Tuesday, 30 April 2019

REVIEW: Things I Know To Be True - The Garrick Playhouse, Altrincham

Andrew Bovell is one of Australia’s best known screen writers and 'Things I Know To Be True' was a collaboration between Frantic Assembly and State Theatre Company of South Australia. It is a contemporary play which was originally produced in collaboration with Warwick Arts Centre in association with Chichester Festival Theatre and the Lyric Hammersmith. The story is a poignant tale about a suburban family’s turbulent relationship between parents; Bob and Fran and their four grown up children. The play begins with a seemingly happy and content family but over the course of two acts, we watch their stability unravel and everything they ‘know to be true’ become false. I was fortunate enough to see the original production when it toured at The Lowry Theatre in 2016 under the direction of the innovative Geordie Brookman and Scott Graham and I was curious to see if the amateur production would attempt any of the daring physical theatre techniques of Frantic Assembly. Sadly, this production did not. However, what it lacked in physicality, it made up for in professionalism.

Under the design of Juliet Jones, the set was magnificent. The design concept mirrored that of the 2016 professional production and was as professionally constructed and presented. The use of the rose bushes as a backdrop throughout was a lovely metaphor for the dying relationships in the family.
Director Carole Carr created a real masterpiece on stage which gives the stunning script the glory it deserves. Although the majority of the play is naturalistic in its acting style, the use of ensemble dialogue from the family members and dislocated speech in the opening scene was exciting and innovative, making way for the first lengthy monologue. In this monologue we witnessed the youngest daughter of the family, Rosie (Megan Relph) speaking at length with a passionate naivety as she travels around Europe. There are very few plays whereby the audience erupt into applause at the end of scene one, but Relph’s delivery was testament to this reaction. Her portrayal of the youthful teen as her naivety is shattered in this opening scene is a foreboding of how she will cope as her family (whom she trusts and can turn to), as they each single handily let her down with their own misgivings and life choices which all impacted on her.

The Monday night audience of the Garrick, tends to be an older crowd of patrons who have season passes. I really felt that although a lot of the vulgar language in the script may have pushed their acceptable boundaries, the empathy the older generations may have felt towards parents Bob (Charlie Tomlinson) and Fran (Brigid Hemingway) was appropriately directed in the parents’ frustrations of their adult offspring’s life choices. In the first act we see them as a functioning older couple, still working and balancing the needs of their family, whilst ignoring their own relationship. The pair had a wonderful rapport and a believability which encapsulated their underlying love for one another and also their disappointment in their offspring. In the second half, after being asked to accept so many of their children’s misdemeanours in life, mum Fran says, "It wasn’t meant to be like this. I thought they’d be like us. But better than us. Better versions of us.” Hemingway and Tomlinson demonstrated a clever reversal of status on stage and in their relationships with their family. The two performers portray this with a tender pathos and honesty which must have rung true with much of the audience. .

One thing I always find myself doing at the Altrincham Garrick theatre is reminding myself that this is not professional theatre. Any small misgivings I may have about their acting or the quality of production is always forgiven by the standard they achieve as an amateur theatre group. In my opinion, the Altrincham Garrick produce some of the most professional amateur productions Greater Manchester have on offer and I think that’s a pretty admirable position to be in! The cast of six had quite a tall order with this wordy script of 70 minutes act one and 50 minutes act two but I really did enjoy it.

Reviewer - Johanna Hassouna-Smith
on - 29/4/19

REVIEW: Eyre Llew - The Retro Bar, Manchester

It was on an ordinary weekday morning with my trusty clock radio tuned in to 6music when I first heard Eyre Llew. I noticed the melody emerging through washed-out guitars on heavy reverb and had already turned up the volume, when Chris Hawkins back-referenced the track; “That was Eyre Llew. Britain’s answer to Sigur Ros.” I practically leapt out of bed to look them up. Any comparison to Sigur Ros is high praise indeed and one which no band can possibly live up to. A downloaded album on heavy rotation since then has revealed that they do indeed suit Hawkins’ bold comparison.

Formed in 2014 by Jack Clark, Jack Bennett and Sam Heaton, Eyre Llew’s own brand of music has been labelled “post-rock”, “art-rock” (yuck!) and “ambient rock”, more of which later. They released their first album ‘Atelo’ in 2017 to universally warm reviews and have been touring it throughout the world for the last 18 months. It was on a particular leg of the tour in Asia that the band formed a strong friendship with “K-pop” band ‘In The Endless Zanhyang We Are’, which led to a collaboration on ‘Split’, an EP of 5 songs which literally splits the lead responsibilities between the groups (2 to 3 in favour of their Korean counterparts), but blends the input of both bands throughout, to remarkably powerful effect.

The current tour is only 5 dates of small, intimate gigs to celebrate the release of the EP and Manchester was the last of these dates. The Retro Bar, situated on Sackville street near the University of Manchester, houses a basement venue ideal for watching live bands up close. So as I arrived I was struck by how appropriate it was for the solo acts on stage, but wondered how a band with such an epic scope would fare in these surroundings. Eyre Llew were preceded by solo sets by Campfire Social, Easter and Denuo, in whose music I have to confess, I struggled to find anything remarkable. Their songs were competent, well written, but indistinguishable from each other or from many singer / songwriters doing the rounds at the moment.

Eyre Llew’s 45 minute set began with little fanfare or posturing, with guitarist Jack Bennett crouched over his extensive effects kit on the floor (more pedals than the Tour De France!) to create a drone of dissonant sounds before standing up and bowing his guitar. On the opposite side of the stage Sam Heaton, plucked at his guitar wistfully to beautiful effect, the heavy reverb letting each note drift through the room as though it were being committed to memory. Here, Eyre Llew suited being labelled “ambient rock”, but by the time this number had reached its powerful crescendo and the band had launched into their second number, Havoc, a more rock-fuelled anthem, the label was already inadequate. “Ambient” according to the Collins English Dictionary means “of or relating to immediate surroundings” and the immense sound this band emitted was not “of” or befitting of these surroundings, it practically pushed against its confinement like a hand grenade going off in a shoe box. This was the loudest gig I have attended in about a decade, but never was it an abrasive or confrontational sound, more like standing amidst a choir during a hurricane.

Sam Heaton’s vocal range is magnificent, reaching falsetto highs that retain a power and resonance, whilst also capable of delivering rock vocals like the best of any brit-pop frontmen, coupled with the heavy reverb and wall of sound emitted from the whole band, his voice is used as an instrument, a soloist amongst an orchestra, rather than just a means to deliver lyrics. It is testimony to the sound technician in Retro Bar that all of the competing elements of Eyre Llew’s compositions coexisted harmoniously, rather than crowding each other out. I had seen Eyre Llew in Leeds three days previously and Sam’s vocals had sadly been beaten out in the mix, but here in Retro Bar, the technician had got the mix perfect… and loud. I hope he reads these complements, because I am quite sure he wouldn’t be able to hear any words of praise uttered to him at the end of the gig.

It was only a short set and the 45 minutes flew by, but the choice of songs fully showcase the scale of their compositions as post-rock introspection builds towards immense cacophonies in which both melancholia and euphoria vie for your soul in a dizzyingly overwhelming seduction. The last two songs ensured that we weren’t likely to forget this gig in a hurry. The penultimate number was ‘Silo’, the highlight of Eyre Llew’s ‘Split’ EP, in which a pensive piano melody gives way to a soaring anthem in seven beautiful minutes. The finale of the show was ‘Edca’, a rock number of sweeping majesty that allowed the band to unleash everything on the audience and was truly climactic in its tenor as well as its volume. As the song abrubtly ended, with Heaton’s vocal refrain left to drift away triumphantly, the audience were left to pick their brains off the back wall.

Eyre Llew will be appearing in Brighton at The Alternative Escape Festival in May and in Nottingham at Macmillan Fest in September. More dates will be announced on www.eyrellew.com as festival bookings roll in and I urge you to experience this band live. 

Reviewer - Ben Hassouna-Smith
on - 29/4/19

NEWS: Jerry Springer announces his Choir line-up!


‘Exceptionally talented choir’ will support professional cast

A group of 14 singers from across Manchester have successfully got through the auditions to become the Jerry Choir in a new production of JERRY SPRINGER – THE OPERA.

This is a rare and exciting opportunity for the performers to be part of JERRY SPRINGER – THE OPERA, which comes to Manchester in August 2019 – almost 15 years since the show was last performed in the UK.

The choir will play an instrumental role in the show by supporting the cast of professional actors. Casting for the main roles will be announced shortly.

JERRY SPRINGER – THE OPERA will run at Hope Mill Theatre in Ancoats for four weeks from Thursday 8 August through to Saturday 31 August 2019. Tickets are on sale now.

The controversial musical is being brought to the stage by new production company Northern Ricochet, recently formed by James Baker(Parade, Yank), Tom Chester (Parade, Mamma Mia), and Bill Elms (Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles, The Ruby Slippers and Twopence To Cross The Mersey).

Northern Ricochet are passionate about producing quality theatre in the North, for the North and using Northern creatives, actors and voices.

By holding an open call in the search for Jerry Choir members, their aim is to make theatre more accessible; giving local community and wider region an opportunity to be a part of professional productions. All the performers in the Jerry Choir live in the North West region.

Producers are delighted to reveal the Jerry Choir line-up will include Rebecca Crookson; Ellamae Cieslik; Natalie Ciufo; Hannah Edwards; Paul Hilton; Keziah Lockwood; Josh Hindle; Alana Dann; Joe Dillon; Tilly Smith; Greg James; Kirsty Allen; Chloe Hughes; and Sam Nilssen.

JERRY SPRINGER – THE OPERA caused a storm when it came to the UK stage in 2002, and in this new revival it promises the same raucous energy with a revamped and fresh production for 2019!

The first joint venture from Northern Ricochet will see James Baker as director; Tom Chester as musical director; and Bill Elms as co-producer of JERRY SPRINGER – THE OPERA.

Co-producer Bill Elms commented: “It was a real pleasure and privilege to audition for the Jerry Choir. There is so much undiscovered Northern talent and it’s our vision to nurture and support those performers who need that step on the ladder.

“We have an exceptionally talented choir who will support the professional cast – and we’re all really looking forward to the next phase in developing the choir in rehearsals when we know they are really going to shine.”

JERRY SPRINGER - THE OPERA was written by Richard Thomas, who also wrote the music and lyrics, with the book and additional lyrics byStewart Lee and Richard Thomas. It is based on The Jerry Springer Show, which was first broadcast on television in 1991 and was on the air for 27 years. It tells the story of America’s favourite talk show host who suffers the worst day in his career when faced with some of the most challenging guests he’s ever met on set.

Full cast to be announced soon for JERRY SPRINGER – THE OPERA.

Facebook: /Jerry Springer Manchester      


Dates: Thursday 8 August – Saturday 31 August 2019
Times: Tue – Sat eves 7.30pm | Sat mat 2pm | Sunday 1pm & 5pm |Thu 29 Aug 2pm

Hope Mill Theatre
113 Pollard Street,
M4 7JA

Tickets: Preview tickets all £20.00 | General tickets £22.50 & £25.00 (concessions available) | Premium VIP On Stage seating £23.00, £25.50 & £28.00 (limited 8 seats per show)

REVIEW: The Ukelele Orchestra Of Great Britain - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

For a group to claim to be the cause of the worldwide ukulele frenzy on their promo material is a bold statement. Promising a show not just of musical talent but including; 'entertainment, joy, fun, strum and artistry' well after such hype, I went along with a feeling of optimism, having heard plenty of good word-of-mouth about this group I hoped it truly would be a thrilling show.
It was a surprise to see a show of a slightly quirky nature being in the Lyric Theatre, I would have expected to see a show of this nature in the smaller Quays Theatre, but was happy to see they had filled a majority of the expansive one thousand five hundred seater auditorium, strong proof of their popularity.

Eight performers sat centre stage dressed in traditional black and white suits, with their ukuleles and entertained the audience with an astonishing set of diverse songs, from covers of punk metal to romantic Italian love songs to 80's New Wave. Often the audience were encouraged to sing along with the chorus and join in clapping. It was delightful and completely engaging, my feet were tapping constantly.

They very much lived up to their promise of being entertaining and joyful, the patter between songs had the audience belly laughing and close to tears. The eight performers were each a unique character and highly charismatic, they by turn took the spotlight briefly to introduce a song and share a groaner of a joke. They made a great ensemble and to watch them play music together was special, they were so talented it had to be watched to be believed, the sounds they were capable of making out of a ukulele at times sounding like mandolin, shredding as though it were an electric guitar and sweet melodies using a slide across a tiny ukulele, my jaw dropped.

The ukulele is fun and I felt the tone of George Hinchcliffe's orchestra was spot on with their presentation, true artistry over such a sweet little instrument. A highlight for me was the end of the first act, they of course played a George Formby cover made even more fun by giving it a different cultural flair; and further in the evening a playful round of different songs being sung over a Handel's piece showed off the orchestra's strong vocal qualities.

My only complaint is that my face hurt from laughing and smiling throughout the whole evening's entertainment. I'm very thankful to have seen this production and will be looking out for future performances which I'd be happy to take the whole family along to, confident that the Ukulele Orchestra is universally entertaining. Very much deserving of its massive standing ovations.

Reviewer - Kerry Ely 
on - 28/4/19

Monday, 29 April 2019

NEWS: Northern Premiere of true crime drama, The Exonerated in Manchester in June!

Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester to stage Northern Premiere of true crime death row drama, The Exonerated

Thursday 6 to Sunday 16 June 2019

On sale now

Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester is to stage the Northern Premiere of The Exonerated - a gripping death row drama that is to be reimagined in the style of a television true crime documentary.

Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen’s play The Exonerated, directed by Hope Mill Artistic Director and
co-founder Joseph Houston, will play at the award-winning fringe theatre from Thursday 6 June to Sunday 16 June 2019, with a press night on Tuesday 11 June.

The production will blend live theatre and filmed footage to create a unique, fully integrated multimedia experience, with staging inspired by true crime documentaries currently popular on television streaming services.

It is Hope Mill Theatre’s second in-house play directed by Houston, following a highly successful run of David Auburn’s Proof in 2018.

Taken from interviews, letters, transcripts, case files and the public record, The Exonerated tells true stories of six wrongfully-convicted survivors of death row in their own words.

Moving between first-person monologues, courtrooms and prisons; six interwoven stories paint a picture of an American criminal justice system gone horribly wrong - and of six brave souls who persevered to survive it.

The Exonerated premiered Off Broadway in 2002 (where it won a Lucille Lortel Award and a Drama Desk Award as well as an Outer Critics Circle Award), was made in to a 2005 film starring Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover, and then a production ran at the Riverside Studios in London in 2006.

Artistic Director Joseph Houston, said: “I am thrilled to be directing the Northern Premiere of The Exonerated. When I first read the play I was instantly inspired by these heart-breaking stories of six people wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death row.

“Knowing the power of documentaries like Making a Murderer and The Staircase in highlighting legal injustices and the emotional connection we have to such stories, I knew that Hope Mill was the perfect venue for a ‘Netflix-style’ reimagining of The Exonerated.

“I want this to be a unique theatrical experience that integrates documentary-style filmed footage, but without losing the impact of live theatre.”

The Exonerated is written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, directed by Joseph Houston, filmography by Grant Archer, lighting design by Aaron Dotson and casting by Jane Deitch. Produced by William Whelton for Hope Mill Theatre.

Casting to be announced.

The Exonerated runs at Hope Mill Theatre from Thursday 6 June to Sunday 16 June 2019. Press Night Tuesday 11 June. Tickets, from £10, available from www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk

NEWS: Full cast annouced for The Importance Of Being Earnest for Bolton Octagon.

Full cast announced for Octagon Theatre Bolton’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest at the Albert Halls, Bolton

Sarah Ball and David Cardy join Coronation Street’s Vicky Entwistle and Dean Fagan as well as Melissa Lowe, Jack Hardwick, Dan Sheader and Elizabeth Twells in Oscar Wilde’s comic masterpiece.

A Victorian satire on social obligations, The Importance of Being Earnest is heralded as one of the funniest plays ever written and has delighted audiences for over 100 years. It will now be brought to life in the grand Victorian setting of the Bolton’s beautiful Albert Halls in a fresh and vibrant new production directed by Suba Das, Artistic Director of HighTide Festival. The production will be running from Thu 6 June – Sat 15 June 2019 at the Albert Halls, Bolton whilst the Octagon Theatre building is undergoing a major redevelopment.

Bachelors and best friends Jack and Algernon create alter egos to escape their tiresome lives. However when they both fall in love and attempt to win the hearts of two women the pair become tangled in a tale of deception, disguise and misadventure. The Octagon Theatre are thrilled to announce the full cast of celebrated stage and screen actors that will bring this wonderfully witty and deliciously decadent comedy to life.

With a CV spanning leading roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company, in the West End, and at the UK's major regional theatres including Leeds Playhouse and the Royal Exchange, Sarah Ballmakes her Octagon debut as the formidable Lady Bracknell. 

Previously a leading man in Dreamboats and Petticoats and Ghost Stories in the West End, and The Fool in King Lear at the Old Vic, David Cardy is best known to audiences for creating the role of Chris Theodopolopodous in the hit sitcom Birds of the Feather, he will now take on the role of the absent minded country vicar Reverend Dr Chasuble.

Coronation Street’s Vicky Entwistle recently seen on stage in the musical of Doctor Dolittle will play governess Miss Prism. She will be joined on stage by another Coronation Street alumni Dean Fagan who will be taking on the role of the seemingly responsible and respectable Jack Worthing. The charming and idle bachelor Algernon Moncrieff will be played by Jack Hardwick (The Inheritance, Noel Coward Theatre 2019, Long Day’s Journey into Night, West End 2018).

Completing the cast Elizabeth Twells (Death of a Salesman, Royal Exchange, 2018) plays the strong-willed and sophisticated Gwendolen Fairfax, Melissa Lowe (The Cat in the Hat, Leicester Curve & Tour, 2019) as Cecily Cardew and Dan Sheader takes on the roles of butler Merriman and manservant Lane.

Joining director Suba Das the creative team includes celebrated Set & Costume designer David Woodhead who recently designed Nativity UK Tour, Titanic UK Tour and Little Miss Sunshine UK Tour. The lighting design will be by Prema Mehta whose designs include lighting at the O2 Arena, Latitude Festival, Liverpool Everyman and Derby Theatre.

Suba Das comments: “I'm thrilled we've assembled such an extraordinary and diverse cast for our fun-filled production of The Importance of Being Earnest with actors local to Bolton as well as stars of the small screen and the West End all making their Octagon debuts. Coupled with David Woodhead's stylish design, which draws inspiration from the lavish photography studios of the Victorian era and the portraits of John Singer Sargent (a contemporary of Oscar Wilde's) this phenomenal cast will bring even more wit and glamour to this most hilarious of plays and I hope Bolton's amazing audiences will have an absolute ball. Let the madness commence!”

The Octagon Theatre building will reopen in spring 2020 with new and improved facilities that will ensure the Octagon delivers world-class theatre in Bolton in a theatre for the future. The Octagon Theatre’s programme for autumn/winter 2019 is to be announced next month.

The Importance of Being Earnest will run from Thu 6 June – Sat 15 June at the Albert Halls Bolton. For more information visit octagonbolton.co.uk/whats-on/theatre/the-importance-of-being-earnest

Sunday, 28 April 2019

REVIEW: Wave Me Goodbye - Theatr Clwyd, Mold.

I was delighted to be heading back to my Welsh roots for a return visit to Theatr Clwyd to watch the highly anticipated 'Wave Me Goodbye'. I can say hand on heart that I am certainly glad I did! This is a beautiful, heart-warming and emotional adaptation of award-winning and best-selling author Jacqueline Wilson’s moving story of friendship and bravery. 'Wave Me Goodbye' is a really special piece of theatre and with a musical partnership that touches the soul.

It is September 1939, and as the Second World War begins, ten-year-old Shirley, played by the warm and likeable Courtney George is sent away on a train for what is described ‘as a little holiday’. An interesting aspect about this new adaptation is that it has been changed that Shirley goes from Liverpool to North Wales to keep it relevant to the area and a great personal touch! The adaptation is by Emma Reeves who is an already accomplished writer working across the stage and screen. Reeves’ TV credits include The Worst Witch (lead writer), The Dumping Ground, The Story of Tracy Beaker, Doctors and many more. Some of her stage work includes her acclaimed adaptation of Jacqueline Wilson’s Hetty Feather, Carries War, Little Women and Cool Hand Luke. With this impressive CV, I had high hopes for what this new adaptation would bring. Directing 'Wave Me Goodbye' is Theatr Clwyd Associate, Christian Patterson, Patterson an established actor and writer and with his own impressive CV, uses some very clever direction that helps to create a story that everyone, young and old I believe cannot help but be moved by. There is an obvious emphasis on this being a production specifically aimed at children, and rightly so as it covers many important and well deserving themes around childhood and growing up, but I had no qualms sitting there amongst them all and enjoyed fully immersing myself in the story in my own right. I even let them off their copious crisp munching (personal bugbear but that’s for another day) and got into the spirit of things along with the enthusiastic crowd.

Once entering the studio space you are greeted with a quirky little set, almost like giant play pieces on a board game, and I especially loved the oversized vintage wooden ruler! It is a revolving set and throughout the production, changes and magically transforms into new spaces. Indeed you never quite know where each character will pop up next. There was a lovely surprise within the set during the play which was greeted by breathy gasps amongst the audience. Credit to Amy Jane Cook, who has created a space of magic, surprise and indeed fun!

Along her journey Shirley, a daydreamer and one of the last evacuees to be adopted meets Kevin, played by the very watchable and playful Sean Jones, who, with a little help from a certain someone, also plays Archie in a duel role. They both bump into many big, wonderful, and some not so wonderul characters along the way as they form a firm friendship between themselves. With all the cast bar George playing multiple roles it really made for an exciting watch keeping up with who was who. Credit again to Cook for the ever-changing and true-to-style period costume designs which, down to the shiny red-buckled shoes on Shirley, were a delight to see. With its clever use of lighting and sound, Will Evans and Matthew Williams respectively convey an atmosphere where you felt you were taken on that journey along with Shirley and her new friends. Working together the lighting and sound helped to create moods to convey the many mixed emotions of the piece, including happiness, fun, sadness, hostility..

It’s a wonderfully neat and engaging piece of physical theatre too, credit to Joanne Bernard, which, as movement director helps to keep those young eyes engaged and committed to the story. With quite stylised ‘easy to follow’ acting performances from all the cast members it really was an easy to watch production, especially I can imagine for the younger members of the audience. As for the cast, George was excellent in her role, Shirley is somewhat of a misfit and George, as an adult playing a sometimes misunderstood child certainly handled this aspect very well, you could sympathise with her situation and all the children and adults warmed to her greatly. George also has a scene where she gets to flaunt her exceptional dancing skills, and there is an obvious talent there too.

Jones, who is not averse to performing in a child’s role and having recently finished a long stint playing Mickey in the musical theatre production, Blood Brothers, was definitely in his comfort zone out there playing a believable and likeable but bit of a rascal Kevin, who in one touching scene spoke on a theme that effects many children. Everyone in the audience, including myself were emotionally invested and we all really felt for Kevin! Also, using clever physicality and an extra ‘friend’ Jones plays Kevin’s younger sidekick Archie, and really does take on this duel role with passion and enthusiasm. Having last seen Jones as leading man Macbeth it is to his credit in his versatility as an actor to go from that to this with great ease.

Victoria John and Kerry Peers were also extremely watchable in again multiple roles, of which they played many between them. John showing a great aptitude for playing strong female characters and Peers who was perfectly cast playing ‘out there’ and weirdly quirky eccentric roles. The creative energy between them both had the audience fully engrossed.

Sam C Wilson played a humongous amount of roles, and each one with great aplomb, one of his roles was quite an unlikeable chap and some children were squirming in their seats, though he did not over do this but just established a controlled menacing quality to the character. Definitely an actor to keep a watch out for, who’s getting rather established in the world of screen acting, and who also I was fortunate enough to briefly meet afterwards, has a great rapport and the most amazingly long eyelashes…though I digress.

This was indeed a lovely adaptation by Reeves and of course perfect for a young audience, though I also believe a production very suitable for the older generation to see, having done performance art myself with people who have stories of the war, have faced their own adversities over the years and battled loss I feel this production and story would be particularly beneficial for them to witness and a great conversation starter. I’m going to hand over now to three wonderful mini reviewers who I met at the theatre and with their mums' happiness for them to be included here, wanted to give their own thoughts on 'Wave Me Goodbye'.

“It was very emotional and sad at times. I liked that it didn’t hide any difficult subject matter from children which is always really good.”. Betsi - aged 10

“One part was a bit scary but really important to learn about, the set was good and the actors believable and confident. It touched on themes of war which is really interesting to learn about and I know we’ll chat about it lots in the car home. I loved the music too!” Effi - aged 8

“It was different from what I normally watch, and I could follow the story well. I even enjoyed the scary parts too!” Mai – aged 5

I cannot finish without mentioning the wonderful live musical accompaniment from composer, Musical Director and musician Luke Potter. Potter took us on an emotive musical journey throughout and provided music using many different instruments, including the voice that really helped to stimulate the senses of the story. Finally, I feel 'Wave Me Goodbye' would also transfer well to screen and I can imagine it as a little mini-series that children and adults alike would love.

'Wave Me Goodbye' is on at Theatr Clwyd until 4th May (Some performances may be school bookings only so please check with the Theatre beforehand)

Reviewer - Mary Fogg
on - 27/4/19

REVIEW: Something About Simon - The Albert Halls, Bolton.

Paul Simon, famous for his partnership with Art Garfunkel, for the song about momma witnessing a crime, and 'that' music video with Chevvy Chase has long cemented a place in we music lovers' hearts as the sound of warmth and home. As I cued up for my seat I couldn't help but overhear some of the comments before tonight's show, people nervous and excited, some die-hard Paul Simon fans who were sceptical as they always are if it will tickle their musical tastebuds.

I myself love Paul Simon, my mother often played their records and tapes in the car along with other classics. So safe to say my musical education in my household was of the finest and fine-tuned (excuse the pun).

Tonight's performance of Something About Simon was at Bolton's Albert Halls, one of many jewels in this rather large town, whose theatrical history and entertainment is varied and unique. Like many theatres of the same name, it is grand and beautiful and has much to recommend it. It has had a slight refurb but they have kept it to its grandeur of yesteryear.

'Something About Simon' is a brand new show, from singer-songwriter Gary Edward Jones. He says himself that Paul Simon is one of his idols and goes on to talk about the artist's life, struggles and sucesses. Something about hearing the music set to Paul Simon's life story gives it a unique twist, almost like discovering a new side to the songs I had never considered before.

In series, the first song came on, I got goosebumps - he even looks like Paul Simon. The sound that came from that guitar was something different. What I meant before about the music; safe, warm, and a place like home is exactly what you get from Something About Simon. With beautiful visuals and and stage design, the story is told effortlessly and with great banter and stories from the performer Gary Edward Jones.

A big shout out to the crew also who have done a brilliant job in bringing this show to Bolton, and providing a great night. Gary Edward Jones is a brilliant performer who embodies the work of Paul Simon in every sense.

Reviewer - Keziah Lockwood
on - 27/4/19

REVIEW: The Goldberg Variations - The Stoller Hall, Manchester.

Often named as a good introduction not only to the repertoire of its composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, but to classical music generally, the Goldberg Variations remain, long after their publication in 1741, one of the most respected and well-loved pieces of music. The Variations, named after Bach’s student Johann Gotlieb Goldberg – a harpsichordist- who is believed to have been the first performer of the work to aid the sleepless nights caused by the insomnia of his patron Count Keyserlingk, are perhaps most well-known through the two recordings at either end of his career by Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (first in 1955, crackling with youthful energy, and again in 1981, a more reflective, contemplative performance befitting a more mature perspective). The performance by the Manchester Collective presented the Goldberg Variations in an arrangement for a string trio with Rakhi Singh and Ruth Gibson on violin and Bartholomew LaFollette on cello and was acknowledged at the outset of the concert as a performance that “might be the most ‘classical’” of their 18/19 season of performances (which included their startling, disturbing take on Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire).

While the performance by have been ‘traditional’ by the standards of the Manchester Collective, the decision to have the audience sit on-stage with the trio throughout the performance was an interesting one. Bringing the audience closer to the performers helped to highlight the intimacy of the Variations and broke down the fourth wall barrier between the performers and the spectators. Before the trio commenced their recital of the cycle, Singh took a few minutes to highlight some aspects of the composition for the audience to listen out for – the use of canons on every third variation, whereby a violin would start playing and the second violin would then play the same line but a bar later (as vocal performances of ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ traditionally do) and the way Bach introduces minor notes and chromatic scales in later variations. While not essential to the overall performance, it was nice and Singh, Gibson, and LaFollette took some time to make the audience aware of such features and showed a willingness to acknowledge that while many in the audience enjoy listening to music, not all will be fully au fait with the technicalities and details of the composition.

The cycle began with the performance of the initial aria on which the following twenty-nine variations were based, a gentle and contemplative theme. This was soon followed by the first variation on the theme: a quick tempo arrangement which was performed with gusto by the trio; the shift in mood and tone from the initial aria to the frantic playing of this variation was truly exhilarating. The fourth piece featured duelling violins as Gibson and Singh engaged in a call and response with each other, frantically sawing their bows away on the violin strings while LaFollette kept the rhythm steady with his cello playing. Following this intensity, the fifth version saw Gibson sit the performance out while Singh and LaFollette duetted (the seventeenth piece would see an echo of this one, with Gibson and LaFollette performing a duet). The seventh variation once again saw Gibson and Singh testing the capabilities of their violins, drawing their bows across the strings to provoke an almost insect-like buzzing from their instruments!

After the conclusion of the fifteenth of the thirty variations, there was a brief interval before the performance resumed – with Gibson and Singh having swapped sides during the hiatus, almost like football teams swapping sides during the half-time of a football match. The performers certainly showed no signs of flagging as they continued with their renditions of Bach’s compositions as the second half of the Goldberg Variations introduced the minor notes and chromatic scales Singh had pointed out earlier, which introduced a more mournful sound as a contrast to the earlier, major note heavy Variations.

What was perhaps most remarkable about this performance was that there was no way these versions of the Goldberg Variations could be used as a cure for insomnia – while there was room for quiet contemplation in some variations, in others there were rousing flourishes on the strings of the violins, guaranteed to awaken any slumbering audience members! Some of the variations drew out the initial aria and extended the rhythms and notes, others were briefer flashes, burning brightly before fading away to nothing, ahead of their replacement by the next Goldberg Variation. As with much of Bach’s other works, the whole emotional range of human life was present in the music, bursting forth through the professional, intense, and engaging performances of Gibson and Singh, and anchored strongly by LaFollette: joy, sorrow, slumber, wakefulness, contemplation, mania – each one of the Goldberg Variations will have spoken to each audience member in one way or another.

As the performance reached its conclusion, the audience responded with sustained applause – the trio had delivered a mesmerising rendition of a truly wonderful cycle of music. Each performer had been given the space to show off their skill with their instrument and each one of the Goldberg Variations highlighted how much Bach loved music, and how much each performer loved playing the music, which in turn stirred the souls and senses of those in the audience. A truly wonderful experience.

Reviewer - Andrew Marsden
on - 27/4/19

REVIEW: Music From The Star Wars Saga - The Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

John William’s musical prowess and contribution to film music is unquestionably great. It has long been a dream of mine to see his scores performed with a full orchestra, and so, on a very cold, very windy and very wet Saturday evening in Liverpool, this dream was fulfilled as I sat in a packed auditorium ready to listen to music from the Star Wars saga, played by The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in their home base, The Philharmonic Hall.

Under the skilful baton of conductor, James Shearman, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra performed numerous memorable tunes from the eight (soon to be nine) films. Starting with the 20th Century Fox Fanfare (with CineScope extension of course) to familiarise ourselves with that was to come, we were then treated to the Star Wars Main Theme which was executed with perfection, and had set the audience up nicely.

Our guest presenter for the evening was voice actor, Marc Silk, whose connection to Star Wars came in the form as the voice of two characters (not Jar-Jar) in The Phantom Menace. Whilst at first his appearance seemed to be met with a degree of coldness, he had warmed on me and the other audience members by the end of the night. In between pieces he took us through the stories of each film, interjected with his own humorous, self-deprecating personal experiences of George Lucas and Star Wars.

Upon looking at the programme for the evening, one could have been mistaken in presuming that such pieces like The Asteroid Field (The Empire Strikes Back), Luke And Leia’s Theme (Return of the Jedi) and The Throne Room and Finale (Star Wars, or A New Hope if you’re of a certain age) would be the highlights of the evening. However, although these pieces were wonderful it has be said that Duel Of The Fates (The Phantom Menace), Battle Of The Heroes (Revenge of the Sith) and The Jedi Steps (The Force Awakens) were the gems that shone the brightest during the concert. Duel Of The Fates was exceptionally good, and praise must be given to the choir whose clarity and conviction was awe-inspiring.

The streamline moderne Art Deco Philharmonic Hall seemed the perfect setting for the 1930s/ Flash Gordon inspired Star Wars, and being sat in the stalls it was quite evident how well designed the auditorium was and just how well the acoustics worked with the sound being carried to all spaces in the hall.

Obviously with something as popular as Star Wars, the audience varied greatly in age. I was not too sure how the younger audience members would react, as this was not a screening in any way. However, aside from a few silhouetted heads appearing here and there it is safe to say that even the youngest of concert goers were as enthralled as the eldest goers. I think that was testament to John William’s skill in creating scores that appeal to everyone, and furthermore it was testament to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic for creating an experience that was not boring for the children.

Since this was not a screening with full orchestral accompaniment, any displays were achieved through lighting which in my own opinion, may not have been really necessary and did slightly distract from the music when the odd glare would shine in your eyes. Luckily the gimmicks were toned down for the concert, with only a few Leia bun hair styles in the choir and an entertaining quip about the quality of a toy light saber by Mr Silk after the final piece. It is worth mentioning that Darth Vader along with a Stormtrooper were available for photographs in the lobby before the performance.
Although something like this concert could be classed as maybe being too mainstream, with the subject making snobs turn their noses up at it, it definitely made me want to check out more performances that are lined up for this and upcoming seasons, and I would not think twice about going to a classical concert there. This was my first concert at Philharmonic Hall and encounter with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, and it was a 10/10 on all fronts. The concert was a thoroughly enjoyable presentation and celebration of the great John William’s Star Wars scores which showcased the talent of the orchestra and was the perfect solution to a miserable day.

Reviewer - Daryl Griffin
on - 27/4/19

REVIEW: The Vortex - The Garrick Theatre, Stockport.

Noel Coward is famous for light, witty comedies such as ‘Private Lives’, ‘Present Laughter’ and ‘Hayfever’; ‘The Vortex’ is not one of those kind of plays although as with most of Coward’s work, it is centred around frivolous, upperclass living. To a large extent, this play is more comparable to some of the more sombre works of Ibsen, such as ‘Ghosts’ or ‘A Doll’s House’ where dark undercurrents lie beneath a wealthy and cosy exterior, but set against the kind of stifling 1930’s Englishness, so beloved of the likes of Terrence Rattigan.

The setting for Stockport Garrick’s production of ‘The Vortex’ was very well achieved, with plenty of Art Deco-style objects on display, the furniture very much of the period and a pleasing powder-blue backdrop. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of the costuming during the first act, with the butler’s trousers too short, the men’s waistcoats clearly too small (and tight), some male hairstyles were clearly too long and the dresses not carrying the sense of fashion and wealth of the social class depicted. This was largely put right in the second act, with one of the young women wearing a delightful flapper dress, contrasting well with that of another actress clad in a long, flambouant glittery period outfit.

The story centres round various complex relationships which at times was in serious danger of falling into melodrama. The language of the time can, to modern ears, sound somewhat strange with men gleefully declaring themselves to be gay without any hint of sexuality and young women addressed as ‘old gal’. This was a very different time and the whole of the play has to be understood in this context. The pace was very slow to start off with, taking a long time to really get going.

The parts required some acting versatility as cracks of raw emotion were seen to gradually open up amidst gay, happy countenances. Matt Todd excelled as Nicky Lancaster, a smart young man hiding considerable emotional baggage and Sam Marriot gave good support as his friend, Tom Veryan. Sophie Lea-Griffiths was ideal as visiting bright young thing Bunty Mainwaring and Tracy Ray came over very much as frivolous member of the idle rich, Clara Hibbert. Tracy Burns gave a tour-de force performance as Nicky’s mother Florence, although her costumes did not match the bright styles of the younger women she was emulating. Helena Redfern-Hyatt presented a more stable character as Helen Saville, although it would have been nice to have seen a bit more emotion in the portrayal.

The scenes showing the build-up of the mother’s jealousy and desire to still be young and pretty were well performed, leading to the break-up of her son and fiancĂ© (and a passionate kiss between her and the mother’s toyboy!). The final scene between mother and son was excellently performed showing all kinds emotions from each of them as they broke-down, having to finally face up to reality. You could actually feel the pain and felt sorry for  the mother even though she deserved what she got.

Stockport Garrick gave a creditable rendition of a challenging play and director Jon Atkin well-handled a large cast, presenting a bygone world which still has something to say to the modern world, particularly with the power of advertising (and the entertainment world) to affect some women in refusing to accept the natural aging process, as well as the challenges of holding a family together.

Reviewer - John Waterhouse
on - 27/4/19

REVIEW: A Musical Evening Of Gothic Horror - The Grange Theatre, Oldham.

Brit Theatre - a new and up-coming theatre company based in Oldham is a local company for the whole community. Taking aspiring performers from anywhere within the locale from all ages and backgrounds, the company strive to be as professional as they can be, giving everyone the opportunity to experience working alongside those already in the profession. Brit Theatre is the brainchild of its owner, Dave Benson, who, for many years was best known as the producer of professional pantomimes.

This evening, for the one night only, they presented a musical pot-pourri of songs taken from both the popular music and Musical Theatre repertoires which fit broadly into their theme of the evening, Gothic Horror.

The evening was presided over by comedy MC, Rodney Cadd, whose costumes became more and more outrageous with his every entrance {perhaps miscast and should have been a panto Dame?}, and although he seemed to be having fun enjoying his banter, most of it fell a little flat, and had many "in-jokes" which simply excluded myself and companion this evening. His role was largely unneccessary and despite bringing some laughs to a show full of mostly 'serious' songs, the evening would have run smooother and been more professional without his interjections.

The evening started with a full company rendition of  '(Attend The Tale Of) Sweeney Todd' which was strong and excellently done with some nice moves and a great picture ending. This was followed by a further two songs from Sweeney Todd, 'The Worst Pies In London' sung well by a young lady who was ideally too young for the role but had a great sense of character, and then 'Nothing's Going To Harm You' sung sweetly by one of the youngest members of the company. This was followed by two girls rap-singing the modern 'Don't Lose Ur Head' from the hit Musical, Six, and the first of two songs from The Addam's Family, 'Crazier Than You', sung with passion by one of the older girls.

Following this was Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' which potentially could easily have been the showstopper of the evening, but sadly, for whatever resason this evening it fell rather flat and was poorly executed. Fortunately the pace and beat was picked up again with three young men wearing skeleton masks and sombreros singing 'Jump In The Line' (by Harry Belafonte), which was one of only two truly funny songs in the whole showcase.  Sondheim's Into The Woods' 'Last Midnight' followed this changing everything back to a darker and more sinister tone, and sung with real thought and feeling by the (far too young and far too pretty) witch.

To end the first half of the show, we turned to Andrew Llowd-Webber, and his beautifully evocative and operatic scoring of 'The Phantom Of The Opera'. First the full company sang 'Masquerade' in some beautifully designed white latter-day Ball costumes, before we welcomed two guest artistes onto the stage to sing two further songs from the Musical, 'Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again' and the title song 'Phantom Of The Opera'. The two guests were Pavel Kobrle (bass-baritone) and Tereza Marshall (soprano), who are both professional opera singers back in their native Czech Republic. Kobrle had a beautifully deep and sonorous voice and I would have loved to have heard him sing a solo. Sadly however he was very much 'support' for Marshall, and never truly got to shine in his own right. Pity. Marshall's soprano voice was mellow and precise, and the final note of 'Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again' - a song (indeed the whole role) having been written especially for Sarah Brightman to sing, - was clear and hit head-on! Having heard it sung so many times with a cringeworthy final piercing note, it was worth her journey from Prague just for me to hear that!

The second half of the evening continued in much the same vein, starting with a tribal dance and fire-eating. Seven youth dancers were used in this section and the choreography here was the best of the evening, especially from the principal dancer (dressed in white) who impressed with her leaps and timing, and the whole had some lovely lifts. We continued with 'Into The Woods', 'Jekyll And Hyde'. The Ghostbusters Theme, a magic tango (??), 'Little Shop Of Horrors', and the stand-out song of the whole evening, 'Death Is Just Around The Corner'. Originally from The Addam's Family this was a very diffierent take on the song, sung by a nurse who obviously was not interested in taking care of her poor patient in the wheelchair she was encumbered with. Darkly humorous anyway, this singer brought a new level of comedic cynicism to the song and it worked really well for her.

Before the final sequence, the two Czech singers Marshall and Kobrle came back again to sing Bonnie Tyler's wonderful, 'Total Eclipse Of The Heart'. The evening finished with a couple of male 'usherettes' singing 'Double Feature', Brad and Janet singing 'Damit Janet' and of course the whole company came back on to take us all out on a high as they did 'The Time Warp'.

A fantastic and extremely well designed set completed the picture for the evening. Wrought iron gates, pillars, a moon, a raven, gravestones, garlic, skeletons, and goodness knows what else. Sadly however, the set design was optimal only when seated directly in front of it, and this evening the stage configuration was in thrust (meaning audience on three sides). This meant that those audience members seated on the two sides, especially nearer the set itself would not have seen everything nor enjoyed the set the same. In fact, most of the directing was also giving the central audience preference and most focus, which again was leaving the two side audiences - of which there were many - with a lesser show. The other thing which most unfortunately was working against the company this evening was the sound. Sound levels were not right at all the whole evening. Mics were set at different volumes, and the backing tracks, for the vast majority of songs. were overpowering the singers. However the lighting was creative and not over-used, and the energy and enthusiam of the entire cast shone through.

I'm sorry, but without a programme I am unable to credit by name anyone other than those mentioned on the flier. However, the evening was very enjoyable, and was a huge credit to both Brit Theatre and the acting community of Oldham. I am already looking forward to seeing Little Shop Of Horrors when it comes to the Graneg Theatre in July.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 27/4/19

Friday, 26 April 2019

REVIEW: Not The Horse - The Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool

'Not The Horse' was performed at Liverpool’s Royal Court Studio, which is situated in the basement there. Located in the heart of the city, the building itself is full of Art Deco and character. The studio is a lovely space, very imitate for the audiences to see the show closely. The studio has recently opened up for productions that have previously been performed at smaller theatres. A great opportunity for future writers, directors and actors to enhance their skills and develop their shows there too.

The multi-award winning, Naughty Corner Productions are reviving their sell-out. Edinburgh Fringe and UK show, Not The Horse for a few performances at Liverpool’s Royal Court Studio. Naughty Corner Productions have also produced a few more successful shows too. They are currently celebrating their fifth anniversary.

Not The Horse was directed and written by Mike Dickinson, who has an incredible job bringing his play to the stage. Excellent direction was clearly demonstrated throughout the show. His enthusiasm, dedication and hard-work was notably demonstrated in the production. A unique narrative with several interesting characters and some great one-liners throughout the show. There was a few humourous scenes that kept the audiences entertained and amused. Additionally, Mike has also written and directed Bob, The Russian and Church Blitz, which has been successful too. Cath Ainsworth also produced the show and stage managed.

There was a large of cast of characters, all male. The cast consisted of Tony (Nick Sheedy), Paul (Michael Hawkins), Stan (Warren Kettle), Silk (Daniel Carmichael), Dom Joly (Thomas Galashan), Beef (Liam Powell-Berry), Minge (Adam Nicholls), Face (Damian Hughes), Archie (Tom Silverton), Jerrie (Sam Brown), Highie (Pete Smith) and Ernie (Callum Forbes). There was a nice array of different characters with various traits between them all. Although, there was such a large cast and small stage, there was a great deal of order and organisation amongst the cast.

Not The Horse was an outrageous crime-comedy that followed Tony, a twenty-year-old Scouser, who found himself in an extremely difficult situation that he couldn’t get out of. The show opened with him being threatened by a notorious group of gangsters including Dom Jones, Beef, Minge and Face. Even the gangsters names were funny. They demanded £250,000 from him after
losing an illlegal horse racing bet. Inevitably, Tony and his friends, Stan and Paul find themselves looking for any possible means of locating £250,000 in four days.

After discussing many ideas, they embark on a robbery, but accidentally steal a horse in the process. They encounter many difficulties on their journey to retreive the money, which involved Horse traquilizers and a lot of horse semen. [yes, you read that right!] There is another group involved in the story consisting of Archie, Jerrie, Hughes Ernie, who add more mayhem and chaos to the narrative. Silk is the go-between for all three groups, he appeared extremely intimatidating to the others, who all seemed terrified of him. They all needed him as he was the one person who had access to the weapons they all required.

Such a strong ensemble of actors played their roles really well and all added intrigue and depth to their characters. But for me personally, my favourites were the main characters, Nick Sheedy and Thomas Galashan.

The set design was very minimal, but practical. It worked really well, given the size of the stage the characters had to perform on. All the characters were dressed in casual clothes, apart from the London gangsters who were always smartly dressed in black. The design of Horse was very good, as well as the horse masks. Props were again minimal, but were vital, when required. I thought the guns looked real.

The visuals with the whiteboard, which demonstrated Stan retrieving semen from the horse was very good. Again, this particular scene provided the audience with more laughs and humour.

The lighting of the show was very good and worked well. All characters could be seen and there was darkness later on in the show that added to the tension some of the characters were facing. Sound was clearly heard throughout the show. Especially when songs were being sung and music was performed on the guitar, which was excellently done by Nick Sheddy. For me, personally, the one song where the characters were dancing around in horse masks and the horse appeared on the stage was my favourite. I thought the songs choices were selected well and added more humour and laughter to the scenes. The vocals sung for some of the songs were a joy to listen to and watch.

I would highly recommend you go and see this outrageous crime-comedy, it's definitely well worth seeing: a unique, funny story, with several interesting characters and several one-liners throughout. The comical incidents just coming one after another, very humourous to watch. You will not disappointed.

Reviewer - Mark Cooper
on - 25/4/19