The Way Old Friends Do

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ok, I’ll confess, I’m not ready to move on from the glorious bubble that was Eurovison just yet so when I spotted that The Way Old Friends Do, a new comedy with a heavy emphasis on everyone’s favourite Dancing Queens, Abba, was heading to The Lowry I jumped at the chance.

Penned by and starring Ian Hallard, The Way Old Friends Do introduces us to Peter (Hallard) a self-confessed Abba superfan and his former school friend, the filthy and fabulous Edward (James Bradshaw).

After a chance reunion via Grindr, their friendship is reignited when Edward ropes Peter into forming an Abba tribute band with a twist…they’ll be portraying Agnetha and Frida while wannabe actress Jodie (Rose Shalloo) takes on the role of Björn and rehearsal pianist Mrs. Campbell (Tariyé Peterside at tonight’s performance) is enrolled as a rather bemused and bearded Benny.

The story focuses on Peter and Edward’s friendship and the complexities of navigating suddenly being thrust together after many years, albeit wearing a wig and platform boots. At school both came out to each other, but while Edward announced he was gay, Peter unsure then about his sexuality declared himself a devoted Abba fan. Fast-forward to adulthood and Edward is living his authentic life while Peter is still struggling to share his truth with his beloved nan (voiced by Miriam Margolyes).

Halland’s touching portrayal of sweet-natured Peter is a beautiful watch, as he explores both this rekindled friendship and the lessons, he can learn from it. Culminating in a touching coming out scene as he calls his Nan to finally confide in her.

Bradshaw’s Edward in contrast is full on, flamboyant and seemingly fearless making his character not just entertaining but hugely endearing as we see the layers unpeel a little, revealing much more than meets the eye.

Tariyé Peterside is hilarious as Mrs Campbell, she makes the most of every witty line she’s gifted & seems happy to go with the flow as long of course as she’s having fun. Rose Shalloo gives us lots of laughs as struggling actor Jodie, Donna Berlin shines as Peter’s no nonsense BFF Sally, while Andrew Horton as the Aussie hunk with questionable intentions adds an unexpected layer to the story.

Hallard’s script is laugh out loud funny, he excels at witty one liners while there are meaningful moments littered throughout. Each character goes on their own journey, growing and developing as their friendships build. Bursts of Abba during the scene changes whet your appetite for a full cast performance which never fully materialises, something I can’t help but think would be the icing on the cake of this super fun production, however the fun facts delivered by super-fan Peter throughout will leave you hoping there’s an Abba round at your next pub quiz.

Janet Bird’s rotating set design is simple yet hugely effective, becoming a rehearsal room one moment and a sophisticated spa the next. This is complimented perfectly by her wonderful costumes which get progressively more fabulous as the band develops. Director Mark Gatiss has ensured the pace never drops while the more emotional scenes are given just the right amount of time to breathe. There’s a welcome sigh of affection as we hear Paul O’Grady’s voice as the radio DJ setting the year for each Act, adding to the sentimentality of this production .

The Way Old Friends Do will entertain you enormously, reward you with some inspired character development and remind you of the importance of true friendship. Uplifting, joyous theatre packed with plenty of heart.

The Way Old Friends Do is on at The Lowry until Saturday 27th May tickets available here.

Strictly Come Dancing -The Professional 2023

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Not to be out sequinned by the small matter of the Eurovision Song Contest happening at the opposite end of the M62 this week, Strictly Come Dancing – The Professionals hits the Lowry stage with a promise of stunning choreography and lavish costumes all delivered by everyone’s favourite pros from the show.

The huge success of the stadium tour which sees celebrities and their professional partners recreating the most popular routines from the BBC show has birthed another welcome opportunity for fans to get their FAB-U-LOUS fix with a celebration of all things Strictly, bridging the gap until the new series starts in September.

Boasting 10 of SCD’s most popular dancers this show quite literally has it all from Charlestons to Cha Cha Chas and everything else in between. The pros burst onto the Lowry stage delivering high energy routines which thrill the delighted audience, introducing each other as they go, not that this audience of Strictly superfans need any introductions! The highly polished routines come thick and fast showcasing the sheer talent of the multi award-winning dancers on stage.

Strictly’s Creative Director Jason Gilkison has directed the show perfectly, balancing show-stopping group routines with slower paced sensual numbers giving both the audience and the dancers a moment to catch their breath. The level of skill on display is incredible it feels like a real privilege to see such talent up close in this intimate show. While the large screen behind the band gifts the audience with an opportunity to learn a little more about the dancers’ journeys from childhood to being here on the Lowry stage.

Backed by a superb six-piece live band, vocalists Tara McDonald and Patrick Smyth showcase their incredible talent as they take on the likes of Duran Duran, Shania Twain and Beyonce with ease. There’s a fantastic Disney tribute which sees MacDonald and Smyth deliver note perfect renditions of multiple Disney favourites including I Just Can’t Wait To be King and Be Our Guest, all while the pros perform fantastic accompanying routines.

Vicky Gill’s stunning costumes compliment Jason Gilkinson’s choreography wonderfully with costumes changes coming thick and fast throughout. There are feathers, sequins, capes and corsets, each costume perfectly in keeping with the style of that particular dance.

Special mention must go to the beautiful tribute to former Head Judge Len Goodman, which sees the pros deliver a stunning routine to John Farnham’s You’re the Voice performed perfectly by Patrick Smyth and Tara McDonald. Another super fun highlight is a dance off between the pros who have split into two teams, one in support of Beyonce the other Barry Manilow. It’s the mash up you never knew you needed!

Strictly Come Dancing – The Professionals gives dance fans exactly what they want, it’s feelgood, fabulous, fun and will appeal to young and old alike. With 10’s across the board it’s the perfect Strictly fix!

Strictly Come Dancing – The Professionals 2023 is on at the Lowry until Wednesday 10th May tickets available

Michael Rosen’s Unexpected Twist

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

You have to wonder what Charles Dickens would make of modern day Britain, poverty, child exploitation, these were issues the author highlighted some 200 years ago with his undoubted classic Oliver Twist which are sadly still very prominent today. 

In 2018 the author Michael Rosen took Dickens’ story and weaved it into his own novel Unexpected Twist! An Oliver Twisted Tale, which has now been adapted for the stage with a freshness and energy that demands your full attention.

This is the story of Shona (Drew Hylton), a young teenager, who along with her father (Thomas Vernal) are constantly on the move to avoid their creditors while attempting to keep their heads above water. In addition, Shona also has the added anxiety of going to a new school, where she is desperate to hide her impoverished background and the  death of her mother.

It’s during English lessons with Miss Carvani (Rosie Hilal) that Shona begins to draw on the parallels between her own life and that of Oliver Twist. It’s also in English class where Shona meets Tino (Alexander Lobo Moreno), a young man who models himself on the Artful Dodger, and like his idol is a recruiter for a criminal gang of pickpockets, and mules, carrying cash, and stolen goods for its leader, Pops ( Jame Meteyard).

With Shona desperate to shake off the shackles of poverty and with the lure of easy money and a new phone, will she join the gang to help her family and most of all prove she is nothing like the 19th century orphan boy who just wanted more.

Despite an initial slow start, this is a bold, unique take on a familiar classic, told featuring beat-box, rap, ballards, and well-choreographed set pieces  all performed by a super talented, young cast, some of whom are recording artists in their own right.  We are told at the start of the performance that there is no accompanying band and that everything you hear during the performance will be done by the cast, which is an incredible achievement. I absolutely loved the beatboxing, it sounded fantastic and was enormously effective.

Drew Hyland is brilliant, perfectly encapsulating the struggle between what is right and that desire to escape her perceived destiny of a life of poverty. In addition, Rosie Hilal is in fine form as Miss Carvani, a Nancy-esque character who although full of good intentions towards her pupils, also has her own troubles to deal with.

It’s important that a piece of theatre can shine a spotlight on issues such as child poverty, the cost of living crisis, child exploitation, knife crime and domestic abuse. Whilst this is a sanitised version aimed at a younger audience it sometimes lacks a real edge and sense of menace, however, it by no means diminishes the strong message the show is trying to convey.

Despite its tough subject matter the production is also a great deal of fun. This is a vibrant, engaging production, performed  by an exceptionally talented cast full of energy and humour telling a story that is all too real and sadly one that is a reality for so many young people today.

Michael Rosen’s Unexpected Twist is at the Lowry, Lyric Theatre until the 7th May. Tickets available here.

Mother Goose

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A pantomime on a wet Wednesday in April might seem unusual but there’s nothing here that will dampen your spirits as the brilliant Ian McKellen leads the charge in this riotous night of fantastic family fun.

Penned by Jonathan Harvey and directed by Cal McCrystal, this updated version of the panto classic tells the wholesome story of Mother Goose (Ian McKellen) and her devoted husband Vic (John Bishop), who run an animal sanctuary for loveable strays inside an abandoned Debenhams. Unfortunately, they’ve fallen on hard times, owing an energy company an eye-watering amount of money, (don’t we all); if they can’t afford to pay up, they face eviction!

Thankfully good fairy Encanta (Sharon Ballard) enters their lives, gifting them with Cilla Quack (Anna-Jane Casey), a glorious goose who lays magnificent golden eggs! However, bad fairy Malignia (Karen Mavundukure) predicts Mother Goose’s new-found riches will change her, and not for the better; here’s where the fun and frolics really begin.

Ian McKellen is an utter joy to watch, generous in his performance he gifts us with an entirely captivating turn as Mother (Caroline) Goose. Watching his performance as the family matriarch is an absolute thill as the chance to forsake everything for her ultimate dream of fame and fortune is realised. There’s reminiscing about Middle Earth days as well as nods to Shakespeare, all while the gags keep on coming.

The laughter only stops for a spot of booing, hissing and of course a few bursts of ‘he’s behind you’ in this camp, colourful creation as Mother Goose frequents A-lister events including the Oscars, the World Cup as well as London Fashion Week before ultimately realising perhaps the trappings of fame aren’t quite all they’re cracked up to be.

Playing alongside McKellen is devoted husband Vic, portrayed perfectly by John Bishop. His comic timing is of course spot on and his warmth with the audience sets us up for a great night from the opening line. The on-stage chemistry between him and McKellen is something else, they’re clearly loving every moment up there and boy does it show. Add to this magnificent mix their son Jack, played wonderfully by Oscar Conlon-Morrey, and you’ve got the perfect recipe to keep an audience in stitches all night. Conlon-Morrey is a fantastic addition to this unconventional family, throwing himself wholeheartedly into the fun of the piece while Anna-Jane Casey gives a knockout performance as Cilla Quack. Her big solo during Act II comes close to raising the roof off the Lowry’s Lyric theatre, showing true star-quality shines through even when you’re wearing orange crocs!

The leads are supported by a multi-talented company of actors who deliver Lizzi Gee’s choreography with ease and add to the feel-good factor of this show with their delightful delivery as the sanctuary’s strays. Special mention must go to Simbi Akande as Jill, her vocals are incredible while, Genevieve Nicole as Puss/Camilla will ensure we never see Camilla Parker Bowles in the same light again, here’s hoping she brings out the castanets for the Coronation!

Mother Goose is the perfect tonic, a real ensemble production with each and every person on stage giving their absolute all. If this show is available on prescription, then order me a lifetimes supply! You’ll laugh your socks off and leave the theatre grinning from ear to ear, heart warmed and serotonin levels replenished. Super, silly, feel-good fun, delivered by a world class cast, superb!

Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Peaky Blinders has a lot to answer for: on the one hand it’s one of the most popular TV series of the 21st century, what with its sublime performances and killer soundtrack, a great deal of viewers would have it in their top ten list of favourite series of all time, such is the acclaim and love for the show.

The flip side to this, is the rise of “Peaky Blinders” fan boys dressed in flats-caps, and waist coats invading town centre pubs across the land each weekend. Then, there is the almost criminal use of Cillian Murphy pictures in full Thomas Shelby getup, alongside some horrendous quote about respect, usually posted on social media, when someone’s  had a fall out with a friend/family member and is trying to prove a  point, sorry it just winds me up!

However, one offshoot I would never have foreseen would be a dance show. Well, respected dance company Rambert have done just that with their spectacular, Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby.

Condensing storylines from the first four series, the show opens as Tommy Shelby’s gang emerge from the trenches  of The First World War. They are a damaged, battered, bloodied bunch, forced to commit violent acts that leave physical and mental scars and shape the way the Peaky Blinders will operate in the future. It’s a stunning opening sequence that perfectly sets the tone for what is to follow, exquisite yet brutal routines, beautifully choreographed by Benoit Swan Pouffer, with moody, atmospheric lighting by Nataha Chivers.

From the battlefields of the Somme, we are transported to the brutal factory conditions of the Black Country, where the female gang members, Polly and Ada take centre stage. They fight a different war, a war of oppression and greed perpetrated by a sleazy, factory foreman, showing just how vital women were to the Great War cause, and how they kept the country going whilst men were away fighting. Again, this is a visually stunning sequence as the Birmingham industrial scene is brought to life with huge metal chains, fiery pyrotechnics and a wide range of stunning costumes from Richard Gellar.

With introductions done and dusted, the story focuses on the relationship of Tommy and mysterious lounge singer, Grace. What follows is a whirl-wind story of betrayal, romance, and murder, with the backdrop of glitzy, glamorous night clubs and  police man-hunts, gang warfare culminating in a wedding and assassination, and that’s just the first act!

This is a treat for the senses, with Peaky Blinders’ creator Steven Knight on writing duties, he has given us both a greatest hits of the show’s big moments, whilst offering up something new, that of a detailed examination of grief, addiction and trauma, especially prominent in the second act.

The superb, ensemble cast work incredibly hard throughout, with stunning, beautifully choreographed routines, they tread a fine line between elegant and rugged. Visually it packs a punch with so much going on around you it’s hard to know where to focus your gaze.

Set designer Moi Tran’s bold, ambitious staging allows the action to shift from the tunnels and trenches of World War One, to opium houses, to glamourous night clubs. It’s a fantastic use of space as dancers spring out of hidden pockets, it certainly gives the show a frenetic quality.

Other aspects associated with the series are also ever present, an absolute banging soundtrack with reworking of songs by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Radiohead and of course the signature Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds brought to life by Yaron Engler and a brilliant live band. Also present is TV series regular, the poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who’s always recognisable voice guides us through this bloody, violent world.

My only real issue is the use of dialogue from the TV series, clips of Cillian Murphy and brilliant, greatly missed Helen McCrory are occasionally played throughout, but due to the sound mix are at times inaudible, which as is as you might expect is rather frustrating.

This is a unique, bold attempt to do something a little different with a much loved franchise, that sees all involved on top of their game and well worth a night at the theatre.

Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby is at The Lowry until Saturday 18th March, Tickets available here.

The Smartest Giant in Town

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A trip to the Lowry on a Tuesday afternoon to see the musical version of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s The Smartest Giant in town was just what me and my four year old needed today.

This musical is so beautifully crafted, it is an absolute must-see for preschoolers and early years children. It is captivating and joyous.

The show tells the tale of a kind hearted giant, who is known to be rather scruffy and unkempt. With the help of two shopkeepers, the giant manages to get himself a new smart outfit. When he leaves the shop to make his way home, feeling rather pleased with himself, he comes across various characters who need some help and the giant knows just how to do that: this is a story of generosity, friendship and selflessness.

Turning this story into a musical is a stroke of genius! The use of the same short song between scenes not only allows the cast to change the props and set, but also enables the audience to learn one of the songs, which my young one was still singing five hours later.

The puppets are beautiful, and the way in which they are used by the cast is engaging. Everything is simple and effective: the set, the costumes, the songs, the plot. There is just the right amount of interaction between characters and audience. It isn’t an easy job to keep the attention of hundreds of tiny people at once, but this show does just that.

This is a giant sized treat for half term at the Lowry. I walked away hoping that maybe, just maybe we could all just be a bit more like the giant today.

The Smartest Giant in Town is on at The Lowry until Sunday 26th February tickets available here.

Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of)

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

One things us Brits love is a bit of Pride and Prejudice, from BBC dramas to cinematic adaptations there’s a whopping appetite for Jane Austen’s iconic novel. However, it’s time for Colin Firth and his soggy shirt to step aside as this fabulous all-female cast prepare to retell events in their own unique and hilarious style.

Taking on the role of servants this five-strong company deliver their inventive spin on Austen’s work complete with befitting karaoke classics as they play the part of each character in this fast and furious homage. A little bit miffed that they never get to play characters with any depth or complexity, let alone enjoy a much longed for happy ending they set about righting this wrong to hilarious effect.

The fast-paced production is razor sharp from the off, there’s quick changes a plenty as the comedic chaos unfolds.

Directors Isobel McArthur and Simon Harvey never allow the pace to drop resulting in a hugely entertaining and surprisingly accurate piece of theatre. It’s daft, dynamic and oozes cheeky charm.

The cast complement each other perfectly, never once losing their stride, their comic timing is exceptional while their delivery of the multiple karaoke classics will make you wish you were heading to the nearest bar after the curtain call. Some of the song choices are an absolute stroke of genius making me wish there were a few more bangers to enjoy.

Each of the five cast are superb, taking on multiple characters with apparent ease. Dannie Harris’ fizz guzzling potty mouthed Mrs Bennet is a scream while her dashing Mr Darcy is every bit the mysterious and misunderstood man of the hour. Emmy Stonelake makes for a superb Elizabeth Bennet, her strong Welsh accent adding to her brilliant comedic delivery, she’s a no nonsense, tell it like it is kind of girl who certainly isn’t wasting her time holding out for a hero.

Megan Louise Wilson is super sweet as lovesick Jane in complete constant to imposing her Lady Catherine De Bourgh who gets one of the biggest laughs of the night. Lucy Gray shows incredible versatility as the lonely and longing Charlotte Lucas one moment followed by snide, spoil Caroline Bingley the next, while Leah Jamieson ramps the humour to another level with her ingenious characterisation of Mr Collins, drab, dull and desperate highlighting just how utterly absurd the minimal rights of women back then were.

Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) is a joy: clever, current and absolutely hilarious. It takes the traditional and tips it on its head. This reinvented classic will no doubt become a firm favourite on the theatre scene as this new tour and talented cast enjoy standing ovations night after night. Perfect escapism that will leave you with a smile on your face and a strong urge to head to the nearest karaoke bar.

Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) is on at The Lowry until Saturday 21st January, tickets available here.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

At the festive time, The Lowry, has always made some bold choices for their big Christmas show. Past shows have seen family favourites and classic works of literature brought to the Lyric Theatre stage with great success. Well, this Christmas the Lowry has made their boldest choice to date, with the National Theatre production of The Ocean at the End of the Lane and boy does it pay off. If the old saying of, “fortune favours the brave” is anything to go by then those rewards go to the audience members who will be treated to a gripping, powerful, fantasy, brought to life in truly jaw dropping fashion, with spectacular visuals and performances that will live long in the memory.

Based on the 2013 novel by Neil Gaiman and adapted by Joel Horwood, the production opens in the present day, as a nameless man (Trevor Fox), buries his father, he comes across a place familiar to him from his childhood, where he encounters a rather eccentric, yet familiar old lady. It is here that man is transported back to his 12th birthday where his world would change forever. 

Set in the early 1980’s the nameless boy (Keir Ogilvy) has stumbled on a truly shocking incident, his father (Fox in a dual role) attempts to shield him from this, fortunately a young woman, Lettie Hempstock (Millie Hikassa) offers to take the boy to her family farm until the incident is cleared up.

It’s down on the farm that the boy meets Lettie’s family: her mum Ginnie (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) and her granny, Old Mrs Hempstock (Finty Williams), the eccentric lady we met at the start. Through his friendship with Lettie that the boy witnesses a series of pretty freaky occurrences such as lifeless fish, dead from swallowing a 50 pence piece, Lettie and her family’s ability to predict the future right before it happens, talk of creatures that regularly infiltrate our world, and finally a puddle of water that is a portal to alternate reality.

Back at home the boy struggles with recent events, in addition there is a far from perfect homelife: he is motherless, has clashes and petty squabbles with his sister (Laurie Ogden), and an inability to communicate with a father trying to do the best he can with his children.

The situation becomes all the worse, when the eponymous young man and Lettie do battle with one of these invading beasts and unwittingly unleash another creature. The being infiltrates the boy’s home in the guise of glamorous lodger, Ursula (Charlie Brooks) who morphs into exactly what the family crave, a mother figure to the children and a companion and lover to the father.  Along with Lettie, and her family of strong-willed mystics, the boy must confront his fears in order to save his family, and himself from a monster that knows his every fear and every desire.

As productions go this is truly EPIC, and one that will astound, amaze and exhilarate its audience. After an initial gentle start where you try to figure out what’s going on, and what’s going to happen (I know all the fun stuff!) the action kicks off with a stunning and beautifully choreographed battle that begins a series of mind-blowing set pieces, which will enthral as they will send a shiver down the spine!

The performances are fantastic: Keir Ogilvy and Millie Hikasa are wonderful as the misfit, best friends, it’s a beautiful partnership filled with warmth, quirkiness and genuine friendship. The pair bounce off each other throughout and are the beating heart of the show. EastEnders Charlie Brooks, complete with Glen Close hair from Fatal Attraction is brilliant as wicked seductress, Ursula. Sometimes you wish Brookes would get to play a nice character for a change, but why should she when she does evil so well.

There are strong supporting performances throughout from Trevor Fox in a measured, restrained turn as the tired, beleaguered Dad, whilst Finty Williams and Laurie Ogden between them have the lion’s share of comedic lines.

Director Katy Rudd has masterfully brought this much cherished book to the stage using talent at the top of their game. The set design by Fly Davis is eerie, and intimidating, bringing the woods to life where most of the drama unfolds. Whilst the scenes in the Hampstock kitchen resemble that of a painting or a Peter Greenaway film.

The lighting and sound design by Paule Constable and Ian Dickinson respectively are pretty much perfect, atmospheric, and a proper shock to the senses when they need to be.

For older people like myself this is a hark back to fantasy adventure films of the 1980’s from Never Ending Story, Legend and The Return to Oz (the Wheelers I’m thinking of you!). Whilst younger audience members will associate this with Stranger Things. For fans of this genre, you’ll absolutely love this. However, it’s all that and so much more tackling issues such as loss, grief and the importance of talking to our loved ones.

It’s an unsettling, magical piece of theatre, which will blow you away and fully demonstrates just how good live theatre can be. I cannot urge you enough to go see this production this holiday season, so what you are waiting for go book your tickets NOW!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is at the Lowry until 8th January, tickets available here.

Neil Gaiman | The Ocean at the End of the Lane | Interview

The forthcoming tour of the National Theatre’s adaptation of the award-winning book The Ocean at the End of the Lane is coming to The Lowry in Salford. Author Neil Gaiman answers our questions.

The book is loosely based on your childhood. What was the starting point?

The book began with me wanting to try and explain to my wife where I grew up and what that world was like. She could take me to her childhood home because it’s still the same, but I couldn’t take her to where I grew up [in East Grinstead] because the place had long since been demolished; lots of lovely neat little housing estates covered the gardens and the fields and lanes. So for me it was kind of an effort to try and evoke a past and a sense of place.  An interesting side of it for me too was that I realised that I hadn’t heard, for a very long time, the Sussex accent of my childhood. Mrs Weller came in and cleaned once a week and Mr Weller came in and did the gardens. They were probably in their 80s and they had proper Sussex accents – almost like a West Country burr. I resolved to write a novel with that in too.

How did you create the Hempstocks?

I was told by my mother – quite erroneously, I discovered, when I did my research – that the farm half-way down our lane was in the Doomsday Book. And that was the start of the Hempstocks in my head; who they were and what I wanted to do with them.

Do you find writing about family especially fascinating?

I don’t think I’ve ever been able to avoid writing about family, even when I thought I was writing about something else. Whether it’s biological family or the family we make. In the novel I created a semi-fictional family for myself, and in the play version it was one step further away from my family, which I think looking back on is incredibly healthy! But the boy is definitely me.

Neil Gaiman

The play received amazing reviews when it premiered. Without any spoilers, do you have any favourite moments?

There is something astounding about the moment when they enter the ocean. That completely fascinates me. And you’re going to see miracles made out of bits of rubbish and old plastic bags and nightmarish birds beyond your imagination. It still takes me by surprise every time I watch.

Is it true that you were so moved by the play when you saw it in rehearsals that you cried?

I saw the first full run through. About ten minutes from the end I had tears running down my face. I thought that this was terribly embarrassing and I was discreetly trying to flick them away.

You describe yourself as a storyteller. What inspired you to be a writer?

I’m not sure that all writers are frustrated performers, but for me it was the joy in getting to be all of the characters. As a writer you get to do that. Being a kid who loved books I could think of nothing cooler than giving people the pleasure that I got.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane opens at The Lowry on Monday 12th December and runs until Sunday 8th January tickets available here.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Celebrating its 10-year anniversary, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is out on a national tour, and as night follows day with Bourne’s productions it arrives at the Lowry just in time for the transition from Autumn to Winter.

This is the third in Bourne’s Tchaikovsky trilogy of ballets, which transports us to 1890. King Benedict (Danny Reubens) and Queen Eleanor (Kayla Collymore) have everything other than what they desire the most, a child. For this they enter into a pact with Carabosse (Paris Fitzpatrick), a dark fairy with extraordinary powers. Princess Aurora is delivered to the happy couple, but the situation soon turns sour as Carabosse feels slighted by the lack of recognition she receives from the king and queen and plots a revenge on the royal family, targeting Princess Aurora.

However, Princess Aurora has a great number of guardian angels looking out for her. First there is her nanny, Miss Maddox (Stephanie Billers), and the palace serving staff. In addition, the Princess is under the protection of Count Lilac, (Dominic North), the King of the Fairies and his troupe of fairies. A failed attempt by Carabosse to get to Aurora is thwarted by Count Lilac, and her many protectors. However it is revealed what fate awaits Aurora, that of an eternal slumber unless she is awakened by her true love.

The action shifts to 1911. Carabosse is no more, however Caradoc, (Paris Fitzpatrick in a dual role) her son has vowed to continue his mother’s vendetta.

Princess Aurora (Ashley Shaw) has now come of age. She is being courted by numerous suitors from the aristocracy, however she only has eyes for the Royal Gamekeeper, Leo (Andrew Monaghan), and he feels the same way. Despite the love they have for one another they must keep their relationship a secret, which allows Caradoc to take advantage of the situation, implementing his mother’s plot and extracting the ultimate revenge. If Leo has any hope of breaking the curse he must use the help of Count Lilac, which sees the story take an unexpected but not unwelcome detour.

There is so much to enjoy and admire about Bourne’s take on this classic fairy-tale. The movement of the entire cast is exquisite, light, and fun throughout. It manages to draw you in and hold your attention from start to finish.

The playful energy is apparent from the get-go with the introduction of baby Aurora, a feisty, ball of energy, climbing the curtains and causing all manner of mischief. Other highlights are the introduction of Count Lilac and his fairies, a real treat for the eyes, a great sense of fun set against the backdrop of a huge intimidating full moon, it looks fantastic. Whilst the courtship between Aurora and Leo is a joy, played like a farce, it’s a lot of fun which could lead to an alternative title of ‘Carry on Princess’.

This is billed “A Gothic Romance”, and boy does it deliver, visually it looks stunning. The sumptuous costumes and set design by long time Bourne collaborator Lez Brotherston is a mix of vibrance and colour in stark contrast with the dark, brooding castles and forbidden forests. It fully captures that aesthetic we come to expect from classic fairy tales. One sequence where we see two faceless dancers, is as beautiful as it is haunting, and such a powerful image.

Personally, I always like the humour Bourne pumps into his productions, from the huge set pieces, with baby Aurora, to little visual gags, that puncture the production, it always makes the shows warmer and more accessible.

This is everything you’d expect from one of the world’s leading Choreographers. He takes a traditional fairy tale, tinkers with its format slightly, injects it with warmth, humour and gives it a soul, finally to be played out by a team of performers and creatives all at the top of their game. It’s a winning formula that will entertain and delight, culminating in a fantastic visual experience, well worth a trip to the theatre.

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is at the Lowry until the 26th November. Tickets available here.


Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Opening Night verdict

Almost 15 years since it originally premiered, Frantic Assembly’s Othello feels fresh, gripping and revels in every element of Shakespeare’s brutal tragedy.

Predominately set in well-worn working class pub, where a pool table takes centre stage, Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett bring their adaptation bang up to date as the opening sequence bursts into life all tracksuits, trainers and bolshy bravado.

Their signature physical theatre is put to incredible use as Michael Akinsulire’s commanding Othello leads his gang of brothers from the front, occupying their seemingly safe space within the pub with a cool air of authority, where tension is constant & there’s an ever present feeling that violence could erupt at any moment.

The multiple sequences of Frantic Assembly’s trademark choreography, often almost silent bar a blaring soundtrack are superb; while the Bard’s text is delivered with authenticity and brutal emotion, this is a Shakespeare for today, raw and real.

Michael Akinsulire illustrates Othello’s complexities flawlessly, his brooding behaviour keeps you on guard throughout, one moment he’s tender the next tormented. The choice to set this piece in modern day makes for an all the more stark realisation that the accusations of Desdemona’s (Chanel Waddock) infidelity are completely unfounded and unjust. Waddock is no wallflower, giving as good as she gets, but she is loyal and loving right to the end.

Iago is portrayed perfectly by Joe Layton, snide and calculating; no one is off limits as his lies wreak havoc. He needs barely any motive at all to condemn those around him through his malicious exploitation.

Kirsty Stuart makes for a memorable Emilia, ensuring the short scene in Act 2 between her & Desdemona which takes place in the women’s toilets feel pivotal. While Felipe Pacheco and Tom Gill as Rodrigo and Cassio respectively, add depth and humanity to the piece.

As with all Frantic Assembly productions this is a true ensemble piece with the whole cast working together seamlessly to create this powerful retelling of Shakespeare’s bleak tragedy. The pub setting is inspired and makes it feel wholly accessible to modern audiences. Laura Hopkins set designed paired with lighting design from Natasha Chivers and Andy Purves and a thumping soundtrack from Hybrid cement the inspired modern-day setting.

This is thrilling theatre which builds to a devastating finale as the brutality of revenge and the fragility of ego plays out. A powerful, punchy and poignant Othello which will leave you wanting all of Shakespeare’s classics to get the Frantic Assembly treatment, superb!

Othello is on at The Lowry until Saturday 19th November here.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

he Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is based on the novel “These Foolish Things” by Deborah Moggach, and was inspired by the blockbuster film. 

The play follows the journey of seven characters, from different walks of life, who have travelled to India to live out their retirement in a more exotic environment, or so they think. Sonny (Noshad More) and his mother ( Rekha John-Cheriyan) own the hotel residence but are struggling to work together and agree on what their plans for the future should be. They don’t always see eye to eye, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. 

The accommodation is not quite what the brochure had led the visitors to believe, but along the way bonds are formed, and a plan is hatched to put the hotel on the map.

The cast is a joy, so many legends of the stage and screen together on one stage. The script is joyful and witty. And while the jokes are intended for the more ageing members of the audience, there is something in there for everyone. 

The chemistry between characters on the stage is sweet and charming. Hayley Mills, plays the meek and mild Evelyn, who grows braver and braver as she realises that her voice is meant to be heard. Mills is a great joy to behold, she is slick and her presence is felt all through the auditorium.

Rula Lenska, brings us Madge, and with her performance comes many laughs, she is a master of her craft and her comic timing is impeccable. Lenska and Marlene Sidaway, who plays Muriel, have a lovely chemistry and they give us many things to laugh about throughout the production. As does Andy De La Tour as the grumpy and cricket obsessed Norman. 

Paul Nicholas, (who I first saw in stage in 1991 as Barnum) is cast beautifully as Douglas, a man who is simply going through the motions of life with his wife Jean (played magnificently by Eileen Battye) he married many years ago, but who he now realises he no longer loves. Nicholas manages to make us all fall in love with a character, who essentially wants to leave his wife for someone else, how he does it I’m really not sure. But he pulls is off and we all gasp and “ahhh” when he returns for Evelyn.

This play is filled with subplots about call centres and long lost childhood friends and love marriages. But it’s simple and easy to follow. It can at times lack pace, but in a world where everything feels so heavy at the moment this productions gives us the light relief we are desperate for. 

Colin Richmonds set design is an absolute highlight of this production. We are transported to India in so many ways and the lighting design by Oliver Fenwick, helps to guide the narrative. The set, lighting and sound design are seamlessly joined to transport us to India.

The dancing by the whole cast at the end was truly wonderful. It almost makes you wish the entire production was a musical. 

While the show is clearly aimed at those of a certain age, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyed by us all. It’s a lovely piece of theatre, with a marvellous cast.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is on until Saturday 12th November