Equus

Equus Production Photos ©The Other Richard

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Back in 1973 Equus premiered to huge commercial and critical success, and thus a modern classic was born. Back then the story of a teenage boy with a troubled mind shocked, captivated and enthralled and here in 2019 it still manages to do so and more.

Psychiatrist, Martin Dysart (Zubin Varla) is charged with finding out why a stable boy, Alan Stang (Ethan Kai) would commit the repugnant act of blinding six horses with a spike.

What follows is journey into the fragile mind of a young man who is confused by an overbearing father (Robert Fitch) and devoutly religious mother (Syeeta Kumar). Their bruised, repressed relationship with each other, seeps into the soul of their son with devastating consequences.

Equus Production Photos ©The Other Richard

Dysart uses a great many tricks and techniques to discover the root of Stang’s illness and builds a strong relationship with the boy but at what cost? For Dysart has his own demons to concquer: trapped in a loveless marriage and constantly questioning his chosen profession. Can Dysart get to the bottom of what happened that horrific night in the stable, and if so at what personal cost to him?

Director Ned Bennett has done an outstanding job creating an intense, intimate psychological drama, that focuses on the reasons why, rather than the act itself. The two leads are exceptional: Varla shows the frailty of Dysart, smoking constantly, somewhat nervous, his interactions with Stang flip the doctor/patient dynamic on its head. He plays the world-weary shrink with humanity and warmth whilst still unsure of his place in the world.

Equus Production Photos ©The Other Richard

Ethan Kai is equally impressive turning a brave, physical performance filled with nervous energy, anger and fragility. The interactions between the two are leads are what anchors the productions. They are supported by a fantastic cast who have dual roles as humans and horses, it sounds ridiculous but under Bennett’s direction is effective and with clear use of lighting and stage design works fantastically well. The cast should be commended for their hard work and dedication to the craft.

This is visceral, unsettling look at mental health and raises some interesting points about it’s treatment and the ethics that go into getting the results, add into the mix a superb cast and a creative production team at the top of there game, and you get a powerful, brutal piece of theatre that looks fantastic and pulls no punches.

Equus is on at the Lowry until Saturday 27th April tickets available here.

 

 

 

Home, I’m Darling

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Fresh from its Olivier Award success Laura Wade’s new play Home, I’m Darling arrives at the Lowry this week as part of a limited UK tour.

Co-produced by The National Theatre and Theatr Clwyd, Home, I’m Darling takes us into the perfectly stylised 1950’s home of Judy & Johnny; their bliss seemingly as bright as their primrose kitchen. Their marmalade is homemade while their gin gimlets are freshly poured as life in their 50’s bubble bounces along; that is until the rose tinted glasses begin to slip as this cleverly crafted comedy moves into choppier waters as the subtle analysis of gender divide and nostalgic perfection begins.

Judy’s made her choice: rebelling against her upbringing in a feminist commune eating lentil lasagne she now likes things shipshape, living a life of domestic bliss as a picture perfect housewife complete with pastel prom dress & devilled eggs on tap. While her mother argues against this misguided nostalgia insisting that the only people who were truly happy in the 1950’s where white, straight, men as choice, tolerance and acceptance were in very short supply.

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Designer Anna Fleischle has created a magnificent 1950’s haven. The two level set a perfect home with living room and kitchen downstairs neatly topped by a bedroom and bathroom all connected by a central staircase. Director Tamara Harvey ensures the cast make full use of the visually stunning set as each corner of the house is explored and inhabited. The genius scene changes where cast members jive their way around the house add immensely to the charm of this initially playful piece.

Katherine Parkinson is excellent as the insecure domestic goddess Judy, insisting that her feminism is evidenced in the life choices she makes while she attempts to live harmoniously in an inaccurately imagined era.

Jo Stone-Fewings gives a strong performance as husband Johnny, increasingly frustrated with this nostalgic domesticity and what it means for their marriage.

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Susan Brown shines as Judy’s Mum Sylvia, exasperated by her daughters life choices and desperate for her to start living life in the here and now, her scalpel-sharp monologue in Act II is sublime.

The strong cast work together wonderfully keeping the audience guessing throughout as to where this fascinating story will take us. Laura Wade’s script is both generous in its humour and sharp in its observations. Once the saccharine surface has been scratched the grit and relevance of this black comedy effectively take hold. Judy of course insists she is happy but the cracks in her gingham palace quickly show as money begins to run out while the fantasy lifestyle becomes a prison of her own making.

Judy’s indulgence for her ‘hobby’ which she clings onto for far too long impacts not only on her own but the life of husband Johnny who feels emasculated and embittered by his wife’s endless care and devotion. The constantly shifting perspectives engage as well as entertain; add to this a hefty dose of humour, superb cast and stunning set and you have a uniquely brilliant production.

Home I’m Darling is on at The Lowry until Saturday 27th April tickets available here.

Blood Brothers

 

Reviewed by Alex Broadley

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Blood Brothers is one of those shows which some might think is a standard touring musical, a staple for theatre-goers everywhere. However, Blood Brothers is embarking on its 30th Anniversary tour for a reason, it has stood the test of time for over 3 decades and its themes of class, money and love are as relevant as ever.

Written and composed by Willy Russell the man behind Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine, Blood Brothers’ first audiences were school children. He wanted to make sure that he hooked the children sitting in the back row of the class and Blood Brothers certainly does that. The show was soon picked up for a short run in the West End and thus began its epic journey to becoming the theatrical juggernaut it is today.

Blood Brothers tells the tragic tale of the Johnstone twins, two brothers separated at birth. Their mother Mrs Johnstone (Linzi Hateley) struggling with mounting debt and the need to feed seven growing children, simply cannot afford to keep both of her babies. Enter Mrs Johnstone’s employer Mrs Lyons (played convincingly by Paula Tappenden); Mrs Lyons cannot have children and the pain is etched on her face. In a fateful deal, Mrs Johnstone gives away one child (Joel Benedict as Edward) and keeps the other (Mickey, played by Alexander Patmore).

The play opens, as many great plays do (think Phantom of the Opera), with the ending. From the beginning, we know how it will play out and this adds to the sense of foreboding and tragedy. Narrator (Robbie Scotcher) asks us to make up our own minds – does Mrs Johnstone have a stone in place of her heart? Scotcher is ever present; he is our slightly menacing moral compass, questioning the characters’ decisions and reminding us of their inevitable fates.

The brothers continue to meet, drawn together by fate and across the class divide which will eventually tear them apart. Time is moved swiftly and effectively on by Scotcher and we see Mickey and Eddie grow up and become young men, albeit with very different lives and opportunities.

Russell’s aim was for the music to be woven into the story and the songs and musical patterns weave themselves throughout the narrative. The soundscape is dramatic and occasionally builds up to a crescendo loud enough to make the audience wince along with the drama. Stand out songs include Tell me it’s not true and Marilyn Monroe.

Andy Walmsley’s set design is simple but effective. The claustrophobic feel of the Liverpool slums and the contrasting bright feel of the Lyons’ living room take us back to the 1950s/60s but also show the class divide which runs throughout Blood Brothers.

The cast is fantastic and extremely hard working. Alexander Patmore’s Mickey is full of cheeky humour and grit. The scenes when Mickey (Patmore) and Eddie (Benedict) are children are stand out moments and take you back to playing out after school and not having a care in the world. Benedict is likeable as the naïve and privileged Eddie Lyons and the relationship between Mickey and Eddie is affectionate and deep. Linzi Hateley is strong as Mrs Johnstone; full of gumption and humour, you feel for the tough hand life has dealt her. Her character is the lynchpin of the play. Danielle Corlass’ character of Linda is caught in the middle of the class and brotherly divide; she is funny and well meaning.

Blood Brothers is a staple of musical theatre. Everyone should see it. It offers you an evening (or afternoon) filled with humour, tragedy, grit and will leave you feeling as though you’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster. Bring a handkerchief for those inevitable sniffles.

Blood Brothers is on at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday 13th April.here.

 

eVULVAlution

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Life as a self published erotic novelist can be tough, especially when your creative juices have stopped flowing and you’ve been relegated to admin on your polyamorous husband’s WhatsApp group.

Pamela De Menthe however is not a woman to be kept down, that tricky 29th novel may be stuttering but she’ll use her mucky imagination and crude creativity to ensure her novel eVULVAlution reaches a pleasing and most satisfying climax.

Writer and performer Jenny May Morgan has created a hugely likeable and incredibly funny character in Pamela De Menthe; cleverly crafted with loving care resulting in an entirely convincing comedy heroine.

The show is presented as a book launch for new novel eVULVAlution with just one catch, it isn’t actually finished yet. Turning to the audience for inspiration and some hilarious sound effects Pamela strives to deliver the literary work she’s convinced herself is totally groundbreaking and entirely necessary.

This time-travelling prehistoric erotic romp, set of course in Hull quickly becomes a hilarious adventure for both Pamela and her audience. Jenny May Morgan’s attention to detail is exceptional in this witty one woman show. It’s jam-packed with nuanced looks and brilliant throwaway comments that Alan Partridge would be proud of.

Her well developed humour is lapped up by the audience and while Pamela is pretty darn bonkers she is the kind of bonkers you can’t help but fall in love with. From her amateur power-point to her sponsorship deal with a motorbility scooter company she offers a well rounded character whose brilliance is a bright as her animal print bumbag.

A cheeky, fabulously fun and enormously entertaining romp through the world of self-published erotica. Roll on book number 30!

Catch eVULVAlution next at Waterside, Sale in July further information can be found here.

Zog Live comes to Chester and Salford

Zog

Making a timely debut on the stage following a beautifully adapted and well-received television appearance at Christmas is Zog – the well meaning if a bit clumsy dragon featured in Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s terrific best-selling children’s book.

Large in size and keen in nature, Zog is eager to win a golden star at Madam Dragon’s school – where dragons learn all the things that dragons need to know.

Zog tries very hard as he bumps, burns and roars his way through school – but luckily plucky Princess Pearl patches him, up ready to face his biggest challenge yet, a duel with Sir Gadabout the Great!

This new stage production will no doubt appeal to fans of previous book to stage adaptations of Donaldson and Scheffler’s work like The Gruffalo and Stickman and Zog has a really interesting creative team working to bring it to the stage.

Zog

Kneehigh founder and Artistic Director Mike Shepherd adapts and directs, with Katie Syke’s design bringing the pages of the book alive – and the show has an original folk score by award-winning singer-songwriter Johnny Flynn.

From the team behind Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales and Tabby McTat, Zog promises to be roaring fun for all ages.

Zog is at Chester Storyhouse from Friday 5 to Sunday 7 April and The Lowry from Friday 7 to Sunday 9 June.

For more information visit http://www.zoglive.com

 

Pepperland

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First performed in Liverpool in 2017 to mark the city’s Sgt. Pepper at 50 Festival, Mark Morris’ unique tribute to the iconic album is a joyful explosion of music and movement painted with the most vibrant of colour pallets.

Referencing several of Sgt. Peppers most memorable songs as well as the exuberant Penny Lane, Pepperland is an uplifting celebration with its airy choreography & clever interpretations.

Ethan Iverson’s bold score reimagines each of the much-loved songs; the rich sounds of the piano are accompanied by the electronica of the theremin which marries beautifully with Morris’ playful choreography.

Elizabeth Kutzman’s swinging sixties inspired costumes offer a rainbow of Carnaby St inspired colour while the 17 dancers navigate their way through joyous jives to dreamy hippy vibes. The mood is playful, fun and free.

While there are some pieces which are fairly abstract it’s those with live vocals from Clinton Curtis which really engage the audience. The wit of Morris’ choreography during When I’m 64 clearly an audience favourite as the dancers interpret the out of kilter music with comedic consequence.

Morris’ decision to have his dancers stand and sing along to A Day in the Life is particularly striking with just the right amount of nostalgia.

At just over an hour long Pepperland is the perfect show to bring Sgt. Pepper to vibrant life for modern dance audiences. The fluidity of the choreography a fine example of the quality of Mark Morris’s innovative work while the precision of his dancers will inspire and enthral.

On at the Lowry until Saturday 30th March tickets available here.

Rain Man

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Based on the Oscar winning 80’s movie starring Dustin Hoffman & Tom Cruise, Rain Man introduces us to Brothers Charlie and Raymond Babbitt who are returned to each other’s lives following the death of their father.

Hard-nosed hustler Charlie is unaffected by the loss of his Dad, a cold-hearted man he fell out with years ago; he is however disturbed to discover the sizeable estate left behind has not been gifted to him but an unknown benefactor. Upon investigation he discovers this mystery trustee sitting on a cool $3 million is actually the institution which houses his older brother Raymond, an autistic savant sibling he has no knowledge nor memory of.

Determined to get what he deems as his half of the estate Charlie takes Raymond from the institution on what begins as a quest for his own gain but actually becomes an unexpected journey of self-discovery and brotherly bonding as Charlie starts to realise just how special and unique his forgotten sibling is.

Adam Lilley’s portrayal of Raymond is committed and convincing, complete with awkward shuffle, avoidance of eye contact and frequent ticks he remains consistently strong both physically and vocally. Chris Fountain proves what a talented actor he is as he journeys from loathsome self-centred brat to emotionally affected & touchingly tender sibling. The chemistry between the two is outstanding and becomes increasingly moving as their relationship deepens.

It’s clear Dan Gordon’s stage adaptation of Barry Morrow’s screenplay is intended to please fans of the original film and that it absolutely does, there is however no updating nor reworking of the 1988 movie which was made at a time when understanding and knowledge of autism was very different to what it is now.

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While both actors give superb performances as Raymond and Charlie the story feels outdated and at times is uncomfortable to watch. There are moments particularly in Act I when Raymond’s disability is used for nothing more than to give the audience a cheap laugh, most glaringly during the hotel scene where Raymond hears brother Charlie and girlfriend Susan (Elizabeth Carter) having sex. It does nothing to drive the story forward in any way & would benefit from being cut all together. I found this scene in particular an unpleasant reminder of the narrow-minded attitudes disability rights campaigners and people with autism have worked so hard to overcome, to sit in a packed audience & hear gleeful laughter at the characters expense felt like a massive backwards step.

Delivering this show in a large theatre like the lyric is also a challenge in itself; a smaller theatre may have offered the opportunity for a more subtle intimate production, albeit with a hefty reworking of the outdated script.

There are moments of brilliance as we see the genuine connection develop between the two leads most notably when Charlie teaches Raymond to dance; both actors execute this poignant moment beautifully however the script dictates that these joyful moments are few and far between.

At a time where difference and diversity is increasingly celebrated Rain Main feels like it missed the 2019 memo. Although the cast deliver excellent performances the script is just too outdated to guarantee another decade of success and unfortunately displays an enormously out-dated depiction of autism which should be left in the eighties.

Rain Man is on at The Lowry until Saturday 16th March tickets available here.