Interview | Joyce Branagh | Vincent River

Joyce Branagh

Phillip Ridley’s thrilling and heart-breaking play Vincent River,, has been relocated to Manchester where it will receive its regional premiere at the award-winning Hope Mill Theatre next week.

Directed by John Young and starring Joyce Branagh and Dominic Holmes, Vincent River takes aim at homophobia and hate crime with a real and breath-taking honesty. This rousing modern classic, which premiered in London’s Hampstead Theatre back in 2000, slides under the surface of fear, hatred and love.

Davey has seen something he can’t forget. Anita has been forced to flee her home. These two have never met. Tonight their paths cross with devastating consequences.

We caught up with Joyce Branagh who plays Anita ahead of opening in Manchester to hear more about this exciting and intriguing piece of theatre.

ON – What attracted you to this production of Vincent River, and role?

JB – The play itself really. It’s been relocated by Philip Ridley to be set in Manchester, which means it feels like we’re doing a brand new play.   It’s a fantastic piece of writing – it manages to be naturalistic, but at the same time has lots of poetry within it.  It also has elements of a ‘whodunnit’ – we’re constantly trying to work out exactly what’s happening – and that gives it a huge amount of drive and drama too – which I think will be exciting to watch. Philip came to rehearsals on our first day, which was great – we got to pick his brains – but it also meant we had to do the first read through with the author in the room.  Dom and I were terrified! I play Anita – she’s a strong Mancunian matriarch – she could easily pop up on Corrie…straight talking, witty, sharp as a button, but because of the death of her son, she’s wounded and her vulnerability keeps surfacing.  She a really complex contradictory character – which is really intriguing to play.

ON – The subject matter of Vincent River is very hard hitting and emotional. Is it hard to shake that off at the end of the day’s rehearsals?

JB – It can be a bit pummelling doing this – especially at the end of a long day. But it only lasts for about 5 minutes.  Then you get back to real life.  And I think that because the play has a sort of cathartic element to it, that you have that too… you get it out of your system by doing it.  In a weird way, it’s kind of exhilarating.  We also tell each other a lot of bad jokes in the breaks.  (I have a huge supply).

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ON – I imagine that chemistry between you and your co-star is very important for a piece like Vincent River – how are you and Dominic developing this and are you enjoying working together?

Dominic is a fab actor – I met him in the audition, and to be honest he’s another reason why I took the job. I thought – “Ooh he’s good.  I’ll have to be on my toes with him”.  I feel safe with him as an actor – which is great.  It means you can let the characters battle, but you don’t have to.  And that’s what the play needs – two people who are sparring with each other – trying to work each other out get what they want. He also buys lots of mini donuts for us all, which I find very important in a co-actor.

ON – Vincent River is to be performed for a month at Hope Mill Theatre – have you been to this venue before? Either as a performer or audience member?

I’ve never performed at Hope Mill, but I’ve seen lots of productions there. (I’m going in a couple of days to see The Replacement Child actually…)  Because of the versatility of the space, it’s feels very different every time.  I thought I’d seen every configuration – but I think we’re doing something different again!   I think our audiences are going to be surprised by our set-up actually… but I think it’ll help to intensify the experience – make everyone feel that they are actually in the room with us.

ON – You are a regular on the theatre scene in Greater Manchester – why do you think we have such a vibrant and varied arts scene up here?

Why? – I don’t know. But isn’t it fantastic?  I feel like this year things may even have gone up a notch.  There have been so many plays on that I’ve really wanted to see, and so many coming up that I’ve had to get my diary out and strategically plan when I can fit everything in – and I’ve still missed some productions that sounded fantastic.

ON – You’re a successful theatre director as well as actor. Do you have a preference and if so, why?

No preference. I love both – and I feel very lucky when I get the opportunity to hop between the two.  With this I know what a strong connection John Young our director has to the play, which means I can relax and let him take the strain!   I love directing – getting projects underway, bringing a great team together and crafting a show… but then it’s so lovely to leave all that stuff behind and just solely get into the head of a character and bring them to life.  Especially a character as juicy as Anita. She’s a belter. Thanks Philip Ridley!

Vincent River begins previews at Hope Mill Theatre on Tuesday 27th Feb before official opening night on Thursday 1st March and runs through until Saturday 24th March tickets available here. Standard tickets £15 concessions £12.

 

 

 

MTA Nominations 2018

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Nominations for this year’s Manchester Theatre Awards have been announced, celebrating the best work on stage and off within the city in over 20 categories, with winners being announced at a red carpet event at the Lowry theatre on Friday 9th March which will be hosted by local funny man Justin Moorhouse.

With some interesting choices and some considerable omissions, our personal pick and who Opening Night will be backing when we head to the ceremony will be;

Performance in a Fringe Production – Amie Giselle-Ward, Little Women – The Musical,

Best NewcomerHope Mill Theatre, Scott Hunter, Yank!, Hope Mill Theatre,

Best Opera La Cenerentola , Opera North, The Lowry,

Studio Production – From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, The Lowry

Best Performance in a Studio Production – Alex Walton, From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, The Lowry

Target Live Award for Best Visiting Production The Lowry, La Strada, The Lowry

With four incredible selections for Best Musical it will be a hotly contested category, we adored each production but would loved to have seen additional nominations for Hope Mill Theatre’s spectacular Pippin and Tim Firth and Gary Barlow’s uplifting audience favourite The Band.

 

The nominations are as follows;

Actress in a Leading Role

Karen Henthorn, Spring and Port Wine, Oldham Coliseum

Lisa Dwyer Hogg, People, Places & Things, HOME

Nina Hoss, Returning to Reims, Manchester International Festival

Janet Suzman, Rose, HOME

 

Actor in a Leading Role

Cliff Burnett, Hard Times, Oldham Coliseum

Jason Merrells, Uncle Vanya, HOME

Kenneth Alan Taylor, The Father, Oldham Coliseum

Ashley Zhangazha, Guys And Dolls, Royal Exchange

 

Actress in a Supporting Role

Alison Halstead, The House of Bernarda Alba, Royal Exchange

Kate Kennedy, Twelfth Night, Royal Exchange

Kerry Peers, The Father, Oldham Coliseum

Katie West, Uncle Vanya, HOME

 

Actor in a Supporting Role

Tom Michael Blyth, Hard Times, Oldham Coliseum

David Fleeshman, Uncle Vanya, HOME

Andrew Sheridan, People, Places & Things, HOME

 

Actress in a Visiting Production

Ria Jones, Sunset Boulevard, Palace Theatre

Laura Pitt-Pulford, Nell Gwynn, The Lowry

Natalie Radmall-Quirke, The Weir, Oldham Coliseum

Sheridan Smith, Funny Girl, Palace Theatre

 

Actor in a Visiting Production

Danny Mac, Sunset Boulevard, Palace Theatre

Graham McDuff, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Palace Theatre

Sean Murray, The Weir, Oldham Coliseum

 

Ensemble

Oh What A Lovely War, Oldham Coliseum

Operation Black Antler, HOME

The Suppliant Women, Royal Exchange

 

Performance in a Fringe Production

Rosie Fleeshman, Narcissist in the Mirror, Greater Manchester Fringe

Amie Giselle-Ward, Little Women – The Musical, Hope Mill Theatre

Alexandra Maxwell, The Loves of Others / Freak, Greater Manchester Fringe

Danny Solomon, Days Of Wine And Roses, 53TWO

 

Performance in a Studio Production

Rhodri Meilir How My Light Is Spent, Royal Exchange

Lucy Jane Parkinson, Joan, Contact

Keisha Thompson, Man On The Moon, Contact

Alex Walton, From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, The Lowry

 

Robert Robson Award for Dance

Debut, Acosta Danza, The Lowry

English National Ballet double bill, Palace Theatre

Ghost Dances, Rambert Dance, The Lowry

Leviathan, James Wilton Dance, Contact

 

Design

Jenny Melville (set) and Lysander Ashton (video), Paul Auster’s City of Glass, HOME

Bunny Christie, People, Places & Things, HOME

Alex Lowde, Persuasion, Royal Exchange

Yael Bartana, What If Women Ruled the World?, Manchester International Festival

 

Fringe Production

Bad Advice, Greater Manchester Fringe

Gypsy Queen, Hope Mill Theatre

The Marriage of Kim K, Greater Manchester Fringe

Moth, Hope Mill Theatre

 

Musical

Funny Girl, Palace Theatre

Jim Steinman’s Bat out of Hell the Musical, Opera House

Sunset Boulevard, Palace Theatre

Yank!, Hope Mill Theatre

 

New Play

Gypsy Queen, writer Rob Ward, Hope Mill Theatre

How My Light Is Spent, writer Alan Harris, Royal Exchange

Narcissist in the Mirror, writer Rosie Fleeshman, Greater Manchester Fringe

Narvik, writer Lizzie Nunnery, HOME

 

Newcomer

Gemma Dobson, Rita, Sue and Bob Too, Octagon Theatre Bolton

Scott Hunter, Yank!, Hope Mill Theatre

Vinay Lad, The Railway Children, The Lowry

 

Opera

Cendrillon, Royal Northern College of Music, RNCM

La Cenerentola, Opera North, The Lowry

Opera North Little Greats, Opera North, The Lowry

The Snow Maiden, Opera North, The Lowry

 

Production

The Father, Oldham Coliseum

People, Places & Things, HOME

Rose, HOME

The Suppliant Women, Royal Exchange

 

Special Entertainment

Dick Whittington, Opera House

Running Wild, The Lowry

The Toad Knew, The Lowry

Under Glass, Clod Ensemble,The Lowry

 

Studio Production

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, The Lowry

Joan, Contact

Man On The Moon, Contact

Swansong, The Lowry

 

Target Live Award for Best Visiting Production

La Strada, The Lowry

My Country; a Work in Progress, HOME

Nell Gwynn, The Lowry

The Weir, Oldham Coliseum

 

Youth Panel Award

There is a Light/BRIGHTLIGHT, Contact Young Company

Singin’ in the Rain, RNCM Young Company

Tis Written in the Stars, Oldham Theatre Workshop, Oldham Coliseum

Little Women

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Louisa May Alcott’s much loved classic about the four March sisters growing up in Civil War-era New England has been a literary favourite for almost 150 years now. Seen previously on the big screen, radio plays, TV series and straight theatre plays the March sisters undoubtedly have a place in the hearts of many, this is the first time however the Broadway musical has made its way to European shores as the incredibly successful pairing of Hope Mill Theatreand Aria Entertainment continue their vision to deliver accessible musical theatre in Manchester.

The production offers a condensed take on the heart-warming story of trailblazer Jo and her three sisters, Meg, Beth and Amy March, with Jo at the spirited centre of the piece. With their father off at war and their mothers encouragement to be the best versions of themselves they can be, the sisters set out on their path to becoming ‘little women’.

Amie Giselle-Ward is outstanding as Jo, passionate, strong and always true to herself, Giselle-Ward embodies perfectly the brash and bold Jo Marsh with a raw energy that utterly captivates, fiercely loyal and defiantly proud her characterisation is honest and raw as she delivers an incredibly moving and deeply emotional performance. She fizzes and boils over with a determination to live the life she chooses not one society choses for her, a woman seemingly ahead of her time when the book was first published in 1868 and an absolute heroine to women today.

The ten strong cast are incredibly hard working and beautifully demonstrate the importance and strength of family, love and hope regardless of the situation or difficulties they face. Each of the sisters are perfectly cast, Jemima Watling is superb as Meg, sweet and sensible, with a heart full of love. Katie Marie-Carter makes for a fabulous Amy, spoiled and selfish she is wonderfully dramatic. Cathy Read plays Beth with sweet affection, gentle and kind with a real sincerity she is the calm to Jo’s perfect storm.

Bronagh Lagan’s direction ensures the production remains entirely committed to delivering Louisa May Alcott’s message of love, family and female empowerment with wonderful storytelling throughout.

Ben M Rogers light design gently warms the production, allowing Nik Corrall’s simplistic yet effective set to shine. The intimate setting of Hope Mill Theatre is perfect for this engaging production, giving audiences the most wonderful connection with the characters as Jason Howard’s music and Mindi Dickstein’s lyrics are brought to life by Rickey Long’s superb musical direction.

Little Women is a celebration, joyful, spirited and full of heart. The perfect festive treat for all ages, delivering an important and current message that into each life some rain must fall but never let that diminish the fire within you.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 9th December tickets available here

Flashdance the Musical

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By guest reviewer Casey Nicole Gwilliam

Flashback to the 80’s in this dazzling production of the all time classicJoanne Clifton dazzles as the feisty Alex, a young apprentice welder with a passion for dance, and a dream to get into the prestigious Shipley School of Dance.

With the help of her old dance teacher Hannah (Carol Ball), Alex prepares for her Shipley audition, as well as falling for the dashingly handsome Nick Hurley (Ben Adams) and having to save the day and set her friend Gloria (Hollie Ann Lowe) straight, she seizes the opportunity and dances her heart out.

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The numbers that were amongst audience favourites included “Maniac” and “Gloria” as well as the crowd pleasing “I Love Rock and Roll” which wowed the audience as the immensely talented ensemble dazzled with their moves demonstrating some  incredible tricks that made the audience wince and then cheer. The entire ensemble gathered together and created an absolutely amazing and retro atmosphere, wowing the audience with their moves and vocals that left even the audience breathless!

The lighting and set along with the extremely vintage costuming hurled the audience into the 80’s along with the perms and pumps. The authentic 80’s feel gave a sense of nostalgia, and was in keeping with the 1983 movie of the same title. Keeping audiences happily entertained.

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Joanne Clifton’s performance stood out as leading lady, Alex. Her husky voice was perfect for the scrappy young dancer and her acting and singing skills were on a par with her dance; proving to be a delightful triple threat. As well as having the audience envy her for pulling off spanks and a sports bra for the majority of the show.

Overall the show makes for an extremely enjoyable evening and was an instant hit with the audience, everybody was up dancing during the finale mega-mix ensuring everyone got a chance to show their moves!

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Flashdance the Musical is on at the Blackpool Opera House until Saturday 4th November, tickets available here http://www.wintergardensblackpool.co.uk/events/flashdance/

Slava’s Snow Show

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Created by Slava Polunin back in 1993, Slava’s Snow Show has been seen across the world from Argentina to Australia winning multiple awards along the way.

This brilliantly bonkers show feels spontaneous and free with clever improvisation from Slava’s troop of clowns; adults and children alike are captivated by this enthralling and imaginative piece.

Lead clown Assissiai guides us through the evening via a series of scenes which surprise and engage the senses, moving from gentle, precise mimes to loud blaring snowstorms in an instant this multi-sensory piece keeps the audience engaged from start to finish.

There is a rich mix of sketches which don’t shy away from the darker emotions of life but offer reflective moments as we observe Assissiai and his bemusement at the world, he is pensive and poetic, juxtaposed to this are the green clowns who accompany him throughout the piece, loud, silly and hilariously mischievous.

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The beauty of this show is the variety and joy it brings; from quiet pensive moments to the jubilant festival atmosphere at the finale this show is inclusive and wonderfully interactive. Nobody in the stalls escapes the giant cobweb which is pulled across the entire audience, tangling them up creating a giddy delight, nor do many escape a soaking from the clowns who clamber across the audience, their broken umbrellas spouting sprays of water onto the squealing spectators beneath them.

You can’t helped but be whisked up in this magical spectacle as the audience is encouraged to be free and act very differently than they usually would at the theatre. Joy spreads through the audience as the finale builds, the energy of the performers is infectious.

Slava’s aim was to ‘…help the spectators be released from the jail of adulthood…to create a show that would take us back to our childhood dreams’ as adults and children joyfully play together in the snow, shrieking with delight as giant bouncing balls approach it is abundantly clear he has more than achieved his aim. Fantastic family fun!

★★★★

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On at the Lowry until Sunday 29th October tickets available here www.thelowry.com/events/slavas-snow-show

 

The Kite Runner

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Based on Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 international best-selling novel which was adapted for the screen in 2007 and following a hugely successful West-End run, The Kite Runner arrives at the Lowry this week, its second stop as part of an extensive UK tour.

First produced in the United States back in 2009, Matthew Spangler’s adaptation is as beautiful and breath-taking as fans of the book would have hoped, with rich storytelling via lead character Amir’s non-stop narrative, Director Giles Croft ensures The Kite Runner is a powerful and cleverly delivered theatrical experience.

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There are no gimmicks needed as the compelling and haunting story is sensitivly told. Amir and Hassan are opposites in every way, Amir is privileged, Hassan his servant, poor, illiterate yet fiercely loyal. As Afghanistan their homeland is about to be torn apart by war, so too is their unique friendship.

While there are many elements which make up this unforgettable piece it is ultimately a story about a young boy’s guilt and later journey towards redemption. After witnessing a tragedy as a child which impacts profoundly on the lives of the core characters, Amir is forever burdened by his guilty secret, knowing he chose not to speak up to stop the heart-breaking act. Even moving to the other side of the world to start a new life doesn’t enable him to escape the dark and crippling secret. As we follow his journey, his plea for forgiveness captures the true heart of this incredibly rich and utterly captivating production.

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David Ahmad as Amir delivers a powerful and extremely moving performance, on stage for the entire production his clear narration allows the piece to flow gently and build dramatically as tragedy unfolds and secrets are revealed. Emilio Doorgasingh is perfectly cast as Baba, Amir’s Father, he embodies the character entirely, from strong proud, privileged Pashtun to elderly and infirm immigrant, Doorgasingh is superb. Jo Ben Ayed’s portrayal of both Hassan and Sorab is deeply touching and incredibly powerful, mild and submissive yet unshakeably loyal to his friend Amir.

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The set is simple yet hugely effective, dominated by a fan-shaped kite and evocative screen projections from William Simpson, guiding the audience softly from Kabul to San Francisco. The whole production is gently underscored by live tabla player, Hanif Khan, whose music stirs emotion and adds further authenticity to the piece.

Emotional, deeply moving and beautifully staged, The Kite Runner runs at The Lowry until Saturday 7th October tickets available here www.thelowry.com/events/the-kite-runner

Dirty Dancing

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Based on the iconic 1987 movie starring the incredible Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, this revamped version using impressive new sets and songs from the movie not originally in the stage musical has been wowing audiences across the UK all year, reaching its final stop of the tour in Liverpool last night.

Director Federico Bellone, choreographer Gillian Bruce and designer Roberto Cometti, have sexed up the original stage musical (yes it’s EVEN sexier than before) as the classic story of Baby and Johnny is played out by the most talented of casts.

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Getting us all hot under the collar as Jonny Castle is the immensely talented and deliciously dangerous Lewis Griffiths, he literally made Liverpool scream as he stepped into Swayze’s Cuban heels and gave Baby (Katie Eccles) the summer of her life. The chemistry between the two is electrifying, you find yourself rooting for them right from the off, the buzz in the audience as we build up to ‘that’ lift is almost enough to raise the roof of the Empire. Eccles is superb as Baby as we see her find her inner strength and go after her heart’s desire. Indeed the energy from the entire cast is incredible; Carlie Milner makes for the most perfect Penny, her skill and talent quite breath-taking as she dances up a storm on stage.

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Roberto Cometti’s set is streets ahead of those we’ve seen in previous incarnations of this production, inventive and impressive it allows for real creativity in the staging. Add to this Gillian Bruce’s incredible choreography, sizzling, sexy and so so slick there’s no wonder audiences keep coming back for more.

Chock full of heartache, passion, sensational dance routines and all the classic hits fans know and love including Hungry Eyes, Hey! Baby, She’s Like The Wind and the legendary (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life, this production is everything fans of the film could wish for. The hardworking cast deliver in spade loads, whipping the audience into just the right level of excitement before taking it up a notch again, until we literally reach fever pitch at the finale, uplifting, exciting and hugely entertaining surpassing all previous productions, Dirty Dancing will undoubtedly give you the time of your life!

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With only five more days to catch this impressive production, head to www.dirtydancingontour.com/tickets-tour for tickets.

Liverpool Empire Mon 18th – Saturday 23rd September 2017