Strictly Come Dancing – The Professionals

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Les Misérables

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheila’s Island

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carmen

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Further information and performances can be found here.

Private Lives

©Tristram Kenton

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hound of The Baskervilles

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Good Dead

Reviewed by Alison Ruck

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

There’s a real appetite for crime dramas currently. From Netflix to the BBC, there’s always something new within this genre to thrill and enthral audiences. ‘Looking Good Dead’ is the crime drama audiences are craving, live on stage.

Peter James is known as WH Smith’s ‘Best Crime Author of all time’; his 2006 novel ‘Looking Good Dead’ reached No2 in the Sunday Times paperback best seller list. It’s clear to see why as you unpick the story.

The story centres around the Bryce family: a typical family from Brighton, with your regular family squabbles, moody teenagers and standard day to day life – but their lives turn from the everyday to the sinister with one phone call. Tom Bryce (Adam Woodyatt) and son Max (Luke Ward-Wilkinson) inadvertently witness a murder after finding a USB stick on a train. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace (Harry Long) steps in to try and crack the case in time to save the family’s lives.

With a star-studded cast including Adam Woodyatt as Tom, best known for playing Ian Beale in ‘Eastenders’, and a recent stint on 2021’s ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’. Adam is joined by fellow soap actress Gaynor Faye as his wife Kellie, who recently starred in The BBC’s ‘The Syndicate’.

The staging is brilliant, with a modern house acting as the main focus where most of the action unfolds. Divided by a sheer cloth, behind the house of the Bryce family lies an ominous warehouse setting complete with steel beams and chains. Completing the set is a movable police office which joins the stage with its own soundtrack music, further adding to that typical BBC crime drama atmosphere of the play.

The first act did take some time to develop into the gripping drama it became, filling the majority of the act with steamily unnecessary scenes and information. However, as the second act opens, we’re immediately thrust into the crime drama etiquettes, audiences know and love.

The second act was filled with twists and turns, the climax of which leaving unfamiliar audiences with a shocking revelation. One thing that is missed from the magic of television and filming within this genre is the use of clever and creeping camera angles that build suspense, unfortunately an element live theatre just cannot provide, leaving some of the more suspenseful moments lacking flair.

The action scenes, which were few and far between consisted of lacklustre punches and tackles which could be further refined and dramatic, however the strength of the plot and its surprise moments carried the play.

The adaptation from novel to stage did miss the mark in some places, with cheesy jokes (which to be fair did produce chuckles from the audience) and often over-descriptive dialogue which weren’t inspiring in a theatrical setting.

Although maybe not as dark and serious as many of the crime dramas around today, ‘Looking Good Dead’ still makes for an enjoyable piece of theatre that can definitely appeal to crime-drama-genre lovers.

You can catch ‘Looking Good Dead’ at The Lowry Theatre in Salford until Saturday 22nd January tickets available here.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe


Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In the novel series, A Song of Fire and Ice, it was often said that “Winter is coming”. Well, over in Narnia winter has well and truly arrived and never has it looked so spectacular!

For the holiday season, the Lowry are staging Sally Cookson’s adaptation of C S Lewis’s family favourite, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe which is a visual feast for the eyes.

Sticking relatively close to the source material, this musical production is set during World War Two and follows the evacuation of the Pevensie children: Peter, (Ammar Duffus) Edmund, (Shaka Kalokoh) Susan (Robyn Sinclair) and Lucy (Karise Yansen) from London to Scotland, to the home of the rather odd, but whimsical Professor Kirk (Johnson Willis).

Whilst exploring the house the youngest sibling, Lucy is drawn to the wardrobe where she discovers a gateway to the cold, bleak land of Narnia. There she meets the kindly but scared faun, Mr Tumnus (Jez Unwin). Here Mr Tumnus tells Lucy that Narnia is being held hostage by the White Witch, who has placed the land under a curse destined to experience the harshness of winter forevermore.

Lucy goes back to her family, but none of them believe her. She later returns through the wardrobe followed by Edmund, however Edmund meets with The White Witch (Samantha Womack) who with the temptation of Turkish Delight, decrees that Edmund must bring his brother and sisters to meet her.

Eventually all Pevensie children land in Narnia, where they encounter Mr and Mrs Beever (Sam Buttery and Christina Tedders respectively) as well as a whole host of woodland creatures who are part of the rebellion, battling to end the tyranny of the White Witch and bring about the return of their leader, the lion, Aslan (Chris Jared). With the battle lines drawn it’s time for the children to pick their sides for the ultimate battle of good versus evil.

This is a show packed full of quality with top-end production values which allows the audience to be transported between blitz time Britain and the fantasy world of Narnia. From the fantastic puppetry work of Toby Olié and Max Humphries responsible for the beautiful, graceful, Aslan to the amazing work of Joanna Coe and Susanna Peretz in the costume and make up department who bring the creatures of Narnia to life, from the plucky forest freedom fighters to the haunting, grotesque disciples of The White Witch.

With a production of this scale there are huge expectations of magic, fantasy and huge set pieces which are more than met. The first meeting with The White Witch as she arrives on a huge chariot is excellently executed, as is The White Witch’s elevation to the skies of Narnia covering the stage below with a blanket of snow. These are just two of the numerous awe-inspiring moments.

It’s not just visually where the production excels, Benji Bower and Barnaby Race’s blend of folk and roots compositions work beautifully well, giving the production a human, rustic quality.

In addition there is a superb cast, at first it’s always quite jarring seeing adults playing children, but you soon forget this as we see the four children go from somewhat annoying teenagers to ‘badass’ heroes. Chris Jared, working side-by-side with the puppet incarnation of Aslan, gives the beast an authority and dignity, obviously with Aslan there are comparisons to Christ, but Jared’s lion is more Churchillian, with his roaring battle cry.

With Samantha Womack’s White Witch, we have a cold, icy villain, void of emotion, this along with her movement around the stage seemingly gliding, yet stalking make her a truly memorable villain.

It’s shows like this that make going to the theatre one of the most joyous experiences we can have; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will captivate and enthral audiences from 9 to 90. I’ve no doubt the film version will be on TV during the festive season but treat yourself to this theatrical production and you won’t be disappointed.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is at the Lowry until the 15th January 2022 tickets available here.

 

Eric and Ern at Christmas

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I sadly never had the pleasure of watching comedy legends Morecambe and Wise live, however watching doppelgänger duo Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel in Eric and Ern at Christmas felt as close to the much-loved real deal as you could possibly get.

Physically and vocally the resemblance is uncanny while their silly humour and quick wit has the audience roaring with laughter from the off. Bearing in mind at the peak of their popularity Morecambe and Wise could easily draw audiences of close to 30 million it’s no surprise that there’s a huge amount of affection for a show based on these comedy kings.

The show recreates brilliantly what it might have been like to see the late great Morecambe and Wise on stage; the set recreates the familiar festive sets of the TV specials with the draping red curtain, decorated Christmas tree and of course a grand piano. The sketches are timeless and incredibly funny while the warm chemistry which radiates between the two performers is wonderful.

Just as Morecambe and Wise were great friends so are Stephens and Ashpitel who met back in drama school, they don’t miss a beat and are completely in tune with one another.

There’s clearly been a huge amount of work gone into this brilliant homage to their comedy heroes, their well-observed, perfectly timed punchlines hit the mark every time.

The late Eddie Braben who worked with Morecambe and Wise as a sketch writer back in their glory days kindly gave permission to Stephens and Ashpitel to use many of their much-loved TV sketches, some of which are brilliantly recreated on stage for today’s audience.

Singer Sinead Wall takes on the role of the classic ‘special guest’, her voice is fantastic as she offers further opportunity for comedy capers both behind and around her including the infamous and hilarious ‘Send in the clowns’ sketch.

There’s a real feeling of joy in the Lowry’s Quays theatre as the audience finish off punchlines, laugh until the tears roll and even get the opportunity to join in with a classic singalong or two.

At a time when the world desperately needs a little sunshine this is exactly what Stephens and Ashpitel bring, this nostalgic trip down memory lane is a real Christmas cracker!

Eric and Ern at Christmas is on at The Lowry until Sunday 12th December tickets available here.

Stick Man

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Stick Man tells the tale of the wonderful Stick Man, who one morning goes for a jog (and at times a boogie ) where he suffers some significant misadventures!

Firstly, he is chased by a dog who mistakes him for a stick to play with. Then he is taken by an energetic young girl who fancies a game of Pooh sticks and thinks he might just be the best Pooh stick she has ever seen. Next, he loses his way and is swept out to sea, where he eventually washes up on a beach and is used as a bat for a game of bat and ball, but the final straw is when he is used to place a flag on top of a sandcastle!

We’re taken on a journey through the seasons, as he tries to find his way home, to his stick lady love and his stick children three.

This production is everything that is great about children’s theatre. It’s characters are wonderfully energetic and enthusiastic. The songs, simple and catchy.

I took my, normally fidgety, two year old. This was her first live theatre experience and I was nervous of how she would react, but I needn’t have worried. She sat silently mesmerised throughout the entire production; only letting out the occasional gasp of “wow” and joining in with the “he’s behind you” chorus from the audience.

Jordan Louis-Fernand (Stick Man) Alice Imelda (Stick Lady Love) and Jonathan Ainscough (Actor/Musician) play a variety of roles with great enthusiasm and provide us with some outstanding pieces of physical theatre. Their performances are warm and engaging for the younger audience. The scenes are diverse – ranging from the high energy of the dog chasing the stick, to the tranquility of the ocean waves and the hypnotic snow of winter.

The lighting, set and costume design work well together to provide us with a simple, but effective setting to this Julia Donaldson favourite.

This production takes us on a journey of laughter, heart warming moments and pure Christmas cheer. I’ve seen Stick Man three times now and this was by far my favourite production. It is a family must see this festive season.

Stick Man is on at The Lowry until Sunday 9th January tickets available here.

Accessible Performances

Relaxed | Thu 9 December | 1.30pm
Audio Described by Caroline Burn |  Sat 18 December 2pm | Touch Tour 1pm
BSL by Emma Jane Heap | Sun 19 December | 2pm

To book accessible tickets please call 0161 876 2183