OutStagedUs

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I was invited to review this “fearlessly bold celebratory night of theatre addressing and exploring issues of sexuality and gender identity.” But I certainly wasn’t expecting to laugh and cry as much as I did.

Hive North theatre company (formerly Hope Theatre Company) has selected eleven very different pieces written by various writers and performed by an exceptional cast.

All pieces are centred around issues of gender identity and sexuality. As I was leaving the auditorium I overheard someone say “there are so many voices that need to be heard” and that’s it – that’s the essence of this performance as a whole.

Within each piece there is a story that many can identify with. There is a struggle that so many people have faced and so many people continue to face. There are issues that I would never have considered that people are confronted with and grapple with daily. There is also great humour and real honesty.

I was incredibly moved by the first piece “Behind Enemy Lines” by Bobbie Warner; the honesty and raw emotion in the writing when exploring the issue of the loss of a pregnancy for a trans masculine person was so incredibly moving and thought provoking.

Spark by Caitlin Magnall-Kearns was an absolute highlight. It was so warm and fragile and the performances from Ralph Bogard and Sam Goodchild were heartlifting and heartbreaking all at the same time. I have never ever wanted two people to end up together more than I did these two!

There was also so much humour in so many of the pieces, even where the subject matter was serious and hard hitting.

The entire cast is to be congratulated on their performances – there was so much talent on stage and nowhere for anyone to hide in this intimate setting of the studio at the Lowry.

All eleven pieces were extraordinary – I feel like my perspective, my empathy, my understanding and my insight have all been changed for the better thanks to these very important pieces of theatre. I felt so incredibly proud of all the writers for sharing such insight into issues that we just don’t explore and discuss enough.

Hive North have done an incredible job of finding these writers and telling their stories. I left wanting to see more and more from these writers, these actors, these directors and these stories in all theatres across the country. I will 100% be back for more, but next time I will remember to pack my tissues!

OutStageUs is on at The Lowry until Thursday 29th September tickets available here.

Girl from the North Country

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

To many Robert Zimmerman, or Bob Dylan to use his stage name is the greatest songwriters of all time. With a career spanning six decades and spawning well over 40 albums, Dylan undoubtedly deserves his spot in the conversation for who is the GOAT. Either love his music or loathe it you can’t deny the volume and quality of his work.

With that in mind there is something of the inevitable about Dylan’s music, being turned into a musical; however, the result isn’t quite what you had in mind and that’s down to writer/director Conor McPherson (The Weir, Port Authority).

McPherson’s Girl from the North County takes place in Dylan’s home town of Duluth, Minnesota, some seven years before the singer was born. It’s 1934 and Duluth, like the rest of America, is still suffering from the impact of the Wall Street crash and the great depression.

Guest house proprietor, Nick Laine, (Colin Connor), has a great number of problems. Along with trying to keep the business afloat, he must care for his dementia riddled wife, Elizabeth (Frances McNamee), help his son, Gene (Gregor Milne) stay sober long enough to hold down a steady job, appease his mistress, the good natured Mrs Neilsen (Nichola MacEvilly), and see that his pregnant, adopted daughter Marianne (Justina Kehinde) is wed to a local ageing business man, Mr Perry (Teddy Kempner), in a bid to secure a stable future for the young women.

In addition to his immediate family, the guest house must remain open in order to keep a roof over the head of the various hard-on-their-luck waifs and strays the lodgings has collected, including an ex-con boxer, a sinister priest, and a family with a troubled son. Under the watchful eye of the local GP and morphine addict, Dr Walker (Chris McHallem) their stories intertwine with one another leading to a fateful Thanksgiving dinner that will change their lives forever.

Those expecting a jukebox musical of Dylan’s greatest hits are in for a rude awakening. For sure there are some crowd pleasers, Hurricane, I Want You, and Like a Rolling Stone to name but a few, but the music chosen spans Dylan’s career up to 2012, with the song Duquesne Whistle. Whilst most musicals use their songs to drive the narrative along, the song choice here is to show a shared connection between the characters.

McPherson’s bleak script tackles some meaty subject matter, with dementia, mental illness, financial hardship, and racism (all so very relevant to this day), which in lesser hands could stray into melodrama, however, Girl From The North Country treads that line very carefully aided by a fantastic, hardworking ensemble cast, some powerful central performances, great song-and-dance routines, and a script punctured with a enough humour to keep it entertaining for all the right reasons.

Despite the rather grim setting and subject matter, the production has a great deal of energy to it, with the 20 strong cast frequently on stage together joining in backing vocals, playing various musical instruments, or dancing, whilst the production’s band The Howlin’ Winds expertly delve through Dylan’s back catalogue.

The production values are right out of the top draw, with Rae Smith’s scene and costume design, marrying perfectly with Mark Henderson’s lighting design and Simon Baker’s sound design to create an authentic dreary, dank claustrophobic setting with shoots of colour throughout. At times some of the set pieces resemble a painting in scale composition. The authenticity of the production helped by the use of instruments only around in the 1930’s.

My only real criticism is that at times there are too many narratives, and not enough time devoted to them, so some plot strands don’t quite reach a satisfying conclusion which is a little disappointing.

Girl From The North Country, is a satisfying night at the theatre, and one not just for fans of Dylan’s music. It’s a well-crafted piece of work anchored by some of the best songs of the last century.

Girl From The North Country is at the Lyric Theatre Lowry until 24th September 2022. Tickets available here.

Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Usual the Sea Witch

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

There is a famous Monty Python sketch called The Fish Slapping Dance, whereby Michael Palin slaps John Cleese in the face with two tiny fish, whilst performing an absurd little jig, only for Cleese to retaliate with a massive slap to Palin’s face with a huge trout! Now I know this isn’t the normal way to begin a review but after watching Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula The Sea Witch, you’ll feel like you’ve been walloped over the head by something bigger than a giant trout! Vulgar, absurd, and hilarious, this in-your-face musical parody is as crude as it is fun and I loved it, and dare I say so would the Python team too!

With cinematic releases from Disney such Maleficent and Cruella, told from the point of the villain proving to be a huge commercial successes, Fat Rascal Theatre’s march on the Mouse-eared media Megalodon with their alternative take on everyone’s favourite sea witch, is also proving to be a huge audience favourite.

In this retelling, the action rewinds 20 years:  Ursula, is a sassy, no nonsense strong woman, who heads to Atlantica in the hope that a marriage with the Kings son, Triton will save the kingdom. However the course, of true love doesn’t run smoothly, first some body shaming aimed at our straight talking heroine, followed by being framed for murder, sees  Ursula exiled from Atlantica

Fast Forward 20 years, Triton returns to his former lover, in need of her help with his daughter, Ariel. Ariel is his only living heir and will inherit the kingdom, however it’s fair to say Ariel isn’t quite ready to be a reigning monarch, more interested in men, and what they have between their legs than ruling the sea. Will Ursula’s plan work and make Ariel, become the princess those Disney bigwigs want her to be?

This production is an absolute riot from start to finish: catchy, no nonsense show tunes with big laughs, not just there because they have to be but there because they enhance the plot. Stand out numbers include the crude, but hilarious, Where the Dicks Are, the scene setting Nasty, and my personal favourite, We Didn’t Make it to Disney.

The cast more than matches the excellent written material.  Allie Dart-Munro as Ursula, gets the balance of sass and vulnerability just right. Whilst George Whitty as Triton, has a tremendous singing voice, hitting all the right notes. His is a dead-pan performance when compared to his co-stars. Miracle Chance is exceptional as Ariel, a gift at comedy, a real ‘jesters’ performance. Whilst Jamie Mawson as Eric, the handsome prince of the story is as OTT as he is ridiculous.

There is great support from Danni Payne and Jack Grey who play multiple characters and puppets including Sebastian the lobster, now sporting an Irish descent.

My only gripe really is the sound mix seemed off during the first half, with some of the lyrics lost in the mix, it was rectified following the interval, but I’m sure there were more laughs to be had if I could hear the gags.

With strong messages about body positivity, water pollution, the environment and #MeToo blended with a great deal of risque songs, and more ‘knob’, gags then the average Graham Norton monologue, this is highly entertaining and fun night at the theatre, just leave the kids at home with a babysitter and the subscription to a popular child friendly streaming platform would be my advice.

Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula The Sea Witch is at the Lowry till Saturday 10th September, tickets available here.

SIX

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I have felt for a very long time like I was the only person in the world who hadn’t seen this musical. Trust me, I’ve tried, but covid had other plans. My delight when asked to review it was not pretty: it involved much whooping and a little overhelmed sob. But, as the day approached I was little anxious about whether it was going to live up to everything I’d read and heard. Live up to the hype? OMG: lived up to and sky rocketed above any expectations I had. Absolutely outstanding, like nothing I’ve ever seen. I’m going back for more, without a doubt.

A show about women, by women, empowering women, telling the tale of women, but not just for women. I took my 70 year old dad with me and he is equally as excited about this show as I am!
History/herstory, it’s a must see for all.

The show is based on the lives of Henry VIII wives, all six of them. The staging is that of a pop concert where the Queens use songs to compete to prove that they are infact the most important and tragic wife of Henry VIII – there are no set changes, no costume changes, no time off stage for the characters or musicians. What you see is what you get. And what you get is phenomenal. It is no wonder that this has become a global sensation.

So much of our history is dominated by men, and the role of women can often be depicting them as villains or muses or meek and mild. This show is ripping up those history books and reclaiming the stories of these six women. The parallels to modern life, divorces played out in court rooms, the media, the use of social media, is uncanny.



Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss are a force to be reckoned with. The lyrics to the songs are modern, engaging and hilarious and at times very raw and vulnerable. The music is class, melodious, banging, brazen, comical, classical, it’s like nothing I’ve seen before. This show was written by these two, then undergraduate students, and first appeared at the fringe in Edinburgh and tonight it was in the lyric theatre in Salford with the audience on its feet in absolute awe of this show.

And what makes this show the most incredible show I’ve seen is also this dynamic and talented cast. Each “Queen” brings something different, both in character performances and talent.

Catherine Aragon is played by Chloe Hart and this woman took by breath away. She is fearless, sassy and bold in her performance. She was a stand out performer for me and my absolute Queen!

Anne Boleyn is played by Jennifer Caldwell, who is hilarious throughout the entire show, reminding us time and time ago that she was behedded, a fact that entertains the audience again and again. Her performance of “Don’t Lose Your Head” was flawless.



Casey Al-Shaqsy plays Jane Seymour and her note perfect, raw performance of “Heart of Stone” was moving and showed the great vulnerability of a character who often we consider to be the lucky one. Once again showing us that a male narrative of historical events can omit the struggle of women through history.

Jessica Niles plays Anna of Cleves. Her and the company’s introduction to her character through the magnificent number “House of Holbein” is exquisite. It is for me, the cleverest number in the whole production. The fact that her story is told by using online dating sites to help us understand her story is ingenious. Niles’ goes on to deliver a brilliant performance of the number “Get Down” showing us an insight into the life of Anna from a whole new perspective.

Katherine Howard is played by Leesa Tulley, who is magical in her performance of “All You Wanna Do” – it’s very, very Brittney – if not a more polished version! With the Me Too movement this highlighted that it has been a struggle faced by women for centuries – literally!

And our last queen – Catherine Parr played by the mighty Alana M Robinson. The Queen who makes the show stop and reevaluate it’s narrative – bringing together the women to support and empower each other. And all this done while busting some moves and hitting all of the high notes.

Six is the show of the moment and for many many good reasons. This show is helping to cultivate a new intelligent form of theatre for future generations. It is a show that has longevity, that will be talked about over and over, a show that we will encourage each other to go and see, the show we will go and see again and again. All of this because it’s well staged, beautifully and cleverly written and because this cast and the casts before it and the casts that will come after it will engage us and inspire us and educate us. Yes it’s all women but it’s not just for women, it’s a show for all. You might have forgotten what you learnt about Henry at school – you won’t forget about what you learnt about these woman in this show.

SIX is on at The Lowry until Sunday 14th August tickets available here.

Strictly Come Dancing – The Professionals

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Strictly Come Dancing – The Professionals arrived at The Lowry last night for the start of a 36-date UK tour and is as sequined and as sparkly as the glitterball trophy!

The huge success of the BBC TV show has led not just to the live arena tour which features celebrities from the show but also this highly polished and slick dance extravaganza featuring ten of the shows much-loved professionals.

From salsas to sambas SCD – The Professionals has it all, no expense is spared in this glittering celebration of all things dance. There are show-stopping group numbers which fizz with energy, sensual slow routines as well as perfect pairings where the technique and skill of each professional truly shines.

Backed by a six-piece live band of incredible musicians, vocalists Tara McDonald and Patrick Smyth breeze through a whole host of singalong favourites from Beyoncé to Coldplay. Their vocal range is outstanding, with McDonald delivering a pitch perfect Defying Gravity that Idina Menzel would be proud of, while Smyth almost convinces us Michael Hutchence is in the room with his stunning rendition of Never Tear Us Apart.

And now to the dancing…in a word, sensational! The pace is quick and the energy high ensuring momentum never wanes. In between the lavish group dances each of the professionals are given the opportunity to discuss their dance journey, their experience with Strictly and their favourite moments from the show as beautiful childhood pictures appear on a huge screen behind them. The Professionals give the audience exactly what they want, stunning routines that wow and a glimpse into their personal lives summed up beautifully by Gorka Marquez who proudly announces without the show he’d never have met the love of his life.

Vicky Gill’s costumes add a visual richness with changes coming thick and fast, each time as stunning as the last complimenting Jason Gilkison’s incredible choreography which both tugs on the heartstrings and makes you beam with joy. From Dianne Buswell’s Aussie Rock inspired sequence to Karen Hauer’s sizzling Latin American style we’re taken around the world in this dance spectacular.

Personal highlights for me were the 1920’s Speakeasy spin on Beyoncé’s Crazy In Love and the joyful finale celebrating British Pop all the way from the Spice Girls to The Proclaimers!

This glittering night makes for a FAB-U-LOUS fixture on the touring circuit filling the Strictly void until the new series begins in the autumn. Appealing to both young and old alike and judging by the roaring standing ovation on opening night it’ll be 10’s across the board on every stop of the tour!

Strictly Come Dancing The Professionals is on at The Lowry today (Friday 29th) at 2pm and 7:30pm tickets available here.

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Based on the award-winning book by suffragette descendant Kate Pankhurst, adapted by Chris Bush and Miranda Cooper, Fantastically Great Women who Changed The World is an inspirational and empowering celebration of our strong sisters from history told in an inventive and engaging way.

This pacey production (75 minutes straight through) introduces us to schoolgirl Jade who has somehow managed to get left behind on her school trip, finding herself outside the Gallery of Greatness where a new exhibition is being prepared. Jade goes on a journey of self-discovery as she searches for advice amid her parents’ divorce from the many fantastically great women from history who come to life from the exhibition walls.

Kudzai Mangombe is superb as Jade, her portrayal of a young girl searching for her place in the world is both relatable and honest. Her journey is enriched and encouraged by her encounters with the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst, Freda Kahlo, Rosa Parks and cross channel swimmer Gertrude Ederle, portrayed brilliantly by Kirstie Skivington, Jade Kennedy, Renée Lamb and Christina Modestou.

Each actress takes on several roles as well as multiple costume changes, kick-ass choreography and some seriously stunning vocals, this all-female cast and accompanying band leave the audience in no doubt of the power of women. They light up each scene with high energy and skilful enthusiasm ensuring the attention of even the youngest theatre goer never wanes.

This is exactly the type of show young people should be seeing, it’s a wonderful whizz though history but never feels rushed with each character given ample time and space to tell their story. There’s comedy and colour throughout as well as poignancy and powerful moments which are treated with sensitivity and care.

As I watched, inspired by both the stories and performers delivering them, it struck me just how little as a woman in her early 40’s I’d been taught about females throughout my education, (bearing in mind I studied History to A-level standard) I’d only ever learnt about Anne Frank, educating myself further once I became an adult. Knowing there are brilliant productions like this bringing incredible women to the forefront in such a fun and accessible way fills me with hope for our future fantastically great generations.

Inspirational storytelling, filled with heart, colour and charisma, Fantastically Great Women is an absolute joy!

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World is on at The Lowry until Saturday 9th April with the tour continuing across the country until Sunday 17th July, tickets and further infomation are available here.

Les Misérables

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Les Miserables is world famous – it’s a tale that’s been told on all the big stages of the world. You might have seen it before, or seen the film, or listened to the soundtrack. But, if you haven’t yet seen this cast, on this tour – then you absolutely must!

From the moment we took our seats, in the sold out Lowry, we could feel the excitement, the atmosphere, the anticipation. Before we went in I honestly thought I would spend the entire production comparing everything to the West End version I saw a few years ago. How wrong was I? Once the first note was played I was lost in the action, the emotion, the heartbreak, the sheer brilliance of it all.

The set design is one of the first things to impress. There are no compromises where the set is concerned; it’s multi layered digital effects compliment the large structures such as the barricades. How the stage crew fit up this set in different locations on this tour is mind boggling. It looks like it belongs on the Lowry stage, like it was purposely built for it. Special mention to the lighting and projection team – they manage to create the most subtle of mood and atmosphere changes, the sewer scene particularly is very clever and original.

This cast knows how to impress. Every single voice is note perfect, the company numbers like “One More Day” make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

Dean Chisnall’s portrayal of Jean Valjean, is quite simply the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen on stage. His delivery of “Bring him home” was breath taking. The roar from the crowd for him during the curtain call was most deserved.

Marius played by Will Callan was exceptional, and I still cannot believe that this tour is his first professional show. He plays the role with such expertise, his talent is incredible. He is definitely someone to look out for in the future.

Monsieur (Ian Hughes) and Madame (Helen Walsh) Thenardier are hilarious – this is an excellent piece of casting by Paul Wooller and Felicity French.

This show gives us show stopper after show stopper – it takes us on an emotional journey where we are 100% invested in what is to become of our hero Jean Valjean, the villain of the piece, Javert (who is played by the superb Nic Greenshields), and of course, the sweethearts Marius and Cosette. We all gasp as Gavroche is shot and lays lifeless on stage. Many of us ( definitely me) had to wipe away a tear as Epinine (Nathania Ong) lies in Marius’ arms while singing pitch perfectly (as she does in every number). And the finale is the most powerful finale I have seen. The audience were on their feet before the last note was even sung – you could feel the rush and the excitement in the auditorium – it was electric.

The whole cast do not disappoint, they impress over and over again. I have never heard applause like it throughout a performance. And every single clap was richly deserved.

Les Misérables is on at The Lowry until Saturday 23rd April tickets available here.

Sheila’s Island

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Sheila’s island is an adaptation of Tim Firths comedic play “Neville’s Island” – This laugh aloud version is written for an all female cast.

At the beginning of the performance we meet four middle aged women, whom having misinterpreted clues on a team building exercise have ended up washed up and stranded on a small island in the Lake District. We witness the stages that each of these unique characters go through over the days they are marooned as they become desperate to be rescued.

Now clearly there is a target demographic for this show, and it won’t be for everyone. But luckily for me I’m a forties something woman and this show sang to me. I could identify a little bit with every character and I’ve certainly met each of these women in the workplace in my lifetime.

I found it engaging and hilarious – the gags just keep coming and it explores so many relevant every day issues that Middle Aged women face.

The cast were outstanding – Abigail Thaw’s Denise was the character that you hated but loved in equal measure – Thaw’s comedic timing and expression were incredible. There is a clear chemistry between the cast members – but the too-ing and fro-ing between Thaw and Rina Fatania as Julie was hilarious. It’s like the script was written for them.

Judy Flynn holds the story together in her portrayal of Sheila – her monologues keep the plot moving and the audience interested in those occasional moments where the scenes start to drag a little. Sara Crowe’s character Fay provides us with an insight into emotional loss and guilt, but sometimes it feels like these issues needed to be developed further in the script.


The comedy that comes out of the contents of Julie’s backpack is side splitting. We all know someone who goes camping or adventuring with every single item they could possibly buy at the outdoor adverture shop. But the scene with the sausage is absolute genius! I’m not sure I will ever be able to eat a sausage from a hotel breakfast in the same way again. 

Special mention needs to be given to the set design by Liz Cooke- the uneven ground brings a realistic surface to the set, the actors have to watch each step, helping to portray the setting of a remote island. It’s very clever and means that the set, along with the sound and lighting, become a huge part of the show and without that it wouldn’t have the same organic feel to it.

All in all this was a fabulous production, with excellent acting and comedy. All that was missing was greater pace in some scenes and perhaps some further character development. 

If you’ve ever been on a corporate team building weekend away you will definitely recognise these unhinged yet lovable characters.

Sheila’s Island is on at The Lowry until Saturday 2nd April tickets available here.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Confession time foks, I’ll lay my cards on the table from the get go, I haven’t seen the 1971 cinema release of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Sure I’ve seen The Beautiful Briny Seasequence from old Disney compilation programmes they used to put on TV way back when. So I went into the live theatre show not really knowing what to expect in the way of plot, themes, or production, and I’m happy to say I was not disappointed, this was the perfect piece of escapism theatre, much needed for young and old alike.

Set during the blitz, the show opens with a fantastic 10 minute speech free sequence that sees the Rawlins’ siblings, Charlie, Carrie, and Paul orphaned during an air raid and moved from London out to the countryside. The children are understandably traumatised by recent events and apprehensive about the future. Here they encounter Mrs Hobday (Jacqui Dubois), who informs the children that they are to be placed in the care of the rather mysterious and eccentric Eglantine Price, (Dianne Pilkington).

Miss Price seems to be the recipient of lots of packages, including a broomstick, from a professor Emelius Brown (Charles Brunton), in London. Eglantine has a spell that she believes will end the war, and the needless killing war brings, but she’ll need the help of the children and the Professor. So begins an adventure that will take the children back to London, under the ocean, and to the mysterious island of Nepeepo. Can this quintet end the war as well as find something they all need,  a family.

This is a production of the highest quality, from the hugely entertaining, song-and dance routines, mesmerising puppetry to magical set pieces. In addition some beautiful costumes and set designs capped off with some wonderful performances, it’s truly a feast for the eyes and ears!

Dianne Pilkington is perfectly cast as witch in training, Eglantine Price, her turn on A Step in The Right Direction, sets up a performance that is fun yet vulnerable and quirky, which in less capable hands could become irritating, but Pilkington manges this perfectly. The chemistry between her and Charles Brunton, develops naturally and doesn’t seem forced. Brunton is equally as good as the charming yet unlikely hero Emelius Brown.

It can often be distracting when an older actor plays a teenager in productions and at first I must admit I was a little taken back by Conor O’Hara as eldest sibling, Charlie, however O’Hara provides much needed depth to the role. He reminded me of a young Jim Dale, which very much played to the nostalgic element of the production, and is certainly no negative criticism.

There are plenty of song and dance numbers throughout, with stand out numbers, being the full company rendition of Portobello Road, which showcases the fantastic work of all the ensemble cast, and the stunning costume design of Gabriella Slade. Whilst Emelius and Eglantine highlight the exceptional puppet designs of Kennth Macleod.

However it’s not just big show stoppers that Bedknobs and Broomsticks gets right, the downbeat soulful, Nobody’s Problem, by our heroic fivesome, sets up the final act perfectly.

What elevates this production to the next level is the magical input of Jamie Harrison, flying beds, unruly brooms and a truly magical, jaw-dropping and well crafted finale.

With the current situation in the world, a great deal of the plot seems to resonate more than it would in normal times (whatever that is these days) and packs more of a punch. However this is a good old-fashioned romantic adventure story, filled with charm, whimsy and hope, which will enthral, enchant and entertain children (and adults) of all ages.

Bedknobs and and Broomsticks is on in the Lyric Theatre at The Lowry until 19th March 2022 tickets available here.

Carmen

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2


Opera can often come across as an elite, members only club: well not anymore. Opera North have created an opera for the masses in this production of Carmen. It is a Spanish tale, told in French, of a prostitute, Carmen, who uses her charms and assets to make local soldiers fall for her and shower her in love.

Don Jose is one of those soldiers, who initially ignores her performance and attention seeking behaviour as he enters the bar. A fight erupts and Carmen is arrested and ordered to be locked up, but she charms Jose and manages to convince him to let her free, resulting in his own detention and prison sentence. The story then follows Carmen and Jose’s journey from prostitute and soldier to lovers and drug smugglers. Carmen eventually tires of Jose and moves on to the charismatic and showy Escamillo, leaving Jose heartbroken and to return to his sick mother. But their story does not end their as Jose later returns and is full of hatred which leads to tragedy.


This production is nothing like you’d expect from a classic opera, but everything you’d expect from Opera North. It’s contemporary, gritty and mesmerising. The talent on the stage is indescribable. Carmen, played by Chrystal E. Williams connects with the audience from the moment she enters the stage: She is vibrant and glamorous. She plays the character with a conviction that makes the audience invest in her journey so much so that the ending leaves us devastated, even though we know what’s coming. 

Sebastian Gueze (Don Jose) and Gyila Nagy (Escamillo) play the roles of Carmen’s love interest and together they are a force to be reckoned with. Throughout the production they take command of the audience and Gueze takes us on an extraordinary journey of the pain that love can inflict and the consequences that this can present.

Both Frasquita ( Amy Freston) and Mercedes (Helen Evora), Carmens friends and fellow prostitues/smugglers have the most incredible voices, along with the remarkable Alison Langer. These three women along with Williams encapture the essence of what it is to be a woman living in a man’s world.

Andres Duckworths solo dance opening at the beginning of Act 3 is a beautiful addition to this production. They moved with such grace and control, to give us a moment of pure beauty that will stay with the audience beyond the end of the show. An incredible talent. 

The chorus of Opera North are the stand out of this show, their voices work together to produce something that is spine tingling. The final scene is as incredible as it is due to the atmosphere created by the chorus. So many talented individuals brought together to create something outstanding. 

Colin Richmond (set design), Laura Hopkins (costume design), and Rick Fisher (lighting design) have got this absolutely perfect. The staging is incredible. I did not expect it have such an impact, there are moments where the set and all on it look like something out of a Hollywood movie. 

Antony Hermus and the orchestra are astonishing. The ease in which they navigate us through the narrative is magical and faultless.

Overall Opera North have taken this age old tale and dragged it into the modern world. There were however moments in the production where it was difficult to hear some of the solo voices and some of the choreography was stilted and felt forced. But that didn’t take away from the overall impact of the performance.


A special mention has to go to the BSL interpreter, who was nearly as engaging as the cast. It felt like he was as much part of the company as the lead performers and was an excellent and inclusive addition to this production at the Lowry.

Carmen is a feast for the senses and is like nothing I have ever seen. I wasn’t an opera fan before, but I certainly am now. I’ve quickly turned into Opera Norths biggest fan!

Further information and performances can be found here.

Private Lives

©Tristram Kenton

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It goes to show that a good joke will always stand the test of time, funny is funny, no matter if it’s a gag told today, or one well over 90 years old and judging by the reaction of the audience tonight, they lapped up the sly asides, and caustic put downs of Noel Coward’s Private Lives which gets another run 92 years after it was first performed.

Private Lives is the debut production of the Nigel Havers Theatre Company. It seems fitting that Havers should turn out for his first production along with the theatrical force of nature that is Patricia Hodge. They play former sweethearts Elyot and Amanda. Long divorced, the pair find themselves honeymooning at the same time. Elyot with his new bride, Sybil whilst Amanda is with new husband, Victor. Not only are they at the same hotel, but they are also neighbours as they share a balcony.

As Elyot and Amanda reconnect again it’s apparent that the spark between them is still there, however if the passion is still there, so are the reasons the couple separated – jealousy and petty squabbles. As Elyot and Amanda decide to elope to Paris and give their relationship one more chance, what will become of them and their jilted partners?

Havers is clearly having a ball as the ‘cad’ Elyot, a role he was born to play – a chance to flex his comedic muscles. Throughout tonight’s performance on several occasions, it looked like he was going to burst out laughing, which somewhat added to the charm, and all done with a twinkle in the eyes. Equally good is Hodge, who gets the lion’s share of the best lines which she delivers with acerbic glee. The pair have tremendous chemistry together and great comic timing.

They are supported by the equally impressive Natalie Walter, as Sybil and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart’s Victor as the suitably irritating jilted other halves. Despite being ‘the other ones’ in this quadratic formula, Walter’s Sybil is naive yet spirited. Whilst Bruce-Lockhartas’ Victor comes across as a decent yet insecure chap. For the production to work you have to care about all four characters which you do, despite their many (many) flaws.

In addition, there is a scene stealing cameo by Aïcha Kossoko as the french speaking maid Louise, who adds to the chaos.

When Noel Coward wrote Private Lives in 1930, he saw himself in the lead playing alongside a contemporary of his, Gertrude Lawrence. At the time of writing Coward was 30, clearly this production sees our characters at more advanced stages of their lives. The change works tremendously well as there is an added ‘‘growing old disgracefully’ dynamic to proceedings whilst also proving that no matter how old we get we can all still drop a ‘clanger’ from time-to-time.

There is a sixth character and that is the fabulous set design of Simon Higlett. There are two settings the production, the first being hotel exterior, complete with a balcony which Higlett has managed to resemble the tier of rather garish wedding cake. The second is a beautiful, luxury apartment in Paris.

The production does have its flaws; two scenes where the warring couples strike each other seems out-of-place, even if played out for comedic effect. On the whole, an interesting examination of the perils and pitfalls of relationships. A superbly acted, polished, fun night at the theatre, and a cautionary tale that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Private Lives is at the Lowry until 19th February. Tickets available here.

The Hound of The Baskervilles

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Back in July 2021 Artistic Director at the Octagon Theatre, Lotte Wakeham, chose The Hound of the Baskervilles to open the revamped theatre in Bolton.  Directed by Wakeham, it proved to be a smart choice, as it received huge critical acclaim and was the perfect way to showcase the talent at the Octagon. On the back of its success the production is now undertaking a nationwide tour hitting The Lowry, Quays Theatre this week for a run of shows that will delight and entertain!

Under the stewardship of UK tour director, Tim Jackson and adapted for the stage by Steven Canny and John Nicholson, the plot remains faithful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original. Sherlock Holmes and faithful companion Dr Watson are recruited to investigate the mysterious death of Charles Baskerville. Has Baskerville fallen victim to the infamous Baskerville curse that has befell so many of his ancestors, or is there a more rational explanation?

Those expecting a faithful and straight laced reworking of this classic tale are in for a shock. This is an innovative, funny and downright absurd reworking of one of Conan Doyle’s best loved works. Within the opening five minutes our trio of actors break ‘the fourth wall’ and directly address the audience to explain that for both artist and financial reasons the three of them will bring all the characters to life.

What follows is a comedy masterclass from the three leads, Nial Ransome, plays it relatively straight as the rather dim-witted Dr Waton, whilst Jake Ferretti and Serena Manteghi are a force of nature, as they undertake the majority of the character swapping, with Ferretti playing Sherlock Holmes, as well as various suspects. Whilst Manteghi, plays the role of Sir Henry Baskerville, the heir to the Baskerville fortune, and the next in line to be ‘bumped off’, as well various other Baskerville family members and three subtly different Dartmoor Yokel’s.

The script in conjunction with energetic performances of the three actors is the main strength to show. Paying homage to silent cinema, slapstick and the ‘whodunit’, Canny and Nicholson have taken Conan Doyle’s to be frank ridiculous plot and ramped it up to 11, allowing for even more absurdity, from OTT accents (not Canadian as Manteghi as points out), dance routines, and farce. Often throughout the show I was reminded of the productions of the Spymonkey theatre company, albeit a more toned down, child friendly version.

This is a fast paced, fun filled at times surreal show, which gives an irrelevant take on this world famous piece of literature. The only rational explanation is to go see the show at your nearest convenience!

The Hound of the Baskervilles is on at the Lowry till Saturday 5th February. Tickets can be found here.