Sunday, 31 March 2019

REVIEW: Grease - The Forum Theatre, Romiley.

Grease the Musical is the stage version of the iconic 70s movie musical of the same name which immortalised John Travolta and Olivia Newton John into popular culture.

NK Theatre Arts’ famous energy was tangible from the first bar of ‘Grease Is The Word’ where all characters appeared on stage, setting the scene of first day back at Rydell High School after the summer break as they sang the overture song. A really cleverly thought setting scene where we saw the interplay between the geeks, the jocks, the T-birds and the Pink Ladies. A simple, open stage with back wall and the famous bleachers were used throughout. The seating was intelligently used to hide the famous ‘Greased Lightning‘ car which appeared three times throughout the show. At audience level, stage right was the radio broadcaster’s set and stage left we had Sandy’s dressing table and vanity. These were used a couple of times for the link scenes of  ‘Hopelessly Devoted’ and ‘Sandra Dee reprise' and it made complete sense to not stop the action to drag a truck on the main stage.

From the start, the characterisations were spot on. Geeky Eugene (the hilarious Jay Dodd) and irritating, goody-two-shoes, Patty Simcox (Becky Cheetham) heads of the school council had us belly-laughing at their nerdiness. Miss Lynch, Rydell’s principal, was played with stern conviction by Jennifer Wallis Getcheffsky who had just a glint of naughtiness in her eye whilst rebuking and cajoling the errant teens.

What NK have in absolute abundance is an ensemble company with magnificent, musical theatre voices, an immensely talented creative team and a technical team of professional calibre. The whole cast lived and breathed life, love and energy into this piece of theatre which has high audience expectation as most people know the movie - well. They did not disappoint.

Creative choreography from both director and choreographer, Hannah Gorst and dance captain Dawn Wrigley. The hand jive dance-off was a joy to watch. The director had a clear vision, to be true to the film whilst making it work for this large company. Summer Nights was tremendously sung and performed by the boys and the girls and we were treated to a reprise in the Grease Megamix during the finale.

The T-birds, led by John Dean’s incredible Danny Zuko worked and connected well. There were some memorable voices in there. Dean’s Travoltesque turn in the hand jive number: complete with open shirt and hairy chest was wonderful. Mike Miller as Kenickie took full control of the ‘Greased Lightning’ number with a fabulous amount of company on stage whipping up the energy which was infectious. Ben Taylor as Doody has such a pleasant, engaging stage presence and his ‘Magic Changes’ guitar solo was highly entertaining as the hidden girls joined in from out of the showers as groupies. The use of the locker room props was very funny. We were blessed with the voice of Callum Stretton as Rodger with his ‘Mooning‘ number and what a falsetto he has! I could listen to him all day long. Solid support also from Tom Leonard’s ‘Sonny’ who completed the T-Bird set of high school juveniles trying hard to be tough whilst tripping over first loves and the challenges of school and youth.

At the high school prom, Sarah Tullet’s ‘Cha Cha’ danced and looked the part so well with Dean’s ‘Danny’ and some great acting and reactions. They deserved to win! Johnny Casino’s ‘Born to Hand Jive’ had cheesy life and authenticity breathed into by Jake Ridgeway who completely got it. Now, to the rest of the girls: The Pink Ladies. Wow! These girls had it all: they looked great, they acted well together and boy could they sing. Lauren Sanckson’s ‘Sandy’ was a masterclass in how to contemporise numbers we think we know and can only be sung in one way. ’Hopelessly Devoted’ was stunning. I loved her characterisation. She looked terrific, (not many people can wear those trousers well) and she had a lovely relationship with the girls and with Danny. Rizzo, the hard-boiled, soft-under-the-surface, tough cookie was played with aplomb by Megan Leonard but I did think it was a little low in her register at times. Her light and shade with the dynamics of the story were very well played and it was a controlled and talented performance. The Pink ladies owned it from the off. Jade Wilbraham’s greedy but cute Jan was just right and I loved her ‘Raining on Prom night’ solo. Charlotte Sivori’s quirky Frenchie, who quits high school for beauty school, was delightful. The ‘Beauty School Drop Out’ number was true to the film but the groupings were a little bit messy with the angels struggling to find shapes. Vince Fontain/Teen Angel was played with great comedy timing by Christopher Grixti with enough playful, tongue-in-cheek sincerity to make the audience smile. Lastly, Marty, beautifully played by Emma Ealastair completed the tea-set of sassy, ahead-of-their-time, high school girls who change Sandy into the bombshell siren for the finale that knocks Danny sideways.

Musically, the singing was as tight as I’ve heard in amateur theatre but as there were no band credits in the programme, I am guessing they used very high quality backing tracks and were synched to perfection with every pause spot on. The MD had achieved some excellent vocal performances and I heard some lyrics this afternoon to some of the songs which I hadn’t realised were the real lyrics thanks to the clarity and diction of the singers.

And what a finale you gave us! ‘You’re The One That I Want’ with the whole company joining to finish a show that was sublime. The audience, young and old, enjoyed it thoroughly and it was a pleasure to watch.

Reviewer - Kathryn Gorton
on - 30/3/19

REVIEW: MUMS Symphony Orchestra and Chorus: Carmina Burana - The Whitworth Hall, Manchester University.

The University of Manchester’s Whitworth Hall is the perfect setting for a classical music concert. Down Oxford Road, it is like stepping from one world to the next. Its gothic wood clad, sandstone walls, high dark timber hammerbeam roof and imposing organ really left an impression on myself and the audience, and the University’s Chorus and Symphony Orchestra made full use of this setting for what was a thoroughly enjoyable, and passionate evening of classical music. To call it a “classical music concert” is misleading as the two piece performed were twentieth century cantatas, conducted under the baton of Robert Guy, with a special appearance from some pupils of Manchester Grammar School.

Sat amongst many parents and grandparents, the evening started off at half past seven on the dot, with the orchestra tuning themselves ready to perform, Kevin Malone’s ‘Creations’, a relatively modern cantata written between 1997-98, which was about the “idiosyncrasies of creation stories in ancient and modern societies.”. My issue with this first piece was not the performance, which was done to a very high standard, but rather the piece itself.

It opened with a relatively weak introduction, partly down to the SATB Quartet finding their feet amongst the acoustics of the Whitworth Hall, however this lull was quickly quashed as the second “creation story” ‘Te Kore’ began. This piece went from strength to strength and made for pleasant listening until halfway through ‘Gaea’ when it succumbed to, what I thought, was a bad case of lyrical pretentiousness. Luckily however, Part II of ‘Creations’ was better both musically and lyrically, that was until ‘Office Party’, a movement which its opening bars of the drum hit you full force like the morning after the night before and although perked myself and the audience up, ultimately fell ill to a bad case of pretentiousness again. Unfortunately, this was not recovered until Part III, before being stricken again by that “p” bug yet again, this time in the form of a Stephen Hawking inspired verse about the universe. It reminded us why the late Professor Hawking stuck to theoretical physics and not singing.

The problem with Kevin Malone’s ‘Creations’ was that I didn’t massively enjoy it. That is my subjective side coming out, however my objective side wishes to stress that the piece did have some quite exceptional music in many parts, but it was the lyrics which really left me struggling to enjoy ‘Creations’. The solo and quartet parts felt at times almost like a playground taunt, in terms of rhythm and execution. The orchestra and chorus were fantastic though. My friend who was with me summed up the piece perfectly, “’Creations’ attempts at profoundness (mostly falls short) and was combined with ill attempts at humour. Nevertheless it was a really interesting idea for a piece of music but it felt unsatisfying.”. He hit the nail on the head there, it left me feeling unsatisfied and wanting more, which is why it was the perfect first piece to this concert; because what followed after the interval, answered every need I wanted and was simply stunning.

We have all heard of Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ (1935-36). Trust me if the name does not ring a bell, its opening movement ‘O Fortuna’ will. There could not have been a better venue for the piece than the Whitworth Hall. It was here that the chorus really shined, demonstrating their vocal prowess and filling every inch of the hall with beautiful Latin. This piece really showcased the relationship between orchestra and chorus as no cues were missed, and no beats skipped. The conductor showed his true colours as a physical conductor, although not quite reaching the heights as “ of the sweaty ones.” to quote Sir Adrian Boult.

It was here too that Eleanor Garside (Soprano) and Stuart Orme (Baritone) really stood out in their performances, as it must have been no easy feat to fill the hall with just one voice. Garside was delectably angelic and truly captivating when it came to her performance of ‘In Trutina’; the movement itself being one of my highlights of the evening.

There is one unwelcome(?), unwanted truth however that comes with a piece such as ‘Carmina Burana’, and that is as excellent as it all was, as long as the orchestra and chorus absolutely kill ‘O Fortuna’ (which they did) then the success of rest of the piece is secured because everyone has heard the movement they know and ultimately do not care as much to what they hear until ‘O Fortuna’ is repeated at the end. This sounds very harsh of me, but I feel it’s true with any classical piece that has such a popular, widely used and impressive opening. That being said some movements really did stand out, ‘Ecce Gratum’ being delightfully exquisite.

If I had to be “that person” and critique the orchestra, it would be that the brass section, which at times along with the percussion (albeit briefly), did drown out the soloists and one of the horns seemed slightly out of tune but I could not pinpoint who. This should not detract from the skill and effort put in by these talented students, as these pieces were not easy to play. Before the music commenced Guy described the concert as a “real feast” and he could not have put it better if he tried. As mixed as I was about ‘Creations’ it served as a demonstrative tour de force, which set the tone for the evening and earmarked the excellence of the University’s Symphony Orchestra and Chorus making myself envious of the musicians and making me want to pick up my clarinet again. This was one of the best varsity music concerts I have been to and would eagerly recommend the University’s chorus and symphony orchestra to anyone.

Reviewer - Daryl Griffin
on - 30/3/19

REVIEW: Tom Thumb - Nuffield Southampton Theatres, Southampton.

Hands down, Lyngo Theatre’s production of Tom Thumb, at the Nuffield Southampton Theatres, is the best piece of children’s theatre I have seen to date. Aimed at children aged 3+, Tom Thumb is beautifully visual, with use of handmade props and set. Shabby chic, inventive and unique, this production is 'the wooden train set of young theatre', compared to 'the Fisher Price kitchen set styled theatre' I have seen previously.

The story followed the famous poetic tale of Tom Thumb, proving that despite being tiny, he can still save his brothers from the great ogre. The ogre was portrayed using a ram’s skull. Although slightly nightmarish, this created the perfect monster, and, with the the use of a red wash, the creation of shadows heightened the experience, increasing the ogre’s magnitude. The approach to the play was genuine and simultaneously completely original.

The set consisted entirely of an old kitchen table; on it sat a model house with internal lights attached to a rope and carabiner. The table had two draws which were also self-lit. The small, intimate set was lit by a vintage, squirrel cage light bulb, shaded by a symbol. The light was suspended by rope, attached to a window frame which Tom often peeped through to tell parts of the story. The use of props was genius. The creation of birds was done with kite poles attached to origami bird structures. The migration of the bird across the stage was fluid and, with the combination of bird song soundscape, the invention was magic.

The developing seasons was imaginative and executed with flair. Snow was shown through the gentle cascading of feathers from a material bag attached to the lighting rig, which could be tugged by rope to release. This created the paragon effect of a snowy day, with feathers sticking to branches and forming a white blanket on the ground. There is something enchanting about the falling of snow, and Lyngo Theatre captured that essence flawlessly. A rainy day was conjured using an upside-down bottle of water pierced with holes attached to an umbrella. This was compelling and added a charming absurdity.
The story was retold by a one performer, taking on the role of narration, as well as characters, such as Tom Thumb, mother, father, the ogre and the old lady. His used of voice, changing in accent and dialect allowing for the subtle shift of character, without the need for a change of costume.

The soundscape, designed by Carlo Cialdo Capelli, alluring, bringing the fairy tale to life, whilst also creating a slightly eerie undertone. The wandering minor scales and chimes of the glockenspiel created the passing of time. And finally, the addition of the lullaby, sung live, brought warm and sleepy atmosphere to the stage, drawing the performance to an end. This performance provides an enchanting adventure through the forest, perfect for children and parents.

Reviewer - Grace McNicholas
on - 30/3/19

REVIEW: Status - The Unity Theatre, Liverpool.

Status is the second in a planned trilogy of performance pieces written and performed by Mancunian Chris Thorpe ‘examining the intersection between our individual humanity and our politics’. The first piece ‘Confirmation’ won an Edinburgh Fringe First in 2014 and Chris once again has worked with acclaimed American Tony Award winning director Rachel Chavkin on this one man show ‘with songs’. The Status production credits are no less impressive with an international sound, set, video production and lighting team and German dramaturg Jorg Vorhaben. The result is a sound and visual feast of lighting and activity that gives Thorpe a full workout on stage. This is so much more than a one man show. The backdrop is a huge whiteboard that appears fluid with projected moving images representing place and beat and rhythm to emphasise each story and performance element. Motivated by Theresa May’s 2016 Tory party conference quotation ‘If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere’, Thorpe slips easily in and out of character as he explores the idea and possible impact of rescinding his British passport in order to escape his cultural and national identity. 

‘This is not a Brexit piece’, he states and indeed it is so much more than that. The audience is taken from London to places real and imagined around the world, with the aid of video projection, including 1990s Serbia to Colorado and the wisdom of the Navaho people to modern day Singapore in a ‘globe-spanning journey of attempted escape’. The main character ‘Chris’ examines nationalism through his experiences past and present with people and characters he meets and scenes of injustice that he witnesses all through the eyes of a British subject. 

There are some hard facts and disturbing elements as he deals with army militia attacking civilians, refugee drownings and the impact of belonging nowhere. Spoken-word songs, with a distinctly Northern sound, accompanied by an electric guitar punctuate his rhetoric effectively emphasising the points with passion. The songs also provide light and shade in a stunning performance that never loses pace. Thorpe is an acting force to be reckoned with, gaining every nuance from his physicality on stage from a flick of a hand to his menacing soldier face. Vorhaben’s influence is clear where ‘the script becomes just one element’ of the performance but you have to give Thorpe credit for the powerful writing in this 80-minute piece. Thorpe takes the analogy of national and cultural identity to the physical extreme of a body organ that can only be cut out. It’s a call for a divided world to acknowledge and learn from the sins of the past and open their eyes to the world-wide rise in extremism. 

Thought-provoking and timely, ultimately the audience is left with more questions than answers as Status forces you to examine your own beliefs in a culturally divided world that is fast becoming physically divided with more walls and barriers being constructed than torn down.

Reviewer - Barbara Sherlock 
on - 30/3/19

Saturday, 30 March 2019

REVIEW: Kite - Waterside Theatre, Sale, Manchester.

I unashamedly use this pun: I was blown away by tonight’s performance. The Wrong Crowd are heading in the right direction with this family piece of theatre, Kite. They are the makers of playful, absorbing, and original theatre – flying around the UK and taking this play on tour.

It had no speech, the narrative was told with movement, set, props, lighting, music, dance, and puppetry. From what I’ve reviewed of children’s theatre so far, it usually breaks the fourth wall and certainly features the performers speaking. As this did not, initially there was the question of whether or not this production could hold the attention of the children (the real critics) for the full hour. It did. I’ve found, on occasion, that contrary to what you might assume, talking appears to disengage children during shows. No speaking effectively made the show accessible to a variety of children and adults.

With this production, I would say. 'Think Raymond Briggs’ 'The Snowman' but a novel version of it'. Re-housed in her Grandma’s neat, prim and proper flat, a newly orphaned girl found a kite. It came to life as the girl grieved for her mother, and whisked her away on a perilous but life-changing adventure. She was unaware that her Grandma possessed her own sort of magic. The kite, the wind, and the wild and wonderful elements of nature brought them together; forming a tender bond that no storm could ever shatter.

In the opening moment, we saw the girl looking through a box of her mum’s old stuff, including a dress she used to wear. The heartfelt sadness, mourning, and love was wholly there. Both the girl and the Grandma acted and interacted in a naturalistic style, but with the absence of speech their facial expressions were a little more heightened. This technique worked superbly and had the power to teach children to open up and express themselves non-verbally. There was a spontaneity and grace to the character’s movements. Evident was the seamless switching and changing over of sets, in a fast-paced and adventurous story.

The pre-recorded, Howard Blake-inspired musical score was vivid and dramatic, it engrossed you into the story. A frequent flute motif signified the character of the kite. The assortment of melodic ideas played by a selection of instruments mirrored the action which took place on stage. From time to time, the music was quieter to allow for the live sounds made on stage to make a fuller impact. The emphasised sound of a cup been placed on a saucer, for example, highlighted the poignancy of the given circumstances at that point. Grandma’s flat creatively doubled-up as a set displaying London’s most famous landmarks, which was just cracking.

Now, I didn’t even know indoor kite flying was a thing until I saw this play and I have to say the choreographed movement of the kite was gorgeous. Lovely moments of interaction and play. It was the variation in pace which caught my eye. Every so often, the kite moved around in a chaotic but controlled fashion; other times it slowly soared majestically like an eagle. The puppetry, partner lifts, and mime were precise and well-rehearsed. The boldest, biggest, and bravest moments in the story were conveyed to full effect. Another scene involved a homeless person on the streets, showing a balloon puppet with no face. It was an incredibly touching section, and a reminder of just how much of an issue this still is in modern society. Homeless people might be ignored or forgotten about by some, but random acts of kindness still mercifully exist.

There may have been no spoken dialogue, however character’s thoughts and this transformative journey of family love and catharsis couldn’t have been more transparent. I’d like to think the wind (the kite’s life-force) was the girl’s mother watching over her.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 29/3/19

REVIEW: Pepperland - The Lowry Theatre, Salford

Celebrating fifty years since The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Mark Morris Dance Company presents this fitting tribute to The Beatles' seminal album. The title itself is a reference to the Pepperland sung about on Yellow Submarine, an underwater land protected by the Lonely Hearts Club Band where music is revered above all, and this performance certainly gives the impression of such a land.

A witty and engaging opening really set the scene by introducing characters from the cover of the album, and although I was disappointed that these characters didn’t seem to have much of an effect on the rest of the performance, it was a nice display of the cast and a good teaser for what was to come.

The music is not a simple replaying of the album, but did include renditions of some songs from it such as 'With A Little Help From My Friends', 'When I’m Sixty Four' and 'Within You Without You' and, of course, the title track, bookending the performance in a similar way to the album. There is also a rendition of 'Penny Lane' which was originally intended to be on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band before being released early as a single and therefore not making it onto the album, but it provides one of the highlights of the performance and helps ground the show in Liverpool, where it premiered.

The rest of the music was inspired by the album and it's themes, and gives a good sense of the Sgt. Pepper era. With compositions ranging through a variety of tempos and styles, from adagio to allegro, from discordant psychedelic to up-beat blues, there’s always something to pique the interest and keep the whole performance feeling fresh.

The set is bold, undistracting and simple, with a solid background changing colour, sometimes to suit mood and other times just for a change. At the very back is a simple set-dressing that seems to come from another world, and gives a good impression of the fictional underwater Pepperland in The Beatles' songs. The costumes with their crisp, bold colours and simple designs of suits, miniskirts and chequered coats are a delight to look at, giving a clear sense of British style in the sixties, while not being too overwhelming or stealing the focus.

The dancing itself was a delight to watch. The performance moves seamlessly between solo performances and large, set pieces where the choreography gives a distinct, psychedelic impression. At some points there was so much going on on-stage, it was difficult to know where to look – a veritable feast for the eyes.

The variety of styles of dancing is something to behold in itself – at some points highly skilled, flawless modern dance solos made me appreciate the highly talented individuals that were on stage while at other times an array of dancers show you what powerful psychedelic imagery Mark Morris’ choreography can conjure. At certain points, seeing such an array of performers go from a highly coordinated routine into much more chaotic, discordant and volatile individual routines only to slip seamlessly back into a synchronised set piece is a very enjoyable thing to behold.

After going on a musical journey, the piece finished off with a final rendition of the titular song from Sgt. Pepper, performed with a Big Band feel at a crescendo, bringing the journey to a satisfying close after an hour that felt far too short.

Seeing such a timely, lively and charming performance really brought the up-beat and sometimes strange world of The Beatles' album to life for me. It may have been fifty years since Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, but this fresh take will make sure you really will have enjoyed the show.

Reviewer - John Graham
on - 29/3/19

REVIEW: Sh*t-Faced Showtime: Oliver With A Twist - Leicester Square Theatre, London.

The company behind the intriguingly titled show: Sh*t-faced Shakespeare’ describe themselves as “the deeply highbrow fusion of an entirely serious play with an entirely sh*t-faced cast member...outrageously raucous and completely unpredictable”. Since forming in 2010 they seem to be conquering swathes of the English speaking theatre-going world with their entirely niche and quite literally intoxicating mix of raucous, interactive (often Elizabethan) theatre complete with an entirely sh*t-faced cast member. “What could possibly go right?” we are asked.

And whilst performing such Bard classics as Macbeth. Hamlet and The Taming Of The Shrew this year alone, tonight’s show was an opportunity to see them branch out into Victorian England with the similarly titled ‘Sh*t-Faced Showtime: Oliver With A Twist’. Having been tempted but not quite enticed into the sh*t-faced world on my recent annual visits to the Edinburgh Festival, a few thoughts popped into my mind: Never mind the drunken cast member ….is the performance itself going to be enough to hold our attention for an hour? (It’s a Friday night so surely a visit to any local Soho pub could have the same impact?) Do I need to knock back a few en route to get into the spirit of the thing? And vitally - isn’t this really history repeating itself? As by all accounts the legendary boozer Oliver Reed was pretty sh*t-faced himself on the set of the original musical classic.

With a rotating cast the sh*t-faced crew get one of their members inebriated before each show - 4 hours of slowly getting drunk prior to ‘curtain up’. Being introduced by a vibrant MC with a bit of an accent a la East End (this is a night of Dickens after all) the expectant audience - clearly dying to know exactly what has been consumed - were given the precise information of: one small can of pale ale and half a (rather smallish) bottle of ‘posh’ gin. At which point there was a distinct air of mild disappointment. A small can of light ail plus a few gins over several hours??? To these discerning serious-drinkers that wasn’t really enough to sink a miniature rubber duck!

We were then treated to an hour of - well actually, pure entertainment - with 6 highly talented actors, some slick choreography, powerful singing and a fast moving, often hilarious script. Following largely the Oliver Twist storyline with the interweaving of not only original songs (albeit with a few witty up-to-date revisions) but also well-known numbers from other shows - including a wonderful albeit random rendition of ‘Singing In The Rain’ - this was non-stop high-energy, highly engaging entertainment. As for the inebriated actor - well she (compared to the rest of us) was clearly a bit of a lightweight in the booze department as well as, we were told, being a strict vegan, which added to the various endearing cock-ups and off-script behaviour. And of course this is a show where NO NIGHT is the same, so it was impressive to see a plethora of off-beat improvisation skills from the rest of the cast in the attempt to deal with any wayward behaviour.

For me this was a show that worked. Not least because like everyone who enjoys anything off-beat or immersive, the unexpected is part of the fun, especially with a unique format like this one. As a piece of pure entertainment to slot into your evening, this has it in spades. It is Popular Theatre at its best: Music Hall for the 21st century. In a city that houses more often over-priced ‘serious’ theatre than anywhere in the world, we need the beacon of the Leicester Square Theatre and companies like Sh*t-face to give us something more accessible and affordable. The venue’s programme does indeed read like an all-year-round Edinburgh. And for anyone who is yet to experience Bill Sykes entering stage right with his enduring companion Bullseye ON WHEELS (much funnier than it sounds) I can only say …”Please sir - can we have some MORE?”

Reviewer - Georgina Elliott
on - 29/3/19

Friday, 29 March 2019

REVIEW: Youtopia - The Waterside Theatre, The Manchester College, Manchester.

I think this marks the 5th consecutive year that I have watched this project... Second year students on the Musical Theatre course at Arden are, as part of their coursework, tasked with devising, writing, directing, choreographing, producing and acting in their own brand new world premiere Musical! For the students (majority 20 years old) this is a very 'big ask', but also a huge learning curve and superb experience for each and every one. Of the five I have seen, this has to rank as my favourite.

That is not because it was any better acted, sung or danced than any of the previous years' efforts; neither is it because I liked the storyline any better; but it is because I think in general it had the most coherence and cohesive plot which was kept simple and easy to understand, there were some excellently drawn characters, not too many, and the story was a fair and equal mix between comedy and evil, with a good dollop of love and a true 'Enid Blyton' ending. I feel certain that with the right R+D and a pushy producer, this Musical has got the makings of going further than just the class exercise it in reality was.

However, back to the show. The story, in a nutshell concerns a town (Youtopia) - somewhere in England - which has a Lady Mayor (Mamma) who runs the town her own special way. She insists that each inhabitant takes a Vitamin U pill every morning in order to keep them free from disease, healthy, and nauseously happy.. [a bi-product of taking the pill being that they suddenly acquire an American accent and behave like they're in a 1950s 'Happy Families' advert]. Enter a family from Birmingham, their father due to start work at the town's largest factory, and reason for both the town's wealth and happiness, 'Serco', the company that manufacture the happy pills, Vitamin U. His daughter however is absolutely not taken in by any of this and refusing to take her pill, starts to investigate. She falls in love with the boy next door, rescues the people who have been imprisoned for 'glitching'. [becoming immune to the pill or for not taking it], saves the town, and gives the mayor, her husband and their accomplice their come-uppances.

Most unfortunately the programme does not offer a cast list (?!) and so I am unable to credit the performers. All it does give is a list of song titles, their respective composers and choreographers. However, I will mention them here solely by their cast name...

The Lady Mayor - who for reasons best known to the cast was called Mamma and her husband, Ralph, worked together well. Mamma being a forceful and domineering presence making even her husband cower when she spoke, and Ralph's split-second switching between sadistic evil maniac and pill-popping happy-chappy was masterful. Our protagonist, Sophie, was just what a principal role such as this required; strong when she needed to be, soft when it was called for, and pleasing and easy to watch, having a sympathetic persona and excellent stage presence. Sadly her boyfriend Ben was vocally a little weak in comparison. Welsh-accented Father created a lovely character for himself, but it was the five girls dressed in quasi-matching red and white dresses from the 1950s who sang their way through the script as a Greek Chorus; the all-knowing, plot-developing songs and asides from these five who, almost stealing the show, were an absolute joy. Much was sung a-capella in 5-part harmony too. Very impressive.

Utilising the same set as the play 'The Laramie Project', and an on-stage keyboardist, the large and talented cast acted, sang and danced (and some even played instruments too!) their way through 90 minutes' of completely original material. The songs were an eclectic mix of styles, but somehow this didn't seem out of place at all. We went from an excellent Gilbert And Sullivan patter-song parody to a modern rap in the blink of an eye, with a waltz, a calypso, love ballad, and goodness knows what else in between. All the choreography was extremely good and well thought through, and costuming was also generally very apt and coordinated.

I take my hat off to these students. I honestly don't think that at that age, I would have been able to have made any really useful contribution to a team effort such as this; but I was delighted by the result of their culminated efforts and thoroughly enjoyed the Musical from Youtopian start to 'kiss my ass' end! Bravissimi tutti.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 28/3/19


REVIEW: Formentera Lady (film) - HOME, Manchester.

HOME’s Viva festival, a self-proclaimed selection of ‘the most exciting film and theatre from across the Spanish-speaking world’, continues apace with a contemporary Spanish film from actor turned director Paul Dura.

Prior to the feature, we were treated to a charming short ‘El Camino De Santiago’ (Dir Monzó, M. 2017), which takes its influence from the breathlessly paced voiceover montages of Jean Pierre Jeunet’s ‘Amelie’ and borrows some of Jeunet’s fantastical whimsy and wit. It is gloriously shot in sun-bleached hues, it is pacey and has some genuinely funny moments. It does however seem to pull away from its more surreal and humorous potential, which is a shame, but the biggest crime is how, after establishing a compelling central enigma, it completely dismisses it. It just gives up on its own premise in a conclusion that may as well state “It was just a dream” it is so trite. Monzo is a talent worth looking out for, but perhaps should figure out how to end his stories.

The feature presentation was ‘Formentera Lady’ (Dir: Dura, P. 2018), a drama set on the small Balearic Island that is just a stone’s throw from Ibiza. Samuel, an aged womaniser and hippy eaks out a living playing banjo in a local bar. He lives a basic, lonely existence in his near-derelict shack, which lacks heating and electricity. Upon returning home one morning after being forced into sleeping in his broken-down car, which serves as a suitable metaphor for his failing health and perhaps impotence, he is met by his estranged daughter, who informs him that she is leaving behind Samuel’s grandson because she has to go to work in France.

What follows is a charming character study of a man defined by his selfishness, forced into taking responsibility for someone else, in this case a vulnerable & lonely young boy. This is hardly a new plot for a drama and perhaps a brilliant recent example is Taika Waititi’s ‘Hunt For The Wilderpeople’ (2016) which played this trope to much more comic effect, but Formentera Lady handles the set-up with great maturity and heart. José Sacristán’s portrayal of Samuel is excellently pitched. He is clearly an actor blessed with real charisma (here he cuts a dashing figure reminiscent of Sir Ian McKellan) but each close-up holds on Sacristán projecting palpable tiredness and regret in his eyes, whilst his innocent counterpart Marc (played by Sandro Ballesteros) is equally as damaged despite his young years. There is not a bad performance in the whole film, which draws naturalistic and believable characterisation from all of the supporting cast, most notably from Jordi Sánchez, who is tasked with the most broadly comic role. As Toni, the local fisherman who seems to spend all of his money on marijuana, Sánchez delivers most of the punchlines and injects some energy into later scenes, whilst maintaining a sense that he is a three-dimensional character who would exist in the world that director Dura has created.

Dura’s strengths as a director come in the form of the performances he draws from his cast and restraint he shows in his storytelling. His aesthetics are somewhat jarring at times though; In capturing this slow-paced, sensitive character-study of an elderly man’s chance at redemption, Dura has inexplicably opted for a handheld camera technique throughout. The use of handheld imbues the film with an agitated and restless feel, which is incongruous to the deliberate editing pace and overall stillness of Sacristán’s performance. Some compositions cry out for a static camera and instead the frame pitches and lurches like Jason Bourne is about to burst in and kick one of these pensioners in the face. Another quibble is the soundtrack, which despite trying to evoke Samuel’s past, as well as his reason for remaining on the island apparently stuck in the 1970s, is horribly jarring. The refrain of King Crimson’s ‘Formentera Lady’ from their 1971 album ‘Islands’ is obviously narratively relevant, but it is a horrible song which does not suit the mood of the film. It clatters in tunelessly like a drunk singing a sad ballad on the last bus home.

These jarring aesthetic choices could not spoil such an enjoyable and touching film. The film reminds me very much of Koreeda’s recent triumph ‘Shoplifters’ in its patient, humanist storytelling, and in how the complexity of the characters is slowly revealed by subtle developments throughout the narrative. Even as the final act veers inevitably towards some melodramatic peril, it is in how believably Dura’s screenplay set this chain of events up that it doesn’t feel forced or contrived.

Formentera Lady is a drama rich in sentimentality and charm, and you can catch it again at HOME on the 5th April. The Viva Festival runs until Saturday the 13th April and you can find a full list of film and theatre events at

Reviewer - Ben Hassouna-Smith
on - 28/3/19

REVIEW: Shappi Khorsandi: Skittish Warrior - The Epstein Theatre, Liverpool

Shappi Khorsandi is a brave woman…stepping backwards to demonstrate the vastness of the proscenium arch stage of Liverpool’s beautifully restored cosy Epstein Theatre she immediately broke the fourth wall by leaning out and guessing people’s names. You got the impression she really wants to make friends, ‘I’ve been on my own all day with only Twitter to talk to’ and she’s in need of a drink; well she’s come to the right place! On her first visit to Liverpool a few weeks into her 38-date UK tour, she cuts the figure of a small, vulnerable woman in a mini dress trying to connect with her unknown mostly middle-aged audience and they loved her. (One even brought her a drink on stage) She appeared slightly thrown by the Liverpool audience demographic as her first ‘mark’ was a lawyer who had come from the gym but she quickly settled in. Her comedy material is conversational rather than confrontational and she often referred to the setting as a comedy club despite the blinding stage lights leaving her talking into the darkness. On reflection it might have been better with the house lights up.

The theatre was built in 1913 at the height of the suffragettes’ militant campaign, the same year suffragette Emily Davison died after throwing herself in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby. Khorsandi was no less passionate, just as ground-breaking and only slightly more restrained. You get the feeling she has overcome a lot in her life as she grew on stage, earning her 'warrior stripes' as she tackled issues such as being labelled BAME (Black And Minority Ethnic), single parenthood and climbing the male-dominated comedy circuit ladder. I’m loath to give her any label but she is a feminist without shouting about it. She just gets on with it. As such she appeals to men, women and non-binary alike, and cleverly engaged her whole audience with her self-deprecating humour. Her comedy skill is in her seemingly ‘off the cuff’ writing, often ‘forgetting’ where she was up to and addressing a sudden thought that popped into her head as she played the slightly ditzy ‘brown woman’. Wisely ditching Brexit, she lifted the lid on many taboo subjects: Terrorism, scripted TV comedy shows, BBC One Question Time (It was worth going to hear her personal Jeremy Corbyn story), biased book prize lists, 'I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here!’, all from personal experience. Khorsandi’s worked small comedy clubs and high-profile TV and is a published author but you feel she’s only getting started. Never sure if she’s winging it, she made her performance a personal experience for her audience. She could easily have done another hour. Khorsandi is funny and fearless. It’s high time she had her own TV show.

Reviewer - Barbara Sherlock
on - 28/3/19

REVIEW: The Funeral Director - HOME, Manchester

Iman Qureshi’s fresh and unique script, first staged only last year, depicts the lives of four very different, but equally as troubled characters. Set in a Muslim funeral parlour run by Ayesha and her husband, Zeyd; we as the audience quickly realise that the constant looming of death in their busy jobs is not the most traumatising element to befall these characters. This is evident from the opening scene in which Ayesha is preparing an infant for burial, whilst having a casual conversation with her husband. This is a play with much deeper roots; a play in which the unsaid speaks volumes. A clever and funny script about politics, society, religion and sexuality, which successfully validates each character’s opinion.

I knew little of this play before sitting down in HOME’s theatre, and was wowed by the levels of performance and preparation. Each member of the cast were wonderfully moving and equally as comical, working fluidly as an ensemble. They took us on a journey of ups and downs, in which I as an audience member felt fully invested in each character. Ayesha, played by Aryana Ramkhalawon, and Zayd, played by Assad Zaman, worked wonderfully together and their chemistry shone through on stage. The audience laughed with them and wept with them. The other two actors in this production; Francesca Zoutewelle who played Janey, Ayesha’s old school friend, and Edward Stone who played Tom, a grieving boyfriend seeking help from the Muslim funeral parlour, were both equally as moving. The script leant itself to great performances, and these four wonderful actors did not disappoint.

Beautifully directed by Hannah Hauer-King, who aims to give a voice to ‘those that are often unheard’. In this production, she ensures that every voice is heard, during both their lighter moments, and their moments of grief and loss.

The funeral parlour is Ayesha and Zayd’s life, and this is reflected through the wonderful design. The set replicates a Muslim funeral parlour, and this is the only location we can visually see as an audience. Coupled with the blending of traditional music from the Muslim culture, which morphs disturbingly into discordant, clashing bass notes. The lighting also replicated a funeral parlour, with bright, white lights; bare and exposed. Similarly to the dead bodies they must wash and dress, and similarly to the four characters of the play when their struggles are revealed. Recognition must be given then, to the designer; Amy Jane Cook, the lighting designer; Jack Wier and the sound designer; Max Pappenheim.

This was a small scale theatre piece, shown in theatre 2 at HOME. Rightly so. This is how this production should be seen. The intimacy between the characters and the audience seems almost essential for this script. We are peeking into their private lives, we can hear their whispers as well as their shouts. Such a wonderful play throughout, in which the script was so well-written and performed that the lack of interval did not seem to matter. This production is unlike any other piece of theatre I have seen, and I urge people to see it if they can. It raises questions of religions and British society, and it does not answer them for us. Ultimately, we as an audience decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. I can find no criticism with this production. You can understand why this script won Papatango’s 10th annual New Writing Prize; it is current and important. It is also hugely funny, and it succeeds in blending these genres together seamlessly.

Reviewer - Megan Relph
on - 28/3/19

photo credit - Mihela Bodlovic

REVIEW: Crazy, Kooky, Kitsch - The Dancehouse Theatre, Manchester.

Once again I find myself at Manchester's 'hidden gem' Dancehouse Theatre to watch a presentation of their in-house company, 'Jazzgalore' - the Musical Theatre arm of the hugely successful and highly renowned Northern Ballet School which resides in the building. Once again, I sit back and relax to watch these young adults 'strut their stuff' in their latest showcase of their talent, a 'tiptoe through the barmy, bonkers and brilliant world of Musical Theatre'!

My evenings spent watching the Northern Ballet School (either the classical ballet side or the modern repertoire) are some of my favourites in my hectic calendar, and this evening was no exception. Sometimes the talent is a little raw (that's understandable) or I feel, as I did this evening, that one or two were perhaps miscast, again, understandable, as this is a training establishment, and you can only cast from what you have. But one thing is certain every time, the amount of commitment and dedication that these students (late teens / early 20s) put forward and just exactly how much unbridled talent is on display.

This evening's offering was in 5 distinct sections. The first of which, 'A Celebration Of The Witches Of Oz', took music and songs from The Wizard Of Oz, Wicked and The Wiz, and presented a short potted version of the story. The evening saw two of my favourite Musical Theatre songs performed, and one of them, 'No Bad News' was in this section. I liked the idea of using three girls in the style of 'The Ronettes' to fill out the chorus phrases and harmonies whilst the majority danced and Francesca Thompson sang the song, but for me the choreography was too happy and jolly and therefore didn't contrast enough with 'Brand New Day' which followed. The dancing in this section was wonderful, although personally I didn't feel the tap routine fit with 'Brand New Day' at all, despite it being expertly danced. Unfortunatley, the killing of the Wicked Witch, using silver strands attached to a bucket and watching while she walked off stage in a little smoke, came across as very amateurish.

The second section, a segue from a magical kingdom at the end of the yellow brick road to a magical kingdom down a rabbit hole, as we were 'Welcom[ed] To Wonderland' with music from Wonderland, as well as other sources, was generally much more solid; and two of the numbers were contemporary ballet pieces which were hugely enjoyable.

After the interval, and three shorter sections. First came a medley from 'The Witches Of Eastwick' which saw Rosie Carter, Emma Coupland and Hayley Maunder masterfully tackle the roles of the three board housewives who go in search of sexual excitement only to find they have shacked themselves up with the devil incarnate, Daryl Van Horn (Daniel Gooddy). 'Make Him Mine' was a particularly enjoyable moment in this section.

Next, a Musical which seems to feature in every showcase Jazzgalore do, although this evening's was totally different from previous shows; 'Little Shop Of Horrors'. There were some nice ideas in the opening montage and I liked the characterisations of both Seymour (Laurie Oliver) and Audrey (Cerys Salter) greatly. Again three well-chosen girls were used (although this time they are part of the show) as backing singers, and the dancing again was excellent. An extraneous 'pop' song was used for the appearance of the large version of Audrey 2, {Mean Green Mother From Outer Space} and sung once again by Francesca Thompson, this time looking and sounding very much like Grace Jones.

Finally, it was the turn of The Addams Family. A spooky but hugely fun Musical which puts the well-known cartoon characters in a quandary, as Wednesday, now somewhat older than usual, is in love and wants to marry a 'normal' boy. The opening sequence 'When You're An Addams' was excellent. The second of my favourite songs appeared next, 'Death Is Just Around The Corner', and I have to admit that sadly this simply did not live up to my (high) expectations at all. In fact, sorry to say, it felt a little flat. However the pace was soon picked up again as the full company came back to 'El Tango De Amor'.

There were some extremely quick costume changes this evening, and in general the costumes were superb, matching the moods, themes and characters. For some of the evening back projection was used to add or ameliorate parts of the narrative, and the lighting was generally very good. Only a couple of times, at the stage extremities, were dancers and singers caught in shadow. The choral singing was excellent, with some lovely harmonies, and all the solos were very good, but I would like to give special mention to Cerys Salter who proved to be my favourite songstress of the evening. And of course, the dancing was wonderful, exciting, and fabulous. I would have been not only dissapointed but also surprised if it hadn't have been! This is the area of Musical Theatre in which these students really excel. 

Looking forward to seeing their next showcase in July, however there are still two evenings left to catch this one, and for anyone who likes dance and / or Musicals, then this is a real treat!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 28/3/19

Thursday, 28 March 2019

REVIEW: Never Mind The Backstop - Bar 21, Manchester.

I think it’s fair the say all the drama surrounding the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union has made the country a bit of a laughing stock across the globe. So there should be plenty of material for a comedy show about it. With a title of ‘Never Mind the Backstop - The European Farewell Tour’, it’s fair to say I was expecting a night of comedy all about Brexit. However, that wasn’t necessarily the case.

MC for the evening was Maltese born Steve Hili. He began his set on his childhood in Malta before he moved to Swindon. His tales of his lazy eye, Maltese drinking culture and circumcision had the audience in stitches. In general he was a good compere for the evening, however I felt he could have read the audience better when it came to interacting with them. For example, a couple of girls arrived late and like any comedian would he tried to roast them for it. However, the girls clearly were not interested in being part of the joke. I think he should have left it there instead of prolonging it.

The first comedian for the evening was Radu Isac from Romania. His set mainly comprised of the differences between his life in the UK and his native Romania. He joked that even though Eastern Europe is comprised of many countries and languages, somehow they all sound Russian when they speak English. I don’t know if Isac was nervous, however he kept leaning against the wall, putting his hands in his pockets and swinging the mic around, all which distracted a bit from his set.

Next on stage was Alice Frick who’s from Austria. Highlights of her set included how unsexy the German language is. The translation for the word ‘sex’ is ‘gender traffic’ in German, and nipples are called ‘breast warts’. She delivered a really lively set and was very well received by the audience.

After the interval it was Arielle Souma from France’s turn to take to the stage. Her routine was mainly focused around sex. Some of her gags caught you so off guard that you couldn’t help but laugh out loud. She has a very strong stage presence, I feel some of the men in the audience were cowering in fear of her though!

The final act of the evening was Italy’s Luca Cupani. He joked about how Brexit is a bit like an Italian job - incompetent and corrupt. He also told us how he saw a natural disaster in Japan as a sign from God telling him not to go to Japan. Although he did deliver a good set I feel like it wasn’t the strongest of the evening. Given that it was around 10pm by this time and audience were starting to get tired I feel we needed a more lively performer to round off the evening. For me Souma would have been a better choice to close the show.

I’m still a bit on the fence about whether I feel the title of the show was a bit of a cop-out. I was initially expecting a show about Brexit, however it was really a night for European comedians. I think it would have been nice to address Brexit a bit more, but on the other hand it was also good the evening was filled without it.

Some of the comedians joked about how they may have to leave the UK after Brexit. However, one thing that this comedy night showed is that we have far more in common with our European friends than that which divides us.

Reviewer - Brian Madden
on - 27/3/19

REVIEW: Golem - presented as live filmed performance to celebrate World Theatre Day.

In order to celebrate World Theatre Day, 1927 Company decided to release a film of a live stage presentation of their award-winning and highly acclaimed production of Golem. The 90 minute play was screened simultaneously on various websites including 1927 Theatre's own, their Facebook page, HOME Theatre (Manchester), The Old Market (Brighton), The Jewish Museum (Berlin), La Libre (Belgium), Spoleto Festival (USA), and Theatre De La Ville (Paris).

The piece had its World Premiere performance at The Salzburger Stadtstheater during The Salzburg Festival in 2014, and was then filmed live and shown on BBC4 in 2018. It is that filming that is now being shown again and is available to watch on the above sites for the next fortnight.

Golem is a truly unique piece of theatre.Trying to describe what I have witnessed is perhaps impossible, the phrase 'it needs to be seen to be believed' is as apt here as it would be anywhere. In fact, after watching it as a film, I tend to think it might actually work better in this medium, although having never seen it live it is difficult to say. Certainly 1927's trademark style of using film, animation, projection, and having the actors oh so cleverly and seamlessly interact with them is omipresent and abundant. It is highly stylised - a kind of cross between Kurt Weill, Terry Gilliam and Marc Blitzstein's Federal Theater Project. It offers a truly dystopian vision of, or perhaps an alternate reality vision of, our very near future, but is wry and slightly mischievous about it all too.

The story concerns a certain Average-Joe named Robert, who lives at a time in our recent past where manpower was prized, money was hard to come by, and technology had not yet taken a foot-hold. Let's call it the 1930s. Robert works in a mundane factory, doing mundane repetitive and probably pointless work, walking the Party line, wearing the Party clothes and chanting the Party mantras. That is until one day he meets up with his friend, an inventor, who has invented a Golem. A Golem we are told, is a clay 'robot'. The Golem will do exactly what its master tells it to, and do it in half the time and with twice the efficiency. He sells his first Golem to Robert.

The play is a satire on both Communistic-based societies and Consumerism-based societies. Cleverly the play does not take sides over East v West or Capitalism, as it has rather stern warnings about both societal extremes within the play. Neither is the play overly political, but instead uses the politics to further the narrative. That is because the play is not actually a political play at all.. in fact it is about something else altogether.... technology, and our dependance on it.

The play also features live music and song played by a keyboardist and drummer on the sides of the stage, and they also make up the extra members of the Punk Progressive Rock Band they form to 'smash society'.

The lighting is some of the most creative and technically superb I have seen in a very long time and the whole was directed with fine attention to detail and a fastidiousness for absolute precision by the play's writer, Suzanne Andrade.

Without spoiling the story or the end, this play is perhaps a 'wake-up call' for us all to recognise that we are simply enslaved by our technology. How much control does our technology have over itself and indeed us? - and that is the question that ultimately we need to answer, and do we feel comfortable with that answer? Inspiration for this piece was taken from an old Jewish folk tale which tells of a man making a machine out of clay in order to serve him. The play does not follow the fable, but we can be certain that the two ends are not dissimilar. The large and clunky clay Golem is soon replaced by a more modern, smaller, zippier, more efficient Golem #2, which is, in turn replaced by an implant, the Golem #3. You can see where this is going.......

The play is an absolute feast for the senses, and the stop-motion and real-time animations which make up a very large part of the production, and are the creations of Paul Barritt, are simply stunning. As a production it feels both dated and contemporary at one and the same time (a deliberate ploy I feel); as if we are voyeurs watching the quotidien mundanity of the poor, downtrodden, unaspirational, who just by chance, happens to believe the dogma, the constant advertising and brainwashing, and then the rise to a new and better life. "Say 'yes' to progress!"

Full credit to the live actors / actresses too... Genevieve Dunne, Nathan Gregory, Philippa Hambly, Rowena Lennon and Felicity Sparks, with Ben Whitehead as the voice of Golem.

If you only ever get the chance to watch this production - and as I have already mentioned it is available for the next two weeks on several websites - then you absolutely MUST! If you get the chance to see it in a theatre - GO! [just as the advertising and the company behind Golem became 'Go'... GO.. everything!]

Extremely clever, extremely clever, extremely clever, say 'yes' to Golem, say 'yes' to Golem...........!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 27/3/19

REVIEW: Oliver! - The Plaza Theatre, Stockport

Following the huge successes of their last two productions, Annie Get Your Gun and Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang, Romiley Operatic Society (amateur) return to The Stockport Plaza with Lionel Bart’s much loved musical, Oliver!. Almost, sixty years old this perennial favourite has become a staple of many amateur societies and ROS is no exception having previously performed Oliver! on three other occasions. Having seen this wonderful musical many times, this production is one of the best that this reviewer has seen. Director, Michael Jones-McCaw has assembled a first rate cast, who wring out every ounce of comedy, drama and pathos from this well known story.

From the first notes of the opening number, “Food Glorious Food,” it is clear that we are in safe hands. Against a backdrop proclaiming that, ‘God Is Love,’ the chorus of thirty plus workhouse orphans sing and dance their hearts out in a desperate plea for fairness and extra rations. For daring to ask for more the angelic, sweet sounding Oliver is expelled from the workhouse and sold by the aptly named Mr Bumble, as an apprentice undertaker to the dour Mr Sowerberry and his family. Escaping from the Sowerberry’s clutches, Oliver travels to London where he meets the jocular Artful Dodger and the irrepressible Fagin. It is as a member of Fagin’s gang that Oliver’s adventures really begin. Performed with great style and slickly presented this production of Oliver! gradually builds in tension until the final dramatic denouement, when Oliver is reunited with his family and those who have wronged him are duly punished.

A successful production of Oliver! must have at it's core a set of principal performers who can invest themselves fully in their roles. Heading this extremely talented cast is Gary Jones-McCaw as Fagin. Having built a stellar 'career' in amateur theatre playing romantic leads, Jones-McCaw rises superbly to the challenge of playing one of the truly great character roles in musical theatre. His beautifully detailed nuanced performance is a revelation, every gesture, movement and vocal inflection is impeccably judged. Jones-McCaw’s rendition of, “I’m Reviewing The Situation,” is musical theatre perfection. This is an outstanding performance that will live long in the memory.

Other standout performances include Lucy Roberts as Nancy, who commands the stage with great authority especially when singing the haunting torch song, “As Long As He Needs Me,” and is genuinely heartbreaking in the second act when conveying the perilous and torturous nature of her situation. Roberts is new to the amateur stage and is clearly a talent to look out for in the future.

As Dodger, Connor Wyse is a natural song-and-dance man and is at his best when leading the company in “Consider Yourself,” and taking centre stage in the ensemble numbers, “I’ll Do Anything” and “It’s A Fine Life.” Alfie Hall as Oliver has a natural grace on stage and a beautiful singing voice. For someone so young he gives a captivating and very mature interpretation of the role. Congratulations to both young actors for giving such appealing and spirited performances.

The ensemble, especially the children in Fagin’s gang, are well drilled by choreographer Tracy Harper and attack each number with bags of energy and enthusiasm. The orchestra under Musical Director Claire Sweeney, provide fantastic musical support and rarely have I heard Oliver! sound this good. On the strength of this and other productions that I have ever seen, it is easy to see why ROS has earned a reputation for being one of the best amateur musical societies in Greater Manchester. This is a terrific production of a brilliant musical and should not be missed.

Oliver is at the Stockport Plaza until Saturday 30 March

Reviewer - Richard Hall
on - 27/3/19

REVIEW: All My Sons - Mary Wallace Theatre, Twickenham, London.

Arthur Miller was born in New York in 1915 and was attracted to the arts by his mother – his father owned a successful coat and suit business. He wrote his first play in 1936 whilst at college, a piece called “No Villain” for which he received great praise. This encouraged him to switch to an English course where he excelled under the guidance of Professor Kenneth Rowe. His first play to get mainstream recognition was “The Man Who Had All The Luck” although it lasted on Broadway for only 6 performances. This gave him credibility on Broadway where he went on to write his most famous works of “Death Of A Salesman” in 1949 and “The Crucible” in 1952 which are played in venues across the country today. “All My Sons”, which he wrote in 1947, doesn’t quite attract the same adulation but nevertheless it is a classic Miller piece of work. 

The venue for tonight’s performance was a small theatre in the heart of Twickenham – The Mary Wallace Theatre. This was my first visit to the venue but most definitely not my last. It has an abundance of character from the exposed brickwork that you see in the small foyer and in the theatre itself all the way through to the staff who operate the venue and have clearly been doing so for many years. The audience appears to be one of mostly local residents but with a sprinkling of people who have travelled a little further like myself. 

As the curtains open for the evening’s performance, my first reaction is on just how professional the set looks for this production. Whilst the set is static for the whole play, the garden setting of The Keller’s home is very well built but shows an accurate level of natural decay that you would find in the 1940s post war era in the USA – all 3 acts take place in the garden but lighting changes help to determine the time of day. 

The main characters in “All My Sons” are The Keller family – father Joe Keller (Simon Bickerstaffe), mother Kate Keller (Dorothy Duffy) and son Chris Keller (Jack Lumb). There is another son Larry but he was reported missing during the war – presumed dead by all apart from his mother. This is a constant theme throughout the play where Kate is unable to accept that her son is not still alive. We get to meet most of the rest of the cast throughout the first act with Ann Deever (Sarah Imran) arriving at the Keller’s home after being invited by Chris. She was the next door neighbour many years previously and had been the sweetheart of Larry until the point of his disappearance – but had long since accepted he would not return. Chris was planning to ask Ann to marry him during the visit. We also met Dr Jim Bayliss (John Mortley), a rather eccentric neighbour and local doctor who was clearly dominated by his wife Sue Bayliss (Claire Driver) – he was very rarely out of her sight. The storyline focuses mainly on the relationships between the different members of the Keller family and the re-introduction of a close partnership with the Deever family from many years ago. Ann was about to become the bride of Chris but it was her father who was closest to Joe Keller, they were partners at the Aeronautics plant that was now run solely by Joe Keller. Steve Deever had been Joe’s partner until he was convicted of supplying defective aircraft parts to the US war effort which resulted in 21 pilots being killed when their planes went down. 

Act 2 is where the plot moves on when we meet Ann’s brother George Deever (Ben Willows) who is now a lawyer and has recently met with his father. Steve had always maintained his innocence and blamed Joe Keller for those defect parts being shipped and George had arrived at the Keller’s house to take his sister home and to confront Joe about the events that led to the death of the 21 pilots. This results in some very dramatic and emotional scenes during Act 3 where each of the strands of the plot come together. 

This was the first time I had seen “All My Sons” performed and whilst I knew the general storyline, I wasn’t prepared for a plot that explored the emotional relationships between the families in the way this production did. Whilst I have no comparison to point toward, I feel sure that Arthur Miller would have approved of this production as it demonstrated the plot perfectly. I also feel I need to make special reference to the acting skills of Jack Lumb who brought to life the character of Chris Keller – the emotional scenes with both his father and with Ann towards the end of the play were very special.

Reviewer - John Fish
on - 26/3/19

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

NEWS: Steve Steinman's Vampires Rock: The Ghost Train returns to Manchester for one night only in April!

Steve Steinman - The Man Behind the Shows
Steve Steinman, from Oldham, is one of the most successful touring show producer and director, and is about to make his milestone of twenty consecutive years filling theatres and concert halls all over the UK.

After his appearance in 1993 on Stars In Their Eyes performing as Meat Loaf, Steve Steinman has worked hard to extend that ‘one night’ into a full blown career. Steve has to be the most successful contestant the programme has ever seen. He has built a fan base most rock stars would be proud of. Steve’s fans have even gone to the extreme of having tattoos portraying him and his band!

As well as being a busy singer and actor, Steve is also the driving force behind his own production company Steve Steinman Productions, through which he has worked with some of the world’s best-known rock stars.

Steve Steinman’s office and home can now be found in Nottingham but born in Manchester in 1965, Steve started out on a very different career path. A love of good food led him to train and begin work as a chef in his home city. Though enjoying his job, Steve became frustrated with being unable to create the food he wanted to, and decided to open and run his own restaurant. It was a big gamble at a young age, but one that paid off as Steve took over and re-launched his family owned hotel and restaurant.

Never actually intending to leave the restaurant business behind, Steve applied for Stars In Their Eyes, after being urged to do so by anyone who heard him sing. After an amazing response from the show, Steve decided he had achieved so much within the restaurant business, that he would give performing a chance. Over twenty years on, Steve no longer owns a restaurant, but still loves his time in the kitchen whenever he gets the chance (which isn’t very often when you spend half your life on a tour bus!)

In 2000 Steve produced his first theatre show after many years performing all over the world including South Africa and Europe as a tribute to Meat Loaf. Always looking to go that next step Steve wrote and produced The Meat Loaf Story. It was so successful it reached new heights when Steve and the show appeared for one night only at the London Palladium to rave reviews.

In 2004 Steve wrote and produced the brand new original show Vampires Rock where he took the lead role as Baron Von Rockula.

The show – along with Steve’s popularity – continues to grow, and in 2005 Steve took a massive gamble when Vampires Rock embarked on an arena tour, performing at Sheffield Hallam Arena, Nottingham Ice Arena and Manchester Evening News Arena. Remarkably with all the odds stacked against him he made it a success and re-toured the arenas again the following year.

The 2007 tour saw US rock legend Eddie Ojeda of Twisted Sister guest star on lead guitar. In 2008 and 2009 the legendary singer and actress Toyah Willcox joined the show in a brand-new role Steve created for her: The Vampire Queen. As such, Toyah performed with Steve in over 200 shows.

The biggest project for 2009 saw Steve in the driving seat once again: Bat the Symphony was a dream Steve had had for a long time. Combining a 40-piece orchestra with Steve’s very own rock band to perform all of Meat Loaf’s biggest hits, this was always going to be a major project with a big risk. However the tour proved a massive success selling out over 100 venues and touring for two seasons 2009/10.

In 2010 Steve took Vampires Rock back on the road with a massive 100 date sell out tour taking the show well into 2011. Vampires Rock has gone from strength to strength performing to over 50,000 fans every year. Steve has appeared on national TV many times and recently his story appeared in the Sunday Times’ business section ‘How I Made It - my first million’.

In 2014 the original Vampires Rock drew to a close with a tour called The Final Countdown. Steve went on to write a sequel to the show - Ghost Train - which began touring in 2015. Ghost Train continued to exceed expectations with venues needing to add more dates due to sell-out shows.

New for 2017 Steve wrote and launched a production called Iconic: the Show featuring some of the best soundtracks from the coolest movies ever. This show ran alongside continued Vampires Rock Ghost Train tours and Meat Loaf Story tours.

On the last Vampires Rock tour Steve worked with X-factor favourite and winner Sam Bailey, who got her teeth into the real rocker of a show as she stepped into the shows of Toyah Willcox to revive the role of the Vampires Queen.

Coming up in Summer and Autumn 2019 the Meat Loaf Story continues in a new guise entitled Anything For Love. This tour stars Steve along with special guest star Lorraine Crosby who was the female lead vocalist on Meat Loaf’s Grammy Award winning song and No 1 hit the world over ‘I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’.

Steve Steinman’s Vampires Rock will be coming to the Opera House, Manchester on Saturday 6th April 2019. Tickets on sale now.