Wuthering Heights

09 RET Wuthering Heights - Samantha Power (Nelly) - image Helen Murray

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Emily Brontë’s one and only novel is a curious beast indeed, beloved by so many, this tale of passion and obsession has captivated and engrossed audiences for nearly 175 years. Wuthering Heights has spawned numerous film, television and theatrical adaptations, with mixed results. Step up director Bryony Shanahan and writer Andrew Sheridan, to give their take on this timeless tale.

With the windy moors as backdrop, we find the spirited, Cathy (Rakhee Sharma) and her brother; Hindley (Gujeet Singh) at play, the harsh, landscape is their playground. However, when their father (David Crellin) returns from a business trip, he has with him Heathcliff (Alex Austin), a street urchin who has been beaten and abused.

015 RET Wuthering Heights - L-R Rakhee Sharma (Cathy) & Alex Austin (Heathcliff) - image Helen Murray

Heathcliff’s introduction to the family unit stirs up very different emotions in the siblings, for Hindley, jealousy and rejection as the new arrival has displaced him in his father’s affection. Whilst Cathy has found a fellow kindred spirit, someone, who like her, is at one with her brutal surroundings. The pair soon forge an intense bond, filled with passion and rage that will eventually spiral out of control and affect all around them

This is a bold, daring adaptation, that doesn’t always hit the mark. Sheridan’s script does not pull any punches, there is some dialogue in the script that is more akin to an episode of Peaky Blinders, than a period drama, this however is not the problem, the tone of the production is somewhat all over the place trying to blend high-drama and comedic elements and it doesn’t quite work. References to Star Wars, and Cathy Come Home, are out of place and do nothing but take you away from the drama.

01 RET Wuthering Heights - Alex Austin (Heathcliff), image Helen Murray

Where Sheridan’s script does succeed is in its examination of trauma, and the impact it can have on mental health. In addition, the development of Hindley adds an extra dimension.

Key to any production of Wuthering Heights is the relationship between, Heathcliff and Cathy, and whilst Austin and Sharma give strong individual performances: Austin is a cross between John Lydon at his most obnoxious and a feral cat, it’s a unique, refreshing take on one of literatures best loved anti-heroes. Whilst Sharma is feisty as the free-spirited Cathy, who’s decent into madness is believably brought to life. The main issue is the passion and toxicity of their relationship does not grip you nor captivate, as it needs too.

014 RET Wuthering Heights - Dean Fagon (Edgar) - image Helen Murray

The production team have done a fantastic job of bringing the rugged, unforgiving landscape to life during the first half of the play: the Yorkshire backdrop is an integral character brought to life by Cécile Trémolières set design and Zoe Spurr’s atmospheric lighting design. In addition, this mixed with Alexandra Faye Braithwaite’s folk/metal score and haunting sound design, give the production an extra layer and a supernatural feel.

Whilst the Brontë purists may need convincing of the alterations, you cannot help but admire the risks that have been taken, it is not perfect and it does have its faults but it is always better to try something new, than play it safe, and make no mistake this adaptation is far from safe!

Wuthering Heights is at the Royal Exchange until the 7th March tickets available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gypsy

01 RET GYPSY - Ria Jones (Rose) - Image Johan Persson

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Since it first debuted on Broadway back in 1959, Gypsy, based on the memoirs of world-famous striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee has cemented itself amongst theatre goers and critics alike as a cult classic.

The combination of Arthur Laurents emotionally rich book, Julie Styne’s sublime score and Sondheim’s clever lyrics are a magical starting point for any director, ensuring any recreation comes with high expectations. The challenge of staging the show in the round adding more than a little pressure to those expectations.

Director Jo Davies ensures her cast more than rise to the occasion in the Royal Exchange’s production as all sections of the audience are equally played to with the use of a huge revolving proscenium arch bedecked with Hollywood lights designed by Francis O’Connor.

03 RET GYPSY - Melissa James (Louise) - Image Johan Persson

The show bursts into vibrant life with a flurry of child stars twirling and tossing, vying for their moment in the spotlight, at the heart of them of course is Momma Rose, prompting and pushing Louise and Baby June to smile wider and kick higher.

Intentions set out from the start Baby June is without doubt the main event here with sister Louise playing second fiddle to her star-turn. The ultimate in pushy showbiz mothers, Momma Rose will make certain everyone knows what a talent her baby is, that is until pushed too far she abandons both her mother and sister in a bid to escape her mother’s obsessional drive. Forced to turn to her alternative due to her desperation for success wallflower Louise who lives life firmly in the background is thrust centre stage with astonishing results.

08 RET GYPSY - Melissa Lowe (June) - Image Johan Persson

The energy from the young cast (the Red Team for tonight’s performance) is exceptional. They leap and bounce their way through opening number Let Me Entertain You (Rose’s Entrance) like they’ve been vaudeville stars all of their little lives with Marley Quinlan-Gardner giving a hilariously brilliant performance as the pouting, petulant Baby June. The changeover from children to adults is cleverly done, you barely realise it’s happening when suddenly it’s a grown-up cast twisting and twirling before you.

Ria Jones is outstanding as Momma Rose, addicted to the glamour of showbiz and prepared to sacrifice anything for the success of her daughters. So consumed by her need for success she dangerously risks losing everything due to her single-minded obsession for glory. Ria Jones gets to the very heart of Rose, witty and wonderfully charismatic with an unwavering determination her delivery of final number Rose’s Turn where she finally takes centre stage brings the house down, breathtakingly brilliant.

013 RET GYPSY -Melissa James (Louise), Ria Jones (Rose) and Ensemble - Image Johan Persson

Often in productions of Gypsy it’s all about Momma Rose however Jo Davies ensures shy Louise is given full attention. Her character goes on the most incredible journey while her transformation into sensational striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee is nothing short of magnificent. Melissa James is a sensation, delivering the role with great style, pure class and heaps of sass. She showcases Andrew Wright’s choreography to perfection while wowing in Gabrielle Dalton’s stunning costumes during her thrilling transformation number Let Me Entertain You (Gypsy’s Strip).

Lewis Gaunt as Tulsa offers a real standout moment with his beautifully executed performance of All I Need Is The Girl while Dale Rapley gives an incredibly touching performance as loyal Herbie.

011 RET GYPSY - Louis Gaunt (Tulsa) - Image Johan Persson

One small quibble would be that while the revolving arch looks spectacular it does somewhat restrict your view if it stops directly in front of you, thankfully it moves frequently but it does feel a bit of a design flaw in an otherwise spectacular show.

Gypsy is a dazzling, daring production with both design and choreography beautifully evoking the long since vanished world of vauderville. Broadway is brought back to Manchester with a big, bold and beautiful bang. Another absolute triumph for the team at the Royal Exchange.

Gypsy runs at the Royal Exchange until 1st February after adding an extra week due to popular demand, tickets available here.

 

 

 

Macbeth

Reviewed by Michelle Ewen

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“Double, double toil and trouble…”

In an era when the mere suggestion of a female Bond is enough to break the Internet, the Royal Exchange enters the fray with possibly the first ever mixed-gender professional production of MACBETH to have cast a woman in the lead.

That’s right, hang on to your coronets… Shakespeare’s titular character is played by a FEMALE. And what a woman she is! Dressed in combats, shaven-headed and brandishing assorted weaponry, Lucy Ellinson’s Macbeth is decorated for her valour; gripped by murderous ambition; and then strung up for her sins.

She parties in a blood-red ballgown, assassinates her Queen and shares her bed with a strong woman of colour, who prays: “Unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe topfull of direst cruelty”. (It’s enough to make your average Daily Mail reader’s head spin!)

In a further gender reversal, Duncan is played by Alexandra Mathie. It is an arresting moment when she enters the stage – a sharp bob framing a face that would usually bristle with whiskers.

Let us be clear, however… this is not about watching an inclusive ‘woke’ production. Every actor has earned their place and, with gender politics swept off the table, you’re free to focus on characterisation.

Macbeth is presented as an ambitious, conniving and deceitful person – not a woman breaking stereotypical convention – and in a major departure from classic portrayals, Lady Macbeth (Ony Uhiara) relies on scorn and reason instead of her womanly wiles.

They are part of an ensemble that is a tour de force. Each character is carefully etched and singularly memorable – delivering classic scenes with admirable gusto.

As brave and noble Banquo, Theo Ogundipe makes for a tender father and terrifying ghost, whilst Nima Taleghani and Rachel Denning bring comic relief as Lennox and the Porter/Lady Macduff.

Witches Nicola May-Taylor, Charlotte Merriam and Bryony Davies are scene-stealers whenever they appear – as “foul and fair” a motley crew as you could ever hope to encounter.

Christopher Haydon’s direction is spectacular, with the arrival of Banquo’s ghost at the feast his pièce de résistance. (Playful and sinister, think heads on platters, giant teddy bears and a malevolent game of musical chairs!)

Here, a special mention also to Designer Oli Townsend, Lighting Designer Colin Grenfell and Sound Designer Elena Pena, who infuse the whole production with a post-modern, industrial and militaristic feel.

Balloons, gunshots and strobe lights puncture the interior of ‘the round’ as – under the tutelage of Movement Director Lucy Hind – the players hurtle in through doors, drop down on ropes and swing from ladders with knife blades pointing venomously.

With no seat no more than 9m from the stage, MACBETH makes full use of the 360-degree performance space, which is a feat of engineering in itself. Suspended in the Grade II listed building, it is the perfect metaphor for this thrillingly entertaining show – a thoroughly modern offering rooted in the classic tradition of the theatre.

MACBETH is on at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 19 October. Ticket information can be found here.

Hobson’s Choice

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Innovative adaptations and the Royal Exchange Theatre go hand in hand; just looking at this week’s Autumn/Winter programme announcement confirms the theatre’s reputation as bold decision makers who delight in mixing things up. Interestingly Hobson’s Choice doesn’t relocate too far from its Salford origins, settling on the streets of a fledgling Northern Quarter but it’s reimagining by playwright Tanika Gupta brings a fresh vibrancy to this classic Northern comedy. The Hobson’s are now an enterprising Ugandan-Asian family running a tailor’s business in the city’s 1980’s backstreets thanks to the diamonds Mrs Hobson (then Patel) managed to smuggle out of Uganda in a batch of pakoras.

Hari Hobson (Tony Jayawardena) is a firm believer in what we’d now describe as wildly out-dated attitudes, his social standing means the world to him, a world in which he thinks women should be seen but preferably not heard and that at age 30 any female is well and truly past her prime. He delights in reminding his daughters that it is indeed a man’s world whilst he attempts to keep up appearances as head of the household despite it being clear for all to see that eldest daughter Durga (Shakini Peiris) clearly rules the roost.

His second generation daughters are desperate to break the mould, led by eldest sister Durga who has grown increasingly sick and tired of being the brains behind the business with little in gratitude or reward.

Tanika Gupta’s innovative adaptation enriches the story with well-timed humour, sparkling exchanges and touching sincerity which are made all the better by the well-researched Ugandan-Asian historical references. The strength of the cast is key to the success of this piece with each and every cast member giving a performance that is second to none.

Tony Jayawardena is outstanding as the ill-tempered family patriarch Hari who revels in his adopted Britishness yet despairs when his daughters attempt to explore their new culture. His comedic timing is perfection particularly during his superb exchanges with eldest daughter Durga (Shakini Peiris). They butt heads throughout with both hilarious and touching consequences.

Shakini Peiris is commanding as determined and hardworking Durga, the real innovator in the family. She convinces entirely as ambitions Durga whilst achieving a relatable balance of frustration and love for her infuriating father.

Special mention must go to Esh Alladi whose portrayal of introverted tailor Ali Mossop is an absolute joy. The journey he goes on is remarkable, starting out as a quaking bundle of nerves he is shaped with genuine tenderness by Durga, never losing his warmth and innocent charm and providing the audience with some of the best laugh out loud moments in the production.

Rosa Maggiora’s set design uses the Exchange’s unique space to great effect with Matt Haskins lighting design adding atmosphere and depth to proceedings.

This brilliantly portrayed and beautifully developed comedy piles on the laughs while director Atri Banerjee also ensures the moments of calm and consideration are allowed to gently develop. Family life in all its ugly complexities and wonderful contradictions are exposed in this delightful production. There is very little to criticise here, a slight lull in pace during Act II perhaps but this really is a minor quibble. This is an innovative and fresh take on a classic Northern tale with storytelling brought to beautiful and brilliant life by a skilled cast and creative team. Uplifting and joyous theatre told with true heart.

Catch Hobson’s Choice at the Royal Exchange until Saturday 6th July tickets available here.

 

West Side Story

07RET WestSideStory - Andy Coxon (Tony) & Gabriela Garcia (Maria) - image Richard Davenport of The Other Richard

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Expectation has been at an almighty high since West Side Story was announced as part of the Royal Exchanges Spring/Summer 2019 season. So successful of late has the theatre been at reimagining classic musicals the run had almost sold-out before the first preview even took place.

This epic tale based on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet sees star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria fighting to be together in 1950’s Manhattan where warring gangs make the rules and stepping into enemy territory is strictly taboo. As a story there is everything from love and conflict to hope and heartbreak as the Sharks and Jets fierce rivalry shapes their very existence.

011RET WestSideStory -The Jets - image Richard Davenport of The Other Richard

Since it first premiered in 1955 Jerome Robbins choreography is something that’s always come as part and parcel of any West Side Story production. So iconic in its style it’s hard to imagine the Sharks and the Jets moving in any other way. Step forward Aletta Collins who not only takes on the challenge of reimagining the instantly recognisable choreography but does so in the most beautifully inspired way.

There are still enough elements of the original choreography to keep the traditionalists amongst us happy but these elements are now combined with a pulsating fusion of Latin, street, lindy hop, jazz and even a touch of northern soul to create the most vibrant melting pot of movement.

05RET WestSideStory - Gabriela Garcia (Maria) & Andy Coxon (Tony) - image Richard Davenport of The Other Richard

Director Sarah Frankom ensures this new choreography is allowed to take centre stage as moments of breath-taking beauty unfold; highlighted perfectly during the switch from punchy ensemble piece to the stillness of Tony and Maria’s first meeting which bursts with joyful innocence. A genuine moment of calm & purity during the heady tension of the dancehall scene.

The cast are outstanding and as an ensemble work together to perfection, fuelled by hatred, fear, anger, love and loss, they fizz with pent up emotion. The era is unspecific making it feel just as relevant today as it did 62 years ago as we seemingly are once again in the midst of a swathe of violent knife crime.

03RET WestSideStory - Andy Coxon (Tony) - image Richard Davenport of The Other RichardCROPPED

Andy Coxon finds the true heart of Tony, delivering a powerful and emotive performance; his rendition of Maria a real highlight while fellow lead Gabriela García is completely captivating as Maria. Her operatic vocals are note perfect and pure. Their duets are sublime while the innocence of their love is blissfully uplifting.

Jocasta Almgill is superb and sassy as streetwise Anita, Fernando Mariano makes for a passionate and proud Bernardo while Michael Duke as Riff is convincing and committed.

The cast make full use of Anna Fleischle’s innovative design which is skilfully lit by Lee Curran. They weave, jump and balance on Fleischle’s vertical geometric sets, one minute gone, the next high up emerging from the shadows. The balcony scenes in particular during Tonight really showing off the impressive staging of this piece as each character vies for the audience’s attention, from all sides of the theatre’s intimate space.

West Side Story ©The Other Richard

The eleven piece orchestra powerfully deliver Leonard Bernstein’s classic score with new arrangements by Jason Carr giving it a modern and fresh feel. Led by Tom Chester the score is packed with emotion and fundamental to the impact of this piece.

The Royal Exchange have created something truly special here, the standing ovation a clear indicator that this production marks another success for the innovative Manchester theatre makers. Bold, inspired theatre at its best.

West Side Story is on at the Royal Exchange until Saturday 25th May tickets can be found here.

Manchester Theatre Awards 2018

Logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Flare 2017 launch

Flare

Flare International Festival of new theatre which is taking place across the city between 4th -8th July announced an inspiring and innovative full programme line up this afternoon.

Acting as a platform for some of the most talented national and international theatre makers and featuring around 60 of the best new international artists Flare 17 promises to be a unique and exciting celebration of new theatre. The full programme includes performances, workshops, feedback sessions as well as parties for both performers and audiences alike.

Artistic Director Neil Mackenzie explained the importance of programming international work, “It is our aim as an international festival and as advocates of emerging experimental theatre to bring together the international community of radical theatre artists to inform and enrich theatre practice in this country”

Flare 17 will take place at various venues across the city including HOME, Royal Exchange Theatre, The Lowry, Contact, Martin Harris Centre and 70 Oxford St and will present an ambitious programme of work from across Europe. Highlights announced today include:

PARTY-web

Party by Spanish/Brazillian artists Beaches – An immersive dance and audio show for 10 spectators at the time. Alluding to elements of our collective memory and popular culture, the piece creates a utopian simulation of a night out, one that functions as a detonator for hacking the senses of the spectator, blurring the limits between reality and representation.

BlindCinema_Britt-Hatzius_1

Blind Cinema by Britt Hatzius – In the darkness of a cinema space, the audience sits blindfolded. Behind each row of audience members is a row of children who, in hushed voices, describe a film only they can see. Accompanied by the soundtrack (which has no dialogue), the whispered descriptions are a fragile, fragmentary and courageous attempt by the children to make sense of what they see projected on the screen. In focusing on that which lies beyond the sense of sight, the attention switches between the world of the film, guided by the whispering voice, and the shared physical space of the cinema. For these performances the children will come from St Brigid’s RC Primary in Beswick, and Beaver Road Primary in Didsbury.

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Grand Applause by Guillem Mont de Palol & Jorge Dutor – An extraordinary on-stage exhibition of performance and visual art, presented in the form of the opera – Carmen. In the opera, Don José falls in love with Carmen who becomes infatuated with the bullfighter Escamillo. Don José’s love quickly turns to violent jealousy. He tracks Carmen down and kills her.

On a stage that is wired for sound, Grand Applause offers a stirring soundtrack, a live chorus and a choreography of artworks, by three artists: Norberto Llopis in the role of Carmen, Luis Urculo in the role of Don José and Bernhard Willhelm as the toreador Escamillo. After their huge hit #losmicrófonos at FLARE15, irrepressible theatrical mavericks Guillem Mont de Palol and Jorge Dutor are back, but on a much bigger scale…

Flare Molar

Molar by Quim Bigas Bassart – A much acclaimed and highly energetic interactive solo performance about happiness, and the way we move and are moved. A favourite at festivals across Spain, this is a performance that reflects on the commercialisation of human emotion, and is presented for free in the Great Hall of the Royal Exchange in Manchester.

Tickets and full listings are available now via www.flarefestival.com