Measure for Measure

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Hey, have you heard the one about the powerful older man who offered a young woman help in return for sexual favours? You’d be forgiven for thinking I’m speaking of the latest scandal to engulf Westminster or Hollywood but I’m referring to the plot of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.

Measure for Measure is the is the final production for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s mini residency at the Lowry. Despite being four years shy of its 400-year anniversary this is a story that arguably has more resonance now than it ever has: the ill treatment of women and abuse of power by unscrupulous and seemingly omnificent men.

Set in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century, the Duke of Vienna has taken a sabbatical, leaving his deputy, Angelo in charge. Angelo is harsh and swift at implementing law and order to the city, while a young man Claudio, falls foul of the new changes to the law. He is sentenced to death for impregnating  his fiancé.  Claudio’s Sister Isabella, who is training as a nun hears of her brother’s plight and is soon up before Angelo pleading for her sibling’s life. The interim leader agrees to clemency in return Isabella must sleep with him. Isabella is repulsed by the very notion of this, but what can she do? Go up against the most powerful man in the city, it’s her word against his and who would believe her.  Isabella soon encounters a kindly friar, who agrees to assist  her with a plot to bring down Angelo, however the friar is really the Duke of Vienna returning to the area so he can get a a true measure of the city.

It is easy to see why this is referred to as one of Shakespeare’s more “problematic” works. On the one hand, this is a story about the abuse of power, as well as the wretched treatment of women. Whilst at the same to there are some comedic elements to the production in the form of the Duke’s deception and host of colourful yet despicable characters including the cunning pimp, Pompey, and slimy sycophant Lucio.  Director Gregory Doran manages to reign in all these elements to tell an engaging, fluid, and entertaining story, which does not shy way from the more despicable facets of the narrative.

Sandy Grierson is fantastic as loathsome Angelo; there is an understated menace to his performance, helped by the fact that he has more a passing resemblance to a certain Russian head-of-state.  Antony Byrne is also on fine form as the Duke, he is both strong and flawed, whilst his exchanges with Joseph Arkley’s Lucio offer up some of the productions lighter moments. However, at the centre of the production is exceptional performance by Lucy Phelps as Isabella, sometimes strong, sometimes vulnerable, it is her angst riddled turn that highlights the gravitas of the situation.

The superb acting works hand in hand with the high production values, there is very little in the way of set set design; instead, a change of location is signified by the use of projected images at the back of the stage.  Save for a few chairs and the use of two-way mirrors, set design is minimal which if anything intensifies the claustrophobia of the situation. The stage at the Lowry seemed to grow, as the narrative continues leaving the characters firmly in the spotlight, with no place to hide. In addition, the score by composer Paul Englishby, opens with a beautiful waltz, but soon shifts into darker territory, providing a sense of menace and foreboding.

Despite being on uncomfortable ground with its subject matter, this is an accessible, engaging production that is made even more fascinating by its relevance today. This may not be one of the ‘bards’ best-known plays but it is filled with twists and turns, none more so than the close 10 seconds of the play which add to the cynical nature to this intelligent piece

Measure for Measure is at the Lowry till 5th October. Tickets available:  here.

Tags: Measure for Measure, William Shakespeare, Gregory Doran, Drama, Theatre, Sandy Grierson, Antony Byrne, Lucy Phelps, Joseph Arkley

 

 

 

 

& Juliet

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Some jukebox musicals come and go faster than you can say Hit Me Baby One More Time others like Mamma Mia really hit the spot becoming staples of the theatre scene; enter new kid on the block & Juliet a magnificent mash-up of legendary songwriter Max Martin’s biggest hits which judging by tonight’s thunderous standing ovation is without doubt here to stay.

Bursting into vibrant life with opening number ‘Larger Than Life’ & Juliet directed by Luke Sheppard gives an absolute masterclass in musical theatre. Visually stunning and with a cast that reads like a who’s who of theatre royalty & Juliet takes you on a joyous ride of empowerment, uplifting fun and star quality sass.

Forget what you know about Romeo & Juliet, this fresh production transforms the Bard’s tragic tale as Anne Hathaway (played spectacularly by Cassidy Janson) tells husband William Shakespeare (an impressive Oliver Tompsett) that his ending for the star-crossed lovers is…well basically shit; thus opening the gates for Juliet’s journey of sensational self-discovery as she explores for the first time what it means to truly get a life!

Oliver Tompsett and Cassidy Janson take on part narrator part player roles as the two inventively weave themselves into the narrative, influencing and entertaining throughout. Tompsett makes for a determined, unwavering Shakespeare that is until wife Anne (Cassidy Janson) takes his quill and sets about influencing not only Juliet’s but her own story. Both are perfectly cast, they spark wonderfully off each other with razor sharp comedic timing and genuinely warm wit.

Miriam-Teak Lee is simply outstanding as Juliet, giving an absolutely world-class performance, delivering powerhouse vocals with ease while her warm charisma combined with instant likability gets the audience immediately on side. It’s a thrill to join her on this fabulous ride as we will this fine heroine to find her own happy ending.

Best friend May is played beautifully by Arun Blair-Mangat his raw fragility when delivering Britney’s much-loved ‘I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman’ is packed with genuine heart and gut-wrenching emotion while Tim Mahendran is excellent as love interest Francois adding a perfect twist to proceedings while taking the story to another unexpected level.

Special mention must go to David Badella and Melanie La Barrie as Lance and Nurse who are quite simply a joy to watch, bringing the house down during their outrageously funny duet Teenage Dream/Break Free. Jordan Luke Gage introduces us to a very different kind of Romeo, an empty-headed heartthrob who may not be quite as innocent as he seems, Gage thrills with his spectacular arrival while his hilarious doe-eyed dorkish delivery is lapped up by the audience.

No review of the show would be complete without heaping praise on the insanely talented ensemble who look like they are having the time of their lives on stage. They deliver Jennifer Weber’s slick choreography with precision and a sass Beyoncé would be proud of just when you think they couldn’t get any better they crank it up a notch more, absolutely stunning.

Set designer Soutra Gilmour has created something epic here as the constantly evolving set continues to surprise while Paloma Young’s stunning costume design is a glorious meeting of period mixed with modern, think intricately detailed corsets teamed with sumptuous sports luxe and you’re halfway there.

It’s hard to believe the songs featured weren’t specifically written for the show Bill Sherman and Dominic Fallacaro’s arrangements of Max Martin’s mega hits fit the show like a glove while David West Read’s script finds a measured balance between hilariously funny and touchingly tender.

& Juliet is the musical we need right now, the ultimate in feel-good fun offering a joyous night of escapism while tackling modern themes with positivity and truth. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll dance your socks off before leaving with the biggest smile on your face with a heart well and truly warmed. Sensational fun from the first beat, we absolutely want Shakespeare that way!

& Juliet is on at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 12th October before it moves to London’s Shaftesbury Theatre tickers available here.

Macbeth

Reviewed by Michelle Ewen

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“Double, double toil and trouble…”

In an era when the mere suggestion of a female Bond is enough to break the Internet, the Royal Exchange enters the fray with possibly the first ever mixed-gender professional production of MACBETH to have cast a woman in the lead.

That’s right, hang on to your coronets… Shakespeare’s titular character is played by a FEMALE. And what a woman she is! Dressed in combats, shaven-headed and brandishing assorted weaponry, Lucy Ellinson’s Macbeth is decorated for her valour; gripped by murderous ambition; and then strung up for her sins.

She parties in a blood-red ballgown, assassinates her Queen and shares her bed with a strong woman of colour, who prays: “Unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe topfull of direst cruelty”. (It’s enough to make your average Daily Mail reader’s head spin!)

In a further gender reversal, Duncan is played by Alexandra Mathie. It is an arresting moment when she enters the stage – a sharp bob framing a face that would usually bristle with whiskers.

Let us be clear, however… this is not about watching an inclusive ‘woke’ production. Every actor has earned their place and, with gender politics swept off the table, you’re free to focus on characterisation.

Macbeth is presented as an ambitious, conniving and deceitful person – not a woman breaking stereotypical convention – and in a major departure from classic portrayals, Lady Macbeth (Ony Uhiara) relies on scorn and reason instead of her womanly wiles.

They are part of an ensemble that is a tour de force. Each character is carefully etched and singularly memorable – delivering classic scenes with admirable gusto.

As brave and noble Banquo, Theo Ogundipe makes for a tender father and terrifying ghost, whilst Nima Taleghani and Rachel Denning bring comic relief as Lennox and the Porter/Lady Macduff.

Witches Nicola May-Taylor, Charlotte Merriam and Bryony Davies are scene-stealers whenever they appear – as “foul and fair” a motley crew as you could ever hope to encounter.

Christopher Haydon’s direction is spectacular, with the arrival of Banquo’s ghost at the feast his pièce de résistance. (Playful and sinister, think heads on platters, giant teddy bears and a malevolent game of musical chairs!)

Here, a special mention also to Designer Oli Townsend, Lighting Designer Colin Grenfell and Sound Designer Elena Pena, who infuse the whole production with a post-modern, industrial and militaristic feel.

Balloons, gunshots and strobe lights puncture the interior of ‘the round’ as – under the tutelage of Movement Director Lucy Hind – the players hurtle in through doors, drop down on ropes and swing from ladders with knife blades pointing venomously.

With no seat no more than 9m from the stage, MACBETH makes full use of the 360-degree performance space, which is a feat of engineering in itself. Suspended in the Grade II listed building, it is the perfect metaphor for this thrillingly entertaining show – a thoroughly modern offering rooted in the classic tradition of the theatre.

MACBETH is on at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 19 October. Ticket information can be found here.

Interview | & Juliet | Miriam-Teak Lee

Here at Opening Night there are a few things we really, really love: 1 of them is Shakespeare another is pop music, especially if said pop music is written by the legend that is Max Martin. Our interest was well and truly peaked when we heard another of our favourites, director Luke Sheppard would be at the helm of a brand new musical which would combine these two mediums and better still it would officially open in Manchester!

Now with less than two weeks until the first hotly anticipated performance of & Juliet we were lucky enough to join the cast during rehearsals to get a feel for this innovative production; hearing a little more about what audiences can expect from key members of the talented cast as they prepare to wow Manchester ahead of an autumn West End run.

Taking on the iconic role of Juliet is award-winning musical theatre superstar Miriam-Teak Lee who gave us some inside information on the starting point for this epic new production.

“We know how the ending is supposed to go but in this production we reimagine the ending and wonder what would happen if Juliet doesn’t kill herself? She looks up to the stars and asks that there must be something else for her destiny, she just knows that this final path isn’t it for her.”

We learn quite early on that Juliet realises there’s more to life than first love (thank goodness) and so the story develops with the use of much-loved Max Martin songs placed throughout the production cleverly moving the narrative along. “It’s really a story of empowerment” said Miriam-Teak “Anne Hathaway who is played by Cassidy Janson is basically taking the quill off Shakespeare and leading us in a new narrative, saying ‘Actually I think this would be a much better ending to that play.’ With all musicals I think songs are used at the point where speaking is no longer enough, you can’t express what you are trying to say so you take it into a different forum, that being music.”

The production is literally teaming with hit after hit from legendary songwriter Max Martin: Britney Spears’ “Oops… I Did It Again”, Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody”, Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do”, and The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face to name but a few, Miriam-Teak told us about one of her favourites. “Hit Me Baby One More Time as Juliet’s first song it’s amazing to sing, I think it’s just perfect for Juliet, there are beautiful strings, and it’s been done in such a creative way which makes it sooooo dramatic. Juliet sings the song in the moment she is potentially going to kill herself to join Romeo, she is literally looking to the heavens saying ‘give me a sign’ it’s so clever, these songs that we know so well take on a totally different meaning.”

Recreating an iconic character could be quite a daunting task but Miriam-Teak looks at playing Juliet in this new production as something to embrace. “At first I thought this is really huge how am I going to do this? But then I realised in originating the role within this new piece I don’t have to live up to anything else and I have an opportunity to breathe new life into who she is. Taking what we already know about Juliet onto a brand new journey actually feels amazing so it’s definitely excitement I’m feeling rather than pressure.”

Intrigued by the combination of contemporary Max Martin songs and the works of Shakespeare Miriam-Teak gave us a little insight into what we can expect from the costumes, “Oh wow they are amazing, Paloma Young is doing such an incredible job on them. It’s a world in-between the Renaissance period so we have corsets but then then we have more modern elements too so we’re placed between today and several centuries ago. The colour palette is absolutely beautiful too, audiences will love them. Add in Jennifer Webber’s choreography and it feels like a world in-between a musical and a concert, Jen does such a great job of bringing those two worlds together.”

The overwhelming feeling we get from spending time with the cast in rehearsals are that of real joy and empowerment, Miriam-Teak tells us what she hopes audiences will take away from this new musical. “I think the story really is about self-discovery and finding love within yourself which I think is just so important especially in this day and age with the social media era that we’re in and how many people look to others to find the love they are unable to find within. I think it’s so great that we can bring that message of finding your power within yourself to other people.”

Miriam-Teak summed up perfectly why Manchester audiences should be booking their & Juliet tickets asap, “If you want to see a complete spectacle of excitement and energy featuring songs that you know done in a completely different way you won’t even be ready but you will LOVE it!”

& Juliet opens at Manchester’s Opera House on Tuesday 10th September and runs until Saturday 12th October tickets available here

 

Henry V

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Petty political point-scoring, a none democratically elected leader making decisions shaping the future of our nation, decisions driven by a lust for power…sound familiar? Nope this isn’t a political commentary of the UK right now but Shakespeare’s Henry V.

Director Loveday Ingram places the production amidst the current political climate, (or should that be crisis?) St George’s crosses fly high as soldiers swill down booze while chants of ‘England ’til I die’ ring out from the yellow vests.

Shakespeare’s France very much represents the EU with the cast dressed in familiar vibrant blue as yellow starts billow in the breeze.

It may be 2019 but Henry V feels more pertinent now than ever before as Shakespeare’s social and political observations continue to ring true, centuries after they were first penned.

Joseph Millson takes on the role of the heroic leader. Persuasive and full of charm one moment, ruthless and murderous the next. Millson revels in the complexity of the monarch exploring every layer with subtlety and style.

He tackles Shakespeare’s famous “Once more to the breach, dear friends” monologue with a solid and rousing conviction: his army literally chomping at the bit, breathless for the battle to begin. In contrast the commanding warrior loses all composure when attempting to woo Katherine, faltering over his words as he bashfully fumbles in French.

Millson is supported by an impressively strong cast notably Samuel Collings as Pistol, Seren Vickers as Fluellen and Vanessa Schofield as Scroop/High Constable while Mitesh Soni and Sarah-Jane Potts inject some well delivered humour as Alice and Katherine.

Director Loveday Ingram and her cast not only find the heart of Henry V but also the humour too in this solid and potent production as keen observations of the human spirit play out.

Vulnerabilities of leaders are masked with chest pumping and posturing while the battlefield scenes remind us of the catastrophic consequences of decisions driven by political self-promotion. The scene after the battle of Agincourt packing a deeply emotional punch as the cast hauntingly sing to the skies.

Andrew Patterson’s dynamic lighting design adds atmosphere and depth while Paul Benzing’s fight direction adds authenticity and impact.

This is a cleverly constructed piece which will stay with audiences long after viewing. Vibrant storytelling at its finest.

Henry V is on at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre until Sunday 25th August tickets available here.

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.

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet

ROMEO AND JULIET

Credit: Johan Persson

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s a little past 9PM and I’m sat watching a modern-day masterpiece, to many the greatest love story ever told… that’s right Love Island is on ITV 2! I jest of course; I am referring to Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet.

There have been many productions of William Shakespeare’s most famous play, but few will match the innovative, bold and daring narrative choices Bourne has made in creating his latest ballet.

This is very much a Romeo and Juliet for 2019 with the action taking place in the Verona institute: an asylum packed full of young men and women, made to live separately by a team of guards who have no qualms abusing their power or those in their care.

ROMEO AND JULIET

Head guard Tybalt, (Dan Wright) has his sights fixed on young inmate Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaite) however she only has eyes for the Verona Institute’s latest arrival Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick), a young man sent away by his politically ambitious parents. Romeo and Juliet, as we all know, fall in love but at a fatal cost to them both. This is of course a story most of us are as familiar with as we are our own faces, however this production subverts the narrative keeping it fresh, exciting and engaging.

Braithwaite and Fitzpatrick are outstanding as the titular leads: a mixture of grace, vulnerability and passion, fully exemplified by the pair’s penultimate dance. However all cast, including the six local dancers (local dancers will join the tour at local venues) are outstanding and fully deserve the plaudits that will undoubtedly come their way. What strikes you about any Matthew Bourne production is that every person on that stage is a fully fleshed out character and each character shines through. The masked ball sequence has been transformed into a mash up between a school disco and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and beautifully typifies the production’s narrative.

ROMEO AND JULIET

Bourne’s choreography marries perfectly with Sergei Prokofiev’s emotive and powerful score expertly conducted by Dan Jackson. In addition, the use of all white costumes and the white tiled interior gives the production a virginal and surgical quality, which is further intensified when colour is introduced into the narrative.

Bourne has done it again, taking a traditional story and giving it a contemporary twist with references to current politics and a reliance on institutionalising people rather than treating them. However more than any of that, this is a production celebrating youth: a ballet starring young people, for young people, an absolute must-see!

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet is on at the Lowry till 15th June. Tickets available here.