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.

 

Everything is Absolutely Fine

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

While talking about anxiety is thankfully receiving more positive media attention than ever before we still have a long way to go before we truly stamp out the stigma many people attach to mental health discussion. With their new musical comedy Everything is Absolutely Fine, Lowry Developed With artists House of Blakewell approach the topic of anxiety in an exploratory and wonderfully witty way.

Alice (played by book & lyric writer Alice Keedwell) is making a fresh start, smaller town, job at a smaller hospital & hopefully smaller problems. While a new situation is scary for most it’s made worse by the fact that Alice’s old friend anxiety (portrayed by musician and lyricist Harry Blake)has made the move with her too; constantly there in the background reminding Alice of her insecurities, drip-feeding doubt into every situation. “You’re too loud, you’re so embarrassing, your voice is annoying, you’re so awkward”.

While the subject matter may sound heavy House of Blakewell tackle this important topic in a creative and incredibly entertaining way. The snapshot of Alice’s life is delivered in various melodic, funny and extremely relatable songs. From small incidents like a trip to Waitrose where the choice of courgettes becomes overwhelming to the enormity of deciding you completely embarrassed yourself after one to many at the pub this inspired piece highlights just how all-consuming anxiety can be.

Every thought is questioned as anxiety attempts to drown Alice in negativity and destroy her self-esteem. The feeling of being the only one who doesn’t have their shit together looms large, amplified by the deadpan delivery from Harry Blakes while Alice attempts to soldier on regardless.

The lyrics are contemporary and clever, never before have I heard the words ‘garmin’ or ‘wingardium leviosa’ worked into songs and the genius of ‘shiter-er’ rhyming with ‘lighter’ certainly raised a smile. All delivered with great charm by both Keedwell and Blake.

House of Blakewell succeed in creating not only an entertaining piece of theatre but an enormously accessible piece which gently invites discussions about anxiety in a relaxed and innovative way. The performance is pitched just right allowing plenty of opportunities for relatable humour while reminding us of the importance of speaking out and seeking support from one another. Engaging and entertaining theatre.

Everything is Absolutely Fine has one more performance at The Lowry this evening Friday 28th June tickets available here.

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet

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Credit: Johan Persson

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Interview | Matthew Bourne talks Romeo & Juliet

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Shakespeare’s much-loved tale of star cross’d lovers has inspired the creative community for generations. The tragic and passionate story set against the conflict of two divided families has spawned countless plays, musicals, operas and songs. Now it’s the turn of world-renowned, award-winning choreography Matthew Bourne to interpret this timeless classic in an all new contemporary reimagining of the familiar tale.

We spoke to Matthew Bourne who revealed that Romeo and Juliet was actually inspired by who he would work with rather than just the story. He explained: “I avoided doing it for years as I think it was something everyone expected me to do and it had been done in so many different ways in so many different mediums. I thought it would be hard to find a new way into it which is something I always search for.”

“The thing that really made me want to do it was the opportunity to work with young people. It is a story about them and young love. I got even more excited when it was suggested we cast it with young people and work with young creative associates in all the different departments of the show alongside my usual world-class team. It is all about nurturing them and telling the story.”

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Romeo and Juliet’s plot also lends itself to choreography because of its themes. Matthew said: “Dance is very good at extreme emotions, and Romeo and Juliet as a story is certainly full of those. It has passion, love against the odds, and several extremes of murder and violence. It is all those big emotions. Shakespeare captured it very well. Young people are very hot headed and react very quickly to things.”

“One thing I have tried to bring out is that when young people first fall in love and feel that passion, they really go overboard in many ways. I often think about how classical ballet handles this and how the young girl gets very excited by a kiss on the cheek. Young people today, if they are into each other, are kissing until their mouths are sore. I have tried to capture that intensity.”

“It is also set a little way into the future, but it is not futuristic. It is a time when society is frowning on young people having an excess of feeling and emotion which sends them off on the wrong tracks as far as society is concerned. I got the idea from Arthur Laurents, the co-creator of West Side Story, who was asked why the young people in it are violent and act the way they do? He said they have too much feeling and they need to find a way to release it. I thought that was an interesting way into the story and very true. It made me go in the direction I went in.”

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One of this country’s best-known directors and choreographers, Matthew has been creating dance for over 30 years for musicals, theatres and film as well as his own New Adventures company which boasts a list of hugely successful productions including the iconic Swan Lake, Edward Scissorhands, Red Shoes and Play Without Words.

For Romeo and Juliet, Matthew has once again gathered his trusted creative team around him including associate artistic director Etta Murfitt, set and costume designer Lez Brotherston and lighting designer Paule Constable to add their skill, knowledge and talent to the production to both cushion and push him as he brings his interpretation of the Bard’s work to life. Matthew said: “They know me well enough to question me on what we are doing, whether it works, and they will suggest things too. Sometimes a new creative team are a bit nervous about coming forward with their suggestions when they are working with someone like me who has been in the business for a long time. It is nice to work with a team who don’t have a problem with that.”

Also, part of the team is the composer Terry Davies, another long-term collaborator of Matthew’s who had the job of adapting Prokofiev’s music for this production. He said: “While it is wonderful and big and lush for big opera-house productions and suits that style of production, I wanted something a bit more earthy and a bit more quirky. We nervously went to the Prokofiev Estate and asked them if we could do a new arrangement. It would be very faithful to it and it is only 15 musicians who multi-task and play lots of different instruments. It is quite rare for us to take an orchestra out on tour with us. It is sounding wonderful and I hope the Prokofiev Estate are happy. It is a very recognisable score and that is really the script that we work with.”

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But that ability to feature and engage with young people is as key to this production as the Montagues and the Capulets. At each venue, six fast-emerging dancers (three male and three female) have been chosen to perform on stage alongside the professional company. After a series of auditions around the country, this highly-talented half-dozen gets the opportunity to be part of a world premiere tour surrounded by the professional company. “They are an integral part of the show. They are not token appearances. They’re part of the main company,” he said.

In addition, a team of young associates have been appointed to work within each creative arm of the project including lighting, sound, orchestration and costume. It is happening with the choreography too, with Matthew being joined by Arielle Smith. “She is wonderful. Not only is she a great up and coming talent but I get on with her very well. We have a laugh. With such an enormous age difference between us of around 30 years, she is like a mate and she is incredibly mature for her years in terms of the way she has handled the whole process and there is a lot of her and her work in it. She is not standing by my side watching me work. She is taking rehearsals, creating movement for the show and she has been great. I hear from the other creatives that they are enjoying working with their associates as well. We have all been getting together and thriving with this opportunity,” he said.

It is a similar model to the Lord of the Flies tour where Matthew and his team gave the opportunity for young men who were interested in dance to be part of the professional production alongside his New Adventures company of professional performers which has generated its own success stories. Three of the young Lord of the Flies were cast for Romeo and Juliet, while others are part of his Swan Lake 2019 company. “They have gone through several programmes that we have to nurture young British-trained dancers. We are very proud of those young guys and we hope that this time we will bring some women into the fray that we have nurtured so there will be even more people who started in Lord of the Flies or Romeo and Juliet that will hopefully come back into the company,” said Matthew.

And with four major productions this year plus a Special Award at the Olivier’s for services to dance, 2019 is proving to be quite a year for Matthew. He recalled: “It has been amazing. Swan Lake coming back is always a thrill because it does introduce so many more people to dance and to our company. It always has an incredible effect on audiences around the country and our casts are so devoted to it.”

“In the middle of all that, getting the Olivier Special Award right in the middle of creating a new show was rather good because the award can feel a bit like it is the end of your career and people are saying ‘Thank you, Please Stop.’ It felt great to be in the middle of a new creation like Romeo and Juliet. It was about the past and about the future at the same time.”

And he is feeling very positive about his Shakespeare-inspired production. He admitted: “What started out as being quite a scary project involving so much untested talent and young people that I didn’t know very well has ended up being rather an exciting new show.”

For Matthew and all the team connected with it, the passion and excitement are every bit as strong as the passion that binds the two young characters at the heart of these exciting and explosive performances.

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet will be at The Lowry from Tuesday 11 – Saturday 15 June tickets available here.

Little Miss Sunshine

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Based on the Oscar-winning film of the same title, Little Miss Sunshine has been given the musical treatment and the result will undoubtedly be warming audience’s hearts on its UK tour. The musical is written by Tony Award-winning team James Lapine (Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George) and William Finn (Falsettos, 25thAnnual Putnam County Spelling Bee).

We follow the Hoover family on an across state journey from New Mexico to California as they allow seven-year-old Olive to follow her dream of winning the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant.

However, all is not well in the Hoover camp, who like most families have a few ‘issues’: Dad Richard (Gabriel Vick) has lost his job and is pinning his hopes on a potential book deal. Grandpa Hoover (Mark Moraghan) is living life to the full, sex, drugs and rock and roll! Then there is Uncle Frank (Paul Keating) a disgraced college professor who after a failed relationship has tried to commit suicide. Also, there is Olive’s brother Dwayne (Sev Keoshgerian) is on a self-imposed speaking ban until he fulfils his dream of becoming a pilot. Attempting to hold this band of misfits together is downtrodden Mum Sheryl (Lucy O’Byrne).

Finally, we get to the gorgeous and determined Olive (played tonight by Evie Gibson): Olive is the innocent and adored baby of the family, full of joie de vivre. The Hoover tribe begin the stressful journey to the competition, opting to use their old VW camper van, but a series of obstacles and tragic events ensure the trip doesn’t go as smoothly as they would like.

Director Mehmet Ergen’s production is a fun, darkly comic drama that despite having a hard shell, has a soft centre. The ensemble cast have great chemistry and you fully invest in this dysfunctional family dynamic. The performance of Gibson as the adorable Olive anchors the show and its through her portrayal that you will her to succeed, and by the same token the rest of the family too.

Despite this being billed as “a road musical” there are no stand out musical numbers, nothing that you’ll be humming or toe-tapping any time soon. The songs are perfectly fine, if unspectacular: they have a quirky side to them which is in keeping with the tone of the show.

Despite a slightly slow first act, the show really kicks in after the interval to give us a warm, touching, and funny show that will leave you with a smile on your face and glad you spent your evening with the Hoovers and you might even pick up some new dance moves!

Little Miss Sunshine is on at The Lowry until Saturday 1st June tickets available here.

 

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The Mousetrap

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The Mousetrap: The Lyric Theatre, The Lowry.

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Reviewed13/05/19

Opening Night star rating: ****

About 25 years back I was watching a TV programme staring Paul Kaye as comic creation Dennis Pennis, a rogue TV presenter who pranked the great and good of the 90’s celebrity world. It wasn’t just famous people who Pennis targeted, but everyday folk too. On one occasion he accosted some old ladies as they were about to see The Mousetrap and committed the cardinal sin of revealing who the killer was!  As a teenager it was hilarious, if slightly mean spirited yet little did I realise that many years later I’d be going to see probably the world’s most famous “whodunit” already knowing the ending. (Shame on you Paul Kaye).

You see despite a near 70 year run and smashing a whole host of records, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap has one of the best kept secrets in theatreland. The fact that it still has the ability to shock and surprise in the modern world shows just how revered the play is and on the basis of tonight’s production it’s easy to see why.

It begins at Monkswell Manor, a converted guest house in the country ran by a young couple, Mollie and Giles Ralston (Harriet Hare and Nick Biadon). They are preparing for the arrival of their first guests to the house, but a nasty snowstorm is hampering their preparations. At the very start of the performance we hear the news through the radio that a woman named Maureen Lyon has been murdered in London. This broadcast is repeated as the guests been to arrive: who include Major Metcalf (John Griffiths), a mischievous architect named  Christopher Wren (Lewis Chandler), a no nonsense battle-axe of a women in Mrs Boyle (Gwyneth Strong), the private and guarded Miss Casewell (Saskia Vagncourt-Strallen), and finally the Mr Paravicini (David Alcock) a mysterious traveller who is caught up in the snow storm.

As the weather worsens word reaches the house that the police are sending an officer, a Sergeant Trotter (Geoff Arnold). When Trotter arrives, he explains that there is a link between the recently diseased Mrs Lyons and Monkswell Manor, his theory is later proven when one of the guests is strangled. The big question is will Trotter be able to solve the mystery before the killer strikes again?

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What instantly strikes you about this production is just how much fun it is and that’s down to the direction of Gareth Armstrong: he allows the cast to play it straight when required but also to poke fun at the genre, never really taking itself too seriously. The ensemble cast are superb, traversing the tightrope between ‘hamming it up’ and paying respect to this well-established theatrical institution.

As one might expect with an Agatha Christie, the script is littered with clues, red herrings and the key element of suspense that will keep you guessing throughout. There is some rather clunky and at times dated dialogue which the cast play for laughs, albeit with dead pan seriousness, which again only adds the enjoyment.

Because the murder mystery genre is one, we are so familiar with, it’s easy to forget that Christie is arguably the main reason we know its troupes so well, however director Gareth Armstrong has manged to keep it fresh, entertaining and certainly well worth catching. Despite knowing the identity of the villain, it still managed to come as a surprise which is of course down to Christie’s criminal mind. Based on this production The Mousetrap still has plenty of life in the old girl yet, unlike the late Mrs Lyons!

The Mousetrap is on at the Lyric Theatre, the Lowry till 18th May. Tickets available here:

https://thelowry.com/whats-on/the-mousetrap/