Hedda Gabler


Following on from a much celebrated sold-out run at the National Theatre earlier this year this new version of Ibsen’s iconic Hedda Gabler arrives at the Lowry until Saturday 4th November.

Reimagined by Olivier and Tony Award-winner Patrick Marber and directed by Ivo van Hove, also an Olivier and Tony award-winner, the production is modernised and accessible yet still stays true to Ibsen’s original work.

Newlywed Hedda (Lizzy Watts) is bored, admitting she ‘settled’ because she felt old, the absolute last thing she actually feels by this marriage and her life however is settled. She’s retuned to a place that suffocating and soulless, a new home where nothing yet has it’s place, certainly not Hedda.

Overcome constantly by the desire to control and take charge of everyone and everything around her Hedda thrives on the destruction of harmony. Constantly battling the demons within, Hedda’s release seems to come from hurting, upsetting and even destroying others. She can be cruel yet is clearly damaged, sharp yet desperately vulnerable, wild yet ultimately trapped.


Hedda wants to be free, she wants the freedom she sees men have yet everyone wants a piece of her, they want to touch her, to be with her, to dictate what she does with her body, to claim ownership. Marber’s focus on Hedda’s relationships offers a real depth to this piece as an audience we try to understand and even sympathise with the damaged, manipulative and often cruel Hedda. She tempts the alcoholic to drink, twists concern for mistrust and family love for suffocating meddling.

Lizzy Watts portrays Hedda beautifully, she shines in the cleverly reimagined production, she is feisty yet vulnerable, struggling with demons which consume her entirely, she is cruel yet clever captivating the audience entirely as she physically embodies the torment and complexity of Hedda, she looks uncomfortable in her own skin as the world weighs down all around her and her inner turmoil threatens to consume. Supported by an incredibly strong cast this is a truly impressive performance.

National Theatre continue to raise the bar high with this bold, atmospheric and entirely engaging production. Jan Versweyveld’s set and lighting design are both superb, the apartment is a sparsely furnished box, which we never leave, almost becoming asylum like as the piece develops and further illustration of Hedda’s confinement and absolute boredom with life where even the timid Thea has the courage to follow her heart. Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” plays between scenes, a further gentle nod to Hedda’s dissatisfaction with her lot.


National Theatre entirely succeed in making a play familiar to so many feel entirely fresh and unpredictable. Powerful, intense and utterly captivating.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 4th November tickets available here www.thelowry.com/events/hedda-gabler

Slava’s Snow Show

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Created by Slava Polunin back in 1993, Slava’s Snow Show has been seen across the world from Argentina to Australia winning multiple awards along the way.

This brilliantly bonkers show feels spontaneous and free with clever improvisation from Slava’s troop of clowns; adults and children alike are captivated by this enthralling and imaginative piece.

Lead clown Assissiai guides us through the evening via a series of scenes which surprise and engage the senses, moving from gentle, precise mimes to loud blaring snowstorms in an instant this multi-sensory piece keeps the audience engaged from start to finish.

There is a rich mix of sketches which don’t shy away from the darker emotions of life but offer reflective moments as we observe Assissiai and his bemusement at the world, he is pensive and poetic, juxtaposed to this are the green clowns who accompany him throughout the piece, loud, silly and hilariously mischievous.

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The beauty of this show is the variety and joy it brings; from quiet pensive moments to the jubilant festival atmosphere at the finale this show is inclusive and wonderfully interactive. Nobody in the stalls escapes the giant cobweb which is pulled across the entire audience, tangling them up creating a giddy delight, nor do many escape a soaking from the clowns who clamber across the audience, their broken umbrellas spouting sprays of water onto the squealing spectators beneath them.

You can’t helped but be whisked up in this magical spectacle as the audience is encouraged to be free and act very differently than they usually would at the theatre. Joy spreads through the audience as the finale builds, the energy of the performers is infectious.

Slava’s aim was to ‘…help the spectators be released from the jail of adulthood…to create a show that would take us back to our childhood dreams’ as adults and children joyfully play together in the snow, shrieking with delight as giant bouncing balls approach it is abundantly clear he has more than achieved his aim. Fantastic family fun!

★★★★

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On at the Lowry until Sunday 29th October tickets available here www.thelowry.com/events/slavas-snow-show

 

Behind the Scenes of Elf – The Musical, Part 2

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Ben Forster as Buddy in Elf – The Musical

In the first part of our behind the scenes we chatted to the lovely Liz McClarnon who stars as Jovie in Elf – The Musical, which comes to The Lowry from 24th November 2017 – 14th January 2018.

Opening Night also got the chance to grab the ‘Elf’ man himself, Ben Forster, who takes on the lead role of Buddy.

Now you might remember Ben from winning the ITV talent show Superstar back in 2012 when he beat off thousands of hopefuls to play the role of Jesus in a revamped version of Andrew Lloyd Webbers Jesus Christ Superstar. In this show however Ben casts off the Jesus robes and instead dons an elf costume. It’s a part he made his own playing Buddy in the West End and now is taking it on the road with a short stint in Plymouth before spending Christmas at the Lowry.

At the show’s launch Ben gave us a festive treat, singing a preview of one of the key numbers, ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ (you can still watch that back on our Facebook page if you missed it). We grabbed him afterwards for a lowdown on what it’s like to star in a show based on one of the most iconic Christmas movies of all time…

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Ben sings ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ from Elf – The Musical at the show’s press launch

ON (Opening Night): So Ben what did you think when you were first approached about Elf – The Musical?

Ben: “What I really first thought was it’s going to be an awful pantomime version and I’m gonna be standing there singing ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen in an elf costume. Then I was sent the script and the music and I realised it is an incredible show. The musical score is unbelievable, it’s really big band Broadway music complete with a 16-piece orchestra in the theatre.  It’s really classy and it’s also really beautiful. I think after that I was just like ‘Oh my god I’ve got to try and give a version of what everyone loves about Will Ferrell’! The pressure to make around two thousand people laugh and deliver all those one liners that are so famous everyone has already laughed at them 100 times is a difficult thing but as soon as we got in front of a crowd I was like ‘Ah this is gonna be fine, the audience is so welcoming.’ It’s such a brilliant show, people love it and the movie has been in their lives for so many years it’s like a firm Christmas classic.

ON: Have you been tempted to watch the movie a few times to remind yourself of what it’s like?

Ben: I’ve consciously not watched the film since getting the part, it’s really important for me not to do an impression of Will Ferrell because it wouldn’t be the right thing to do. If you were watching the show and thinking he’s doing a good ‘Will’ impression then it’s not as fun or heartwarming plus you don’t connect fully to the character. I look at it as a part I have to act and take the honesty out of it. Essentially Buddy is a man who would have grown up with elves, lives in the North Pole and thinks it’s Christmas every day. If anyone would have had that reality and then come into normal life it would be hysterical, so I just play it like that – open and honest.

ON: Can fans expect a carbon copy of the movie though?

Ben: There’s a few tiny differences, but the story is exactly the same as it is in the movie – the moral, the message – it’s all there. It will still make you laugh, and it will still make you cry at the end because you’ll feel the Christmas spirit plus it reminds you what Christmas is about. For most people Christmas is about being with your family, travelling wherever you might be just to have that one special night with people you love to give them a present. To feel the love, to give love – that is what the musical is all about.

ON: With you doing this tour over Christmas will you miss out on seeing your family?

Ben: No not at all, just the opposite as I’m from the North East and my Mum and Dad now live in the North West. As soon as I finish the show at Christmas I’m gonna do exactly what Buddy did and trawl across the country and be back with my family. I want to be with my nephews and see them all opening their presents because that is the magic of Christmas time.

 

Well after that sneak preview and chat we can’t wait for Ben and the cast to arrive in the city for Elf – The Musical at The Lowry…is it too early for mulled wine and mince pies?? 

Grab yourself a ticket whilst you can as this show is guaranteed to make even Ebenezer Scrooge feel in the Christmas spirit!

https://www.thelowry.com/events/elf-the-musical

 

 

 

Acosta Danza – Debut

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By Nikki Cotter

Internationally acclaimed star of the ballet world Carlos Acosta bring his ballet company Acosta Danza to the Lowry this week as part of the new Cuban Companies first ever UK tour. Under his artistic directorship, Acosta Danza offers audiences an opportunity to experience an engaging mixture of the finest ballet and contemporary dancers Cuba has to offer.

Act One opens with a revival of Marianela Boán’s The Crossing Over Niagara, inspired by the tightrope walker Charles Blondin who famously crossed Niagara Falls carrying a man on his back, this is a breath-taking and astonishingly controlled piece. Two male dancers move slowly and perfectly together, seemingly naked their measured flow and symmetry allows audiences to see the stress and strain such controlled movement places on the human body in this hypnotising piece. Accompanied by the music of Olivier Messiaen, the two male dancers capture the intensity of the experience perfectly, their stretch, balance and absolute trust in each other is mesmerising.

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Next comes New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer Justin Peck’s Belles-Lettres, performed largely en pointe the four pairs are dislodged from their loving duets by a lone figure, enigmatic and impish he disrupts the status quo forcing couples to let loose and shake off the uniformity. The piece showcases the most beautiful of classical ballet techniques, technically brilliant the dancers move effortlessly with grace and polished elegance.

Act Two opens with Award-winning Spanish choreographer Goyo Montero’s new work Imponderable inspired by Cuban folk musician Silvio Rodriguez, known colloquially as the Cuban John Lennon. Imponderable is a bold and lively abstract piece created for twelve dancers. Making full use of the Lowry’s expansive Lyric stage, the dancers, back-lit, immerse themselves in dry ice as they writhe and thrash in the mist, showing a real strength and power in their movements, later in the piece they add torch light, which allows each dancer their own spotlight as the stage lights dim.

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Next we have the much anticipated arrival of Carlos Acosta on stage. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist has created a classic duet, Mermaid, especially for Acosta who is joined by contemporary dancer Marta Ortega. The two glide beautifully across the Lowry’s lyric stage in this mesmerising and enchanting piece as we see Acosta fall in love with the mythical sea creature, Ortega largely en pointe is deeply expressive as she displays delicately her discomfort at being a ‘fish out of water’ while Acosta reminds the audience of his strength and sublime dance ability in a powerful and moving performance.

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Final piece of the evening is UK-based Spanish choreographer Jorge Crecis’ ‘Twelve’ This is a fun and immensely physical piece as dancers move athletically whilst throwing water bottles to each other from all corners of the stage, at some points incredibly frenzied yet at all times perfectly measured. This is a astonishing piece showcasing not only the talent and discipline of the company but also their incredible fitness and agility.

Acosta Danza deliver a disciplined and daring evening, undoubtedly a debut to be proud of.

On at The Lowry until Saturday, for tickets head to https://www.thelowry.com/events/-acosta-danza

 

Behind the Scenes of Elf the Musical – Part 1

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Based on the much loved 2003 film starring Will Ferrell, Elf the musical heads to The Lowry next month as part of their spectacular Autumn/Winter programme and promises to be the must see show of the festive season.

With a book by Tony Award winners Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) and songs by Tony Award nominees Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer), Elf’s much anticipated arrival will spread Christmas cheer far and wide as we follow Buddy the Elf in his hilarious quest to find his birth-father.

Ahead of opening on Friday 24th November we headed to Hamley’s in the Trafford Centre for the Lowry’s official Elf launch, as well as making our own Christmas baubles and tucking into the most incredible Elf celebration cake we caught up with the shows stars Liz McClarnon who plays Jovi and Ben Forster who reprises the role of Buddy after an enormously popular run in London’s West End.

Elf launch

Part One of our ‘Behind the Scenes at Elf’ is out chat with the lovely Liz McClarnon, founding member of Atomic Kitten and experienced musical theatre star, Liz gave us the inside information on what audiences can expect from this magical production.

Opening Night (ON): Jovi isn’t exactly full of Christmas cheer but we know you’re an eternal optimist who loves Christmas so how will you balance the two?

Liz: I’m so obsessed with Christmas, if I could start talking about it in April that would be fine with me, everyone around me is like ‘Please chill, just stop’ but I think what I really like is that Jovi has that dark, sarcastic humour and actually being a Scouser I feel I’ve lived that my whole life, so when I read for the part I added a few little bits and they were really well received so I think I’ve definitely got the dark humour but I’ve also got the Christmas love at the end.

ON: How did you become involved in the show?

Liz: I was sent the a song to audition with and when I heard it I realised it was in my perfect key, so I got really excited about it, so I went to the audition, sang and they were really happy with me, it’s like the song was made for me. I think we were all happy with the situation coz basically three hours later I got a phone call telling me I’d got the part; it’s never been that fast before. Singing musical theatre feels so natural for me, I’m so excited to be part of this show.

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ON: Are you looking forward to working with Ben?

Liz: Absolutely, I’ve actually known Ben for years, we’ve got lots of the same friends, I went to see him in Phantom and I already knew we had a few mutual friends and I brought one of my friends with me and Ben already knew her too so for me I know already it’s going to be so much fun.

ON: Are you ready for the ice skating/rollerblading in the show?

Liz: I am honestly the clumsiest person ever, I probably should have said that in the audition to be fair, ha ha, but I will absolutely be rollerblading/ice skating. I’m really excited about starting rehearsals but also a little bit petrified so will be taking every opportunity to practice.

ON: Elf has become such a Christmas classic, is there a pressure in taking on something so iconic to deliver?

Liz: Yes, of course, it’s come from the West End, Ben has already done it in the West End, Kimberley Walsh was amazing in it, so yes absolutely. When I did Legally Blonde that had come straight from the West End as well so you really have a sense of don’t mess it up! But it honestly feels so right doing it that I’m more excited than scared. I can’t play Jovi like Kimberley’s done I will absolutely have to play her my way and put my own stamp on it, which I’m really excited to do.

Elf Cake

ON: Are you looking forward to performing at the Lowry?

Liz: Absolutely, I’ve been a few times to see different shows, I’ve taken my Mum to watch ballets there before, I love it there, I think it’s a beautiful theatre, it’s bigger than I realised too which is exciting and a little bit daunting. It’s funny just before I go on stage performing I get a real feeling nerves and fear and I think ‘why do I do this job?’ then three seconds in and I’m there performing on stage I think ‘THIS is why I do it’ it’s the BEST feeling ever!

ON: Do you have any superstitions or rituals you have to do before a show?

Liz: Yes, but different superstitions for different shows. For Legally Blonde my character Paulette had a lot of earrings and massive shoes, so the left earring had to go on first, then the left shoe had to go on because that’s how I did it on opening night, so then I felt like I had to do it like that the whole time. So generally it’s something that happens and then I remember I’ve done it and then I have to then do it every show, so we’ll have to see what it is for Elf.

ON: When do rehearsals start?

Liz: We start rehearsals on 16th October, so we’ve got about a month of rehearsals. It’s funny on the first day you think ‘argh a month’s never enough time’ but it always is, I’ve done shows with only two weeks rehearsals and you think no way is that enough time but it always is. I’ve got my script already and I’ve highlighted all my bits so I’m ready to go.

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ON: What is it about Elf that makes it so appealing to audiences?

Liz: I think it not only delivers that magical Christmas feeling but you also get funny, you get sarcastic, you get to laugh at Buddy at first but then you do really fall in love with him and go through this magical adventure with him. The magic that happens on stage I’ve been told is incredible and I can’t wait to be part of that, I’m gonna have to try and contain my own excitement, it sounds like it really does have to be seen to be believed.

ON: Do you have any Christmas traditions within your family?

Liz: Oh yes lots! A few drinks on Christmas Eve is definitely one coming from a big Irish family, we also always have about three or four different meats with our Christmas dinner coz everyone like different things, my Mum has the posh meat, my boyfriend has the lamb, I like Chicken, my brother likes beef, my Dad likes beef, my Mum opts for goose or pheasant so there’s all sorts going on.

ON: Are you family coming down to see the show?

Liz: Absolutely, I’m getting messages from people claiming to be family members I didn’t even know I had, that’s how excited everyone is about this show. Everyone is going nuts about this show, my family are genuinely very, very supportive, my immediate family especially, they will come and see me in a show eight or ten times, I’m very lucky knowing they’re very proud of me.

Elf The Musical runs at The Lowry from Fri 24 November 2017 – Sun 14 January 2018, tickets available here https://www.thelowry.com/events/elf-the-musical

 

 

The Kite Runner

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Based on Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 international best-selling novel which was adapted for the screen in 2007 and following a hugely successful West-End run, The Kite Runner arrives at the Lowry this week, its second stop as part of an extensive UK tour.

First produced in the United States back in 2009, Matthew Spangler’s adaptation is as beautiful and breath-taking as fans of the book would have hoped, with rich storytelling via lead character Amir’s non-stop narrative, Director Giles Croft ensures The Kite Runner is a powerful and cleverly delivered theatrical experience.

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There are no gimmicks needed as the compelling and haunting story is sensitivly told. Amir and Hassan are opposites in every way, Amir is privileged, Hassan his servant, poor, illiterate yet fiercely loyal. As Afghanistan their homeland is about to be torn apart by war, so too is their unique friendship.

While there are many elements which make up this unforgettable piece it is ultimately a story about a young boy’s guilt and later journey towards redemption. After witnessing a tragedy as a child which impacts profoundly on the lives of the core characters, Amir is forever burdened by his guilty secret, knowing he chose not to speak up to stop the heart-breaking act. Even moving to the other side of the world to start a new life doesn’t enable him to escape the dark and crippling secret. As we follow his journey, his plea for forgiveness captures the true heart of this incredibly rich and utterly captivating production.

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David Ahmad as Amir delivers a powerful and extremely moving performance, on stage for the entire production his clear narration allows the piece to flow gently and build dramatically as tragedy unfolds and secrets are revealed. Emilio Doorgasingh is perfectly cast as Baba, Amir’s Father, he embodies the character entirely, from strong proud, privileged Pashtun to elderly and infirm immigrant, Doorgasingh is superb. Jo Ben Ayed’s portrayal of both Hassan and Sorab is deeply touching and incredibly powerful, mild and submissive yet unshakeably loyal to his friend Amir.

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The set is simple yet hugely effective, dominated by a fan-shaped kite and evocative screen projections from William Simpson, guiding the audience softly from Kabul to San Francisco. The whole production is gently underscored by live tabla player, Hanif Khan, whose music stirs emotion and adds further authenticity to the piece.

Emotional, deeply moving and beautifully staged, The Kite Runner runs at The Lowry until Saturday 7th October tickets available here www.thelowry.com/events/the-kite-runner

Manchester Theatre Awards 2018

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The Manchester Theatre Awards in association with Target Live will be held at The Lowry’s Quays Theatre on Friday 9 March 2018, hosted once again by Manchester favourite, comedian and actor, Justin Moorhouse.

The annual awards seen by many as the most important theatrical awards outside of London has been an important fixture of the North West cultural calendar since it first began back in 1981 and is an opportunity to honour productions seen in Greater Manchester during 2017

From big receiving venues like The Lowry and the Palace Theatre and Opera House, via acclaimed producing houses such as HOME and the Royal Exchange to exciting fringe spaces like Hope Mill Theatre, over 20 awards categories recognise the exciting array of theatre on offer to audiences in the region and beyond.

In recent years the Awards have expanded to include a group of enthusiastic young critics who also choose an annual award from the city’s youth theatre productions.

Coronation Street and Broadchurch actress Julie Hesmondhalgh, herself a previous multiple MTA winner, paid tribute to the awards and the importance of the Greater Manchester theatre scene, saying: “I love the Manchester Theatre Awards. It’s always such a lovely coming together of our artistic community in the best city in the world, and is a celebration of all things theatrical here: From the emerging raw talent of the burgeoning fringe scene to the bobby dazzler spectaculars in our main houses and from the internationally acclaimed cultural highlights of MIF to a couple of people in a tiny space above a Salford pub.”

Kevin Bourke, chair of the Manchester Theatre Awards, said: “Helping to celebrate the tremendous, passionate and creative work in the Manchester theatre world is not only a huge honour and privilege for my colleagues and me, but also great fun and genuinely exciting – just like the shows we try to spotlight”.

Further information on the awards can be found at www.manchestertheatreawards.com and @MTAwards