Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet

ROMEO AND JULIET

Credit: Johan Persson

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

ROMEO AND JULIET

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

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

ROMEO AND JULIET

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

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

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

 

Interview | Matthew Bourne talks Romeo & Juliet

ROMEO AND JULIET

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

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

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

ROMEO AND JULIET

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

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

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

ROMEO AND JULIET

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

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

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

ROMEO AND JULIET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Miss Sunshine

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Mousetrap

The Mousetrap,

The Mousetrap: The Lyric Theatre, The Lowry.

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Reviewed13/05/19

Opening Night star rating: ****

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

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

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

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

The Mousetrap,

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Darling 1

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.

Darling

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.

Darling 2

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.