Little Baby Bum

Little Baby Bum

Many parents with babies and toddlers will know of – and probably be exceedingly grateful to! – the nursery rhyme world of Little Baby Bum.

For the uninitiated, Little Baby Bum – or LBB as it’s known – is one of the world’s most popular educational YouTube channels.

LBB features colourful computer-animated versions of traditional nursery rhymes and original songs, and featuring a cast of recurring fun character.

From The Wheels on the Bus (2.1 billion views online and counting!) to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, many a parent (this reviewer included!) can probably credit LBB for helping their little ones learn the words to the classics.

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And now LBB has followed other major family brands like Teletubbies and Peppa Pig in taking to the stage – with the first tour of Little Baby Bum Live hitting the Lowry this weekend, in the large Lyric theatre no less!

I’ve often thought there was a gap in the market for a live show dedicated to nursery rhymes, so was curious to see if the LBB magic could translate to the stage.

My little reviewer (3 and a half) started bopping his head as soon as he entered the auditorium, thanks to the jolly pre-show music, which was a good sign.

The show introduces audiences to popular LBB characters including Mia, Jacus, Baa Baa Sheep the Baker, Incy Wincy Spider, Stan the Monster, Pig, Baby Panda and my son’s favourite, a high-energy, high-kicking, high-faulting Old Macdonald.

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Using an effective mix of colourful projections, props and puppets, LBB favourites are performed within the framework of preparing for a parade at the end of the show.

The cast are all excellent, switching roles, costumes and puppets with ease – and are in fine voice, so those all-important nursery rhymes are done justice.

Most of our favourites were included, and we particularly loved the section of non-stop songs towards the end that included faves like Ring a Roses, Grand Old Duke of York and many more.

This finale was so fantastic that on reflection I wonder if there could have been a little less talking about the parade in the first half the show, and a little more singing! But maybe I’m just being greedy!

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The only real negative aspect to the LBB Live experience was the impact on the show the persistent flash photography had on things – sadly many parents ignoring the explicit request at the start of the show by cast members, while photos and videos were encouraged, flashes should be turned off. Perhaps a no photography at all rule should be considered as all the screens and flashes was very distracting.

But this gripe aside, Little Baby Bum Live Was an extremely enjoyable show for pre-schoolers, especially if they are familiar of the LBB world. It effectively captures the charm and magic of singing these songs – and I’m happy to report singing and dancing along was encouraged throughout!

More information and further tour dates can be found here.

Interview | Jonathan Harvey | DUSTY

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BAFTA and Olivier nominated writer Jonathan Harvey (Beautiful Thing, Coronation Street) has recently taken on a new challenge, bringing the legendary Dusty Springfield to life in a new and hotly anticipated production, DUSTY the musical.

Based on the personal memories of those who knew her best and chock-full of timeless classics including, I Only Want to Be with You, Son of a Preacher Man and You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, DUSTY the musical heads to The Lowry’s Lyric theatre for one week only as part of its premiere UK tour starring the magnificent Katherine Kingsley, Rufus Hound and Roberta Taylor.

We caught up with writer Jonathan Harvey ahead of the show opening at the Lowry on Tuesday 24th July to hear a little more about the new musical which critics are describing as ‘outstanding’.

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ON: What was your starting point when it came to writing DUSTY the musical?

JH: I spoke to the producers who had their own ideas for what they wanted the story to be, I mostly researched through books and DVD documentaries from over the years, I read and watched as much as I could. Dusty was really popular in Australia so I found lots of Australian TV interviews and watched those. When she died the BBC did an amazing documentary about her which is still on YouTube which was a great piece for my research. I also spoke with her Personal Assistant who is also a character in the show that was invaluable really.

Dusty I think was all things to all people, I can really identify with that, you might behave one way with your mates then a completely different way with your partner, so I read some descriptions and thought, that’s nothing like the one I just read so it was really important to get to the true essence of Dusty so we can deliver that in the show.

ON: Is it a challenge to tell the story of someone so private?

JH: Yes, you are conscious of that but everything we’re featuring in the play has already been said before so we’re not exposing anything, everything I’ve included is out there, I’ve just brought it together and made a drama about it. What’s brilliant about someone who is private is what goes on behind closed doors is often some of the most interesting things about them so we get a glimpse into that which I think will really entertain and engage audiences.

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ON: Have you had any surprises whilst researching?

JH: Absolutely I’ve found out some really interesting information, I didn’t know she’d been kicked out of South Africa for refusing to play to segregated audiences, incredibly she was really slagged off for doing it, the British press went ballistic about it at the time because it was such a political thing to do and pop stars at the time weren’t expected to act like that, many household names at the time were happily playing to separated audiences.

She hosted Ready, Steady, Go and had a Motown special on there featuring black artists she’d met in America, then suddenly after this their careers here took off all thanks to Dusty. Things like that I’ve found just so interesting, she was a real innovator.

Some people I’ve spoken to when I mention Dusty didn’t know she was British, didn’t know she was gay or didn’t know she was white. She did a lot of things ahead of her time. To get into a recording studio and be in charge and tell people exactly what she wanted was a new thing for the men working with her. She seemed to do a lot of firsts, mix this in with all her amazing songs and getting involved for me was a no brainer.

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ON: Do you feel then the show is a celebration of women?

JH: The story works best when she’s surrounded by her two best friends, her PA and her hairdresser. It’s interesting that when she went off to America in the 70’s and her mates weren’t with her she spiralled into drug and alcohol addiction, lost everything and only really got back on track when she got back to Britain with her mates around her. So I’d say it’s a real celebration of friendship.

ON: What can audiences expect from the show?

JH: They can expect something more than your average jukebox musical. The last workshop we did I invited two of my mates, one of which being the actress Kathy Burke who is always brutally honest with me and I also invited my mate Tina, Tina hates musicals. Two songs in I looked at them both sat on the front row and they were both crying their eyes out and then the next minute they were really laughing. Tina said to me, ‘I hate musicals but I really, really like this’ and Kathy said ‘She’s a f***ing star’ ha ha. It’s very moving but you’ll also have such a laugh, we’re having such a scream with this show. Kathryn is incredible, right from the audition she really made me laugh and her talent really stood out I couldn’t think of anyone more perfect for the role.

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DUSTY opens at the Lowry on Tuesday 24th July and runs until Saturday 28th July tickets available here.

Interview | Katherine Kingsley | DUSTY

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Based on the personal memories of those who knew her best and packed full of her timeless hits including, I Only Want to Be with You, Son of a Preacher Man and You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, DUSTY the musical heads to The Lowry’s Lyric theatre for one week only as part of its premiere UK tour.

BAFTA and Olivier nominated writer Jonathan Harvey (Beautiful Thing, Coronation Street) brings Dusty Springfield to life with a script celebrating the extraordinary story of one of Britain’s most successful artists.

Olivier Award-winner Maria Friedman (Merrily We Roll Along, Stepping Out) directs Katherine Kingsley (Piaf, Singin’ in the Rain) as the legend that is Dusty Springfield in this incredibly funny and deeply moving new musical. We were privileged to catch up with Katherine to hear a little more about the show and her feelings on portraying such an icon.

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ON: Were you a Dusty fan before getting involved in this new musical?

KK: Yes I really was, I grew up listening to Dusty, my Mum used to play Dusty a lot which had a big influence on me, I’ve always loved that style of music, Soul, Motown, I really grew up on those sounds. I never would have imagined I’d end up playing her, when I heard about the show I had some reservations about appearing in what I thought might be another jukebox musical, it’s not really what I do but then I read Jonathan Harvey’s script and that was something else. Plus there is so much that I love about the music that I just thought, yes, I want to do this. It’s a challenge on many levels but such a good one.

ON: With Dusty being a very private person is it difficult to know what to share and how to do this respectfully?

KK: We’ve learnt so much about Dusty the person during the process of preparing the show and yes she was a very private person. I guess she lived in an era which was pre-social media and therefore there was an element of privacy for performers if they wanted it. Dusty never sought attention from the media like some other performers did, she had quite a sad life in some respects, she was fiercely private particularly about her sexuality, she was never really comfortable discussing it publicly. I almost feel quite protective over her, I’m very aware that I’m playing the role of a woman who would not have wanted to be known by her sexuality. This is where Jonathan has done an absolutely brilliant job. He’s written the script so beautifully so it reveals things about her which are surprising, fascinating and interesting but never gratuitous and always respectful. It touches on many things, her self-harming, her sexuality but most of all its about her talent and that’s absolutely where it should be.

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ON: How difficult is it not to do a flat-out impersonation of Dusty?

KK: I approach it from a very different perspective I think than an impersonator would. Those iconic moments when Dusty is performing I will look at her hand gestures etc. I will honour that and try to match it as best I can so it feels authentic but I’m never for one minute trying to do an impersonation. I am not her but hopefully bringing an essence of Dusty. I really aim to capture her spirit for the audience and if they feel a little like they’re watching Dusty then that for me will be wonderful.

ON: Do you have a personal favourite from the incredible Dusty back catalogue?

KK: Oh gosh I love so many, there are so many amazing songs. I guess my favourites are the more unusual songs, I really love I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten which is absolutely gorgeous, it’s included in the show but with a completely different arrangement. I love Losing You, it’s such an amazing song. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is such a great song and such a big sing for me, it really is massive, it just shows how talented she was. They’re all just so wonderful. Oh I can’t forget about Spooky. A lot of people seem to forget about Spooky but what a song!

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ON: We get the feeling you’ll be sharing a real message of female empowerment through telling Dusty’s story?

KK: Yes, I’m so excited for our audiences, particularly younger women and girls who maybe aren’t familiar with Dusty. Those who are maybe a generation or three behind who will be able to discover this amazing woman and will have more evidence and knowledge that these amazing kind of women existed in the 1960’s and were out there paving the way for future generations. Dusty undoubtedly paved the way for so many iconic singers, Adele, Amy Winehouse. Dusty was paving the way and doing that sound many years before.

ON: In a nutshell, why should audiences come and see Dusty?

KK: I think it’s a modern story, beautifully told about an amazing, strong woman who goes through some incredible personal struggles. It also has the best musical catalogue, we take you from the 60’s through pop culture right up to Dusty’s song with the Pet Shop Boys in the late 80’s, there’s so much to discover about Dusty. It’s deeply moving, it’s enormously entertaining and you’ll come away we hope feeling incredibly inspired.

DUSTY opens at the Lowry on Tuesday 24th July and runs until Saturday 28th tickets available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love from a Stranger

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Agatha Christie is one of the most prolific writers of not just her own, but any generation, turning out over 60 books. She was also a successful playwright, having penned the theatrical titan that is The Mousetrap.  However, her flirtation with the stage didn’t stop there, as here we have Love from a Stranger, a Christie short story called Philomel Cottage which was adapted for the stage by writer/actor Frank Vosper in 1936. This isn’t just another ‘run of the mill’ Christie ‘whodunit’, but a multi-layered tale of control, manipulation with a thoroughly believable monster at the centre of it.

Having come into a substantial amount of money, Cecily (Helen Bradbury), seemingly has the perfect life: wealth, a good job, and engaged to her partner Michael (Justin Avoth). However, it is adventure that Cecily seeks, and a chance encounter with a handsome photographer, Bruce Lovell (Sam Frenchum) opens all sorts of possibilities for Cecily. The charismatic young American persuades Cecily to leave her old life behind and start afresh with him.

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The couple move to a remote cottage in the country where at first everything seems perfect, however cracks begin to appear in the relationship, and all is not what it seems with Lovell, as he begins to control and manipulate his now wife much to the distress and concern of Cecily’s family and friends.

Director Lucy Bailey has done a fantastic job crafting a tense, captivating psychological thriller. The production’s main strength is its ability to shock. At first it seems to be run-of-the-mill, easy going fodder, perfect for a lazy Sunday night in front of the telly. There are even a few laughs in there, courtesy of Aunt Louise (Nicola Sanderson) and then later housemaid, Ethel (Molly Logan), however this is all a ruse, designed to sucker you in and leave you fully unprepared for the events that transpire in the nerve shattering finale.

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It’s not just the script that helps ratchet up the tension, Mike Britton’s unique and intricate set design, of sliding panels and see through walls add to the claustrophobia, whilst bringing an element of voyeurism to proceedings. In addition, Oliver Fenwick’s film noir lighting design comes into its own as the story unfolds adding menace and an almost seedy quality to proceedings.

The cast are on fine form: the two leads have a believable chemistry with each other: Bradbury is feisty yet naive as Cecily, whilst Frenchum is charming and menacing as the unhinged Lovell. They are supported by a superb group of actors: with special mention going to a near show stealing turn from Nicola Sanderson as Aunt Louise, who certainly brings a great deal of humour to a character that could be irritating: however, some of her lines and her stage presence had the audience in stitches.

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One thing which did affect this fabulous production, and which is in no way the fault of the cast or crew was various audience members leaving their mobile phones switched on throughout the performance, one noisy intervention coming at a particular tense moment in the play: it really is frustrating the amount of times this seems to happen. Switch your phones off! Embrace being at the theatre and be in the moment!

Mobile phones aside, this is a riveting, entertaining and engrossing production, that like its lead character, starts off as one thing and in the end is a different beast all together: certainly, worth a watch.

Love from a Stranger is at the Lowry until the 14th July tickets available here.

The Nature of Forgetting

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Tom is preparing for his 55th birthday; Tom also has early onset dementia. As he dresses for his party, with each touch of fabric threads of memoires begin to stir; we follow his minds recollections and failing retentions over the next 75 minutes through an exploration of memory, friendship, love and the fragility of human life.

Established in 2009, Theatre Re is a London-based international ensemble creating moving and incredibly poignant explorative theatre which pushes the boundaries of mime and physicality. The company move together effortlessly as beloved memories play out patchily while others remain strong, taking Tom right back to his school days, to sharing his first kiss through to enjoying his wedding day.

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The fluid execution of each scene allowing the peaks and troughs of Tom’s life to play out in front of us. Tom’s mind may be weakening as shown through the stuttering and stalling of particular memories as scenes blur and frustrations rise where the simple becomes complex but the person at the heart of it remains.

Alex Judd’s beautiful composition becomes almost an additional character, stirring and atmospheric it flows beautifully through the fluid memories and punctuates the distorted, splintered recollections.

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The show’s creator and director, Guillaume Pigé takes on the title role of Tom, delivering the complex choreography with ease. Timing here is everything and the small ensemble cast don’t miss a beat as this moving exploration of dementia as seen through the eyes of a sufferer offers a stage for soon to be forgotten memories.

Fast-paced and poignant, Theatre Re succeed entirely in delivering a thought-provoking and impactful piece of theatre. Tom may seem broken but his inner-strength and the person he was remain despite his failing, weakening mind.

Theatre Re have one more performance of The Nature of Forgetting at the Lowry on Wednesday 13th June at 1.30pm, tickets available here.

Northern Ballet | Jane Eyre

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

Jane Eyre has been reimagined many times, Northern Ballet’s challenge is telling this familiar story without a single word of Charlotte Brontë’s famous text being uttered. A challenge acclaimed choreographer Cathy Marston undoubtedly rises to as the key details of Brontë’s masterpiece unfold in this dynamic and visually stunning production.

Marston focusses firmly on the female characters within the piece; Jane is indisputably the heroine of the production as Abigail Prudames encompasses the passion and determination of the trailblazer through the most exquisite and precise of performances. Tested to the point of self-betrayal before her belief in love and the fierceness of her own integrity saves her, Prudames tells a story with every slight movement she makes, delivering elegance, drama and emotional depth.

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Rochester is brought to life by a brooding Mlindi Kulashe, the chemistry between Prudames and Kulashe is electric, full of passion and intensity. Kulashe capturing the complexity of Rochester’s bruised soul effortlessly, the duo glide from awkward to playful with ease before passion and intensity takes hold.

Adding further layers to the piece is Hannah Bateman’s Bertha Mason, often described as the ‘mad woman in the attic’ she is wild, highly-sexualised and unpredictable as she prowls across the stage barefoot, bathed in red.

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The production feels fresh and inspired as the pace dances through Jane’s life from tragic childhood to complex adulthood, her search for fulfilment never wavering.

An ensemble of male dancers, known as the D-Men, symbolise Jane’s inner demons, creating a clear visual image of the orphan girls emotions and inner turmoil, a superb creative decision which visually portrays the constant tug-of-war between Jane’s intensely passionate feelings and her outer reserve.

Young Jane is portrayed to perfection by Ayami Miyata, agitation and frustration depicted in her defiant, energetic movements.

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The adaptation does absolute justice to Brontë’s work, bringing the novel to effervescent life with incredible skill and creativity.

Phillip Feeney’s emotive score blends a mixture of both original and 19th-century music which compliments the contemporary feel of this piece superbly. Patrick Kinmonth’s set is sparse moving screens, muted in colour allowing the performers to really be at the centre of this piece, all lit to atmospheric perfection by Alastair West’s lighting design.

The fusing of the traditional and the contemporary ensures this is a performance packed with intensity as well as originality, a beautiful and expressive tribute to both Jane herself and author Charlotte Brontë.

On at the Lowry until Saturday 9th June tickets available here.

Interview | Natasha Hodgson | Kill the Beast

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Lowry associate artists Kill the Beast return to the Salford venue next week with their new show Director’s Cut before they head off to Edinburgh Fringe for a summer of hilarious and a teeny bit haunting comedy japes.

Opening Night caught up with one fifth of the ‘Beast’s’ Natasha Hodgson to hear a little more about their latest offering and what exactly Lowry audiences can expect from the award-winning troop when Director’s Cut opens in the Aldridge Studio on 7th June.

Welcome to the worst film never made. Thankfully, there’s only one scene left to shoot… 

The fire has been contained, the wigs have been sterilised, and the star has been replaced after “The Accident”. Surely, nothing else can be waiting in the dark…

Director’s Cut, a madcap mash-up with a generous sprinkling of spoof horror introduces us to a 1970’s lead actress determined to take her revenge from beyond the grave, will she manage to stop filming on the most truly terrible and blisteringly bad movie she ever made?

Natasha Hodgson described to us where the idea for Director’s Cut came from. “We were chatting in a lovely sunny garden one day about our favourite horror films (classic sunshine chat) and how amazing, iconic films never seem to manage iconic sequels. We started talking about Rosemary’s Baby (one of our favourites) and imagining what a terrible sequel to Rosemary’s Baby – Rosemary’s Toddler? – might look like. And what if, whilst filming this terrible sequel, the spirit of the original film came back to wreak vengeance on this terrible follow up!”

Like previous shows The Boy Who Kicked Pigs, He Had Hairy Hands and Don’t Wake The Damp, Kill the Beast’s signature style of fast-paced action, original music and brilliantly bonkers comedy will lend itself perfectly to this silly yet sinister escapade. Natasha explained “I play a couple of characters, but my favourite is an older actor called Judy Goose, she’s been in the industry forever, and although she’s done a whole host of arthouse films, she’s always most excited about her adverts for Simpkin’s Soapy Scrubbers (“for wives and for mothers”) because of their big, fat pay-cheques. You’ll also learn that she’s a dab-hand at dealing with a dead body. But you’ll have to see the show to find out which one…”

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Here at Opening Night we are enormous fans of Kill the Beast’s deliciously dark humour and inventive staging, Natasha confirmed while the humour remains there will be some new and rather exciting changes to the staging of this new production, “Our hearts belong to ridiculous, dark and silly jokes, and that’s always going to be at the forefront of everything we make. However, we’re ditching the projections this time around, in favour of actual AV screens – it makes ghost trickery a lot more fun. We’ve done three shows with projected sets, and this time around we wanted to build something solid from scratch – we’ve got a real life 70s film set on stage, and we can’t wait to cause catastrophes within it.”

Now in their sixth year as Lowry associate artists Natasha explained just how important the support from The Lowry has been, “We feel so, so lucky to be supported by them, and if more theatres provided the sort of 360 care and help that they do, the emerging theatre scene would be able to take a lot more risks, and make a lot more fantastic stuff. But hell, it’s a hard time for the arts. It’s a hard time for a lot of stuff. Best thing we can recommend? Come see a silly, fast-paced comedy about a vengeful, opinionated ghost. That will probably sort everything out.”

Director’s Cut opens at The Lowry on Thursday 7th June and runs until Saturday 9th tickets priced at £12 (£10 for concessions) can be found here. here.