Twelfth Night

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Twelfth Night has long been known as one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies; in celebration of their 10th birthday Grosvenor Open Air Theatre are happy to prove why.

Locating the action in the Bohemian Balkans the celebratory festival vibe is strong, there’s flowers in hair while the drink is free flowing. The abundance of music and laughter indicate that Director Julia Thomas is prepared embrace the fun of this comedic and jubilant production.

This is an ode to the joyful and silly; there’s mistaken identities, unrequited love, a shipwreck, subterfuge as well as a whole host of entertaining characters.

The talented cast deliver Shakespeare’s verse with clear conviction while their enthusiasm and wit gives the piece both a light and accessible feel.

Separated twins Viola (Whitney Kehinde) and Sebastian (Marc Benga) each arrive on the shores of Illyria after a shipwreck; Viola first, allowing her 3 days of getting acquainted with the locals, enough time for two to fall in love with her while another two attempt to fight her albeit while she’s now dressed as as a man (Cesario) in a bid to keep the spirit of the brother she believes to be dead alive.

Kehinde is excellent as Viola/Cesario, cool and commanding she handles the confusion and complexities of life in Illyria with sass and style.

Sarah-Jane Potts shines as Olivia, hot in pursuit of her happy ending while Samuel Collings brings the house down as the put upon Malvolio whose transformation from stiff upper lipped steward to stocking wearing, downward dog facing smiler is pure genius.

Mitesh Soni is an absolute joy as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. His physical comedy, facial expressions and nice but dim personality really bringing this piece to life. Kudos to Soni for successfully delivering Shakespeare’s prose whilst flossing, impressive!

Jessica Dives as Feste takes on the form of a modern day wandering minstrel, offering an almost narrator like musical accompaniment while adding a wonderfully melodic energy to proceedings.

Director Julia Thomas isn’t afraid to embrace the silly or the slapstick and is greatly rewarded for her choices. Her cast embrace the opportunity, having a lot of fun with the piece while the audience reap the benefits.

A stand out moment which really embodies the playful nature of the production is the hilarious fight scene, outrageously farcical and absolute comedy perfection. The frequent witty exchanges between cast and audience further add to the playfulness and accessibility of this piece.

A highlight of Chester’s summer season for ten years now with productions as strong as this there is no doubt the Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre will be celebrating birthdays for many years to come.

Outrageously good fun for all the family.

Twelfth Night is being performed at various dates over the summer further information and tickets can be found here.

Rotterdam

 

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Nothing but the Roof

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer: Matt Forrest

Writer: Adam Colclough

Director: Adam Colclough

Back in 1962, the Drifters sang about heading to the roof to get away from the cares and troubles of the world: alas, the same cannot be said of three characters at the heart of Adam Colclough’s latest play Nothing but the Roof.

The action opens with Warren (JP Smith) clutching a letter standing near the edge of a rooftop on a rundown block of flats, he is coincidentally joined by childhood friends Step (David Hyde) and Millsy (Peter Thompson). The pair are dressed as Fred and Barney from The Flintstones: Step has roped Millsy into a father’s for justice protest; however, a mix up with the sign puts paid to that.

As the three friends get reacquainted with each other, they laugh, they fight, they reminisce as they discuss what hand life has dealt them: grief, unemployment, debt, and abuse are some of the hardships the three pals have faced, but can they come out of it the other side?

Despite the weighty subjects covered, the script is exceptionally funny indeed, with some stingy one-liners: it certainly has that lad’s night at the pub feel, as the friends point out each other’s faults, failings and generally just ‘rib’ each other to huge comic affect.

The production does however try to pack too much in with our three friends facing just about every disaster you could possibly think of; the play bounces from one tragedy to another, skimming the surface of these subjects rather than tackling them. Sometimes less is more and the play would certainly benefit from a trim, and as well as a few pauses here and there as the dialogue is delivered at such a breakneck speed that it could do with allowing the audience time to breathe.

The cast despite a few early missteps are on great form, you firmly believe friendship and the chemistry between all three is fantastic. The setting of the rooftop looks the part and allows the actors to fully express themselves.

This is an important play which raises some interesting points about modern Britain and one that should be seen by as many people as possible, it will certainly make you laugh and offer some food for thought, it just needs to iron out it’s kinks and it’ll be a great piece of work.

Tags: Nothing but the Roof, Hope Mill Theatre, Adam Colclough, JP Smith, David Hyde, Peter Thompson, Drama, Theatre

Love from a Stranger

Stranger 1

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Agatha Christie is one of the most prolific writers of not just her own, but any generation, turning out over 60 books. She was also a successful playwright, having penned the theatrical titan that is The Mousetrap.  However, her flirtation with the stage didn’t stop there, as here we have Love from a Stranger, a Christie short story called Philomel Cottage which was adapted for the stage by writer/actor Frank Vosper in 1936. This isn’t just another ‘run of the mill’ Christie ‘whodunit’, but a multi-layered tale of control, manipulation with a thoroughly believable monster at the centre of it.

Having come into a substantial amount of money, Cecily (Helen Bradbury), seemingly has the perfect life: wealth, a good job, and engaged to her partner Michael (Justin Avoth). However, it is adventure that Cecily seeks, and a chance encounter with a handsome photographer, Bruce Lovell (Sam Frenchum) opens all sorts of possibilities for Cecily. The charismatic young American persuades Cecily to leave her old life behind and start afresh with him.

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The couple move to a remote cottage in the country where at first everything seems perfect, however cracks begin to appear in the relationship, and all is not what it seems with Lovell, as he begins to control and manipulate his now wife much to the distress and concern of Cecily’s family and friends.

Director Lucy Bailey has done a fantastic job crafting a tense, captivating psychological thriller. The production’s main strength is its ability to shock. At first it seems to be run-of-the-mill, easy going fodder, perfect for a lazy Sunday night in front of the telly. There are even a few laughs in there, courtesy of Aunt Louise (Nicola Sanderson) and then later housemaid, Ethel (Molly Logan), however this is all a ruse, designed to sucker you in and leave you fully unprepared for the events that transpire in the nerve shattering finale.

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It’s not just the script that helps ratchet up the tension, Mike Britton’s unique and intricate set design, of sliding panels and see through walls add to the claustrophobia, whilst bringing an element of voyeurism to proceedings. In addition, Oliver Fenwick’s film noir lighting design comes into its own as the story unfolds adding menace and an almost seedy quality to proceedings.

The cast are on fine form: the two leads have a believable chemistry with each other: Bradbury is feisty yet naive as Cecily, whilst Frenchum is charming and menacing as the unhinged Lovell. They are supported by a superb group of actors: with special mention going to a near show stealing turn from Nicola Sanderson as Aunt Louise, who certainly brings a great deal of humour to a character that could be irritating: however, some of her lines and her stage presence had the audience in stitches.

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One thing which did affect this fabulous production, and which is in no way the fault of the cast or crew was various audience members leaving their mobile phones switched on throughout the performance, one noisy intervention coming at a particular tense moment in the play: it really is frustrating the amount of times this seems to happen. Switch your phones off! Embrace being at the theatre and be in the moment!

Mobile phones aside, this is a riveting, entertaining and engrossing production, that like its lead character, starts off as one thing and in the end is a different beast all together: certainly, worth a watch.

Love from a Stranger is at the Lowry until the 14th July tickets 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.

Art

Art

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

It’s nearly 25 years since the Yasmina Reza short play Art made its theatrical debut in Paris and judging by the anticipation and buzz around the Lyric theatre this evening, it would appear the play still has a huge drawing power. However, the big question is, is it still worth the hype and praise? Or is it a bit like the Cecilia Giménez restoration of the Fresco, and doesn’t deliver what is promised?

The plot focuses on three life- long friends, Serge, Marc and Yvan. Serge, a wealthy divorcee with a supposed penchant for modern art, decides to spend £200,000 on a painting of a white canvas. His friend Marc takes great offense by this show of extravagance.  Marc believes Serge is, either going mad, having a sly dig at him, or is just plain foolish for making such an inane purchase. Marc  enlists the help of Yvan, their down trodden people-pleasing friend to either get to the bottom of their friend’s behaviour, or at least get him onside with his assessment that the painting “is shit”.

As the debate rages between Serge and Marc, and Yvan’s piggy-in-the-middle stance on proceedings, it would appear that this rather bland, neutral piece of art exposes some home truths and harsh realities that threatens to blow the lid off their friendship once and for all.

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Art proved to be a bitter-sweet night at the theatre, with more to say about the insecurities and foibles of middle-class-white men than a critique of modern art. The script is razor-sharp, filled with stinging- barbs and some cracking set pieces that include possibly the funniest olive eating scene I have witnessed and a finale that drew loud, audible gasps from the assembled audience. The trouble is that the 2 of the 3 characters are quite loathsome and that you really don’t care about them, their friendship or the painting.

That said there is no shortage of star-power on display here: Dennis Lawson is clearly having a ball as cantankerous Marc, delivering most of the plays most venomous lines with real gusto. Nigel Havers does what he does best as the suave, extravagant Serge, a role we are all too familiar with seeing him play, but he does it so well. However the biggest applause for the night was saved for Stephen Tompkinson, whose speech mid-way through is comedy gold, and his turn as the well -meaning wet blanket Yvan very nearly steals the shows.

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Mark Thomas has created simple but effective beige set with only a few paintings and different style chairs used to show off the personality of our protagonists.

I suppose, as all Art, the idea is to challenge and debate. This piece of Art certainly does that; love it or hate you won’t forget it in a hurry that’s for sure!

Art is on at the Lowry until the 31st 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.