Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of)

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

One things us Brits love is a bit of Pride and Prejudice, from BBC dramas to cinematic adaptations there’s a whopping appetite for Jane Austen’s iconic novel. However, it’s time for Colin Firth and his soggy shirt to step aside as this fabulous all-female cast prepare to retell events in their own unique and hilarious style.

Taking on the role of servants this five-strong company deliver their inventive spin on Austen’s work complete with befitting karaoke classics as they play the part of each character in this fast and furious homage. A little bit miffed that they never get to play characters with any depth or complexity, let alone enjoy a much longed for happy ending they set about righting this wrong to hilarious effect.

The fast-paced production is razor sharp from the off, there’s quick changes a plenty as the comedic chaos unfolds.

Directors Isobel McArthur and Simon Harvey never allow the pace to drop resulting in a hugely entertaining and surprisingly accurate piece of theatre. It’s daft, dynamic and oozes cheeky charm.

The cast complement each other perfectly, never once losing their stride, their comic timing is exceptional while their delivery of the multiple karaoke classics will make you wish you were heading to the nearest bar after the curtain call. Some of the song choices are an absolute stroke of genius making me wish there were a few more bangers to enjoy.

Each of the five cast are superb, taking on multiple characters with apparent ease. Dannie Harris’ fizz guzzling potty mouthed Mrs Bennet is a scream while her dashing Mr Darcy is every bit the mysterious and misunderstood man of the hour. Emmy Stonelake makes for a superb Elizabeth Bennet, her strong Welsh accent adding to her brilliant comedic delivery, she’s a no nonsense, tell it like it is kind of girl who certainly isn’t wasting her time holding out for a hero.

Megan Louise Wilson is super sweet as lovesick Jane in complete constant to imposing her Lady Catherine De Bourgh who gets one of the biggest laughs of the night. Lucy Gray shows incredible versatility as the lonely and longing Charlotte Lucas one moment followed by snide, spoil Caroline Bingley the next, while Leah Jamieson ramps the humour to another level with her ingenious characterisation of Mr Collins, drab, dull and desperate highlighting just how utterly absurd the minimal rights of women back then were.

Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) is a joy: clever, current and absolutely hilarious. It takes the traditional and tips it on its head. This reinvented classic will no doubt become a firm favourite on the theatre scene as this new tour and talented cast enjoy standing ovations night after night. Perfect escapism that will leave you with a smile on your face and a strong urge to head to the nearest karaoke bar.

Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) is on at The Lowry until Saturday 21st January, tickets available here.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

At the festive time, The Lowry, has always made some bold choices for their big Christmas show. Past shows have seen family favourites and classic works of literature brought to the Lyric Theatre stage with great success. Well, this Christmas the Lowry has made their boldest choice to date, with the National Theatre production of The Ocean at the End of the Lane and boy does it pay off. If the old saying of, “fortune favours the brave” is anything to go by then those rewards go to the audience members who will be treated to a gripping, powerful, fantasy, brought to life in truly jaw dropping fashion, with spectacular visuals and performances that will live long in the memory.

Based on the 2013 novel by Neil Gaiman and adapted by Joel Horwood, the production opens in the present day, as a nameless man (Trevor Fox), buries his father, he comes across a place familiar to him from his childhood, where he encounters a rather eccentric, yet familiar old lady. It is here that man is transported back to his 12th birthday where his world would change forever. 

Set in the early 1980’s the nameless boy (Keir Ogilvy) has stumbled on a truly shocking incident, his father (Fox in a dual role) attempts to shield him from this, fortunately a young woman, Lettie Hempstock (Millie Hikassa) offers to take the boy to her family farm until the incident is cleared up.

It’s down on the farm that the boy meets Lettie’s family: her mum Ginnie (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) and her granny, Old Mrs Hempstock (Finty Williams), the eccentric lady we met at the start. Through his friendship with Lettie that the boy witnesses a series of pretty freaky occurrences such as lifeless fish, dead from swallowing a 50 pence piece, Lettie and her family’s ability to predict the future right before it happens, talk of creatures that regularly infiltrate our world, and finally a puddle of water that is a portal to alternate reality.

Back at home the boy struggles with recent events, in addition there is a far from perfect homelife: he is motherless, has clashes and petty squabbles with his sister (Laurie Ogden), and an inability to communicate with a father trying to do the best he can with his children.

The situation becomes all the worse, when the eponymous young man and Lettie do battle with one of these invading beasts and unwittingly unleash another creature. The being infiltrates the boy’s home in the guise of glamorous lodger, Ursula (Charlie Brooks) who morphs into exactly what the family crave, a mother figure to the children and a companion and lover to the father.  Along with Lettie, and her family of strong-willed mystics, the boy must confront his fears in order to save his family, and himself from a monster that knows his every fear and every desire.

As productions go this is truly EPIC, and one that will astound, amaze and exhilarate its audience. After an initial gentle start where you try to figure out what’s going on, and what’s going to happen (I know all the fun stuff!) the action kicks off with a stunning and beautifully choreographed battle that begins a series of mind-blowing set pieces, which will enthral as they will send a shiver down the spine!

The performances are fantastic: Keir Ogilvy and Millie Hikasa are wonderful as the misfit, best friends, it’s a beautiful partnership filled with warmth, quirkiness and genuine friendship. The pair bounce off each other throughout and are the beating heart of the show. EastEnders Charlie Brooks, complete with Glen Close hair from Fatal Attraction is brilliant as wicked seductress, Ursula. Sometimes you wish Brookes would get to play a nice character for a change, but why should she when she does evil so well.

There are strong supporting performances throughout from Trevor Fox in a measured, restrained turn as the tired, beleaguered Dad, whilst Finty Williams and Laurie Ogden between them have the lion’s share of comedic lines.

Director Katy Rudd has masterfully brought this much cherished book to the stage using talent at the top of their game. The set design by Fly Davis is eerie, and intimidating, bringing the woods to life where most of the drama unfolds. Whilst the scenes in the Hampstock kitchen resemble that of a painting or a Peter Greenaway film.

The lighting and sound design by Paule Constable and Ian Dickinson respectively are pretty much perfect, atmospheric, and a proper shock to the senses when they need to be.

For older people like myself this is a hark back to fantasy adventure films of the 1980’s from Never Ending Story, Legend and The Return to Oz (the Wheelers I’m thinking of you!). Whilst younger audience members will associate this with Stranger Things. For fans of this genre, you’ll absolutely love this. However, it’s all that and so much more tackling issues such as loss, grief and the importance of talking to our loved ones.

It’s an unsettling, magical piece of theatre, which will blow you away and fully demonstrates just how good live theatre can be. I cannot urge you enough to go see this production this holiday season, so what you are waiting for go book your tickets NOW!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is at the Lowry until 8th January, tickets available here.

Neil Gaiman | The Ocean at the End of the Lane | Interview

The forthcoming tour of the National Theatre’s adaptation of the award-winning book The Ocean at the End of the Lane is coming to The Lowry in Salford. Author Neil Gaiman answers our questions.

The book is loosely based on your childhood. What was the starting point?

The book began with me wanting to try and explain to my wife where I grew up and what that world was like. She could take me to her childhood home because it’s still the same, but I couldn’t take her to where I grew up [in East Grinstead] because the place had long since been demolished; lots of lovely neat little housing estates covered the gardens and the fields and lanes. So for me it was kind of an effort to try and evoke a past and a sense of place.  An interesting side of it for me too was that I realised that I hadn’t heard, for a very long time, the Sussex accent of my childhood. Mrs Weller came in and cleaned once a week and Mr Weller came in and did the gardens. They were probably in their 80s and they had proper Sussex accents – almost like a West Country burr. I resolved to write a novel with that in too.

How did you create the Hempstocks?

I was told by my mother – quite erroneously, I discovered, when I did my research – that the farm half-way down our lane was in the Doomsday Book. And that was the start of the Hempstocks in my head; who they were and what I wanted to do with them.

Do you find writing about family especially fascinating?

I don’t think I’ve ever been able to avoid writing about family, even when I thought I was writing about something else. Whether it’s biological family or the family we make. In the novel I created a semi-fictional family for myself, and in the play version it was one step further away from my family, which I think looking back on is incredibly healthy! But the boy is definitely me.

Neil Gaiman

The play received amazing reviews when it premiered. Without any spoilers, do you have any favourite moments?

There is something astounding about the moment when they enter the ocean. That completely fascinates me. And you’re going to see miracles made out of bits of rubbish and old plastic bags and nightmarish birds beyond your imagination. It still takes me by surprise every time I watch.

Is it true that you were so moved by the play when you saw it in rehearsals that you cried?

I saw the first full run through. About ten minutes from the end I had tears running down my face. I thought that this was terribly embarrassing and I was discreetly trying to flick them away.

You describe yourself as a storyteller. What inspired you to be a writer?

I’m not sure that all writers are frustrated performers, but for me it was the joy in getting to be all of the characters. As a writer you get to do that. Being a kid who loved books I could think of nothing cooler than giving people the pleasure that I got.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane opens at The Lowry on Monday 12th December and runs until Sunday 8th January tickets available here.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Celebrating its 10-year anniversary, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is out on a national tour, and as night follows day with Bourne’s productions it arrives at the Lowry just in time for the transition from Autumn to Winter.

This is the third in Bourne’s Tchaikovsky trilogy of ballets, which transports us to 1890. King Benedict (Danny Reubens) and Queen Eleanor (Kayla Collymore) have everything other than what they desire the most, a child. For this they enter into a pact with Carabosse (Paris Fitzpatrick), a dark fairy with extraordinary powers. Princess Aurora is delivered to the happy couple, but the situation soon turns sour as Carabosse feels slighted by the lack of recognition she receives from the king and queen and plots a revenge on the royal family, targeting Princess Aurora.

However, Princess Aurora has a great number of guardian angels looking out for her. First there is her nanny, Miss Maddox (Stephanie Billers), and the palace serving staff. In addition, the Princess is under the protection of Count Lilac, (Dominic North), the King of the Fairies and his troupe of fairies. A failed attempt by Carabosse to get to Aurora is thwarted by Count Lilac, and her many protectors. However it is revealed what fate awaits Aurora, that of an eternal slumber unless she is awakened by her true love.

The action shifts to 1911. Carabosse is no more, however Caradoc, (Paris Fitzpatrick in a dual role) her son has vowed to continue his mother’s vendetta.

Princess Aurora (Ashley Shaw) has now come of age. She is being courted by numerous suitors from the aristocracy, however she only has eyes for the Royal Gamekeeper, Leo (Andrew Monaghan), and he feels the same way. Despite the love they have for one another they must keep their relationship a secret, which allows Caradoc to take advantage of the situation, implementing his mother’s plot and extracting the ultimate revenge. If Leo has any hope of breaking the curse he must use the help of Count Lilac, which sees the story take an unexpected but not unwelcome detour.

There is so much to enjoy and admire about Bourne’s take on this classic fairy-tale. The movement of the entire cast is exquisite, light, and fun throughout. It manages to draw you in and hold your attention from start to finish.

The playful energy is apparent from the get-go with the introduction of baby Aurora, a feisty, ball of energy, climbing the curtains and causing all manner of mischief. Other highlights are the introduction of Count Lilac and his fairies, a real treat for the eyes, a great sense of fun set against the backdrop of a huge intimidating full moon, it looks fantastic. Whilst the courtship between Aurora and Leo is a joy, played like a farce, it’s a lot of fun which could lead to an alternative title of ‘Carry on Princess’.

This is billed “A Gothic Romance”, and boy does it deliver, visually it looks stunning. The sumptuous costumes and set design by long time Bourne collaborator Lez Brotherston is a mix of vibrance and colour in stark contrast with the dark, brooding castles and forbidden forests. It fully captures that aesthetic we come to expect from classic fairy tales. One sequence where we see two faceless dancers, is as beautiful as it is haunting, and such a powerful image.

Personally, I always like the humour Bourne pumps into his productions, from the huge set pieces, with baby Aurora, to little visual gags, that puncture the production, it always makes the shows warmer and more accessible.

This is everything you’d expect from one of the world’s leading Choreographers. He takes a traditional fairy tale, tinkers with its format slightly, injects it with warmth, humour and gives it a soul, finally to be played out by a team of performers and creatives all at the top of their game. It’s a winning formula that will entertain and delight, culminating in a fantastic visual experience, well worth a trip to the theatre.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is at the Lowry until the 26th November. Tickets available here.

Othello

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Opening Night verdict

Almost 15 years since it originally premiered, Frantic Assembly’s Othello feels fresh, gripping and revels in every element of Shakespeare’s brutal tragedy.

Predominately set in well-worn working class pub, where a pool table takes centre stage, Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett bring their adaptation bang up to date as the opening sequence bursts into life all tracksuits, trainers and bolshy bravado.

Their signature physical theatre is put to incredible use as Michael Akinsulire’s commanding Othello leads his gang of brothers from the front, occupying their seemingly safe space within the pub with a cool air of authority, where tension is constant & there’s an ever present feeling that violence could erupt at any moment.

The multiple sequences of Frantic Assembly’s trademark choreography, often almost silent bar a blaring soundtrack are superb; while the Bard’s text is delivered with authenticity and brutal emotion, this is a Shakespeare for today, raw and real.

Michael Akinsulire illustrates Othello’s complexities flawlessly, his brooding behaviour keeps you on guard throughout, one moment he’s tender the next tormented. The choice to set this piece in modern day makes for an all the more stark realisation that the accusations of Desdemona’s (Chanel Waddock) infidelity are completely unfounded and unjust. Waddock is no wallflower, giving as good as she gets, but she is loyal and loving right to the end.

Iago is portrayed perfectly by Joe Layton, snide and calculating; no one is off limits as his lies wreak havoc. He needs barely any motive at all to condemn those around him through his malicious exploitation.

Kirsty Stuart makes for a memorable Emilia, ensuring the short scene in Act 2 between her & Desdemona which takes place in the women’s toilets feel pivotal. While Felipe Pacheco and Tom Gill as Rodrigo and Cassio respectively, add depth and humanity to the piece.

As with all Frantic Assembly productions this is a true ensemble piece with the whole cast working together seamlessly to create this powerful retelling of Shakespeare’s bleak tragedy. The pub setting is inspired and makes it feel wholly accessible to modern audiences. Laura Hopkins set designed paired with lighting design from Natasha Chivers and Andy Purves and a thumping soundtrack from Hybrid cement the inspired modern-day setting.

This is thrilling theatre which builds to a devastating finale as the brutality of revenge and the fragility of ego plays out. A powerful, punchy and poignant Othello which will leave you wanting all of Shakespeare’s classics to get the Frantic Assembly treatment, superb!

Othello is on at The Lowry until Saturday 19th November here.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

he Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is based on the novel “These Foolish Things” by Deborah Moggach, and was inspired by the blockbuster film. 

The play follows the journey of seven characters, from different walks of life, who have travelled to India to live out their retirement in a more exotic environment, or so they think. Sonny (Noshad More) and his mother ( Rekha John-Cheriyan) own the hotel residence but are struggling to work together and agree on what their plans for the future should be. They don’t always see eye to eye, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. 

The accommodation is not quite what the brochure had led the visitors to believe, but along the way bonds are formed, and a plan is hatched to put the hotel on the map.

The cast is a joy, so many legends of the stage and screen together on one stage. The script is joyful and witty. And while the jokes are intended for the more ageing members of the audience, there is something in there for everyone. 

The chemistry between characters on the stage is sweet and charming. Hayley Mills, plays the meek and mild Evelyn, who grows braver and braver as she realises that her voice is meant to be heard. Mills is a great joy to behold, she is slick and her presence is felt all through the auditorium.

Rula Lenska, brings us Madge, and with her performance comes many laughs, she is a master of her craft and her comic timing is impeccable. Lenska and Marlene Sidaway, who plays Muriel, have a lovely chemistry and they give us many things to laugh about throughout the production. As does Andy De La Tour as the grumpy and cricket obsessed Norman. 

Paul Nicholas, (who I first saw in stage in 1991 as Barnum) is cast beautifully as Douglas, a man who is simply going through the motions of life with his wife Jean (played magnificently by Eileen Battye) he married many years ago, but who he now realises he no longer loves. Nicholas manages to make us all fall in love with a character, who essentially wants to leave his wife for someone else, how he does it I’m really not sure. But he pulls is off and we all gasp and “ahhh” when he returns for Evelyn.

This play is filled with subplots about call centres and long lost childhood friends and love marriages. But it’s simple and easy to follow. It can at times lack pace, but in a world where everything feels so heavy at the moment this productions gives us the light relief we are desperate for. 

Colin Richmonds set design is an absolute highlight of this production. We are transported to India in so many ways and the lighting design by Oliver Fenwick, helps to guide the narrative. The set, lighting and sound design are seamlessly joined to transport us to India.

The dancing by the whole cast at the end was truly wonderful. It almost makes you wish the entire production was a musical. 

While the show is clearly aimed at those of a certain age, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyed by us all. It’s a lovely piece of theatre, with a marvellous cast.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is on until Saturday 12th November

📢 Casting Call 📢

You could be the next star on The Lowry’s stage in the hit musical ‘Innit’ 

The Innit For Young People Charity is looking for the lead male, Ashley, and lead female, Stacey, age range 18-25 of their musical ‘Innit’ coming to The Lowry next September. 

‘Innit’, set in Salford, follows the life of Ashley Thomas through dysfunction and turmoil as he finds himself framed for a crime that he didn’t commit. 

The production is set up to spark creativity and hold up a mirror to society, whilst young people get to enjoy a fully relatable piece of contemporary theatre. 

Innit For Young People is a registered charity, aiming to tackle the increasing number of school exclusions in England, head-on. They plan to deliver a relatable educational programme and workshops for ALL children aged 12-14 by offering the opportunity for them to visit The Lowry Theatre to see ‘Innit’ for free

Micky Dacks, CEO of Innit For Young People said: “Young people deserve to experience the exhilaration of theatre in the same manner as any other member of society can, without being excluded by virtue of their often-unfortunate circumstances.” 

The deadline for audition tapes is the 1st November, with workshops for the shortlisted actors on both the 6th and 13th of November. 

Micky added: “We’re going to make two dreams come true and that’s just the start.”

HOW TO SEND IN:  

Send in your casting tape via WHATSAPP with the word ‘AUDITION’ to 07366444972.  

OR  

Send in your casting tape via WETRANSFER to auditions@i4ypc.org.uk  

Casting tapes should include a brief introduction about yourself.  

(Include your namelocation and the most interesting fact about yourself,   

followed by your choice of 3 lines from either Ashley’s or Stacey’s monologue.) 

Tapes should be a maximum of 60 seconds.   

Anything longer will not be watched.  

First 250 entries are guaranteed an audition.  

Blood Brothers

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Blood Brothers is Willy Russell’s “Liverpudlian folk opera” which tells the story of Mrs Johnstone, a newly single mother of many children struggling to make ends meet. Pregnant once again, she manages to find a cleaning job for a well to do couple – Mr and Mrs Lyons. When Mrs Johnstone discovers that she is infact expecting twins she is persuaded by childless Mrs Lyons to give her one of the babies to raise as her own, promising her that she will always be able to visit and spend time with her baby.

Things, very quickly, take a dramatic turn and Mrs Lyons sacks Mrs Johnstone leaving her devastated at not being able to see her son anymore.

The lives of the twins, Mickey (Sean Jones) and Eddie (Jay Worley) are very different, but are intertwined and they somehow keep finding each other, and end up being a large part of each other’s lives as “Blood Brothers”.

Blood Brothers is a story that has been told in theatres around the world, it had a 24 year run in the West End, as well as touring throughout the UK and internationally. I personally, have seen this show more than any other show. And do you know what? It hasn’t lost a single inch of its magic. Everything about this production is outstanding.

The script is the glue that holds everything together. It’s hilarious, moving and heartbreaking all at the same time, something we can always rely on Willy Russel to provide. The set is simple and really hasn’t changed over the years, but it doesn’t need to. It helps to tell the narrative – along with the ever present and haunting narrator played by Richard Munday. Every single hair on my head stood on end during his performance of “Shoes on the Table”.

Niki Colwell Evans is magnificent as Mrs Johnstone. She is entertaining, engaging and her delivery of Tell Me It’s Not True at the finale was spine tingling and utterly heartbreaking. She had the audience sobbing openly.

Jay Worley, as Eddie, is a breath of fresh air. He brings life to the role, and his chemistry with both Mickey and Linda ( Carly Burns) makes the story so much more believable and entertaining. 
Carly Burns is just wonderful as the ever optimistic and loving Linda, who at times has her loyalty tested with catastrophic results. 

Sean Jones was born for the role of Mickey, he kept us laughing in his portrayal of young Mickey, taking on his big brother Sammy, played by the fabulous Timothy Lucas. Every note he sang was pitch perfect. Jones did a magnificent job of playing Mickey as a drug dependent young man, struggling with depression and self doubt. Blood Brothers can often be thought of as comedic show with a tragic ending, but it is so much more than that. Jones shows us just how vulnerable and desperate Mickey is and we are invested in his success and failures. Which is why the ending results in the entire auditorium gasping (loudly).

The whole cast is outstanding; this show is a well oiled machine and it just doesn’t age. The musical numbers are brilliantly performed and are the reason that people like me keep coming back again and again. I’m guessing that the rest of the audience felt the same, judging by the way they literally jumped from their seats before the last note was played.

Blood Brothers is the greatest of British musical theatre all in one show. It is a must see for all, especially if you’re a northerner!

Blood Brothers is on at The Lowry until Saturday 22nd October tickets available here.

The Color Purple

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Back in 2019 I was lucky enough to watch The Color Purple during its original run at the Birmingham Hippodrome, one thing that struck me, (amongst many others) was how perfect this production would be for the Lowry’s Lyric theatre; 3 years later I can finally confirm it’s as stunning as I’d hoped.

Based on the much-loved novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple was adapted into a film in 1985, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. Next, came the Broadway musical adaptation in 2005 with a critically acclaimed revival following in 2015 starring Jennifer Hudson and Cynthia Erivo. It’s recent presence in the UK has been a difficult one largely due to the emergence of the pandemic but now thankfully, opening night at The Lowry marks the shows 4th successful stop on its current UK tour.

This powerful story told over the course of 40 years introduces us to Celie, an oppressed Black girl from the Deep South as she journeys through life in a bid to discover her own sense of purpose. There’s joy, heartache, kindness, and cruelty as Celie discovers the voice within amidst the chaos that surrounds her.

Me’sha Bryan is superb as Celie, leading the cast with true heart and emotion. She draws you in immediately with her warmth and loving spirit, taking you on this journey with her; you want her so desperately to succeed & find the happiness she so richly deserves. Aaliyah Zhané plays Celie’s ambitious little sister Nettie wonderfully, her time on stage is impactful and helps drive the themes of love and loyalty beautifully.

Bree Smith is a joy as Shug Avery, oozing charm and inner confidence, she’s the ray of sunshine and chance at happiness Celie so desperately needs. The chemistry between both Bryan and Smith is perfect, their performance of ‘What About Love’ at the close of Act 1 is both powerful and emotive.

Special mention must go to Anelisa Lamola who gives a knock-out performance as Sofia. Her fearless rejection of the violence she experiences in ‘Hell no,‘ is hugely significant. Her characterisation is incredible, she embodies Sofia entirely, giving us both laugh out loud hilarity and crushing heartbreak with nuanced vulnerability, she is mesmerising .

While it’s the women who take centre stage there are also some excellent male performances which mustn’t go unmentioned. Ahmed Hamad gives a wonderfully charismatic performance as an unassuming Harpo while Ako Mitchell as Mister, delivers a truly difficult character flawlessly, sinister and cruel his characterisation is perfect making his learning curve all the more significant.

This story is emotive, at times dark and upsetting but this joint production from the Birmingham Hippodrome and Curve Leicester (with book by Marsha Norman) leaves us in no doubt who the true heroes are and offers much light amongst the shade. The journey Celie goes on is inspiring as she overcomes adversity through the strength she takes from the relationships she builds within her life.

Tinuke Craig and Lakesha Arie Angelo have directed this piece with care and creativity while Alex Lowde’s set and costumes are gifted incredible lighting and video design from Joshua Pharo ensuring the source material is given the absolute best opportunity to shine.

This deeply moving piece of theatre is delivered by an exceptional cast. The strong leads are supported by an incredible ensemble who bring life and light to the stunning harmonies within the score. The voices amongst this cast are honestly worth the ticket price alone, they are sublime. Special mention here to the magnificent trio of ‘gossip girls’ a modern-day Greek chorus who are an absolute joy, played at tonight’s performance by Karen Mavundukure, Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah and Kayla Carter.

The Color Purple is a beautiful production, where there is darkness always comes light as we are taken on a journey of self-discovery and female empowerment, full of heart, hope and humanity.

The Color Purple is on at The Lowry until Saturday 15th October, tickets available here.

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.