The Stretch

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Following on from its success as part of JB Shorts 19, MAP Productions have reworked and extended The Stretch from its original 15 minutes into an hour-long piece as they examine the lasting & devastating impact one moment of madness can have.

We follow Lee (James Lewis) through his long 10 years in prison, joining him on a brutal and soul-destroying journey as he visually charges before us from strong self-assured new kid on the block to defeated & destroyed shadow of his former self, broken by the brutality of life on the inside.

Through atmospheric lighting & inspired design the arches of 53Two have been transformed into a menacing & moody environment adding an almost immersive feel to proceedings. The cast make full use of the multi-layered set, lurking in the shadows as new boy Lee is led in to serve his time before powerfully making their presence known.

Joe Ainsworth’s script is melodic and pacy as with each year that passes hope fades and survival instinct takes hold before the reality of abandonment & isolation takes over.

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James Lewis gives a superb performance as Lee, honest and real in his portrayal he takes us on an incredibly raw and deeply poignant journey. His measured performance transitions from witty and light to heartbreakingly raw as he becomes increasingly broken by the failing prison system.

The ensemble add depth and authenticity to this production, taking on various roles depicting individuals on both the inside and outside of the prison walls and the impact Lee’s one monumental mistake has on them.

Simon Naylor’s fluid direction creates pace and adds poignancy to the quieter more emotional moments allowing them the impact they deserve.

The Stretch offers powerful performances which movingly highlight the tragic repetitive cycles happening daily in prisons around the country if not the world. A brave and honest account of one man’s devastating descent into hopeless institutionalisation. Affecting and important theatre.

The Stretch is on at 53Two until Friday 15th March, tickets available here

Tickets £10 with unwaged tickets available for every performance. Please bring proof of being in receipt of Universal Credit, Job Seekers Allowance or Income Support to the box office when collecting tickets.
Tuesday 12th March performance is BSL interpreted

 

 

 

 

In The Night Garden Live

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In The Night Garden Live has been enchanting children since its very first tour in 2010; there’s nothing quite like seeing the faces of little ones light up when they realise their favourite characters are right there in front of them. For 2019 the show is even bigger and better as it moves out of the purpose built showdomes and into theatres across the country in an all-new & completely charming adventure; Igglepiggle’s Busy Day!

The much-loved characters Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy, Makka Pakka, The Tombliboo’s and The Pontipines all feature in this wonderful celebration of the original CBeebies show brought to vivid life by an outstanding team of actor/puppeteers.

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The story written by Helen Eastman is told beautifully through song, dance and gentle music as Igglepiggle goes about his busy day bumping into his friends along the way. With the helpful addition of narration from Derek Jacobi, (the voice of the TV show); the story flows at a gentle pace ensuring even the youngest of audience members can follow the action in this joyful show.

The life-size versions of each character particularly captivate the little ones. There are both squeals of delight and frantic waves as one by one they each take to the stage. The whole experience feels magical, the perfect opportunity for little ones to have their first experience of the theatre. There are no loud bangs or unexpected surprises here just an enchanting & professionally executed show which will no doubt become a regular fixture in theatre schedules across the country.

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The set features familiar animations & bold visuals which further add to the immersive feel of this show as the much-loved characters whisk us along on their colourful ride. At around an hour long this is just the right about of time for the little ones who lap up every bit of the action.

My youngest guest who is 3 and a half announced upon entering the theatre & seeing the stage “I am so happy” I can confirm his smile was even wider by the end of the show. His Mum who has been to the shows at the showdome many times really enjoyed the experience of seeing the characters take to the stage in the theatre while her older son (age 5) really enjoyed the experience of going to the theatre with his baby brother and said of the move into the theatre “It’s not just for babies now but boys and girls too”

In The Night Garden Live is a huge hug of a show, joyous, magical family fun.

Further ticket and tour information can be found here.

 

The Full Monty

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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The Full Monty arrived back in Manchester this week and judging by the whoops and excited cheers from the audience when Gary Lucy and Co take to the stage their return is very welcome.

Adapted from Simon Beaufoy’s 1997 film of the same name, The Full Monty tells the story of six out of work Sheffield steel workers, bored, broke and battling various issues of their own.

Gary Lucy as Gaz is behind on his child maintenance, his custodial problems worsening by the day. Best mate Dave’s (Kai Owen) confidence is rock bottom and his relationship with wife Jean (Liz Carney) is suffering. After stumbling upon a Chippendales night at the local social club Gaz sees an opportunity to earn a quick buck and hopefully prove to son Nathan (Fraser Kelly) he’s not a complete failure.

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Right from the off it’s clear what the audience are here for; they want a reet good laugh and of course ‘that’ infamous scene at the end of the show. Each teasing flash of flesh is lapped up as this story familiar to many begins to play out. Fans of the film will be glad to know the adaptation has been respectfully done, characters remain the same ones they fell in love with back in the 90’s and the northern witty one-liners come thick and fast.

Designer Robert Jones has translated the industrial disused steelworks into an effective and efficient set, doubling up as offices, social clubs and performance space with ease.

What starts off as feel-good escapism soon deepens into something more as we see friendships grow, self-respect return and important issues raised. Beaufoy’s script doesn’t shy away from sensitive themes; suicide, sexuality and self-worth are all covered here but done so in a typically northern no-nonsense fashion where problems are faced with a laugh and a joke but at all times a genuine warmth.

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Heading up the cast Gary Lucy is clearly an audience favourite although his accent takes a trip across the Pennines on more than one occasion the audience lap up his cheeky banter as Gaz the Lad. Fraser Kelly as son Nathan is convincing and committed, leading you to question just who is raising who here. Kai Owen as Gaz’s best mate Dave gives a warm and relatable performance while both Joe Gill as Lomper and Andrew Dunn as Gerald shine in their respective roles. Louis Emerick as Horse proves despite a dodgy hip he’s still got the moves while James Redmond as Guy proves he’s packing more than just a girder down there!

The Full Monty is an entertaining night out, a heart-warming story delivered in a fun and feel-good way with more than enough laughs to send you home smiling.

Catch The Full Monty at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 23rd February tickets available here.

 

Punk Rock

Salford Uni

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict 2.5 Stars

Based in Salford, the Almost Theatre Company have given a platform to some super talented young actors, writers, directors and back stage crews. They have a diverse back catalogue of shows that include Rent, Sweeny Todd and Dr Faustus. Clearly, this is a company willing to take risks, and this trend is continued with their latest offering Punk Rock.

Set in the Library of a six-form college in Stockport, we are introduced to six students: some are friends, some are foes, but all have their problems. There is new girl Lilly (Verity Lynn-Williams), struggling to find her feet at a new school, her shy boyfriend (Neil Boardman) and his friend Bennett (Josh Bratherton), a bully and borderline psychopath. Then there is Cissy (Georgia Davis), Bennett’s girlfriend who is feeling the pressure from her parents to get good grades and her best friend Tanya (Charlotte McClintock), who has a crush on one of her teachers. The final pair is Chadwick (Joel Conlon), a loner but academically gifted and William (Chris Woods), the joker filled with hopes and dreams, but desperate for acceptance.

We see the class mates converse with each other, their interactions mainly having a negative impact on each of them, their circumstances and their mental health. Inevitably the constant struggle and torment that each member of the group are going through leads one of them to snap, which has devastating consequences for all concerned.

Punk Rock offers somewhat of a mixed bag; it’s a bold, unflinching play that attempts to address some of the mental health issues affecting young people today, and for that it should be commended. The cast are strong, with each one putting in decent turns as the troubled troupe. Occasionally some cast members do go slightly over-the-top in their performances and more must be made of the subtleties and nuisances of their characters for the play to have more impact. All seven-cast members (Patrick Cerra plays two supporting roles) are clearly talented and have a bright future ahead of them.

Where the production suffers is in its tone. It doesn’t get that balance between comedy and drama right. If it wants to be taken as a serious piece of theatre, then it needs to lose the jokey introduction, and decide what you want the audience to take away from the show. The script needs to be tighter as some of the dialogue is on the clunky side.

Overall, this production has good intentions and certainly deserves an audience. It is a shining example of just how much the Almost Famous Theatre Company has at their disposal.

Punk Rock is at Salford Universality Media City Campus until Saturday 9th February

 

 

Annie

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Nikolai Foster’s revival of family favourite musical Annie has gone from strength to strength since it first debuted at the West Yorkshire Playhouse back in 2011. With a sell-out UK tour in 2015/16 followed by an extended run in the West End plus a recent sell-out season in Toronto all safely tucked under its belt; Annie is back on the road for 2019 opening a new UK tour here in Manchester.

Set in New York during the Great Depression it is indeed a hard-knock life for 11 year old orphan Annie who finds herself living in miserable, gin-swilling Miss Hannigan’s all-girl orphanage. Consumed with a fierce determination to find her real parents Annie manages to escape the boozy clutches of Miss Hannigan when she is picked to spend Christmas at the residence of famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks. However Miss Hannigan and her good-for-nothing brother Rooster aren’t quite done with orphan Annie and set about trying their best to get in the way of her happy ending.

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Based on Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie comic strips the original musical opened on Broadway in 1977, it is however the 1982 film starring Albert Finney, Bernadette Peters and Eileen Quinn that remains most firmly etched in many people’s minds. It was without doubt one of the most worn out VHS tapes in my house, my sisters and I knowing every line, my eldest sister can still be called upon to belt out a deafening rendition of ‘Rover, why not think it over?’ should the need arise. With clearly many other Annie fans at the Opera House tonight it’s a welcome relief to see that director Nikolai Foster’s production respects the audiences love for this piece and has kept the changes to a minimum. It is still packed full of unforgettable classics including Hard Knock Life, Tomorrow, Easy Street and Little Girls while Miss Hannigan remains gin-guzzlingly awful but has a new technicoloured vibrancy about it.

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Its colourful escapism is reflected in Colin Richmond’s intricate set and costume design, jigsaw pieces scattered across the set reflecting Annie’s journey as piece by piece her life and identity come together all beautifully lit by Ben Cracknell. Yes at times it is schmaltzy but heck if Annie can make the President of the United States sit up and listen just imagine what she could do if unleashed into Brexit negotiations!

A large part of what makes Annie so endearing is of course the kids in the show and they really do make this production. Taziva-Faye Katsande is a charming and confident Annie supported perfectly by Team Chrysler for this evenings press night, each girl is outstanding bursting with life and vibrant energy with little Orla McDonagh threatening to steal the show as Molly on what is her professional debut.

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Anita Dobson makes for a cranky and world weary Miss Hannigan while Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks transforms before our eyes from hardnosed business man to smitten adoptive father. The ensemble deliver Nick Winston’s inventive choreography with sass and style adding exuberant energy to the much-loved musical numbers.

Annie is feel-good family fun, a real celebration of courage and innocent optimism as well as a wonderful reminder to us all that when the hard knocks come we need to find our inner strength and fight back remembering what seems impossible today will look different tomorrow. Joyful family entertainment with a great story at it’s heart.

On at The Opera House until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.

 

 

 

Jersey Boys

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Being the proud winner of 57 major international awards including the Olivier Award for Best New Musical brings about a huge amount of expectation; does this current Jersey Boys tour deliver? Yes, absolutely yes, and then some, and then a little bit more, the thunderous standing ovation at Manchester’s Palace Theatre confirming this for anyone still in any doubt.

Jersey Boys tells both the on and off-stage story of the original Four Seasons; Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi who together took the world by storm, selling a whopping 175 million records worldwide as well as being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, all before they hit 30. This exhilarating musical leaves no stone unturned as the highs, lows, heartaches, fears, joys and the all-important music come together in one seriously sensational show.

The structure is clever with the story being divided into ‘four seasons’ each narrated in turn by a different member of the quintet; offering an opportunity for several unique versions of events making for compelling viewing.

This is no bubble-gum jukebox musical, the journey we see Franki Valli (Michael Watson), Bob Gaudio (Declan Egan), Tommy DeVito (Peter Nash covering on press night) and Nick Massi (Lewis Griffiths) go on its intense, exhilarating and absorbing, there is so much to enjoy about this show it’s difficult imaging anyone not getting swept away by this slick and stylish production.

The four leads are outstanding, their harmonies sublime as they deliver hit after hit with perfection. With an epic back catalogue including Beggin’, Sherry, Walk Like A Man, December, 1963 (Oh What a Night), Big Girls Don’t Cry, Let’s Hang On (To What We’ve Got), Bye Bye Baby, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Working My Way Back to You the music in this show takes some beating. The lyrics are used to progress the story while the different take from each of the boys on the same situations offers a real honesty and moves the action along nicely.

This current production written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe is staged by the entire original Broadway creative team and it shows. The music alone is enough to sell the show but what you get is so much more as the emotion and energy of the piece takes hold.

Peter Nash opens the show confidently as Tommy DeVito, perfectly embodying the role, brimming with style and swagger, a commanding performance laying it out from the start that this ain’t gonna be no walk in the park. Declan Egan comes next as Bob Gaudio, charismatic, charming and brings a lot of fun to the role. Lewis Griffith’s most recently seen in Manchester as Dirty Dancing’s Jonny Castle makes for a complex and compelling Nick Massi while Michael Watson simply soars as Frankie Valli, mastering that iconic falsetto perfectly. The four leads are supported by a strong ensemble cast who help take this show to the next level, giving high-energy performances and complimenting the lead vocals beautifully.

It comes as no surprise that Jersey Boys has now been seen by over 25 million people worldwide, while the music itself is standalone brilliant add to this the sharp book and slick staging and you have the recipe for the perfect night out. Electrifying theatre which will no doubt keep the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons alive for a whole new generation.

Jersey Boys runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.

 

Off Cut Festival | Manchester

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If you want to see the finest in new short plays where you as an audience member can influence which winners will be offered the opportunity to develop their piece into a fully-staged production with Manchester Actors’ Platform then get yourself down to 53two this week.

For five years, the Off Cut Festival has been one of the UK’s most successful platforms for undiscovered writing, acting and directing talent, the festival now has a new northern home and takes place between 22nd and 25th January.

Over the past few weeks, 15 brand new short plays from writers around the country have been rehearsed and reworked by Manchester’s finest up-and-coming directors and actors, ready to be performed to audiences over three nights. They will be shown over three nights with five plays performed each night, the audience will be asked to vote for their favourite plays each night. The top two from each group will then go through to be performed again on the last day of the festival, Saturday 25th January. The audience will then vote on the plays again alongside a panel of industry professionals who will also be selecting their favourites to decide the winner.

Producer Simon Naylor from Manchester Actors’ Platform and FOUNDation/53two said “OFFCUT fills a hole that has long been empty. It embraces all of the qualities we strive for in independent and fringe theatre and provides the perfect platform to showcase and launch careers alongside celebrating the brilliant spirit and bond that this city has.”

The performances have been broken down into the following groups

22nd Jan – 7:30pm

Home Fires Burning by Kevin Cuffe

Summerland by Brian Coyle

The Fish and the Sea by Jeff Nolan

Born on the Right Side by Maddie Wakeling

Grow by Gemma Langford

 

23rd Jan – 7:30pm

Home by Alexandra Keelan

Best Friends by Lewis Charlesworth

FOMO by Curtis Cole

Here We Are by Anne Price

There’s a Fly in My Room by Rachel McMurray

 

24th Jan – 7:30pm

Tortoise by Naomi Westerman

Tremble by Rob Johnston

To Sleep by Stephanie Lacey

Granola by Gemma Whiteley

Click by Chantelle Dusette

 

GRAND FINAL

25th Jan – 7:30pm

The six plays, chosen by the audience over the previous three nights, are performed again. From them, the winner of the Audience Award for Favourite Play will be developed and fully-staged at 53two.

Tickets are £8 per show

£24 for OFFCUT PASS to all 4 nights

Available here.

Unwaged tickets at £2 available every