The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Since opening it’s doors for the first time in 2017 the Storyhouse has often made some bold and brave choices for their in-house productions Whether a fresh take on an old classic, a brand new or rarely seen production being brought to life, they always offer up something intriguing and unique and their latest production The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde is no exception.

Based on the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, this adaptation for the stage by Glynn Maxwell is a new take on a classic story that we think we know like the back of our own hands but do we really?

Retaining its Victorian London setting, we find a young girl selling matches, she is viciously attacked in a mysterious assault. The next morning Dr Jekyll (Edward Harrison) is troubled by the memory of the match girl but confused at having a pocket full of matches but no recollection of how they got there. 

Dr Jekyll writes to his old friend and former assistant, Lady Gabriel (Natasha Bain) for guidance. However, Lady Gabriel is focused more on the letters of her niece Rose (Rosa Hesmondhalgh), a curious, feisty, independent young women seeking adventure and a place to stay in London town. 

With London besieged by a series of grizzly murders, Lady Gabriel hasn’t the time nor the inclination to help her old friend, her main concern is that of the safety and wellbeing of Rose. However, soon Rose’s curious nature rubs off on her Aunty, this coupled with her intrigue of Dr Jekyll’s work on the splitting of the soul as well the mystery surrounding the deliverer of the letters from Jekyll, a Mr Hyde (Matthew Flynn) lead the pair to a meeting with the Doctor.

Whilst at Jekyll’s house, Lady Gabriel and the Doctor have a private meeting, which Rose is certainly not invited to attend, this leads the inquisitive adventurer to go exploring when she stumbles upon Jekyll’s labratory, his journal and another encounter with Mr Hyde that puts her and and her aunty in great danger.

There is so much to admire about this production that it’s difficult to know where to start. The creative team behind the show have taken a great many risks with narrative, style and presentation and the risks reward the audience with an original, atmospheric and psychological chiller that has a great deal of relevance in the 21st century.

Maxwell’s script is an update on Stevenson’s source material, still there at it’s core is that battle, between  good and evil, and the duality of human nature, whilst making the decision to explain Jekyll/Hyde’s behaviour as that of addiction, a need to step from the dark into the light, which adds an intriguing layer. We also have a strong female presence in this adaptation, which is missing in the source material. The character of Rose is a new character, and one that is yet to be troubled and trapped by the world around her.

Under Psyche Stott excellent direction, we have four very different performances, Natasha Bain gives a strong, world weary, turn, a matriarchal figure of the piece. Rosa Hesmondhalgh is a breath of fresh air as Rose, adding light relief throughout but this is much more than a comedic performance, here is someone that the world hasn’t corrupted yet, but she is far from naïve. 

Often in productions one actor plays both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, however we have Edward Harrison on good form as the frazzled unhinged, mad professor, whilst Matthew Flynn is menacing as his alter ego, I swear he grew in size as the play reached its conclusion. Flynn must wrestle with some poetic yet tongue-twisting dialogue, however he masters it skilfully.

 

What does make the production that extra special is involvement of choreographer,  Paul Bayes Kitcher, whose work with Harrison and Flynn really pays dividends, especially during the transformation scenes. 

Additionally, the sound design by Adrienne Quartly ratchets up the tension throughout, add into the mix a simple yet intriguing stage design of glowing copper pipes, Victorian lamps and secret passages and you have an innovative, thrilling and original piece of gothic theatre.


The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde is on at the Chester Storyhouse till the 19
th October. Tickets available here. 

Beryl

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The sport of cycling is currently in the midst of a golden age here in the UK.  Through their exploits at the Olympics and the Tour du France, cyclists such as Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Laura Kenny (was Trott) have become household names and an  inspiration to thousands of people across the land. However, way before any of these came along, Britain had Beryl Burton and Beryl was every bit a hero as these fine riders.

Beryl is the fascinating true story of a strong independent Yorkshire lass, who  refused to be beaten and did things her way. She won countless championships, set records, broke records, and managed to stay at the top of her game for 25 years. 

Flora Spencer-Longhurst and Vicky Binns bring Beryl to life, with Longhurst as the child Beryl who contracts St Vitus’s Dance aged 10. The illness caused a weakening of the heart and a loss of control of the limbs. The infection saw the young girl confined to hospital for nine months, as well as having a huge impact on her confidence. 

When she leaves school, Beryl meets Charlie Burton (Chris Jack), a local lad with an interest in cycling. Charlie’s passion becomes Beryl’s obsession and soon she is competing in races, first at county level,  then nationally, and inevitablycompeting at the cycling world championships, all this whilst holding down a full time job and raising a family. 

At first glance this is the classic underdog story we are so familiar with, but dig a little deeper and you couldn’t be further from the truth. This woman was always going to be a success through hard work, guts, determination and sheer bloody mindedness: success was never in doubt.  Maxine Peake’s script is a love letter to this unique, amazing lady filled with warmth, humour and plenty of charm. It ditches the usual sporting clichés in favour of celebrating its subject and having fun.

Under the excellent direction of Kimberley Sykes, the cast of four are in fine form, injecting plenty of spirit into the production and all showing a gift for comedy. Vicky Binns puts in a strong, feisty turn as the adult Beryl  she really gets to the heart of what spurs her on. 

Chris Jack is equally fine as Charlie, turning in a warm, heartfelt performance as the devoted Charlie. Flora Spencer-Longhurst is clearly having fun as the young Beryl and later Beryl’s daughter Denise: her facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission. Finally, Matthew Heywood plays pretty much every other character in the play including an overzealous German fan and a rather dour Yorkshire copper. Heywood like his fellow cast members puts a great comedic performance.

All four should be commended for their work as this is a physically demanding show, with lots (and I do mean lots) of cycling, think a spin class with a plot and you’re on the right track! As each cast member dart about the theatre and hop on the strategic placed bikes around the theatre you become immersed in their world.

There is very much a ‘punk’ vibe to the production, cast members often break the fourth wall, coming out of character to address the audience and each other. The use of contemporary pop songs despite not being of that era, and the cast’s DIY approach to special effects creating their own inclement weather using a leather blower and some water pistols give the production a carefree, easy going charm.

This is an inspirational story delivered in a funny, touching but never sentimental fashion. Old and young alike will find something to admire about the show which will certainly leave you wanting to find out more about Beryl and her extraordinary achievements, whilst it may inspire you to dig out your Raleigh Chopper from the shed. Beryl’s story is ripe for a silver screen adaptation so catch it Bolton whilst you can.

Beryl is at the Bolton Library and Museum till the 19thOctober. Tickets available here.

Mythos: A Trilogy

📷 David Cooper

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Fresh from taking the Edinburgh Fringe by storm, Stephen Fry brings his one-man trilogy to the Lowry as part of his first UK tour in almost 40 years.

Mythos: A Trilogy based on his best selling books Mythos and Heroes allows Fry to focus on a different subject matter in each of the three shows starting firstly with Gods, then secondly Heroes before thirdly and finally taking on Men.

Effortlessly charming and unquestionably entertaining Fry weaves through the history of Greek mythology right from the origins of the Ancient Greek Gods all the way through to the realisation that mortal man had progressed so far that perhaps the glorious Gods who’d ruled with such majestic power were no longer needed. Each and every story is packed with brilliant and witty observations as the Great Gods are brought to splendid and spectacular life.

Sitting centre stage on a throne-like leather armchair, Fry, a natural storyteller draws his audience in as though huddled round a campfire: his knowledge and enthusiasm bursting to be shared. Large screens surround him as projections of animations and classical paintings play out.

Stories roll off Fry’s tongue captivating the audience while delving deep into the origins of the Greek Gods. The names of the Original 12 Gods, their children, their cousins, heroes, creatures and mortals are reeled off effortlessly as Fry adds depth to his delivery with witty anecdotes and entertaining ad libs.

Stories are made accessible with Fry designating regional accents to the various individuals and comparing their personalities to modern day references, Heracles for example is a Brummie while Titan is described as being a “bit of an emo”.

As well as Fry’s captivating storytelling he adds various interactive elements to each show firstly in the form of the ancient version of trivial pursuit, in this case ‘mythical pursuit’. Audience members are invited to pick a subject from which Fry regales the listeners with interesting facts about said subject. In addition to this Fry opens up his oracle during the interval giving audience members an opportunity to email their burning questions in the hope of Mr Fry selecting theirs for discussion at the start of Act II. Sadly on this occasion even the oracle was stumped when the word Brexit emerged.

Wonderfully this Herculean sharing of what can only be described as an encyclopaedic knowledge never feels overwhelming or inaccessible. Fry’s warm and playful nature ensures every audience member feels part of this mythological ride and will leave the theatre armed with both a huge respect for the ancient Greeks and plenty of interesting facts to wow their friends and family with thus achieving Fry’s aim of returning to a storytelling society.

Mythos: A Trilogy covers all bases, there is love, war, heroism and devilment, with each and every story told with passion and joyful delight. The ancient is brought to wondrous life in this epic trilogy of olympic storytelling we have just one request: please Mr Fry don’t leave it another 40 years.

Mythos: A Trilogy can be seen at various locations across the country further information can be found here.

Jerry Springer The Opera

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Newly formed theatrical company Northern Ricochet – made up of James Baker, Tom Chester and Bill Elms – don’t do things by halves. Taking the bold step of reviving controversial musical Jerry Springer The Opera as their first company production, they’re sending a clear message to the theatre world that there is a new, ambitious, creative and proudly Northern kid on the block.

Auditions were held in the North – including an open-call casting whilst the opportunity for local in-training actors to make up the onstage choir was offered. The result of this is a sensational piece of theatre packed full of humour, hilarity and genuine heart.

Written by Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee, Jerry Springer The Opera debuted at the National Theatre in 2003 – winning four Olivier Awards including Best New Musical and courting controversy at every turn. This revived production staged in the intimate Hope Mill Theatre allows the audience for Jerry Springer The Opera and Jerry Springer the talk show to become one as audience members sit on opposite sides of the theatre while the cast perform in-between them – giving this production an immersive and atmospheric feel.

James Baker directs the show in such a bold way that as an audience we’re whipped into a “Go Jerry” frenzy before the main man has even stepped foot on stage. The company do an excellent job of building the bubbling excitement ahead of our host’s grand arrival – led brilliantly by Warm Up Man Tom Lloyd, who whets our appetites for what’s to come: reminding us exactly who are the good guys and who we should be reserving our biggest boos for.

Once the infamous Jerry (Michael Howe) makes his grand entrance, we see him play host to three sets of guests who are all too willing to reveal their deepest darkest secrets via soaring profanity-laden arias and wickedly brilliant ballads. Bickering bubbles into bitch fights – leaving security guard Steve (Kai Jolley) to step in and calm the chaos.

Amidst the snarling and sniping Jerry expertly stirs the pot – gently probing his simmering guests and pushing them that little bit further… giving the audience that extra bit more. Things go a tad too far and Act II finds Jerry hosting the ultimate showdown: the Devil versus Jesus. Should Jerry refuse to host this clash of the titans, he’ll burn in Hell forever in a most uncomfortable and ‘barb-baric’ way!

This cast is without doubt one of the most impressive you’re ever likely to see. The ensemble pieces literally raise the roof off Hope Mill Theatre. Each voice is sheer perfection – coming together to create the most beautiful of sounds. Add to this perfectly judged comedic timing delivered with vibrant energy and you have an irresistibly entertaining piece of theatre. Every member of this cast gives their all – each offering something uniquely special and truly memorable.

Michael Howe embodies Jerry Springer perfectly, with every knowing shake of the head, contemplative hand on the chin and nuanced raise of an eyebrow; he is Jerry to a T.

Tom Lloyd makes for a fabulously extra Warm Up Guy while his Satan in Act II is deliciously devilish. David Burilin’s Jesus is pouty and petulant while Matt Bond’s God really hasn’t got time for this shit.

Cici Howells’ voice is sublime as both Shawntel and Eve while Andrew Patrick-Walker has moves Ru Paul herself would be proud of.

With such strong voices and powerful performances the score could easily become lost; however, Tom Chester ensures his band of six are perfectly pitched. The music – together with the rich mix of voices – really is heavenly.

This production has been brought bang up to date and feels frighteningly in-line with the chaotic times we live in. Hillbilly Chucky wears a ‘Make America Great Again’ cap while gun control statements are made alongside caricatures of Trump. The desire to feel superior and the joy in public humiliation raises questions about just how civilised we really are.

Yes it’s profane, yes it’s irreverent but every profanity is worth it for the absolute pleasure this production brings. You’ll shriek with laughter one minute and be stunned into silence by the sheer talent on display the next in this joyful and vivid piece. Cleverly crafted and outrageously naughty, this wild romp of a production will both amuse and impress as once again Jerry reminds us all to “Take care of yourself and each other”.

Jerry Springer The Opera is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 31st August tickets available here.

Everything is Absolutely Fine

HOB

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

While talking about anxiety is thankfully receiving more positive media attention than ever before we still have a long way to go before we truly stamp out the stigma many people attach to mental health discussion. With their new musical comedy Everything is Absolutely Fine, Lowry Developed With artists House of Blakewell approach the topic of anxiety in an exploratory and wonderfully witty way.

Alice (played by book & lyric writer Alice Keedwell) is making a fresh start, smaller town, job at a smaller hospital & hopefully smaller problems. While a new situation is scary for most it’s made worse by the fact that Alice’s old friend anxiety (portrayed by musician and lyricist Harry Blake)has made the move with her too; constantly there in the background reminding Alice of her insecurities, drip-feeding doubt into every situation. “You’re too loud, you’re so embarrassing, your voice is annoying, you’re so awkward”.

While the subject matter may sound heavy House of Blakewell tackle this important topic in a creative and incredibly entertaining way. The snapshot of Alice’s life is delivered in various melodic, funny and extremely relatable songs. From small incidents like a trip to Waitrose where the choice of courgettes becomes overwhelming to the enormity of deciding you completely embarrassed yourself after one to many at the pub this inspired piece highlights just how all-consuming anxiety can be.

Every thought is questioned as anxiety attempts to drown Alice in negativity and destroy her self-esteem. The feeling of being the only one who doesn’t have their shit together looms large, amplified by the deadpan delivery from Harry Blakes while Alice attempts to soldier on regardless.

The lyrics are contemporary and clever, never before have I heard the words ‘garmin’ or ‘wingardium leviosa’ worked into songs and the genius of ‘shiter-er’ rhyming with ‘lighter’ certainly raised a smile. All delivered with great charm by both Keedwell and Blake.

House of Blakewell succeed in creating not only an entertaining piece of theatre but an enormously accessible piece which gently invites discussions about anxiety in a relaxed and innovative way. The performance is pitched just right allowing plenty of opportunities for relatable humour while reminding us of the importance of speaking out and seeking support from one another. Engaging and entertaining theatre.

Everything is Absolutely Fine has one more performance at The Lowry this evening Friday 28th 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.

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.