MAME

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In the same week they celebrate their 4th birthday Hope Mill Theatre open their biggest and most ambitious show to date. Tony award-winning Broadway musical Mame hasn’t been seen in the UK since it’s original 1969 West End production starring the late, great Ginger Rodgers, but Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Entertainment don’t do things by halves. Teaming up with Ray Rackham Theatrical collectively they have created quite simply their most impressive and jaw-droppingly brilliant production since opening their doors in 2014.

Beginning in 1920’s New York City Mame Dennis really is the belle of every ball. Life truly is a banquet for Mame and her party loving friends so when her deceased brother’s 10 year old son Patrick is thrust into her care you may think the party may be over but then you haven’t met the magnificent Mame.

Even when she loses her fortune in the Wall St crash she perseveres with irrepressible positivity and her own unique sense of style, whoever let getting repeatedly fired get in the way of living their life anyway? Spanning several years through relationships, love and loss Mame captivates entirely, her exuberant soul is addictive, she thrills, delights, excites and entertains along the way.

Hope Mill Theatre has been transformed for this enchanting revival. Philip Witcomb’s design ensures that the intimate space seems to open up before your eyes as the jaw-dropping first number begins. Nick Winston’s choreography is sublime; transporting the audience from a rainy Manchester to a glittering Broadway with each full-out and fabulous number. Winston who also directed the piece leaves the audience open-mouthed at the sheer scale and brilliant of the production, it feels lavish, luxurious and deliciously decadent.

Tracie Bennett is entirely mesmerising as Mame she absolutely gives her everything to the role and is truly brilliant. Hilariously comedic one moment and utterly gut-wrenching the next her delivery of If He Walked Into My Life is spellbinding.

The pairing of Bennett and Harriet Thorpe who takes on the role of bosom buddy Vera is nothing short of iconic. They are a joy to watch as they barb off each other with booze fuelled brilliance. Tim Flavin is a suave and sophisticated Beauregard, the connection between Flavin and Bennett feels warm and genuine.

Special mention must also go to junior cast member Lochlan White who at tonight’s performance played Young Patrick. Demonstrating fine acting skills, a pitch perfect voice and the kind of charisma Mame would be proud of.

Every member of this talented cast deserves high praise. They work together in such slick harmony that each scene flows seamlessly into the next yet feels full of surprises. They deliver Nick Winston’s choreography to dazzling perfection, teamed with Tim Mitchell’s impressive lighting design and strong musical direction from Alex Parker each ensemble number packs a powerful and perfect punch.

The boldness and bravery shown by Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment and Joseph Houston and William Whelton of Hope Mill Theatre in bringing this all-new revival to such vibrant life must be commended. How lucky we are in a Manchester to have such committed and passionate theatre makers.

Mame is an absolute triumph, dazzling, daring and utterly delightful, world-class theatre right on our doorstep. A perfectly peachy slice of theatrical heaven. Mame feels like the start of something very, very special and I for one am here for the ride!

Catch MAME at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 9th November tickets available here.

Hope Mill Theatre | A Factory of Creativity |

Joseph Houston and William Whelton at Hope Mill Theatre. Photo Phil Tragen Photography

Hope Mill Theatre moved from private ownership to operating as a registered charity this week. The charity – A Factory of Creativity will operate the award-winning theatre which was founded by William Whelton and Joseph Houston in 2015, with the support of a board of trustees, made up of individuals who have supported the venue since it opened. Whelton and Houston will continue in their roles of Executive Director and Artistic Director respectively with the board of trustees supporting and guiding the charity as it moves forward.

In a joint statement Whelton and Houston said: “Hope Mill Theatre was set up four years ago with a £10K start up loan and has been operating since then as an independent business, receiving no local or national funding. In a small amount of time we have grown rapidly and have struggled to keep up with the expectations and sheer demand of operating such a large endeavour. It has become increasingly hard to support the level of work that we produce in-house as well as supporting a thriving arts community locally.

“Hope Mill Theatre is now in a very crucial stage of its journey with many exciting opportunities, as well as an ever-evolving and developing local landscape. We, along with our small team, recognise the importance of having the venue expand, which will allow us to focus more on nurturing new work and supporting artists.  It is our ambition to secure the venue’s home for many years to come and well as engaging more with our community and making our work accessible to varied audiences. We believe moving forward as a charity will allow us to achieve these ambitions.”

Hope MIll Theatre Patrons

The theatre will continue to build on its acclaimed partnership with Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment, with Hope Mill Theatre and Aria continuing to work together in the future, both at Hope Mill Theatre and around the UK, with their most ambitious show to date – Mame starring Tracie Bennett – which has it’s official opening this week.

Also announced is the news that award-winning writer Russell T Davies and stage and screen actress Denise Welch are to join Olivier Award-winning actress Tracie Bennett as a patrons of the theatre.

Russell T Davies said: “I’m thrilled and honoured to become a patron of Hope Mill Theatre.  It’s an amazing place, and I’ve followed Joe and Will’s journey right from the start. Their productions are wonderful, and I love their support for new writers and talent.  I think the future’s full of Hope!”

Denise Welch said: “I’m delighted to become a patron of Hope Mill Theatre. My love of theatre was formed in a company that started like this one and I’m thrilled to be a small part of Joe and Will’s journey. Coming to Hope Mill is not just a night at the theatre – it’s an experience from the minute you arrive, and the productions are first class. Exciting and vibrant…..just like me!”

Tracie Bennett said: “Being from the north myself, it is awe-inspiring to see the true and heartfelt passion and vision of mavericks Joe and Will, and the work they have done in creating Hope Mill Theatre. I had been following their work and have admired from afar the creation of this exciting new venue. I have long thought that a project of this ilk was a long time coming to Manchester. The work they are doing for regional theatre and musical theatre is extremely exciting not only for the city of Manchester but also the industry itself.”

First look photos -MAME *Credit Pamela Raith

In the first few months as a charity, there are planned funding applications to fund the purchase and upgrade of lighting and sound equipment. A ‘fund a chair’ scheme will be launched to help replace the venue’s current seating – to help make watching theatre at Hope Mill a more comfortable and accessible experience.  There are plans to also apply for funding to install hearing loops in the venue, as well as an upgrade of the ticket system used to improve the booking experience. There are also plans to launch ‘Friends of Hope Mill Theatre scheme.

Whelton and Houston concluded: “It’s now time to allow Hope Mill Theatre to grow and flourish as it enters the next phase of its very exciting future, regionally and nationally.”

 For more information on Hope Mill Theatre please visit Hope Mill Theatre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Applications Now Open For Hope Aria Academy September Intake

William Whelton, Katy Lipson and Joseph Houston. Founders of Hope Aria Academy in Manchester

Following a hugely successful inaugural 12-week programme Hope Aria Academy have now opened applications for their Autumn/Winter intake.

The Manchester based part-time drama course focuses on acting, singing and dancing with students able to choose to take classes in all three disciplines or opt for single modules in one specific area.

Hope Aria Academy founders Katy Lipson, Joseph Houston and William Whelton all have backgrounds in Musical Theatre training and are currently full time producers and theatre owners.

The second course which will begin in September is tailored for individuals who have either already trained professionally and are looking for a fresh approach to training within a smaller more focused atmosphere, individuals who are not yet ready to make the leap to full time drama training and require further tuition, and mature students who have experience in musical theatre and want to re-skill to return to the industry.

Students will also be introduced to the wider creative industry with regular guest teachers in all three disciplines of acting, singing and dance. There will be one full scholarship place available, funded by Hope Aria Academy, with auditions for this taking place in August, date TBC.

Patron of Hope Aria Academy, actress Hayley Tamaddon

Stage and screen actress Hayley Tamaddon is patron of Hope Aria Academy and taught a workshop as part of the last programme.

Hayley said: “I’m thrilled to be a patron of Hope Aria Academy. The work they produce is outstanding. Ranging from dance to musical theatre to tv acting, the students here are taught everything to do with this wonderful profession we call show business! And I’ll look forward to doing a spot more teaching there myself in the new term!”

Hope Aria Academy’s next intake will launch on Monday 16th September 2019 and run on Monday (dance), Tuesday (singing) and Wednesday (acting) evenings from 6.30pm to 9.30pm at Hope Aria House, Unit 15 Wellington House, Manchester, M40 7FS. Students can take the full course or can opt for single modules.

More information on Hope Aria Academy, fees and how to apply can be found here.

 

The Exonerated

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Since its premiere off-Broadway in 2002 Jessica Blank and Eric Jensen’s The Exonerated has been performed all over the world picking up multiple awards along the way and even making it onto the big screen in the 2005 film starring Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover.

This ambitious adaptation embraces the nation’s current obsession with binge-worthy true-crime Netflix style documentaries by cleverly combining recorded first person accounts with live theatrical flashbacks of interrogations, murders, court scenes and the grim reality of life on death row.

Jessica Stanton’s innovative design places audiences as central observers as a Netflix style menu dominates the large screen above the stage. The click of a remote control can be heard as this evening’s viewing selection is made. Audiences sit either side of a central stage which is surrounded by prison style wire fencing and rough barbed wire, only glimpsing sight of each other when the stark interrogation lighting illuminates the space.

Grant Archer’s documentary style film feels authentic and grips from the start as the lives of the wrongly convicted play out before us. The fusion of film and live action works exceptionally well as the six extraordinary stories of those wrongfully sentenced to death unfold.

Joseph Houston has directed the pre-recorded interviews in such a way that they feel entirely genuine, the pain, the emotion and most touchingly the hope expressed by each character is as fascinating as it is moving.

The live action scenes work superbly well, adding depth and authenticity to the harrowing accounts of injustice, exposing the corruption of the authorities and their manipulation of these damaged individuals. The shattering and lasting impact of their lost years on Death Row bringing devastation not only to themselves but to the lives of their friends and families also.

Charles Angiama as Delbert takes on a measured narrator style role, the Texan who spent many years on death row for a rape and a murder he did not commit guides the audience throughout, observing with us the injustices and manipulation taking place. He weaves together the other five stories as the rest of the small cast take on several roles bringing life and vision to the harrowing real-life stories.

Though the subject matter is intense and the corruption utterly horrifying the production is delivered in a way which allows for a heart-warming portrayal of the human ability for hope even in the most desperate of situations. Sunny Jacobs being the most perfect example of this: a gentle mother of two who lost not only 16 years of her life to Death Row but even more tragically her beloved husband whose wrongful execution was made all the more horrific when the electric chair malfunctioned. Pippa Winslow’s performance as the good-natured hippie is exceptional, portraying her class and composure to perfection.

The Exonerated directed by Joseph Houston. Hope Mill Theatre Manchester. Photo Shay Rowan

This inspired and impressive adaptation telling six interwoven stories marks a bold innovation in story-telling theatre. The decision to mix live theatre with pre-recorded footage pays off adding an element of authenticity to proceedings. The second half feels a little screen heavy compared to the first but this does not take away from the power of the piece. While you go into the production expecting to hear about harrowing miscarriages of justice you don’t quite anticipate the impact these stories of survival and hope will have, a true testament to the quality and care that’s been put into this inspired and innovative production.

The Exonerated is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Sunday 16th June, tickets available here.

Images by Shay Rowan Photography

Hair

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This inventive production of Hair The Musical has been on quite a journey these past few years, from first opening at the intimate Hope Mill Theatre back in 2016 to a sell-out London run winning a WhatsOnStage Award along the way; it now makes its return to Manchester opening at the city’s Palace Theatre as part of an extensive 50th anniversary UK tour.

Set in New York’s East Village at a time when the emerging youth counterculture was rejecting mainstream America and growing increasingly disenfranchised by the controversial war in Vietnam, Hair still remains one of the most iconic rock musicals of all time. A tribe of free thinkers who turned their backs on convention creating their own family in which to belong, advocates of peace, love and liberal thinking. Central to the story is the plight of Claude (portrayed brilliantly by Paul Wilkins) torn between rejecting his military drafting and embracing this non-violent, peace loving tribe.

Very much an ensemble production Hair showcases a cast of incredible talent. Opening number Aquarius vibrantly and powerfully sets the scene, drawing the audience into this joyous celebration of love, freedom and pacifism right from the start. Maeve Black’s beautiful set design and costumes transforming the Palace Theatre into a psychedelic heaven lit to perfection by Ben M Rogers.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle ensures the audience are taken along for the ride involving them in this exuberant trip on multiple occasions. Jake Quickenden as Berger confidently leaps into the stalls in little more than a thong while Tom Bates takes great delight in perching on an audience members knee during his hilarious performance as Margaret Mead.

Paul Wilkins heads up the strong cast proving what a talent he is in the role of Claude. Thrown into turmoil at the life changing decision he faces, his anguish and torment delivered with passionate energy. Jake Quickenden makes for a confident and flamboyant Berger, athletically strutting around the stage dishing out powerful vocals along the way. Daisy Wood-Davis shines in the role of Sheila, her voice as powerful as it is beautiful.

Tom Bates has the audience in the palm of his hand as Margaret Mead while Natalie Green as soulful Cassie is a joy. Other notable performances in this excellent ensemble are Alison Arnopp as the enigmatic Jeanie, Aiesha Pease whose rich tones warm the soul and Bradley Judge who is enormously entertaining as Woof.

The cast work together superbly and all deserve praise, they deliver William Whelton’s inspired choreography to perfection, often moving as one, pulsing together in perfect harmony. Musical Director Gareth Bretherton leads the small group of on stage musicians confidently ensuring this electrifying score is given the platform it deserves.

While the themes may not be so shocking to audiences now in more free-thinking, accepting times its message still remains enormously relevant; the despicable quote from Donald Trump heard ringing through the auditorium at the very start proving this point entirely.

Hair gives a touchingly symbolic reminder of the fact that we really are just one tribe. Its hippie, trippy vibe is deliciously infectious bringing every audience member to their feet in celebration of this triumphant piece of theatre while the power of final song Let The Sun Shine In offers hope and proves just how powerfully emotive theatre can be. Hair’s transition from Hope Mill Theatre to the much larger stage of the Palace theatre is seamless as this beautifully crafted and joyously affecting theatre absolutely lets the sun shine in.

On at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 13th April tickets available here.

 

Closets

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

Written by Lloyd Eyre-Morgan and Neil Ely, Closets is an emotive and colourfully courageous journey of self-discovery, strength and celebration.

It’s 1988 and 16 year old Henry (Sam Redford) is struggling to express freely who he is for fear of his bolshy Mum’s (Hayley Tamaddon) refusal to accept his sexuality. In a desperate bid to disappear and escape the daily battles Henry steps inside his closet, travelling forward in time to the very same bedroom 20 years later where he finds shy, tormented Ben (Lloyd Daniels). The year may be different but the difficulties are the same. So begins a coming-of-age journey of exploration as Hope Mill Theatre becomes the scene of the 1969 Stone Wall Riots, Ben’s school toilets and modern day Manchester as the boys travel through time experiencing life defining moments along the way.

Closets is a cleverly constructed, deeply emotive and heart-warmingly joyful piece of theatre. The story touches on many relatable themes such as bullying, suicide and first love as we are swept along on a rollercoaster on emotions. The lovingly crafted script focusses not only on challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community but examines changing attitudes across the years in an honest and relatable way.

Sam Retford is exceptional as Henry, hard to believe this is his musical debut; his performance is confident and assured, engaging the audience entirely. Complementing Retford perfectly is X-Factor’s Lloyd Daniels, as the quiet but tormented Ben whose heartfelt delivery of Neil Ely, Lloyd Eyre-Morgan and Jack Bennetts lyrics packs an emotional punch.

Hayley Tammerdon shines as Henry’s Mum Susan, confused and angry she gives an honest & engaging portrayal of a mother who is ultimately scared of losing her son. Adding many delightful slices of humour is the sensational Sophie Ellicott, she brings genuine wit and laugh out loud joy to the production, her delivery of Protection is a real highlight of the show.

Special mention must also go to powerhouse Kim Tatum, her soulful delivery and witty one-lines add further depth and poignancy to the story.

Ashley M A Walsh’s score creates the perfect soundtrack to this relevant and thought-provoking journey through both hostile and happy times. The 13 original songs ranging from up beat pop numbers to contemporary ballads evoke the sounds of the 80’s perfectly. While Joseph Thomas perfectly lights William Whelton’s punchy choreography.

Closets strikes the perfect balance, delivering both humour and powerful drama, highs are beautifully woven into emotion lows ensuring the story is told with sensitivity and real heart. There is little to criticise here, a quickening up of a couple of scene changes and some tightening tweaks here and there would very quickly take this already brilliant show to the next level, but none of this affects your enjoyment of this uplifting piece of theatre in which the message of love and loving freely is strong, powerful and perfectly judged.

Closets is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Thursday 23rd August, tickets available here.

Interview | Darragh Cowley & Jabez Sykes | Spring Awakening

DarraghCowleyandCompany_preview

Ground-breaking pop-rock Broadway musical Spring Awakeningwith it’s emotive and important themes of sexuality, religion, gender and self-discovery opens in Manchester’s Award winning Hope Mill theatre this week. The UK revival of Duncan Sheik and Steven Slater’s musical set in the late nineteenth-century has themes which resonate heavily today as we follow a group of young teenagers on a journey of self-discovery in a environment of censorship and silence.

The production which opens for previews on Thursday 29th March is the second of five in-house musicals this year from the enormously successful collaboration between Hope Mill Theatre’s founders Joseph Houston and William Whelton and co-artistic director and resident producer Katy Lipson. Directed by Luke Sheppard the defining musical of the last decade has created a buzz on social media since the moment it was first announced.

We spoke to Manchester cast members Darragh Cowley who plays Melchior and Jabez Sykes who takes on the role of Moritz to find out a little more about the production and hear how it feels to be performing something so hotly anticipated on home soil.

JabezSykes_preview

Opening Night: For those unfamiliar with the show can you give us a brief outline and tell us a little about your characters?

Darragh Cowley: I play Melchoir, who is a very forward thinking young teenager, very clever, very intelligent. Spring Awakening is a real pop, rock, rah rah against the system really, it’s the youth trying to defy the system in which they have been brought up and to break the traditions that they don’t really think are right. It covers themes of teen pregnancy, child abuse, mental health and youung persons suicide but then the overall theme towards the end is about growth and rebuild and how people can get back from that sort of thing, it’s a beautiful, beautiful piece it’s gorgeous.

Jabez Sykes: I play Mortiz, there’s a lot going on for Moritz at this time, he’s dealing with a lot of pressure, his mental health maybe isn’t the best that it could be, which has been quite a daunting task really to take on, it’s such a sensitive subject and such a hot subject right now but I really think we’ve done it justice, working with the cast, our director Luke Sheppard, choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves and musical director Gareth Bretherton it’s been a real collaborative experience and I think we’ve really got there with tackling the important issues in the piece.

DarraghCowley_preview

How as a cast do you work on developing trust and chemistry?

JS: From day one we were all so comfortable with each other, it was almost like we knew each other from another life.

DC: There was such a nice feeling in the room, it was immediately really comfortable.

JS: It really was lovely, I think no one is scared of getting anything wrong, everyone is so supportive of each other, which makes for a really great working environment.

DC: Luke Sheppard our director has made it very much a collaborative process so before we do any scene we’ll sit and talk through it so we can all put our ideas in, even a few weeks into the rehearsal process we might say, actually Luke can I try this idea, can I still play with it? And he just tells us to go for it and see what it’s like, it might be terrible idea and he’ll say ‘Darragh what were you thinking?’ But if not he is more than welcome to accommodate and include our ideas.

JS: In terms of trust a lot of the subjects are very delicate and everyone is fighting their own personal battles so something might affect somebody in a way that doesn’t affect somebody else, but one of the things we’ve all learned is that you have to be patient with everybody, you have to have respect for each other and I think with that comes a natural trust.

JabezSykes,DarraghCowley_preview

There is a real online buzz about the show, is that felt by the cast and does it add any pressure?

JS: I think there’s always that little bit of your head that’s saying oh my God so many people are really excited about this and I think because it’s such a special and quite a cult show for some people but I feel confident that what we have produced is a really, really beautiful piece and we’re excited now and ready for audiences to see it.

DC: The buzz online about the show has really put some wind behind our sails, I’ve never been in something of this scale, we’ve been rehearsing now for six weeks or so and I feel ready to stat beginning to share it, I’m excited, there’s a pressure but there’s an excitement too, I just feel right now let’s go, let’s do it!

JS: We really feel that everyone who has been tweeting about the show is really positive and really behind us and are coming to support us because they love the show and they want it to be as brilliant as we know it is.

JabezSykes2_preview

Are you looking forward to performing at Hope Mill Theatre?

DC: It’s a dream, I started my theatre career doing amateur dramatics at the plaza in Stockport, went through Manchester Musical Youth then went to Guilford to train for 3 years, finished two weeks ago and it’s literally a dream to come back to the city where it all started, where I grew up, went to school, it’s just gorgeous to be able to come back and say ‘Hi I’m an actor now, look I did it!’ It really is an absolute dream to be back in the city where I’m from.

JS: I’m so excited, I just can’t wait, it feels really special, I feel like things have gone full circle for me, I went to watch Parade at Hope Mill which was their first in-house musical, and I knew the moment it finished I wanted to work at Hope Mill and now here I am, I’m so grateful and so excited for this opportunity and I really cannot wait to get started.

Spring Awakening begins previews at Hope Mill Theatre on Thursday 29th March and runs until Thursday 3rd May tickets available here.