The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Since opening it’s doors for the first time in 2017 the Storyhouse has often made some bold and brave choices for their in-house productions Whether a fresh take on an old classic, a brand new or rarely seen production being brought to life, they always offer up something intriguing and unique and their latest production The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde is no exception.

Based on the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, this adaptation for the stage by Glynn Maxwell is a new take on a classic story that we think we know like the back of our own hands but do we really?

Retaining its Victorian London setting, we find a young girl selling matches, she is viciously attacked in a mysterious assault. The next morning Dr Jekyll (Edward Harrison) is troubled by the memory of the match girl but confused at having a pocket full of matches but no recollection of how they got there. 

Dr Jekyll writes to his old friend and former assistant, Lady Gabriel (Natasha Bain) for guidance. However, Lady Gabriel is focused more on the letters of her niece Rose (Rosa Hesmondhalgh), a curious, feisty, independent young women seeking adventure and a place to stay in London town. 

With London besieged by a series of grizzly murders, Lady Gabriel hasn’t the time nor the inclination to help her old friend, her main concern is that of the safety and wellbeing of Rose. However, soon Rose’s curious nature rubs off on her Aunty, this coupled with her intrigue of Dr Jekyll’s work on the splitting of the soul as well the mystery surrounding the deliverer of the letters from Jekyll, a Mr Hyde (Matthew Flynn) lead the pair to a meeting with the Doctor.

Whilst at Jekyll’s house, Lady Gabriel and the Doctor have a private meeting, which Rose is certainly not invited to attend, this leads the inquisitive adventurer to go exploring when she stumbles upon Jekyll’s labratory, his journal and another encounter with Mr Hyde that puts her and and her aunty in great danger.

There is so much to admire about this production that it’s difficult to know where to start. The creative team behind the show have taken a great many risks with narrative, style and presentation and the risks reward the audience with an original, atmospheric and psychological chiller that has a great deal of relevance in the 21st century.

Maxwell’s script is an update on Stevenson’s source material, still there at it’s core is that battle, between  good and evil, and the duality of human nature, whilst making the decision to explain Jekyll/Hyde’s behaviour as that of addiction, a need to step from the dark into the light, which adds an intriguing layer. We also have a strong female presence in this adaptation, which is missing in the source material. The character of Rose is a new character, and one that is yet to be troubled and trapped by the world around her.

Under Psyche Stott excellent direction, we have four very different performances, Natasha Bain gives a strong, world weary, turn, a matriarchal figure of the piece. Rosa Hesmondhalgh is a breath of fresh air as Rose, adding light relief throughout but this is much more than a comedic performance, here is someone that the world hasn’t corrupted yet, but she is far from naïve. 

Often in productions one actor plays both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, however we have Edward Harrison on good form as the frazzled unhinged, mad professor, whilst Matthew Flynn is menacing as his alter ego, I swear he grew in size as the play reached its conclusion. Flynn must wrestle with some poetic yet tongue-twisting dialogue, however he masters it skilfully.

 

What does make the production that extra special is involvement of choreographer,  Paul Bayes Kitcher, whose work with Harrison and Flynn really pays dividends, especially during the transformation scenes. 

Additionally, the sound design by Adrienne Quartly ratchets up the tension throughout, add into the mix a simple yet intriguing stage design of glowing copper pipes, Victorian lamps and secret passages and you have an innovative, thrilling and original piece of gothic theatre.


The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde is on at the Chester Storyhouse till the 19
th 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.

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

 

The Crucible

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

First performed back in 1953, the themes raised in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible continue to speak true today, illustrated to gripping and dramatic effect in this bold and atmospheric production from director Geraldine Alexander.

When Arthur Miller wrote the play back in the 1950’s he used the Salem witch trials as a metaphor for the rife anti-communism which was gripping the United States at the time. Liberal thinking was seen as a challenge to American society and authorities acted quickly to stamp it out, something we see ever-present in the political climate of today.

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The Crucible transports us to 1692, where a small farming town has been gripped by a frenzied paranoia as witchcraft rumours swiftly circulate and fear takes hold. As accusations rise innocent women and the men who defend them are led to the gallows, their only hope of surviving, confessing the unthinkable. Catastrophic events unfold as a frenzied and fearful hysteria grips the town.

Jess Curtis’ atmospheric set & costume design is clear and uncluttered, inventive as well as interesting, allowing the themes to speak loudly as the madness unfolds. The trust staging is used to great effect, as an audience you feel at the centre of the action, the intensity and claustrophobic nature of the piece is striking and in your face, from the hysterical girls to the heartbreak of the Proctors, we feel every ounce of emotion. Chris Davey’s lighting design is exceptional, casting shafts of light on proceedings, highlighting the oppression of the innocents accompanied perfectly by Simon Slater’s chilling sound design.

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The cast deliver Miller’s words with Northern voices giving an authentic and relatable feel. The ensemble are impressively strong, coming together in the courtroom scene to dramatic effect. Freddy Elletson makes for an impressive Reverend Hale, attempting to bring calmness to the madness, devout and fair he becomes increasingly disturbed by the injustice and absurdity he it witness to.

Matthew Flynn and Mary Doherty as John and Elizabeth Proctor add poignant emotion to the piece. Their arrests proving this witch hunt has gone way past the point of no return. Leigh Quinn shines as mary Warren, troubled, tormented and ripe for dangerous manipulation from Eleanor Sutton’s determined and defiant Abigail Williams.

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Director Geraldine Alexander’s production succeeds entirely in delivering a powerful warning of how the anxiety and fear of the masses can be taken advantage of in the pursuit of personal power to the most devastating effect. The powers that be using exclusion, lies, fear and isolation to maintain the status quo of the community, sound familiar?

Gripping, emotive theatre, impressively staged and powerfully delivered. On at the StoryHouse until Saturday 7th July, tickets available here.

The Play That Goes Wrong

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

We’ve all had one of those days where nothing seems to go right for you: be it losing your car keys or locking yourself out of the house, or even that accidental fall when walking down a busy a street. You may want to go back to bed but soldier on you must. Well imagine your worst day multiply it by 100 add 50 and you’re not even close to the nightmare faced by the cast of 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 ‘Cluedo’ style murder mystery. The production of Murder at Haversham Manor doesn’t get off to a great start with a missing dog, Duran Duran CD, and a faulty shelf hampering proceedings, and all this before the play even gets started!

Chris Bean (Jake Curran) the stressed director/head of the drama society, and lead role of inspector Carter welcome us to shows and informs us of some of the societies less successful endeavours, it provides the perfect set up for what promises to be a highly entertaining evening. 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 with bigger roles then either would have envisaged. As the action continues we see the play go from one hilarious catastrophe to another, taking a mental and physical toll on all the cast and crew, just thankful it’s over and that they survived.

This is comedic theatre at it’s finest; director Mark Bell has crafted a night of pure unadulterated fun that I could watch over and over again. The cast work their socks off, with an endless barrage of slapstick and physical comedy very much in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy, or Buster Keaton, all of the cast do exceptionally well but the stand out performance goes to Kazeem Tosin Amore, 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. In addition Steven Rostance as Jonathan and Charles Haversham who plays the least convincing dead body you are likely to see.

The writing of Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields is bang on point firmly taking a swipe at the pompous nature of the theatre, there are moments when the action is so cringe worthy that you just want the play to stop so the cast can be put out of the misery, which is of course exactly the point of it all.

My only complaint (and this is being picky) is that show’s finale is a little over chaotic and needs to be reined in slightly as there genuinely is so much going that you become lost in the chaos so that the grand finale loses a little something, it may be hard to believe but less certainly could be more in this case.

Overall this fantastically fun night at the theatre that will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear with aching sides to boot. Be warned though if you are a vegan or vegetarian you may see more HAM then you could ever have thought possible!

They Play That Goes Wrong is on at the StoryHouse Chester till February 3rd tickets available here.

Interview | Brendan Cole

Brendan Cole’s spectacular production, All Night Long, returns to the stage this week after a hugely successful and critically acclaimed run in 2017. Manchester audiences can catch the Strictly favourite at the Bridgewater Hall on Friday 19th January as part of an extensive UK and Ireland tour. Created by Brendan himself the show takes audiences on a journey through all genres of dance and music including an impressive 13 –piece band and singers as well as a sensational cast of talented championship dancers. We caught up with Brendan ahead of the show’s arrival in Manchester to hear a little more about this critically acclaimed show.

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ON: What can audiences expect from the show?

BC: I really like to think we offer audiences a bit of everything, obviously it’s a Strictly type show but it’s very much got my name on it, it’s not put on by a production company, it’s my creativity that’s put the show together. It has everything that you’d want from Strictly and more, we have a live band, 13 incredible musicians on stage, they really are phenomenal, they cover Michael Bublé, Tom Jones, that kind of calibre of musician, they really are the best, which adds an extra element to the show, it could even be a musical show on its own without the dancing, but of course audiences have come to see that dancing and that is what they’re gonna get.

ON: In terms of dance, what can audiences expect to see a mixture of Latin and Ballroom?

BC: Everything you know from Strictly we do on a stage, with a bit extra, whether it be a waltz, a cha cha, an Argentine tango, a foxtrot, a jive, a samba, we cover every element of dance and we try to cover all genres of music too, from old to new because the Strictly audience is very diverse, they really are all ages and it’s very important to me that we have a complete show, My name is on the door so I want us to be delivering something that people love then hopefully we can offer a phenomenal nights entertainment.

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ON: How does performing on stage differ to appearing on Strictly?

BC: With the magic of television they can change camera angles, there are floor effects, ceiling effects so that magic that’s created in the studio is not just about the dance but on a stage show you are there for all to see, so with that the audience truly gets to see everything, not just a zoomed in section, but every step the dancers take, the emotion, the beauty of the numbers, the magic of the dance takes centre stage. For example the waltz that we do, normally a waltz is the story of a romance, a love story where a couple meet, then fall in love and live happily ever after, the waltz that we do we use a Michael Bublé song called ‘At this moment’ and it’s the story of an affair, so it’s very different but really powerful theatre, I love it as you see the audience transform as the story of our waltz unfolds, waltz is my favourite dance anyway so to be able to perform that dance and get a really genuine reaction from the audience is brilliant. Then one number later we do a really passionate Argentine Tango which is just wow and really full on then we might next be doing something really soft, romantic and beautiful, it’s chopping and changing to make sure audiences don’t feel like they’re seeing the same thing over and over again, every number is different, the cast are phenomenal, all the elements, the music, the lighting, the staging, the costumes, the talent, everything comes together in a two hour spectacular of what people love seeing in their living rooms but they get to see it live on stage.

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ON: How do audiences differ from city to city?

BC: It’s really interesting and varies massively, if an audience is quiet it can be quite soul destroying, I’ve performed for audiences who while they appreciate what you do just sit quietly and take it in, so you can start questioning what you’re doing. I’d definitely say the further North you go the bigger the reaction, Southern audiences tend to be more reserved, which of course is absolutely fine but it can be tough to gage how much they are enjoying the show, you can think you’re dying a death on stage then after the show there can be 50,60, 80 people outside stage door telling you how phenomenal they thought the show was, it’s a really funny thing then other times you can go out on stage and before you’ve taken a step or played a note and the audience go crazy, that’s what we do this for, it’s all for the audience, we want people to walk away very, very happy having had a really great night, that’s the main thing.

ON: Are there additional pressures to performing live?

BC: When the curtain goes up you have got to be ready to perform, whether you’ve been locked out of the building, haven’t done your hair, it doesn’t matter you have to be ready. Once we had terrible storms and couldn’t travel across the Dartford bridge in London, so myself, lots of the dancers and musicians couldn’t get to the venue, my sat nav took me on a horrendous route and I finally got to the show 8 minutes before the start of the matinee, but I walked on that stage and it’s like bang, you hit the ground running, the audience doesn’t need to know the problems you might have had, it’s live and anything can happen at any time, you have to deliver and I think that’s what makes it exciting.

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ON: We’ve heard you play the guitar on stage, is this talent you’ve always had or a new skill?

BC: It’s a new thing, our musicians are world class, they really are something special, just awe inspiring, we’ve talked over the years about how I wished I’d gone to music school and learnt more about music, I’ve always wanted to be able to pick up a guitar and just be able to play, so they suggested for this new tour they put together a musical number where I play the guitar so I thought brilliant, challenge accepted, I’m not planning on taking over from any musical legends but it’s one of those things where I’ve accepted the challenge and I’m just enjoying it, it’s a lovely Ed Sheeran song. To sit and play amidst that talent while my dancers come out and perform a contemporary rumba is really special and just something I really love doing. Plus for the audience they’re used to watching celebrities out of their comfort zone on Strictly, this was a chance for them to see me slightly more vulnerable and see something different from me, a different element to the show which is so important to me, that the show changes every few minutes, which hopefully keeps the audiences excited.

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ON: We’ve spoken to your former colleague Joanne Clifton who is currently touring with Flashdance is this something you’d be interested in doing in the future?

Yes eventually when the dancing shoes are hung up because it’s quite hard to fit in anything like that when you’re involved with Strictly plus I have my own production now. I have been offered a big role in the West End previously about 4 years ago but I couldn’t accept as it was a touring show before it went to the West End so my commitments wouldn’t allow for that as well, I was gutted to have to turn it down as it would have been a great opportunity for someone like me who isn’t necessarily an actor but who can act, and I can sing so it was one of those things that I had to say no thank you but it’s definitely something I’d look forward to in the future.

ON: Finally and we’re sure you get asked this a lot, who would be your dream Strictly partner?

BC: Ooh I’ve had them haven’t I? The honest answer is I’ve had some great partners over the years, I’ve been very lucky but there’s one person who I’d love to dance with, not necessarily on Strictly as I think that would be tricky to get her to commit, Her Majesty the Queen, I’d absolutely love to give her a Waltz lesson, just to dance a beautiful Waltz with her, I’m sure she’s been shown before but that would be an absolute dream for me, that’s definitely on my bucket list.

Further information, tour dates and tickets can be found here.