Bugsy Malone

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Put on your trilby, shake your tail feather, and grab your splurge gun because one of the most beloved musicals, Bugsy Malone is in town this week providing the perfect night out for all the family.

The Lyric Hammersmith Theatre Group first performed this version of the late film maker, Sir Alan Parker’s timeless classic back in 2015 and it is now on a nationwide tour.

The cinematic version premiered in 1976 and garnered huge critical and commercial success. This mainly due to its original premise: that of children playing gangsters and showgirls, bringing together classic tropes of film noir and musicals.

Directed by Sean Holmes, this is the tale of a mob turf war between speakeasy owner, Fat Sam and crime kingpin, Dandy Dan. Caught in the middle of it all is wise-guy and boxing promoter, Bugsy Malone, and promising singing starlet, Blousy. As the bodies pile up can Bugsy and Blousy escape the criminal underworld and start a fresh life in Hollywood?

This is such a fun production packed with great performances, catchy musical numbers and well executed set-pieces that will have you smiling throughout. Highlights come thick and fast, with the high energy ‘Fat Sam’s Grand Slam’ perfectly setting the tone of the show. In addition, there is the superbly choreographed ‘We Could Have Been Anything’ and ‘So You Wanna be a Boxer’ which shine a spotlight on choreographer’s Drew McOnie’s outstanding work. All pack a punch and fill the production with such vibrance that you can’t help getting sucked in and taken along for the ride.

As you may expect, this is a showcase for some fine young actors, some of whom are making their professional stage debuts with this production. Mixing these super talented kids with adult performers is a treat to watch. It never seems jarring or takes you out of the action, which can happen when you have children playing adults and vice-versa. This is a super talented ensemble cast that works so hard throughout, providing big laughs and lots of fun.

The costumes and set design by Jon Bausor look great. The costumes fully encapsulate 1920’s America, lots of glitz and glamour for the ladies, and pin stripes suites for the gents. The clever set design, along with Philip Gladwell’s lighting design gives the production a darker element to it, fully evoking criminality, mob assassinations and scenes from old gangster films we are all too familiar with.

The finale may actually be one of my favourite show endings of all the productions I’ve had the good fortune to cover and perfectly captures the immense joy you get from the show.  A huge dance number for all the cast, with absolute joy etched on all their faces, so infectious that the audience were up on their feet and joining in. Bugsy Malone is a big pie in the face full of fun and fabulous performances, and one that will entertain young and old alike.

Bugsy Malone is at the Manchester Opera House till the 12th November. Tickets available here.

Ghost Stories

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Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Finally, a decade after it’s theatrical premiere at Liverpool’s Playhouse Theatre, Ghost Stories is embarking on a full national tour, and trust me it was well worth the wait!

From the twisted minds of childhood friends Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, comes the ultimate scary theatrical experience, that will chill to your core.

Both Dyson and Nyman are no strangers to horror and the supernatural: Dyson is arguably best known for his work with, The League of Gentleman. Whilst Nyman is an actor and writer, who recently starred opposite Renée Zellweger in the Oscar winning film Judy. However, it’s his previous work with Derren Brown, which undoubtedly feeds into this production.

It would do the show a disservice to offer a review complete with plot synopsis and spoilers, the less you know going in beforehand the better. So, this review like a government investigation into Russian donors to the Conservative Party will be heavily redacted.

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Beginning with a lecture from Professor Goodman (Joshua Higgott), Goodman specialises in the study of the supernatural, especially debunking people’s stories, or exposing fakers and frauds. However, of all the cases that he has investigated there have been three that have stuck with him.

The first is that of security guard, Tony Matthews (Paul Hawkyard), and his unsettling final shift. The second is that of teenager, Simon Rifkind (Gus Gordon) and the strife his troublesome car gets him into. Finally, businessman, Mike Priddle (Richard Sutton) and the events that lead up to a family tragedy.

Can Professor Goodman offer up a rational explanation behind each of these stories, if so what can be?

If the aim of Ghost Stories is to have you jumping out of your skin then it achieves its goal ten times over, like a rollercoaster the thrills come thick and fast, just when you think you’re safe there’s another scare right around the corner. It’s not all shocks, there are several laughs too, with a pitch-black script and lots of fun gags, horror and comedy have often made strange bed fellows, Ghost Stories undoubtedly have got the balance spot on.

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With a production of this nature it of course relies hugely on its creative team and high production values and what they have created is something quite special. With James Farncombe’s lighting design, sound design by Nick Manning, then add into the mix Jon Bausor’s impressive set design and you have an atmospheric, gasp-inducing full-on sensory experience.

The cast are on fine form, Higgot has an engaging stage presence as our guide to the paranormal, whilst the three storytellers each bring something different to their tale. There’s comedy, drama, and terror from each turn but all done very differently, which is a credit to all three actors as well the sublime writing and direction.

This is so much more than a fright-fest: it’s smart, innovative and most of all an enormously fun piece of theatre that pulls out all the stops to give you a night out that will live long in the memory.

Ghost Stories is at the Lowry until the 22nd February 2020 tickets available here.