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.

 

Little Shop of Horrors

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Little Shop of Horrors – Storyhouse, Chester

Director: Stephen Mear

Music and Lyrics: Howard Ashman

Music: Alan Menken

Reviewer: Matt Forrest

Star rating: ****

Little Shop of Horrors has all the ingredients of a great story: a love story between two beautiful souls who life has constantly mistreated. Throw into the mix themes of greed, fame and lust, and of course a giant man-eating plant!

The much-loved musical arrives at the Storyhouse for a spring run that is filled with toe-tapping tunes, absurd comedy and a hefty splattering of blood-soaked gore.

Based on the original film by B-movie maestro Roger Corman, we meet timid florist Seymour, the much put-upon assistant shop for Mr Mushnik. Seymour has a lot to deal with; Mushnik’s flower shop is going under fast due to its location on Skid Row, the wrong part of town. He is head-over-heels in love with his co-worker, Audrey and to cap it all off Seymour has discovered a new strange and unusual plant, which he has named the Audrey II. The trouble is, Audrey II is wilting away before his eyes. Following an accident with a rose bush, Seymour soon learns that Audrey II has an appetite for something a little stronger than Miracle Grow. However, as the plant grows bigger, Mushnik rakes in more and more money. Could this little botanic marvel be Seymour’s ticket to winning the girl of his dreams and the chance to leave behind Skid Row for ever, and if so, at what cost?

Little Shop of Horrors at Storyhouse, Chester, 2019

Little Shop of Horrors is an absolute treat and well worth catching. Some great catchy numbers from Alan Menken and lyrists Howards Ashman, stand out songs being the company ensemble sung Skid Row (Downtown) and the up tempo yet sinister Feed Me (Get it).

The cast are on great form with Joshua Lay and Michelle Bishop showing great chemistry as Seymour and Audrey: their rendition of the musical’s signature tune Suddenly Seymour brought the house down. The supporting cast are also great. Cindy Belliot, Tanisha Spring and Emily-Mae, are in fine voice as the sassy residents of Skid Row, Chiffon Crystal, and Ronette. Tony Timberlake is equally impressive as the devious Mr Mushnik, whilst Stephane Anelli, puts in a hilarious and scene-stealing turn as Orin, Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend.

Ryan O’ Gorman and Brett Sheils do an amazing job bringing Audrey II to life, with Gorman giving the plant attitude and menace, Audrey II gets all the best lines and Gorman makes the most of them.

Tonight’s performance was not without its flaws, there were a few timing issues but these are minor quibbles for what is a fun enjoyable, heartfelt darkly comic night at the theatre. If you don’t enjoy this then maybe you need to take a closer look inside Audrey II, she’ll take all of those reservations away!

 

Little Shop of Horrors is at the Storyhouse, Chester till the June 2nd tickets available at:

https://www.storyhouse.com/event/little-shop-of-horrors

 

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The Mousetrap

The Mousetrap,

The Mousetrap: The Lyric Theatre, The Lowry.

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Reviewed13/05/19

Opening Night star rating: ****

About 25 years back I was watching a TV programme staring Paul Kaye as comic creation Dennis Pennis, a rogue TV presenter who pranked the great and good of the 90’s celebrity world. It wasn’t just famous people who Pennis targeted, but everyday folk too. On one occasion he accosted some old ladies as they were about to see The Mousetrap and committed the cardinal sin of revealing who the killer was!  As a teenager it was hilarious, if slightly mean spirited yet little did I realise that many years later I’d be going to see probably the world’s most famous “whodunit” already knowing the ending. (Shame on you Paul Kaye).

You see despite a near 70 year run and smashing a whole host of records, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap has one of the best kept secrets in theatreland. The fact that it still has the ability to shock and surprise in the modern world shows just how revered the play is and on the basis of tonight’s production it’s easy to see why.

It begins at Monkswell Manor, a converted guest house in the country ran by a young couple, Mollie and Giles Ralston (Harriet Hare and Nick Biadon). They are preparing for the arrival of their first guests to the house, but a nasty snowstorm is hampering their preparations. At the very start of the performance we hear the news through the radio that a woman named Maureen Lyon has been murdered in London. This broadcast is repeated as the guests been to arrive: who include Major Metcalf (John Griffiths), a mischievous architect named  Christopher Wren (Lewis Chandler), a no nonsense battle-axe of a women in Mrs Boyle (Gwyneth Strong), the private and guarded Miss Casewell (Saskia Vagncourt-Strallen), and finally the Mr Paravicini (David Alcock) a mysterious traveller who is caught up in the snow storm.

As the weather worsens word reaches the house that the police are sending an officer, a Sergeant Trotter (Geoff Arnold). When Trotter arrives, he explains that there is a link between the recently diseased Mrs Lyons and Monkswell Manor, his theory is later proven when one of the guests is strangled. The big question is will Trotter be able to solve the mystery before the killer strikes again?

The Mousetrap,

What instantly strikes you about this production is just how much fun it is and that’s down to the direction of Gareth Armstrong: he allows the cast to play it straight when required but also to poke fun at the genre, never really taking itself too seriously. The ensemble cast are superb, traversing the tightrope between ‘hamming it up’ and paying respect to this well-established theatrical institution.

As one might expect with an Agatha Christie, the script is littered with clues, red herrings and the key element of suspense that will keep you guessing throughout. There is some rather clunky and at times dated dialogue which the cast play for laughs, albeit with dead pan seriousness, which again only adds the enjoyment.

Because the murder mystery genre is one, we are so familiar with, it’s easy to forget that Christie is arguably the main reason we know its troupes so well, however director Gareth Armstrong has manged to keep it fresh, entertaining and certainly well worth catching. Despite knowing the identity of the villain, it still managed to come as a surprise which is of course down to Christie’s criminal mind. Based on this production The Mousetrap still has plenty of life in the old girl yet, unlike the late Mrs Lyons!

The Mousetrap is on at the Lyric Theatre, the Lowry till 18th May. Tickets available here:

https://thelowry.com/whats-on/the-mousetrap/

 

 

 

 

eVULVAlution

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Life as a self published erotic novelist can be tough, especially when your creative juices have stopped flowing and you’ve been relegated to admin on your polyamorous husband’s WhatsApp group.

Pamela De Menthe however is not a woman to be kept down, that tricky 29th novel may be stuttering but she’ll use her mucky imagination and crude creativity to ensure her novel eVULVAlution reaches a pleasing and most satisfying climax.

Writer and performer Jenny May Morgan has created a hugely likeable and incredibly funny character in Pamela De Menthe; cleverly crafted with loving care resulting in an entirely convincing comedy heroine.

The show is presented as a book launch for new novel eVULVAlution with just one catch, it isn’t actually finished yet. Turning to the audience for inspiration and some hilarious sound effects Pamela strives to deliver the literary work she’s convinced herself is totally groundbreaking and entirely necessary.

This time-travelling prehistoric erotic romp, set of course in Hull quickly becomes a hilarious adventure for both Pamela and her audience. Jenny May Morgan’s attention to detail is exceptional in this witty one woman show. It’s jam-packed with nuanced looks and brilliant throwaway comments that Alan Partridge would be proud of.

Her well developed humour is lapped up by the audience and while Pamela is pretty darn bonkers she is the kind of bonkers you can’t help but fall in love with. From her amateur power-point to her sponsorship deal with a motorbility scooter company she offers a well rounded character whose brilliance is a bright as her animal print bumbag.

A cheeky, fabulously fun and enormously entertaining romp through the world of self-published erotica. Roll on book number 30!

Catch eVULVAlution next at Waterside, Sale in July further information can be found here.

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.

4 - Photo by Sean Mason

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