REVIEW: Khloé Kardashian ( The Arden School of Theatre: Waterside Theatre, Manchester)

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upstaged rating: 

The opening words of Chekhov’s play, The Three Sisters are projected at the back of the stage before we are introduced to a man in a mouse suit who calmly describes our journey to the theatre today. The Three Sisters is set in a Russian provincial town but we are sat in a black box theatre in the centre of Manchester. Devised and performed by the students at The Arden, Khloé Kardashian explores the real time and space of performance.

Working with the live-art and experimental theatre group, Sleepwalk Collective, the current cohort of the BA (Hons) Theatre and Performance at The Arden, have created a deeply profound contemporary piece, which certainly encourages the audience to search for their own narrative outside of the confines of the performance space.

Using a Christopher Brett Bailey inspired soundscape, beautifully overwhelming and uneasy at times, we are introduced to six different personas (Paul Burke, Tristan Chadwick, Lily Rae Hewitt Jasilek, Sam Lowe, Frank Macdonald and Kate Smith) – their voices are only ever heard when they speak down a microphone.

Reminiscent of Forced Entertainment, particularly Bloody Mess, the costumes worn by each of the performers suggest narratives for their personas. We have the darkly comical mouse with his deadpan delivery; we wonder if the elegant lady in the red dress is somehow connected to the dapper gentleman with the cummerbund. A pregnant F1 pit girl totters along pushing a small television into the view of the audience.  As the audience, we are encouraged to be active in drawing the dots on these fragmented narratives. The whole production is carefully and intelligently sculpted – there is always something different for the audience to cast their eye over.

Khloé Kardashian is a densely layered and poignant performance piece, occupying the space between text and performance – it seeks to deconstruct Chekhov and expose the illusion associated with such a naturalistic performance style. A props table is packed full of antiquities in stark view of the audience. One performer toasts a piece of bread before another chews on a cracker as he reels off Facebook-style memes into the microphone. Every little sound is heightened here – it feels awkward, fascinating and strangely entertaining.

As the darkness falls at the end of the performance to the sound of the haunting and relentless slow clap, I wondered if some themes could be excavated further as individual performance pieces. Such an absorbing performance with definite scope for further development.

-Kristy Stott

 

REVIEW: English National Ballet – Song of the Earth/ La Sylphide (The Palace Theatre, Manchester)

English National Ballet: Song of the Earth/ La Sylphide © Jason Bell
English National Ballet: Song of the Earth/ La Sylphide
© Jason Bell
guest reviewer: demi west
upstaged rating: 
Ballet. One of the most renowned and beautiful cultural practices performed throughout the world. The English National Ballet (ENB) is without a doubt, one of the highest respected programmes for continuing the visibility of one of the most delightful of artistic expressions. With the longevity of excellence that the ENB has endured, one is left with a level of high expectation, and anticipation, and the ENG is creating a spectacle of ballet with its offering of not one, but two productions back to back. From the 11th to the 14th at the Manchester Palace Theatre, audiences can experience Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s much-celebrated Song of the Earth, to coincide with his 25th anniversary of his passing, and a faithfully accurate version of the 1830s classical production, La Sylphide.
The first of the two performances, Song of The Earth, is more of a contemporary production than its counterpart of the night. It offers a more primal show, one that is stripped down to its bare bones, with its lack of set design and modest costume, this story is told through the basics; movement and sound. What it managed to do with this, however, was to create a mesmerising, simple, yet complex narrative that beautifully fused the very fundamental essence of what ballet is; dance. The music of Mahler’s song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde, performed live by the English National Ballet Philharmonic, harmonised perfectly with the sequences unfolding on stage, sequences that present not just the beauty of movement, but the pure power, stamina and discipline of the art form itself.  All of these elements come together to create a compelling story of, life, death and renewal, through three central characters, a Woman, A Man, and an ‘enigmatic Messenger’, in a show of pure expressionism through sensational audible visuality.
The second of the performances, La Sylphide, is a classical ballet, and what we have come to expect. However, that is not to say this is without merit, as it achieves to create a beautiful show, with lavish, outstanding set designs, enhanced by the sensational costume design, all encompassed by the breath-taking performances and musicianship.  What is witnessed, is a story of love, fantasy, humour and tragedy, which aforementioned is all held together by the truly impeccable work of the ENB. Not one element of the show is the star, the production itself is the star – a platform showcasing some of the most spectacular talent a stage has shown. What was created is something to be proud of, and I celebrate what the ENB has achieved with this show, and highly recommend that you try to see it whilst you can.
-Demi West
ENB’s Song of the Earth/ La Sylphide runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 14th October 2017.

REVIEW: Son of a Preacher Man (Palace Theatre, Manchester)

Son of a Preacher Man. (Image may be subject to copyright).
Son of a Preacher Man.
(Image may be subject to copyright).
Reviewer: Megan Hyland
upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐

Son of a Preacher Man is jukebox musical featuring the hits of 60’s songstress Dusty Springfield – written by Warren Brown and choreographed by Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood. It tells the story of three heart-broken strangers trying to find solace in the site of the former record store the Preacher Man. However, instead of the wise and charismatic Preacher Man that once owned the store, they are met with his introverted son, Simon. But is there enough of his father’s knowledge in him to help these lovesick strangers get their lives back on track?


Diana Vickers of X Factor fame stars as Kat, a young woman that is grieving the loss of her gran. And while Vickers cannot be faulted in terms of singing ability, her acting performance felt forced and awkward. However, this could simply be due to the overall dry nature of the writing, as each of the characters were as remarkably bland as one another, no matter how hard the cast tried to inject personality into them. The musical featured quite a promising cast, with Debra Stephenson (Coronation Street), Ian Reddington (Doctors and Shameless) and Michael Howe starring alongside Vickers, though even the talent of the cast could not save this uninspiring production.


For a story that centres around love, Son of a Preacher Man paints a very superficial and idyllic picture of relationships, not only this, but their love stories lack the heart and passion of Dusty’s music, with the sentiments of her songs are often lost in the way that they are forced into scenes. The scenes themselves felt disjointed and somewhat unfinished, with many of them lacking a climax or focus, often relying on cheap laughs such as a poorly-written cleaner character played by Jon Bonner in drag. The arrangement of the musical felt rather bizarre and clumsy, often leaving the audience confused with its attempts to force any deeper meaning into the storyline. In fact, many audience members chose to abandon the show during the interval.

However, to end on a positive, the live music was faultless, despite the loss of meaning. A group of on-stage musicians performed effortlessly soulful renditions of Dusty’s classics – if only the storyline had been able to match up. And bringing some spirit to the otherwise stagnate performance were the Cappuccino Sisters (played by Michelle Long, Kate Hardisty and Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong), though even their playful, bubbly characters often bordered on over-the-top.

Overall, Son of a Preacher Man leaves audience members feeling entirely unenthused, with the show losing momentum as even the cast seem to feel the sense of defeat. And as a tribute to Springfield, it fell entirely flat, leaving behind any important aspects of her quirky individuality.

-Megan Hyland

Son of a Preacher Man runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre till 30th September 2017 and continues to tour the UK until July 2018. For further tour dates and venues click here.

REVIEW: The Band (The Manchester Opera House, Manchester)

Faye Christall as Young Rachel (centre) with Five To Five as The Band in The Band, credit Matt Crockett
Upstaged Rating: 

Huge crowds gathered outside of Manchester’s Opera House this week for the press night of The Band, the new musical written by Tim Firth, featuring the music of Take That. Many Take That fans had queued outside for hours in the hope that they would catch a glimpse of co-producers Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen on the red carpet.

This is not just a musical for Take That groupies, but it’s a musical for anybody who grew up with a boyband. This is a musical which celebrates the music of Take That and so much more besides. Littered with warm nostalgia from the outset – fond memories of Top of The Pops, reading your weekly issues of Smash Hits and the days when we covered every inch of our bedroom wall in posters.

This musical is really very special and the standing ovations at every performance in Manchester so far are a testament to that.

The play tells the story of five friends. We are first introduced to them as teenagers in 1992 before the fast forward button is pressed and we see them reunited as 40-something women desperate to rekindle the feelings of their youth.

The show opens with a teenage Rachel (Faye Christall) setting the scene for her love of The Band. It’s as if through listening to their music The Band really come to life in her bedroom as she gets ready for school. Her older self, played by Rachel Lumberg, looks on fondly as she remembers her youth.

Packed with stellar performances from all of the characters from both eras. And perhaps what is most striking to me, is that these characters are completely accessible as real women. Heather as a teenage rebel (Katy Clayton) contests to shock her friends with the biggest revelation as her older self (Emily Joyce) twenty-five years later. The super fit could-be Olympic diver, Claire (Sarah Kate Howarth) has to face her pals years later, after an unhealthy relationship with food.

The Five to Five lads, stars of BBC talent show Let it Shine, sparkle in every scene that they are in. With their stunning harmonies, they do not detract from the narrative but fully showcase the wonderful soundtrack and celebrate the music of Take That.

Jon Bauser’s stage design is phenomenal – the transition between the two eras is the slickest that I have ever seen. Complete with pyrotechnics, Relight My Fire is a real showstopper when we see the girl’s bus ride home spectacularly transform into a raging chariot. The whole theatre singing the words to the Take That floor-filler, the atmosphere electric.

Ultimately it is the memorable and loveable female characters that shine on stage – the music just makes them sparkle even brighter. 

The Band is a complete triumph. This musical tugs hard at your heartstrings and tickles your funny bone. And the good news is that co-producers David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers announced that the musical will tour for another year following the huge demand for tickets. Go and get yours!

-Kristy Stott

The Band runs at Manchester’s Opera House until 30th September 2017 before transferring to Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre from 4th-14th October 2017. The tour continues through until July 2018 and you can check out the tour dates and venues here.

PREVIEW: THE BAND at The Manchester Opera House OPENS TOMORROW

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There is just over twenty-four hours to go until the most eagerly awaited new musical – written by the award-winning Tim Firth (The Girls- Musical 2015) and featuring the music of Take That – goes in front of The Manchester Opera House audience for the first time.

The show begins in Manchester tomorrow, 8th September with national press night on Tuesday 26 September.

THE BAND is a new musical about what it’s like to grow up with a boyband. For five 16-year-old friends in 1992, ‘the band’ is everything. Fast forward twenty-five years on and we are reunited with the group of friends, now 40-something women, as they try once more to fulfil their dream of meeting their heroes.

The Band is being played by young performers AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns, Yazdan Qafouri and Sario Solomon, who, as Five to Five, won BBC’s Let It Shine and the chance to star in the musical.

THE BAND Five to Five © Jay Brooks
THE BAND
Five to Five © Jay Brooks

The Band will be running at The Manchester Opera House from Friday 8th September all the way through till 30th of September, before embarking on a major UK tour until July 2018. Excitement is building fast with advance box office sales already topping a record-breaking £10MILLION.

Tickets for this hotly-anticipated show are available to book online from atgtickets.com/manchester or by calling the box office on 0844 871 3018 (fees may apply).

For full tour listings please click here.

REVIEW: The Addams Family (The Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays)

The Addams Family at The Lowry Theatre, Salford © Matt Martin
The Addams Family at The Lowry Theatre, Salford
© Matt Martin
reviewer: Megan Hyland
Upstaged Rating: 

Over 50 years on from the airing of the TV show of the same name, The Addams Family: the Musical Comedy is a refreshing look at our favourite kooky family. The story centres around a grown-up Wednesday’s newfound romance, with the Addamses preparing to welcome the family of her new boyfriend for dinner. However, there is a secret looming that threatens the foundations of multiple relationships, and as the night descends into chaos more destructive secrets are revealed.

Although her storyline centres on a love story, Wednesday Addams fans need not despair, as her character remains every bit as daring and discontented as ever. In fact, although the story is an original, written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the characters are still just as familiar. And this is – in part – due to the attentiveness of the all-star cast. Cameron Blakely and Samantha Womack  (of Eastenders fame as Ronnie Mitchell) star as Gomez and Morticia Addams, reviving their passionate and enduring romance. A sultry highlight is their tango scene, both expertly choreographed and performed. Blakely’s energy and stage presence, however, is unmatched. He bursts into every scene with endless vitality, with incredible comedic timing and physicality. But, in terms of vocal ability, Carrie Hope Fletcher stands out. The YouTuber and stage star belts out original songs such as Pulled and Crazier Than You with effortless precision as Wednesday, although the rest of the cast are not far behind. Throw in a captivating ensemble cast plus an outstandingly funny and highly eccentric performance from comedian and actor Les Dennis as Uncle Fester, and you’re left with a strong, compelling cast.

But what really brings to life these beloved characters is the work behind the scenes. Diego Pitarch’s breath-taking costumes give these iconic characters an elegant revamp, without leaving their renowned styles behind. And the astonishing set design breathes life back into the Addams family home. Filled with brilliant one-liners, running gags and dark humour, this musical comedy is skilfully written, with quirky and heartfelt original songs written by Andrew Lippa. Although the story features a love-story, the real focus is on the importance of truth in relationships. And while this may seem simplistic in nature, it is accentuated by the peculiar and whimsical characters, as well as the wacky world that they inhabit.

The Addams Family musical is a spooky and freakish production that welcomes people familiar with these characters and those new to the story.

-Megan Hyland

The Addams Family runs at The Lowry Theatre, Salford until Saturday 9th September 2017.

The Jungle Book (The Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays)

Metta Theatre's The Jungle Book ©Richard Davenport
Metta Theatre’s The Jungle Book
©Richard Davenport
upstaged rating: 

Metta Theatre are front runners in cross art form theatre practice and this week they’ve somersaulted into The Lowry, Salford with their refreshing and radical interpretation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale, The Jungle Book.

Using a vibrant and intoxicating fusion of hip-hop, street dance, circus and storytelling, Metta’s Jungle Book is suitable for all ages 8 and up. Thing 1 (age 11), a dancer and Thing 2, (almost 8 and a keen back flipper) were gripped by the acrobatics, agility and aerial hoop display. The production swaps the original setting of the Indian jungle for the mean streets of the urban jungle in Britain, which may initially be a strange concept for younger children who are big fans of the cute Disney version. Though pleasingly, Metta Theatre challenge the well-loved tale and turn it on its head. Quite literally.

Adapted by Metta’s visionary director, Poppy Burton-Morgan – Mowgli (Nathalie Alison) is a lively young girl with a shock of black hair who has been brought up by Akela (Matt Knight) and his pack of skateboarding wolves, after finding herself abandoned. The beat-loving bin man Baloo (Stefano Addae) delivers a prologue which serves introduce the audience to each of the characters – be prepared for a graffiti artist Baghera (Kloé Dean), a pole-dancing Kaa (Ellen Wolf) and an intimidating ‘bone-breaking’ (wince) Shere Khan (Kaner Scott). It’s a clever conceit – each of the main characters are still present but they have been reshaped to reflect multi-cultural Britain and the way society views those who go against the grain.

Designer William Reynolds’ effective set of street lamps and barriers is perfectly suggestive of the concrete jungle and provides the perfect playground for the performers to dangle, pivot and climb. 

Kendra J Horsburgh’s striking choreography sees the performers fill the stage with flair and grace. Ellen Wolf displays remarkable strength and mastery as she curls and hangs from a street lamp as Kaa and Matt Knight’s Akela demonstrates superb acrobatics and street-dance skills. Nathalie Alison shines as Mowgli – weaving, spinning and balancing with absolute finesse and beauty.

The Jungle Book positively bursts with creativity, talent and passion. Each performer excels at their own individual skill and as each character, but the ensemble are at their most impressive when they occupy the stage together. This is a highly captivating show for younger theatre goers to enjoy, though cleverly, it offers a more mature social commentary on the Kipling classic – making it suitable for children and adults alike.

-Kristy Stott

The Jungle Book runs until Saturday 2nd September 2017 at The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz (Stockport Plaza, Stockport)

The Wizard of Oz (Stockport Plaza) © Regal Entertainment Ltd
The Wizard of Oz (Stockport Plaza)
© Regal Entertainment Ltd
Guest Reviewer: Ciaran Ward
Upstaged Rating: 

The Wizard of Oz gains a fresh reinterpretation with Regal Entertainment Ltd’s production of the classic musical, whilst retaining many of the theatrical characteristics that have made it a much-loved family tale for almost eighty years. The intermingling of recent pop music, such as Pitbull’s ‘Timber’, with original numbers, such as ‘Over the Rainbow’, maintains the appeal for younger members of the audience, whilst ensuring that they experience the tale as it was intended in the 1939 film.

From the play’s inception, the awe of the audience is assured owing to the surprise performance of ‘Pure Imagination’ by Fiyero (played by Richard Hazlewood) – a song that, whilst not belonging to this play, ultimately epitomises the sense of wonder that befalls both the characters and the audience as the narrative progresses. Hence, the genre is defined as being equally a musical, as it is a pantomime; the catchy refrains go hand-in-hand with the myriad boos and hisses whenever Cheryl Fergison’s antagonistic, Wicked Witch of the West, graces the stage.

 The ability for children to comprehend the plot and action throughout is upheld. Many sat giggling at the Scarecrow’s (portrayed by David Heath) bumbling antics, with some even cowering at the sight of the Flying Monkey (performed also, by Richard Hazlewood) as he snatches away the play’s three other principal characters: Maddie Hope Coelho’s Dorothy, Phillip McGuinness’ robotic Tin Man and Simon Foster’s Cowardly Lion.

 Adults too, share the ability to comprehend, with lurid innuendos, at times, distracting from the principal scene action, along with tiresome allusions to Fergison’s portrayal of EastEnders’ Heather Trott. One reference was to be expected, with the Wicked Witch being named Eva (pronounced ‘Eather), but the predictable hints soon cheapened the enchanting, artistic direction that Chantelle Nolan applied. A few ill-timed sound effects, and low-resolution CGI during the tornado scene, also negated the theatricality, with the latter being a perfect opportunity for Lighting Designer, Darren Paine, and Sound Technician, Conrad Kemp, to provide a staged alternative requisite for the medium.

 However, given that a pantomime is fundamentally a children’s genre, the production’s shortcomings are starkly disregarded in the face of this being a delightful introduction to the world of theatre for the next generation, whilst a lyrically-altered rendition of Little Mix’s ‘Black Magic’, performed by a former soap-star in a booming contralto, is sure to remain in the consciousness of the older generations for the foreseeable future.

-Ciaran Ward

The Wizard of Oz runs at Stockport Plaza until Saturday 12th August 2017.

REVIEW: Derren Brown (The Lowry, Salford)

Derren Brown returns to The Lowry with Underground
Derren Brown returns to The Lowry with Underground
guest reviewer: Elise Gallagher
upstaged rating: 

Fresh from a sell-out London bill, Derren Brown returns to Manchester with Underground his latest stage show which brings together a collection of Brown’s previous and favourite stage work. However, do not let this put you off, for I would strongly predict that there is something new to be seen for even the most die-hard fan.

I have seen Derren Brown once before and it would seem Derren’s charm and showman ship has only grown. Underground exhibits the ingredients needed to make a world class show. Brown oozes class, charm, intelligence and just a glint of cheekiness. However, I feel Underground highlights a much more sensitive and sentimental quality to not only the show but the man himself.

As you may imagine, audience participation is key to the show, especially for the utterly jaw dropping moments. It takes genuine skill to carry a show of such ferocity alone, with only the slightest help from a gorilla and a kangaroo. The show expertly mixed culture, emotion, grief and sheer exhilaration into a perfect cocktail which we gulped down unconsciously, craving more.

I feel quite torn when considering the wonder of the mind. Half of me wants to know exactly how he does it, every unconscious clue we give on a day to day basis. However, the other half of me thinks that this would only ruin its attraction. Some things should just remain shrouded in mystery instead of being examined for all to see.

Someone remarked that this being a showcase show may as well be his goodbye tour, I sincerely hope not. The world needs a bit more magic at the moment and I’m sure he has much more up his sleeve.

It is quite hard to write a review for a one man show whose thrill factor relies solely on secrets and surprise, my lips are sealed. But I leave you with this, Underground is a true masterclass in showmanship and psychological genius. A must see.

-Elise Gallagher

Derren Brown’s Underground is at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday 5th August 2017 and continues at The Playhouse Theatre, London in September 2017.

REVIEW: The Mikado (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

© McPHERSON PHOTOGRAPHY
© McPHERSON PHOTOGRAPHY
upstaged reviewer: Elise Gallagher
upstaged rating: 

The Mikado or ‘The Town of Titipu’ was first produced in 1885 and first ran for a mammoth 672 nights making it one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular plays. Set in the rather bizarre world of Titipu our protagonist Nanki-Poo (Richard Munday) falls in love with a girl named Yum-Yum (Alan Richardson) but both are tragically betrothed to others. One is bound to the Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko (David McKenchnie) whilst Nanki-Poo is entrapped by the formidable Katisha (Alex Weatherhill).

 The adaption is set in a private school camping trip which I must admit, I did not realise until I read it in the programme. I feel the production was supposed to be contextualised within a certain setting, however, I felt it was staged rather randomly in a wood far away from any towns or villages. However, the ambience that the set created was a success as it only heightened the hilarity on stage.

Director Sasha Regan stated that ultimately the tale was written as a way to poke fun at the establishment. She felt that Gilbert and Sullivan put their very English society on the stage to take the mickey in their original version of The Mikado, a sentiment which reverberates in Sasha Regan’s all-male production.

Alan Richardson shocked the audience with his vocal range, I was in complete disbelief when he first hit his high note. His performance easily stole laughter from the audience. David McKechnie played a magnificent Ko-Ko, who seemed to toy with physical comedy with ease. His performance in ‘As Some Day It May Happen’ was a show highlight. Alex Weatherhill also did a fantastic job in his role as Katisha.

However, it was Jamie Jukes who played Pitti-Sing who was the stand out performer for me. His performance was effortless and I found my eye would wander to him and Richard Russell Edwards (Peep-Bo) whenever they were on stage. The two bounced off one another and make a perfect double act.

This was my first time going into a Gilbert and Sullivan production and I would say that it is an acquired taste. It took me a little longer than usual to truly settle down into the performance. This is the perfect show for anyone who wants to leave their worries at the stage door and truly have fun, although it may be a step too silly for some.

I was seated next to an older gentleman who sang and danced throughout the entire performance with a huge grin on his face. He wasn’t alone in his glee.

-Elise Gallagher

The Mikado runs in The Quays Theatre at The Lowry until Saturday 29 July 2017.