The Red Shoes

THE RED SHOES

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures premiered The Red Shoes in 2016 it stunned audiences and critics alike, winning two Olivier Awards as well as the LA Critics’ Award for both choreography and set and costume design. Returning for 2019 this breathtakingly beautiful piece of theatre proves to be as timeless a classic as ever.

Based on the 1948 Powell and Pressburger film which drew it’s inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Red Shoes this perfectly paced production is rich in indulgent theatricality, sweeping you up on a joyous, heart-wrenching, mesmerising journey from the moment Benard Herrmann’s stunning score with orchestrations from Terry Davies begins.

THE RED SHOES

The Red Shoes tells the powerful story of young ballerina Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw) who swiftly rises to the position of principal dancer after her recent arrival at an established ballet company. Her success brings her to the attention of both composer Julain Craster (Dominic North) and also that of the dance company’s powerful impresario Boris Lermontov (Adam Cooper). With the first there is a genuine truth and innocence with the second the lure of higher artistic achievement pulls like a magnet, which ignites a battle between ambition and true love.

Ashley Shaw makes a welcome return to the role of Victoria Page a role she originated in 2016; her performance feels entirely authentic as she weaves her way through a whole spectrum of emotions capturing euphoria and bliss just as convincingly as she portrays terror and furious anger. This authentic emotion paired with her exquisite technique and precise delivery is nothing short of magnificent, embodying the young dancer to perfection. Her performance during The Ballet of The Red Shoes is mesmerising as she is firstly enthralled by then ultimately captured by the shoes, she tells the story movingly and with her whole being.

THE RED SHOES

Adam Cooper’s Boris Lermontov is strong and domineering, seductive in both his power and precision, he stalks the stage bringing an ever-present feeling of temptation and danger while Dominic North’s portrayal of struggling composer Julian Craster is a joy to watch, his solo piece in Act One develops a strong characterisation which he maintains superbly throughout

Bourne’s skilful storytelling and his unbeatable attention to detail matched with a company of dancers at the absolute top of their game ensures that this production enthrals entirely. From playful scenes on the French Riviera to intensely passionate duets every element of choreography is slick, masterful and exciting while every single person on stage gives an impressive and fully developed performance. It is such a visual treat almost cinematic at times that one viewing doesn’t feel like enough, every scene could stand alone and happily satisfy any theatre goer.

THE RED SHOES

Lez Brotherston award-winning set design is immediately striking and wonderfully effective. Allowing the audience access to both onstage and off-stage scenes via a grand revolving sumptuously curtained frame which almost feels like it pirouette’s before your eyes, drawing you into the very heart of the drama, lit beautifully by Paule Constable.

The Red Shoes is a unique piece of theatre in which every element has been crafted with such love and care that the end result is an unquestionably perfect piece of theatrical magic. Bourne’s wonderfully clear storytelling ensures that anyone dipping their toe into the dance world would find the show accessible while seasoned fans of his work will revel in the thrill of having another dazzling piece to enjoy, a masterpiece!

The Red Shoes is on at The Lowry until Saturday 30th November, tickets available here.

 

 

 

 

A Taste of Honey

Reviewed by Michelle Eagleton

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When one of Salford’s most iconic plays comes back home to its birthplace, there’s bound to be a huge weight on the company performing it to get it right. The National Theatre set itself the challenge of doing just that by making one of the first stops on its UK Tour of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey, The Lowry. 

Director Bijan Sheibani, who is at the helm of this production, has managed to rise to the challenge though, as it received an encouraging reaction from the audience on press night.

Sheibani takes the play back to its roots in this bold incarnation, which echoes how it was originally performed, adding the incorporation of music. There’s a live band onstage throughout, which accompanies the characters in solo numbers and plays underneath some of the dialogue, which helps evoke the mood of the piece.

For those who are unaware of the story behind the Shelagh Delaney classic, A Taste of Honey is essentially a gritty norther tale of the love-hate relationship between a working-class single mother Helen and her  daughter Jo, set against the stark backdrop of 1950s Salford. The play was penned by 19-year-old Shelagh back in 1958 and it’s hard to believe that at such a young age the local girl, who had very little experience of seeing shows let alone writing them, could produce such prolific work which would resonate with generations to come. 

Lancashire born theatre and TV star Jodie Prenger puts in a solid performance as northern matriarch Helen making the most of the acid tongue humour gifted  from Delaney and her natural comedic delivery, prompting huge amounts of  laughter from the audience. We also get the chance to see Prenger put her impressive  vocal chords to good use as she packs  a punch with the opening number ‘A Good Man’ (a soulful track reminiscent of some of the late Amy Winehouse’s repertoire).

Gemma Dobson’s portrayal of Jo creates a character that’s like marmite  you love her vulnerability one minute but want to throttle her for her outbursts the next. Dobson’s whining edge to Jo gets a little tedious in the second half of the play but overall her sweet scenes with Jimmie (her sailor love interest) and Geof make up for it and we see her performance of the troubled teen really come into its own.

Despite the play being primarily focused around the two main female roles, Jo and Helen, the stand out performance comes from one of the males in the cast, Stuart Thompson as Geof. Thompson is a delight to watch and displays a natural  sensitivity  as Jo’s gay best friend. Thompson manages to find a balance of campness and caring in the role of Geof, who struggles with his worries of being an outcast in the 1950s society whilst looking after his pregnant friend.

Elsewhere, Hildegard Bechtler’s contemporary design of the production  adds to the bleakness of the piece with a minimalist set complete with stark and dingy lighting. Everything seems shabby and in need of TLC, except for Helen’s brash and glam outfits which extenuate her desire to appear better than she is in reality – which you could say epitomises  the phrase ‘all fur coat and no knickers’.

There have been numerous productions of A Taste of Honey since it opened on stage over 60 years ago and the National present a good version here, which really highlights the comedy and pathos of Delaney’s work.

A Taste of Honey is on at The Lowry until Saturday 21st September then begins a UK tour, further information can be found here.

Writer Henry Filloux-Bennett talks TOAST

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When Nigel Slater released his 2004 autobiography TOAST: The Story of a Boys Hunger, it’s doubtful he ever imagined it would be made into a BBC film let alone become a critically-award winning play which after wowing the West End is now touring the country to packed audiences every night.

Here at Opening Night we were lucky enough to catch up with writer Henry Filloux-Bennett ahead of the shows return to The Lowry to hear a little more about the process of taking the book from page to stage as well as what audiences can expect from this heart-warming adaptation which critics have described as ‘delicious’.

Opening Night: “How did you first become aware of the autobiography and did you read it with the intention of adapting it for the stage?”

Henry Felloux-Bennett: “I was a cook working in London, weirdly in the same hotel that Nigel works in at the end of the book, I was knackered as kitchen hours are stupidly long and I didn’t have any money so I had to live outside of London and commute in. To keep me awake, I would read a book. I was given TOAST one Christmas and it was the first book I picked up as I left one day. I just started reading it on the bus back and forth from the kitchen not only did the story resonate because he has an interesting upbringing and then goes into cooking and I thought – ‘Oh that’s like me’, but also I didn’t have anything to do with theatre but I sort of wanted to do something in theatre, and I thought: ah, that could be the show.”

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ON: “Once you’d decided to create the piece was it an instant yes from Nigel?”

HFB: “I tried originally to get the rights for a show in Edinburgh but Nigel said no, thank God because ten years later, the play became much more of a considered thing. Back then, I would have just done it in two hours and hoped for the best. It would have been rubbish so thank God he did say no.”

ON: “Your perseverance clearly paid of as 10 years later Nigel finally gave his backing to the adaptation.”

HFB: “Yes, the Lowry was doing a festival called Week 53 and it was about coming-of-age, Nigel also turned 60 the year it started so I think that had something to do with it. I think also it was something to do with this festival because it wasn’t a big glamorous West End show. We were trying to create this small experience for a very limited number of people that I hoped showed I genuinely wanted to do it. I think a lot of adaptations happen because it’s going to make money – I think he worried about that, not that it would be a big cash cow but that it was cynical. I just thought, oh we can get some foodies to come and see this.”

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ON: “What is the starting point when taking a book from page to stage?”

HFB: “I think one of the big challenges of adapting any book to stage is how you a make it interesting to watch. Obviously if you’re reading a book you can be totally absorbed in it. You can enjoy the characters and you can enjoy the plot, but actually when you’re faced with watching something that sort of takes it in a different direction. The challenge with TOAST is that it’s not a narrative-based book, it skips around quite a lot. Finding a journey to go on, from start to finish, was a massive challenge because it doesn’t flow in a linear way. But that’s what made it more fun as well because I didn’t have to stick to normal storytelling rules.”

ON: “Did Nigel have an absolute veto on anything?”

HFB: “Mainly language. There is a bit where they go to Bournemouth on holiday and there is a line about looking out on the sea and the guy who used to play Nigel once said ocean instead of sea. Apparently, that is a massive no-no because Nigel would never have said ocean in the 60s. It’s the details – like making the labels for the damson jam props. He made a lot of props. The general shape of the play he’s always been quite happy with because he understands that you send a book out into the world and it’s up to everyone else how they deal with it”.

Toast

ON: “Were you worried about Nigel Slater’s reaction to what you had produced?”

HFB: “I was terrified about Nigel’s response. I think you always think that what you’re doing you quite like but then you have to present it to people who’ve never read it before and you have to present it to the person who it’s about, who wrote the thing itself – that’s terrifying. He was very nice about it. He said he wouldn’t read it until I was happy with it, which was a massive bonus because we didn’t know each other. I might’ve massacred his memoir, which would’ve been awful. Touch wood, I haven’t done that. But he was very generous in saying do whatever you need to do. When I was writing it, I read an interview with Lee Hall, who wrote the screen play for the film. And Lee Hall basically said that you can’t care the person is still alive and you can’t care about the person reading it. You have to write the thing you need to write. If the person hates it you can change it, which he did a little bit, but you have to write the thing that you want to write and don’t worry that there’s a real-life Nigel Slater who will be there at some point. It was great advice, which I followed.”

Toast 2

ON: “Why do you think the tastes and smells are so important in both the autobiography and the play?”

HFB: “If you read the book, which you absolutely should, you’ll know that all the chapters are named after food, like Apple Pie, Marshmallows or Digestive Biscuits. Angel Delight was what I responded to when I read it. Butterscotch Angel Delight is probably the best thing ever invented, it’s an amazing pudding and it takes five minutes to make – who wouldn’t love it? It’s those memories – and the smells. Everyone knows the smell of certain things. If you open a packet of digestives, you know that smell. The same with toast. If you think about it, everyone can tell what toast smells like, just when it’s just starting to burn a little bit. All of those things are in his chapters so we had to respond to that in the play.”

ON: “How involved has Nigel been in the process?”

HFB: “He was literally involved from day one. He was there for the workshop week with The Lowry six months before we made the show and then he was there for every step of the way with the food. I think the tech period for him was the most exciting bit because he works in TV so he’s not used to being involved with how the sets get made. At The Lowry, he made half the props with us. He was literally in the dressing room making labels. I’ve still got the label he made for the Damson Jam bottle, it’s my favourite thing. Oliver, who is the Executive Chef at The Lowry’s Pier Eight, worked very closely with Nigel and James [Thompson], our Food Director, to create things that everyone would get to taste. Nigel came up for tastings and was like ‘this bit needs this’ and ‘it needs a bit more sharpness in the lemon meringue tarts’ so he was really involved.”

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ON: “Does any cooking take place on stage?”

HFB: “Yes, I’m not going to tell you what. But there is a scene when we cook on stage. Have you ever seen Billy Elliot? In the script I wanted to copy the bit where he does the angry dance and he can’t express himself any other way. There’s a moment in the play when Nigel gets told something and he doesn’t know how to respond. In my head the only way he could’ve responded was to cook and so it’s meant to be the angry dance for Nigel. It’s a really interesting thing because there is no talking for nearly five minutes. It’s quite intense and Giles had to learn how to cook that dish perfectly. Hopefully it resonates and you’ll find it interesting, but for some people it’s the only bit that I didn’t write and it’s the bit that people cry at. That bit certainly gets people because they can smell and see. The sound of food cooking in a frying pan is amazing, especially in a theatre”.

TOAST returns to The Lowry where it first premiered in 2018 on Monday 11th November for a limited one week run until Saturday 16th November. Tickets available here.

Interview | Jodie Prenger | A Taste of Honey

The National Theatre brings Shelagh Delaney’s ground-breaking play A Taste of Honey to The Lowry this month as part of a new autumn UK tour. Returning the northern classic back to its roots, Bijan Sheibani’s production takes an enthralling look at working-class life in post-war Salford.

Jodie Prenger takes on the iconic role of Helen, a single mother who takes off with a car salesman leaving her feisty teenager Jo to fend for herself. Jo’s relationship with a sailor comes unstuck when after promising to marry her he heads off back to sea leaving art student Geoff to take on the role of surrogate parent. Things get even more interesting when Geoff innocently calls on Helen to help, opening the doors for this unconventional set up to unravel.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Jodie Prenger during rehearsals to hear a little more about the production and what it means to be tackling such an exciting role written by Delaney when she was just 19.

I first watched it about 8 years ago now, a dear friend of mine Bobby Delaney (no relation) gave it to me to read and I absolutely fell in love with it.” Jodie explains “…it was so real, so honest and so tender. It was the mother and daughter relationship that really got me, for me, my Nan and all that side of the family were all from Manchester so it was just like hearing my Nan’s voice. The feistiness and the fight that my Nan had I saw a lot of that in Helen.”

Prenger has played many strong women on stage including the ultimate Scouse independent woman Shirley Valentine; we asked Jodie what is was about northern writing that makes for such a memorable and original piece. “Northern writing just has a real warmth…it’s witty, it’s tender, there’s a zest and spiciness to these strong female characters who I think are always interesting to watch in theatre, in film and TV. The way Shelagh Delaney wrote is just so great that the story comes to life and I just love reading it and watching it.” Explaining what makes the North so special Jodie said, “There’s a beating heart within the North, in Manchester and Salford and within the play itself. Even though people are up against so much they still fight and strive and still have that warm genuine humour. It’s like me and my Mum we can be battling royal but then one of us will say ‘oh have you finished then’ it’s a type of humour that you don’t often find in every corner of the UK.”

The play was famously seen a very taboo when it first premiered due to the themes and characters, “We’ve come a long way but we still have a long way to go, the cast were told they may have to evacuate the theatre when it was first put on, you’d not have that happen now, that wouldn’t even be entertained today but back then it was. I think we’re getting better well at least I hope we are. Yes back then it was taboo and although not so much now it’s still very, very poignant”.

Aged just 19 when she wrote this debut piece, Prenger sees Delaney as a courageous writer, “I think she unleashed a really strong genuine female voice which around that period was unknown. It was very brave, I think it’s the same kind of woman’s voice we’d hear today but then it seemed shocking and taboo.”

The role of Helen has famously been played by several incredible actresses including Angela Landsbury and Avis Bunnage, Jodie explained how she goes about making a character people know so well her own. “You do feel the pressure of those who have gone before you but that’s what gives you the drive to work hard and gives you the confidence to decide how you are going to create your character. It’s about my Nan’s ethic almost of rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in. It’s important you develop the character how you want to develop her and that comes from working with your fellow cast members. I think she’s real; the only way you can play a character like her is by playing the truth.” 

Drawing on her experiences with her own family when it comes to the mother daughter scenes Jodie states “Making the mother daughter relationship believable I think comes from taking your experiences and using them. Taking experience and inspiration from characters you’ve met along the way. Definitely the relationship you have yourself with your mother, sometimes I find although Helen and Jo are polar opposites they are also so similar I think that’s why they come up against each other so much.”

Set famously in the 1950’s Prenger explained how those elements will still very much be present but with some additional styling from designer Hildegard Bechtler. “It’s the same production team who worked on the 2014 production at the National, but what they are really, really set on is keeping those elements of the 1950’s but making it poignant for today. There’s music like Nina Simone, Peggy Lee and Amy Winehouse, there’s live jazz, there’s folk music. The aesthetic of Amy Winehouse really influences the design, her style, look and music. The costumes will be 1950’s but not so much starched dresses etc that it couldn’t be any other time but will hint at modern day as well, same with the props and set too.”

Launching the tour in Salford the birthplace of Shelagh Delaney feels appropriate; we were interested to hear Jodie’s thoughts on what her character Helen would make of 2019 Salford. “My brother Marco lives nearby and I can’t believe how much it’s changed, perhaps she’d find the nearest gin bar, she’d have a great choice. I’m sure she’d love it; you always love home don’t you. That’s what Shelagh Delaney was like, she says there’s not many places she’d like to live, maybe London but then she’d always come back home. Home is home.”

A Taste of Honey opens at The Lowry on Friday 13th September and runs until Saturday 21st September, tickets available https://thelowry.com/whats-on/nt-a-taste-of-honey/

 

 

 

 

Mythos: A Trilogy

📷 David Cooper

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Fresh from taking the Edinburgh Fringe by storm, Stephen Fry brings his one-man trilogy to the Lowry as part of his first UK tour in almost 40 years.

Mythos: A Trilogy based on his best selling books Mythos and Heroes allows Fry to focus on a different subject matter in each of the three shows starting firstly with Gods, then secondly Heroes before thirdly and finally taking on Men.

Effortlessly charming and unquestionably entertaining Fry weaves through the history of Greek mythology right from the origins of the Ancient Greek Gods all the way through to the realisation that mortal man had progressed so far that perhaps the glorious Gods who’d ruled with such majestic power were no longer needed. Each and every story is packed with brilliant and witty observations as the Great Gods are brought to splendid and spectacular life.

Sitting centre stage on a throne-like leather armchair, Fry, a natural storyteller draws his audience in as though huddled round a campfire: his knowledge and enthusiasm bursting to be shared. Large screens surround him as projections of animations and classical paintings play out.

Stories roll off Fry’s tongue captivating the audience while delving deep into the origins of the Greek Gods. The names of the Original 12 Gods, their children, their cousins, heroes, creatures and mortals are reeled off effortlessly as Fry adds depth to his delivery with witty anecdotes and entertaining ad libs.

Stories are made accessible with Fry designating regional accents to the various individuals and comparing their personalities to modern day references, Heracles for example is a Brummie while Titan is described as being a “bit of an emo”.

As well as Fry’s captivating storytelling he adds various interactive elements to each show firstly in the form of the ancient version of trivial pursuit, in this case ‘mythical pursuit’. Audience members are invited to pick a subject from which Fry regales the listeners with interesting facts about said subject. In addition to this Fry opens up his oracle during the interval giving audience members an opportunity to email their burning questions in the hope of Mr Fry selecting theirs for discussion at the start of Act II. Sadly on this occasion even the oracle was stumped when the word Brexit emerged.

Wonderfully this Herculean sharing of what can only be described as an encyclopaedic knowledge never feels overwhelming or inaccessible. Fry’s warm and playful nature ensures every audience member feels part of this mythological ride and will leave the theatre armed with both a huge respect for the ancient Greeks and plenty of interesting facts to wow their friends and family with thus achieving Fry’s aim of returning to a storytelling society.

Mythos: A Trilogy covers all bases, there is love, war, heroism and devilment, with each and every story told with passion and joyful delight. The ancient is brought to wondrous life in this epic trilogy of olympic storytelling we have just one request: please Mr Fry don’t leave it another 40 years.

Mythos: A Trilogy can be seen at various locations across the country further information can be found here.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

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Reviewed by Kate Goerner

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Micheal Rosen’s 1989 picture book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is rightly considered a children’s classic – it’s been a bedroom staple in our house since my son was a baby.

It has all the necessary ingredients – beautiful illustrations by Helen Oxenbury, fun repetitive rhyming language to read-along to, and not forgetting a dash of mild peril!

So how would it translate to the stage? Thankfully, brilliantly (phew!). This is up there with the best kids book-to-stage adaptations we’ve seen (an opinion confirmed by my 4-year-old, who said it was “as good as What The Ladybird Heard” – which is the highest of praise, believe me!)

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The staging is ingenious. Set against a backdrop of am evocative watercolour paint splodge, the much-loved elements of the book (Mud! Grass! Snow storm!) are brought to life by the cast using stuff you’d find at home – washing up bowls, bed sheets, paint and paper. Using familiar elements of messy play that the little ones in the audience will recognise, and indeed be able to recreate at home was very clever, and incredibly effective.

The brilliant cast of four (well technically 5 if we include the titular bear!) show fantastic energy throughout, individually and as an ensemble.

Tim Hibberd’s sardonic dad has just the right amount of wry humour to get the adults in the audience on board, but with boundless energy and warmth to get the kids on side too.

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Hannah Donelon and Artie Godden as the young girl and boy display great comic timing and physical comedy and Benjamin Hills as the family dog is great fun! He only says the occasion,y ‘woof’ but plays a multitude of instruments, bringing Benji Bower’s score to life.

My little co-reviewer’s favourite bit? Obviously the obligatory waterpistols that brought the splashy-sploshy river to life and to the audience! But he laughed out loud throughout, clutched my arm whenever he heard the bear ‘roar’ and said it was a “nice” surprise when the eventually-found bear didn’t turn out to be scary AT ALL.

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is at The Lowry, Salford Quays, until August 31st and is the perfect summer holiday treat for your little bear cub. (And if you want to prolong the fun there’s an accompanying bear hunt themed trail across the Lowry and the neighbouring outlet mall – collect a fun sheet from the customer service desk in the mall).

In a word, roarsome!

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is on at The Lowry until Saturday 31st August, tickets available here.

Early Doors

Early Doors 2

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Some 14 years ago, Stockport’s most famous pub The Grapes closed its doors for the last time. This was the setting of the much-cherished Craig Cash and Phil Mealey penned sitcom. While only spanning 12 episodes, the show garnered huge critical success and developed a loyal fan base. When the show wasn’t recommisioned in 2004 it came as a bit of a shock.

Last year saw The Grapes fling its doors open again for a series of live theatre and arena shows, which started with a sell-out residency at the Quays theatre at the Lowry. Such was the strength of the production; the show won the best theatre production at the City Life awards.

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Well the live show has returned to the Lowry this time with a 10-night run in the Lyric theatre. This is very much a continuation of the TV series as we are reacquainted with much-loved characters and introduced to some new, albeit familiar characters. It is to the show’s credit that many of the original cast have returned to the show; however, I doubt that they needed much persuading.

This is not just a nostalgia trip trotting out old gags and catchphrases. Cash and Mealey have created a new show which see’s Grapes landlord Ken (John Henshaw) plucking up the courage to propose to part-time barmaid Tanya (Susan Cookson). However, things don’t go to plan, with the intervention of Ken’s mum: Jean (Judith Barker), and also some big-mouthed if well meaning locals, newcomers Freddie and June (Vicky Binns and Neil Hurst) who upset Ken’s plan. In addition, best friends Duffy (Mealey) and Joe (Cash), have their own problems, with the former delving into the world of online dating, and the latter having a few family issues. In addition, local bent coppers: Phil (James Quinn) and Nige (Peter Wight) are struggling with rules and regulations like “evidence” getting in the way of good honest coppering!

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If you are a diehard fan, or coming to Early Doors Live fresh, this show will leave you entertained and with a huge grin on your face. Packed full of stingy one-liners, pathos and a great deal of heart the show continues to focus on the same themes that made the series a success: love, loneliness, friendship and family, because no mistake the regulars in the Grapes are one big family not to dissimilar to another Cash and Mealey project: The Royale Family.

The cast are on great form: Melissa Sinden as the sharp tongued Winnie, instantly makes you forget about the shows 14 year absence while newcomers Vicky Binns, Neil Hurst, and Nick Birkinshaw as skinflint Tommy, fit in like Grapes regulars. Cash and Mealy don’t miss the chance to poke fun at our new PM; each gag had them and the audience in stitches.

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The surprising sing-along finale is an unexpected treat and a fittingly joyous end to a highly entertaining evening. As the show closed, the cast are given a well-deserved standing ovation. Get yourself down to the Lowry and join the regiment, you won’t be disappointed.

Early Doors is on the Lowry until Saturday 3rd August then heads out on a nationwide tour; tickets are available here.