based on the Oscar-winning film starring Richard Gere, An Officer and a Gentleman, the musical will sweep audiences off their feet when it heads to Manchester’s Opera House on 13th August.

Including the iconic hit song from the movie ‘Up Where We Belong’ along with 80’s classic after 80’s including ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’, ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’, ‘Heart of Glass’, ‘Material Girl’, and ‘The Final Countdown’, An Officer and a Gentleman promises to be a thrilling night at the theatre as we follow the rough and ready Zack Mayo (Jonny Fines) as he learns the hard way the importance of how to be both an Officer and a Gentleman. Starring Olivier Award nominee Emma Williams, with direction by Nikolai Foster (Artistic Director Curve, Annie, Calamity Jane), An Officer and A Gentleman is not to be missed!

We had the pleasure of chatting to Douglas Day Stewart, the much celebrated co-writer of the book and original screenplay to hear a little more about what audiences can expect when the show arrives at Manchester’s Opera House on 13th August.

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Opening Night: Did you ever think back in 1982 you’d be revisiting the show 36 years later and presenting it as a musical?

Douglas Day Stewart: Absolutely not, I had no idea what an amazing journey writing this story would be for me, it’s been a blessing that just keeps on giving over the decades, it just gets better and better and better.

ON: We understand there are many autobiographical elements within the story, how do you decide what to put in and what to hold back?

DDS: I think my dream was to capture a moment in time that I survived. In 13 weeks it was a crucible of change for me. I went from being a boy to being a man. I went through all the experiences that I put into this and I tried to be true to everything. Of course in writing a story you take certain literary licences, I was not the rough edged intolerable guy that my character was but I had known that character being a naval officer. I had met people who were very much like Zack Mayo so I combined my own experiences with my knowledge of the rougher elements.

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ON: Richard Gere was so iconic as Zack Mayo how was it working with him?

DDS: It was wonderful; it was the perfect piece of casting. Initially I thought that John Travolta would have been my choice for Zack having worked with him on the television film The Boy in the Plastic Bubble and at the last moment he decided it wasn’t for him which was I think good for everyone because Richard was better than anyone could have hoped for….until now of course when we have a new Zack Mayo in the hugely talented Jonny Fines. The director Nikolai Foster knew Jonny so also knew what a gifted performer he was, when I see Jonny performing on stage I just can’t imagine anyone else in that role.

ON: How important was it for you to have Nikolai Foster as part of your creative team?

DDS: It was the key to the dream, getting Nikolai on board. He and I saw this story being converted to a stage musical in the exact same way. We both had the passion and vision to tell a simple working class story, something really true, genuine and honest.

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ON: Will we see many changes in the musical or have you stayed true to the original film?

DDS: We’re very truthful to the film. It has a wonderful history and we didn’t want to violate that for the audience but at the same time we wanted to appeal to a new audience, the story is so enduring though that I feel new audiences for example my daughter and her millennial friends will embrace it just as much as my generation did. What I think is the secret to the success of the film and will be to the musical is that the women and men love it equally. I’m seeing standing ovations every night and men in the audience are as emotionally caught up in the story as the women in the audience which is a very rare thing. It makes for a great date experience. It was written with a sense of honesty and also for men and women alike.

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ON: The songs chosen really revisit the sounds of the times how did you go about choosing which to include?

DDS: Well we of course had to have the iconic Up Where We Belong then everything else is really a building block up to that song and that moment. Every single song we picked is a song from the 80’s, a song that I personally love and that audiences also seem to really love, the soundtrack really is amazing. Nikolai must take credit too for picking many of the songs we ended up including, he had a real sense of what would work within the material. I pushed him to include one song that was not on anyone’s list but had been suggested by co-author Sharleen Cooper Cohen who did a lot of work on this project, that song was It’s A Man’s, Man’s Man’s World. The idea behind that was to bring out the women’s side of the story even more than in the original film. You’ll see in the show the women’s story is equally as important as the men going through their military training. It was important to do this in a way which felt authentic and empowering.

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ON: How does it feel to have created something so iconic?

DDS: It’s so gratifying, I can’t tell you the number of times people have come up to me and said they’d asked their wife to marry them after watching the movie, people have shown me pictures from weddings where they were married wearing the officers suits, they’ve danced to Up Where We Belong at their weddings it’s really incredible. We hit an amazing note with the movie that I really hope we achieve with the musical too; people saw the movie and believed in love again. It’s absolutely time to start believing in love again. Standing ovations every night is more than I could ever have wished for and I hear Manchester audiences as some of the best!

You can catch An Officer and a Gentleman at Manchester Opera House from Monday 13th August until Saturday 18th tickets available here.

 

 

 

 

 

Hairspray

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ever popular audience favourite Hairspray burst into Manchester last night for a fun, feisty and feel-good two week stop at the city’s Opera House theatre.

Multi-coloured and multi-layered this is an uplifting and vibrant production with a serious and important message at its heart. Based on the 1988 John Waters film, Hairspray follows Baltimore teenager, Tracy Turnblad’s dream to dance on The Corny Collins Show. Tracy isn’t as conventionally looking as the show’s usual crew and faces an uphill battle from the start. What begins as a burning ambition to win a role on her favourite teen show soon becomes a campaign for social change which sees Tracy crusade to promote racial integration as she battles not only bigots but body shamers too.

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Newcomer Rebecca Mendoza makes her professional debut and as the bright, bold and beautiful Tracy Turnblad with a big voice and personality to match her buoyant bouffant she perfectly embodies the impassioned teen. Her comedic acting really raises her performance from excellent to exceptional and she puff and pants to perfection every time teen idol Link Larkin (Edward Chitticks) comes near.

Annalise Liard-Bailey smashes her professional debut as Penny Pingleton, the stunning pairing of Liard-Bailey and Layton Williams being a real highlight of the show, Williams shines as Seaweed, ensuring all eyes are upon him as he twists and flips across the stage, both are an absolute joy to watch.

Brenda Edwards returns as the mighty Motormouth Maybelle and raises the roof with her soulful and emotional rendition of I know where I’ve been. While theatre has a job to entertain it also has important role in educating audiences, which Edwards and cast do so with gusto.

Matt Rixton (Edna) and Graham MacDuff (tonight covering the role of Wilbur) solidify their status as audience favourites with each outrageous and hilarious scene, they’re clearly having just as much fun on stage as the audience off stage as they delight and deliver in style.

While it promotes a message of equality and inclusion Hairspray does it with such wit and charm it is anything but preachy. Drew McOnie’s punchy choreography ensures the pace always remains high while Takis’ sets and costumes are bright, blingy and whisk us straight back to the sixties.

With a vibrant and memorable score including numbers such as You Can’t Stop the Beat, Welcome to the Sixities and Good Morning Baltimore Hairspray never fails to entertain as the audience leapt to their feet in approval. Empowering, uplifting and most of all enormously entertaining!

On at the Opera House until Saturday 7th April tickets available here.

The Importance of Being Earnest

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

It has to be said I was approaching The Importance of Being Earnest with some degree of in trepidation: my only other encounter with the play occurred some 25 years previous with a rather tepid class reading by 9J at St Gregory’s Roman Catholic High School: It would be fair to say that it was a lack-lustre affair, and my Algernon Moncrieff was poor by anyone standards. To be told by our English teacher that this was a ‘comedy’ was an insult – we didn’t laugh once.

I’m happy to say Director Alastair Whatley’s take on the Oscar Wilde’s classic lays that ghost firmly to rest: this adaptation is bold, bright and full of life which will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear.

The plot focuses on two-men-about town, Algernon Moncrieff (Thomas Howes) and Jack Worthing (Peter Sandys-Clarke) both have created a fictional double life for themselves which allows them to get out of social occasions on a whim, and visit the country/city whenever they fancy. However both men’s double-lives land them in hot-water as affections of two ladies come into play, Miss Gwendolen Fairfax (Kerry Ellis) and Cecily Cardew (Louise Coulthard), have both fallen for Earnest Worthing, the fictional alter ego/brother created by Jack.

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Howes is on great form playing the devilishly mischievous Moncrieff, lapping it up as he gets to eat lot of muffins and use the stage as his own sofa: the dream job! He is the perfect foil for Sandys-Clarke who’s up-tight Jack, attempts to keep his dignity whilst his world crashes in around him.

Coulthard is excellent in the role of exceedingly clever if slightly unhinged Cecily, Coulthard plays the part with comedic perfection. West End and Broadway favourite Kerry Ellis is equally as good in the somewhat less ‘showy’ role of Gwendolen, (her first straight play in this her 20th year in the business). There is more than a hint of Blackadder’s Queenie in both performances which is high praise indeed. A scene between the two where a slice of cake, is used as a weapon is an absolute treat and is surely the most passive-aggressive afternoon tea I’ve ever seen.

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Gwen Taylor puts a unique spin on the arrogant, seemingly omnipotent but ignorant Lady Bracknell giving the character a hint of warmth and humanity, which makes some of her more unique lines of dialogue all the more absurd.

The Costumes and set design by Gabriella Slade are full bright colours which really stand out, that coupled with the gusto of the performances give the production a burst of energy.

Wilde’s writing certainly has stood the test of time, with a play about social etiquettes and living a double life who knows what he would make of today’s social media obsessed world.

With a great deal of relevance today this is a fun entertaining night out, that will leave you with a smile on your face and the sudden urge to go get a muffin! Suitably spiffing!

The Importance of Being Earnest is on at the Manchester Opera House till the 17th March tickets available here.

 

Interview | Kerry Ellis | The Importance of Being Earnest

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Broadway and West End star Kerry Ellis arrives in Manchester next week with Oscar Wilde’s brilliant and hugely funny The Importance of Being Earnest in which she takes on the role of Gwendolen.

Starring alongside the legendary Gwen Taylor as the formidable Lady Bracknell, Susan Penhaligon as the luckless Miss Prism plus Downton Abbey favourite Thomas Howes as Algernon this will be Kerry’s first role in a straight play after an impressive and enormously successful 20 years in musical theatre.

We caught up with Kerry ahead of the show opening at Manchester’s Opera House on Tuesday 13th March to hear all about the play, her impressive career and her thoughts on taking on this new challenge.

ON: This is a real change for you, are you enjoying the experience?

KE: It’s the first play I’ve ever done really, I did do a short play with Trevor Nunn as a bit of a try out, but this is the first major play I’ve done and I’m really proud of it, I’m with a team of people who are just wonderful. Gwen Taylor is just a dream, the whole cast are great. To get to do an Oscar Wilde and a comedy as my first play has just been wonderful, I just love it. The audiences have been brilliant, it’s been very special so far, I’m absolutely loving it.

ON: Are you finding much difference between working on a straight play compared to a musical?

KE: Of course there’s the obvious with no music but yes it is quite different, with musicals there’s always so much going on, big sets and big ensembles, lots of music, songs to learn but with a play it’s literally you and your voice, your dialogue and just a few other people on stage with you. Essentially we’re doing the same thing and telling a story but it does feel quite different, we have different scenes which of course happens in both plays and musicals so the essence is the same but there’s definitely a difference.

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ON: From the production shots it appears the play will be traditionally staged are you enjoying wearing the costumes?

KE: They are stunning, they were made by Camden Costumes, they’ve all been tailor-made to us, the fabrics are amazing, the productions shots look great and show just how beautiful they are, I just feel very fortunate to wear them, the last time I wore costumes of this style was back when I was in My Fair Lady. My character Gwendolen is from a very well-to-do- family so they fit just perfectly with her character. The two dresses that I have are incredible and the hats, just phenomenal. Earnest does take me back to my My Fair Lady days as there definitely are some similar themes. What I love about this production is just how funny it is, the class system and the ridiculous things we do are to be laughed at, sitting in corsets drinking tea, it’s so silly really.

ON: You’re working with a hugely talented cast, have they offered any advice?

KE: Just watching them has been incredible, particularly Gwen who has just had her 79th birthday, I’m sure she won’t mind me sharing that information. To watch her work and be in a rehearsal room with somebody of such talent and experience and to watch her go through the same kind of things we all go through, the developments, the confidence on one night, the self-doubt on another night, seeing how she reacts to an audience, how much she cares about the show, watching her work has been very educational and I feel privledged to be in her presence. I know that probably sounds a bit cheesy but it really has been an incredible privilege to work with her.

ON: You’re celebrating 20 years what are you career highlights?

KE: There are so many, what’s interesting about doing this 20th anniversary tour is I didn’t even realise it had been 20 years, it was my manager who suggested calling it my 20th anniversary tour and I said ‘don’t be so ridiculous it can’t even be close to that’. Looking back over things I’ve done and asking audiences what they’ve seen me in and enjoyed it’s amazing what people come out with, things I’ve forgotten I’ve even done, I don’t know how I fitted everything in. I feel very fortunate that I’m still doing what I love doing and this anniversary tour is to celebrate that and to give something back to the people who have supported me over the years, I’m loving it. To do it alongside the play is wonderful.

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ON: What can audiences expect from your concert?

KE: A little bit of a trip down memory lane, there are some classics in there I can’t not sing Gravity and songs from We Will Rock You, but I am essentially singing lots of new things from my new Golden Days album. I’m also working on some new music with Frank Wildhorn who worked with Whitney Houston so there’s some of that in there so it’s really a celebration of then and what I’m doing now as well. I like to bring people new things and take them on a bit of a journey.

ON: After such an incredible 20 years in the industry do you have any advice for young performers?

KE: I feel very fortunate that I love doing what I do, I’ve made a passion for it and you have to as there are times like now when you’re touring and are away from your family, I’ve got two young boys so I’m away from them and my husband and I do have to make those sacrifices, you do have to love it and you have to make sacrifices for it, you have to have drive for it because it’s tough and it’s brutal and competitive and all of those things but it is the best job in the world. I don’t think you ever tire from hearing an audience reaction, people say it’s in your blood and I really do believe that. I was speaking to Brian May recently, we often talk when we’re on tour as we both understand how it feels, we were emailing the other night while he’s away in Australia and asking the silly little things like ‘how’s your hotel room?’ but it’s those things that really help when you’re away from your family.

ON: Are you looking forward to coming to Manchester?

Yes, I love Manchester, I was there not too long ago with Wonderland, I always have a great time there, the city is great, the people are wonderful and the theatres are fabulous, the shopping too of course is wonderful!

Tue 13 – Sat 17 March, Opera House tickets available here.