REVIEW: Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes ~Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page~
Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes
~Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page~
upstaged rating: 

2017 marks the 30th year anniversary for New Adventures and to celebrate this milestone Sir Matthew Bourne brings the first full-length ballet adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Red Shoes to the stage. The Red Shoes is one of the lesser known of Andersen’s stories but it strikes a resounding chord with the dancing world; it has been a 20-year ambition of Bourne’s to revive the Academy Award-winning 1948 film storyline for his audience.

The ballet tells the much-loved story of Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw), a young dancer who is torn between fulfilling her dream and falling in love. Victoria dreams of being the greatest dancer in the world but when she falls for the struggling composer Julian Craster (Chris Trenfield), she finds herself caught in the midst of a battlefield between her love and her one true love, which is to dance.

When Victoria puts on the vivid red ballet shoes, given to her by the commanding ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Sam Archer), she is unable to stop dancing until the shoes are removed from her feet. Strikingly set against Lez Brotherston’s stylish monochrome backdrop, Ashley Shaw moves passionately with technical brilliance and much like the red ballet shoes on her feet, she is intoxicating to watch – graceful and passionate en pointe.

Chris Trenfield demonstrates strength and agility as a dancer and storyteller through his sensitive and charming portrayal of love interest, Julian Craster. Sam Archer’s imperious Boris Lermontov offers a striking contrast – ambitious, pushy and marked. Commanding the stage, the red shoes become a tool of seduction; their trailing red ribbons indicative that all may not end well.

Throughout the performance my eye was drawn to Liam Mower as gregarious Ivan Boleslawsky – agile, fun and bold  – Mower is just mesmerising to watch.

Sir Matthew Bourne’s choreography is elegant and super stylish, and the company deliver with precision and wit. Bourne is a unique storyteller who is never afraid to challenge himself – it is this which makes every production he takes on a triumph.

Terry Davies’ new musical score, using the music of golden-age Hollywood composer, Bernard Herrmann, is an absolute delight. Managing to juxtapose the romantic, heart-achingly beautiful with the more playful, comical numbers – the New Adventures Orchestra deliver with gusto. Lez Brotherston’s ornate revolving theatre set design and dazzling costumes inspired by 1940’s glamour contrast strikingly against Duncan McLean’s Burton-esque video projection. 

The Red Shoes is a breathtaking balletic display – a beautifully tragic tale poignantly told.

But don’t just take my word for it – go and see for yourselves.

-Kristy Stott

The Red Shoes runs at The Lowry Theatre, Salford until Saturday 3rd December 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty (Oldham Coliseum)

Sleeping Beauty at Oldham Coliseum © Joel C Fildes
Sleeping Beauty at Oldham Coliseum
© Joel C Fildes
upstaged rating:  

The team at Oldham Coliseum always succeed in delighting their dedicated Northern audience during pantomime season and this year they’re back, and true to form, with Sleeping Beauty.

With Kevin Shaw at the helm, Oldham Coliseum triumph once again – following their tried and tested recipe of pantomime goodness. With no glitter spared, every performer has that magical twinkle in their eye and, commanding the stage, they deliver the perfect Christmas show. Perhaps what makes Sleeping Beauty so delightful is that every child (and adult) feel involved – the auditorium is just the right size for the audience to be able to interact, which is a real bonus for the younger theatre-goers.

With an unexpected reshuffling of the cast following Fine Time Fontayne’s injury in rehearsal, Simeon Truby jumps into dame Nanny Nutty’s large and vibrant Doc Marten’s and delivers a superb performance. Celia Perkins’ costume design is a real treat – bright, larger than life and guaranteed to put a smile on even the most hardened of faces. Accompanied by Dave Bintley’s toe-tappingly brilliant musical soundtrack, Fine Time and Shaw’s script is tight and littered with references to popular culture. With a range of gags for the adults and the usual panto slapstick for children, Sleeping Beauty is a real winner with the diverse crowd.

Radiant Demi Goodman steps daintily into the role of Briar Rose, oblivious to the curse that has been thrust upon her by the bitter Carabosse, played by Liz Carney. Comedy capers are plentiful from Oldham Coliseum regulars Richard J Fletcher and Justine Elizabeth Bailey as The Nutty’s with Demi Goodman doubling up to play Nicky Nutty. Sara Sadeghi is full of energy playing both the good fairy, Spinning Jenny and the ‘super shiny’ Queen Hermione; David Westbrook completes the super line-up as King Cuthbert – there is no weak link here. The chorus dancers are full of energy, unbelievably light on their feet and springier than bouncy balls.

Simply put – Oldham Coliseum’s Sleeping Beauty is everything that a pantomime should be. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments, a lively musical score and the opportunity to interact with the performance – and all in an ideal sized performance space, where everyone can feel part of the action. Packed to the brim with magic, mischief and good old fashioned fun, Sleeping Beauty is certain to get all of the family ready for Christmas.

-Kristy Stott

With performances running until 7th January 2017, Sleeping Beauty is the perfect treat for families this Christmas. To book your tickets click here.

The Boy With Tape on his Face (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

tapeface
upstaged rating:

When I walked into the Lyric Theatre at The Lowry to watch The Boy With Tape on his Face, I really was not sure what to expect. I was aware that Sam Wills was a prop comic and I knew that this show would be performed with tape firmly stuck across his mouth. Normally, I would research but a theatre friend had told me that the less I knew about The Boy With Tape on his Face – the more I would enjoy it. 

Having won the prestigious Edinburgh Comedy Award Panel Prize in 2012, Wills has recently made the final of America’s Got Talent and has just announced that he has a 7-week residency at the Garrick Theatre, London through summer 2017. His humour is perfectly simple, laden with wit and thoroughly charming – it’s easy to understand why the show with no words has managed to get everybody else talking. Recently, he has renamed the show Tape Face.

As the show opens we find Tape Face in a setting resembling backstage at the theatre, presumably he is waiting for his call to perform. He rests in a tatty old armchair, listens to the wireless and takes the occasional cat nap. Luckily for us, his curtain call never comes and his own show begins to play out.

Audience participation is the key with this show and Tape Face manages to drive plenty of unsuspecting audience members to the stage. One of the great delights of his act is the way that he conveys feelings with a look – a cheeky shake of the head or an intense raise of the eyebrows. Using everyday objects he creates mini comic sketches which are fascinating to watch – one being a western style shootout reenacted with staples and balloons.

As each unknowing punter is plucked from their chair to join Tape Face on the stage they are particularly good sports. There is only admiration for the chap who finds himself auditioning for The Full Monty and the poor fellow who keeps finding himself brought up to the stage only to be sent back down again. 

Tape Face has a wonderful universal appeal about it – there are no language barriers because there are no words. I’ve deliberately written this review without going into too much detail about the show because I believe the less you know – the more you will enjoy it…

Go see!

-Kristy Stott

For Tape Face’s full tour listings click here. These listing include London’s Garrick Theatre from 6 June 2017.

REVIEW: Wind in the Willows (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

Neil McDermott and the cast of Wind in the Willows © Marc Brennan
Neil McDermott and the cast of Wind in the Willows
© Marc Brennan
 Reviewer: megan hyland
upstaged rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Wind in the Willows is a heart-warming and colourful musical based on the novel by Kenneth Grahame, produced by Jamie Hendry. It stars comedian and actor Rufus Hound as the sparky and bold speed enthusiast Mr Toad, alongside other familiar faces such as David Birrell (Midsomer Murders and Buried) as Mr Badger and Fra Fee (Les Miserables) as Mole. The musical tells the renowned story of friendship and adventure through beautifully orchestrated live music and the incredible dynamics of the cast. When Mr Toad is arrested and thrown in prison for the theft of a motor car, his lavish mansion is seized by the Wild Wooders, a fiendish band of woodland animals.

As Mr Toad, Hound steals the show with his quick humour and physicality. His boundless energy brings new life to the well-loved character, making him charming and likable despite his endless scheming. Although Hound may seem an usual choice for the role, none could have played it better. That being said, the rest of the cast fell far from short. Their command of the stage was masterful, and the singing in particular was captivating. Every harmony was perfectly blended and the actors seemed constantly in-tune with one another, working together to create a mesmerising production.

Other stand out performances were that of Neil McDermott and Sophia Nomvete. McDermott played the Chief Weasel, a cunning and cruel Wild Wooder. He was as menacing as he was exciting, and he brought up the energy of the other woodland creatures. As the strong and gutsy Mrs Otter, Nomvete delivered an amusing and engaging performance, playing the worried but protective mother who is no doubt familiar and lovable to us all.

However, it is the music, written by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe which makes this performance truly special. The songs are both uplifting and catchy, with a perfect combination of emotion and humour. They are heartfelt and sincere, without bringing down the general light mood of the production. Combined with the stunning sets and costumes designed by Peter McKintosh and Howard Harrison’s striking light design, it creates an enchanting atmosphere that is matchless.

With the Wind in the Willows, Julian Fellowes has expertly crafted a magical tale of the power of friendship. It is perfect for families and children, although I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a few hours of lighthearted fun and music. Without a doubt, this is the musical production of the year.

– Megan Hyland

Wind in the Willows is at The Lowry, Salford until Sunday 6th November 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

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Showing as part of Family Arts Festival. Please click here for more information.

 

 

REVIEW: This is a Trap Don’t Go (The Waterside Theatre, Whitworth St, Manchester)

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reviewer: Megan Hyland
upstaged rating: 

This is a Trap Don’t Go is a student acted and professionally directed performance piece inspired by actual events. It explores disturbing aspects of what has now become everyday life, such as kidnappings, conspiracy theories and scaremongering in the media. The piece itself spans around forty-five minutes, during which we see the characters theorise over who is behind the seemingly harmless attack on a plastic flamingo, ranging from the government to aliens disguised as humans to terrorists.

However, from this point onwards, the piece completely loses its audience as it tumbles into repetitive absurdity. The next thirty minutes or so is an unengaging jumble of dramatic techniques that add nothing to the piece and cause it to lose what little momentum it had built in the opening minutes. What follows has no connection to what was a promising start, and takes away from the ability it had to make an important statement about society and the media.

There is no narrative beyond the beginning of the piece, leaving the audience confused and often groaning in disappointment as the same techniques were used over and over. This in itself was a waste of the obvious talent of the cast, who powered through the tiresome minutes with unflinching effort and personality. They brought an excellent humour and energy to the performance, but I can’t help but feel that their talents would have been better suited to a more engaging and thought-provoking production.

Richard Young, Lauren Greer and Luke Riley, in particular, stood out in this performance, with their brilliantly dry humour and pure determination being the only thing that made the piece bearable. Their characters, though underdeveloped, were still entertaining and exciting when they were allowed to showcase their talent. Their success, however, was due to their vitality more than the writing, which lacked originality and depth.

The set and costume design (by Angela Wayland and Carol Wilson) managed to draw the audience in from the start, with its colourful hues and sparkling background. Although it gave the piece more personality and originality, it was seemingly unlinked to the piece itself and seemed only to serve as a distraction from the fact that very little was happening narrative-wise.

This is a Trap Don’t Go was unusual, funny but mostly hit-and-miss, leaving the audience in a state of confusion and boredom. It lacked the desired effect of wanting to make a serious point, and although this could have been the reasoning behind the seemingly random techniques, if this was the case, it wasn’t made apparent enough for it to make any impact and only left the audience disappointed and wanting something more.

-Megan Hyland

REVIEW: Zoe Lyons – Little Misfit (The Lowry, Salford) 

zoe_lyons_main
reviewer: megan hyland
upstaged rating:

Known for her regular appearances on TV comedy shows such as Mock the Week and Live at the Apollo, Zoe Lyons is back with her new tour, Little Misfit. First performed at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, Little Misfit is a sensational and exciting hour of reflective and at times quite political comedy. Lyons perfectly balances her personal experiences and world issues, making her performance current and relevant as well as warm and engaging. Rising comic Will Duggan supported Lyons, with twenty minutes of dry and often dark humour that sets him apart from other comedians. His performance was encouraging and involving, with a combination of hilarious prepared material and some equally funny audience interactions.

In a profession that is still disappointingly lacking in female performers, Lyons shows us exactly why there should be more celebrated female comedians. Although the audience was smaller than deserved, Lyons created entertaining atmosphere despite the fact that her comedy is perhaps better suited to a bigger audience. She commands the stage and the attention of the audience with great physicality and her ability to immerse us in her world.

Having watched her on TV, there’s a certain familiarity with Lyons’ comedy. Her quirky style and bold personality creates her own unique stage persona that is easily recognisable and makes her immediately stand out. However, even if you have never seen Lyons perform before – on TV or otherwise – her comedy is both inviting and inclusive, welcoming younger and older audiences. Some anecdotes and jokes however were also familiar, having heard them before from some of Lyons’ other material. Despite this, the show was packed with enough fresh material for this not to distract.

At times the transitions between jokes felt slightly forced, and the show itself ended very abruptly, as it was paced so rapidly that it felt as though it should have slowed to a more gradual end, or perhaps ended on a bigger or more memorable note. It felt as though the show just stopped mid flow on a joke that didn’t quite live up to the rest of the performance. However, despite having seen only short snippets of Lyons’ comedy before, even this hour-long performance felt too short, and perhaps the feeling of abruptness was simply due to wanting the performance to continue.

Little Misfit is a hilarious and charming hour of intelligent comedy that is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Zoe Lyons has mastered the art of comedy and created her own familiar comedic style that is as funny as it is thought-provoking.

-Megan Hyland

Zoe Lyons continues to tour through to May 2017 – click here for more info and to get your tickets.

REVIEW: Be My Baby (The Lowry, Salford)

Be My Baby at the Lowry Theatre Salford till Saturday 8th October 2016
Be My Baby at the Lowry Theatre Salford until Saturday 8th October 2016
upstaged rating:

There is no bigger story than a mother being made to give up her baby for adoption and this is exactly the premise of Amanda Whittington’s play, Be My Baby. Set in the so-called swinging sixties, a defining decade when young people were just being given a voice and expression, mother and baby homes still existed. It is difficult to comprehend that just 50 years ago an unmarried pregnant woman would be shipped off to one of these homes to give birth to her child in secret, for fear that a baby born ‘out of wedlock’ would bring complete shame on her family. Propelled by society and their fear of the unknown, the girls would sign their baby over for adoption before even experiencing childbirth or seeing their babies face.

Despite dealing with a bleak subject matter, Be My Baby is packed full of laughter, light and a wonderfully evocative soundtrack. The music serves as a brilliant contrast to the harsh subject matter, serving to lighten the tone and transport us back to the 1960’s.

When Mary (Jess Cummings) is brought into the mother and baby convent by her mother, Mrs Adams (Susan Twist) she shares a dormitory with her beloved record player and Queenie. Jess Cummings shines as the respectable grammar school girl who finds herself pregnant and shipped off to the home, even before her father can find out.

At the centre of the performance is Coronation Street’s Brooke Vincent, in her stage debut as tough mum-to-be Queenie. Giving a very well rounded natural performance, showing heart and impeccable comic timing, Vincent impresses as the hardened young character. Ruth Madoc is quite formidable as the matron of the mother and baby convent. Detached and stern, she gives a wonderfully subtle performance – her maternal instinct just simmers, hinting that she knows more about the way the girls are feeling than she alludes to.

The ensemble cast all give excellent performances throughout, notably Josie Cerise and Eva McKenna, with some of the most poignant sections during their daily chores in the convent laundry. Shrouded by the sheets pegged up to dry, they sing along to their favourite songs and flick through teenage annuals – all trying to come to terms with their changing bodies and myths surrounding childbirth.

Some of the scene changes were very laboured (pardon the pun) at times, particularly in the second half, which did detract from some of the more emotional scenes. However, I’m sure Kirstie Davis is fine tuning this already – leaving the audience to enjoy the powerful performances and emotive subject matter.

-Kristy Stott

Be My Baby is on at the Lowry Theatre Salford until Saturday 8th October 2016 and you can click here to get your tickets.

REVIEW: The Emperor (HOME, Manchester)

Kathryn Hunter in The Emperor © Simon Annand
Kathryn Hunter in The Emperor
© Simon Annand
reviewer: Megan Hyland
upstaged rating: 

The Emperor tells the story of the fall of the infamous Haile Selassie, Ethiopian Emperor between the years of 1930 and 1974. The play is based on Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s book, in which he interviewed the servants of Selassie after his downfall. It is a glimpse into a world of corruption, poverty and absolute power, through the eyes of those who worked under the Emperor throughout his tyrannical reign.

The shapeshifting Kathryn Hunter plays each character with such spirited passion and vigour, with no crossover in between, each character is a personality in their own right. Her voices and mannerisms bring the characters to life in an inspiring and vast performance, transforming herself completely. The limited costume and props leave the characterisation to fall into Hunter’s very capable hands, and she does not disappoint. Every character has their own tone, and she switches effortlessly between the emotionally raw and vulnerable to the closed off and political. Through every character, we were able to build our own image of the Emperor, making him almost as big of a presence as the characters on stage.

The combination of Hunter’s masterful character acting and Temesgen Zeleke’s beautifully haunting live music created the sombre yet heartfelt tale that ran alongside the Emperor’s dictation and downfall – the loyalty and love of his servants. Although the Emperor was the main focus of the production, you can’t help as an audience member to feel drawn to Hunter’s characters. She plays them with such vitality that it becomes difficult not to become immersed in their world. And although the story itself was deeply interesting, especially since it is so little known, the production itself was held up by Hunter’s incredible talent. Her performance was pivotal to the success of the play, as any other attempt at such a bold and demanding role possibly would have caused the whole production to fall flat.

Mike Gunning’s lighting and Paul Arditti’s sound combined with Walter Meierjohann’s poignant directing created an intense, albeit slightly bizarre show that is not to be missed. The quick changes in tone left audiences reeling, never quite sure whether they should be laughing or crying, but Hunter made it flow naturally. Temesgen Zeleke’s music and the inclusion of the Amharic language of Ethiopia in his side characters added a subtle authenticity to the piece, making it all the more credible.

The Emperor is an honest and engaging piece about a part of history that many people know little about, creating a lot of discussion. However, what stands out for many is Kathryn Hunter’s faultless performance and energy that carries the piece throughout.

-Megan Hyland

The Emperor is at HOME, Manchester until Friday 30th September 2016.

For a taster of this FIVE STAR show, please watch HOME‘s trailer…

REVIEW: I, Myself and Me (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

i_myself_and_me_main
reviewer: Ciaran ward
upstaged rating: 

For anybody who is not accustomed to solo shows, I, Myself and Me (created, written and performed by Rachael Young), serves as a delightful introduction to the form, one that is as entertaining and captivating as any other genre of theatre. With generous and well-interspersed portions of humour, paired with the thoughtful inclusion of audience participation, Young’s autobiographical material is expressed in a medium that encapsulates the struggles any single woman in their late thirties can encounter on a day-to-day basis.

Standing on a set (designed by Naomi Kuyck-Cohen) that comprises of a neglected garden, a palm tree, various plant pots and two microphone stands, Rachael Young gives the audience an insight into her life. Learning that she is someone with Caribbean lineage and a working class background allows everyone to engage with her, creating a rapport that engenders an honest and comfortable atmosphere. Through this, she imparts some personal recollections, ranging from the comical anecdote that details her using said palm tree in the absence of a real partner at a school dance, all the way to the heartfelt confession that she didn’t visit her mother’s grave for eleven years.

This sentimentally is explored further in Young’s building up of the garden: an emotional endeavour that is revealed to be an homage to the garden her mother took pride in maintaining. In the background, video footage (edited by Lucy Skilbeck) is projected onto a pull-out screen as she does this, presenting a journey of her buying flowers and finally visiting her mother’s grave.

A dramatic shift in the format of the piece (metamorphosing into one that is reminiscent of a television game show) is introduced when a member of the audience, named Kash, joins Young on stage. Here, the former attempts to help the latter with two challenges, the first entailing the both of them running a lap ‘faster than Usain Bolt’ on the floor, with the second involving Kash navigating the blindfolded Young around a series of mini cacti. The contrast in lighting (designed by Alyssa Watts and Eva G Alonso) aids this transformation, with a spotlight on Young being replaced by stark floodlighting in moments of physical activity.

I, Myself and Me may be a solo show, but it is in no way uniform in nature. The unique performance offered by Young and the unconventional dramatic techniques featured makes for a diverse and compelling interactive monologue.

-Ciaran Ward

You can see Rachael Young performing a work in progress of her new show OUT at the  Steakhouse Live Festival in  Richmix, London on Friday 14th October 2016.

 

REVIEW: Rambert: A Linha Curva plus other works (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

A scene from Frames by Rambert Dance Company ©Tristram Kenton
A scene from Frames by Rambert Dance Company
©Tristram Kenton
upstaged rating: 

Now in their 90th year, Rambert continue to lead the dance world with their exhilarating and  innovative dance works. Back in 1966, the company changed their artistic focus from classical to contemporary. Always forward thinking, they commission the most exciting choreographers, composers and designers and give them the freedom to lead wherever their vision and imagination takes them.

To celebrate their 90th year in true Rambert style, the world-class dancers are presenting three contrasting works at The Lowry, Salford. Opening with the world premiere of Malgorzata Dzierzon’s Flight, followed by Frames choreographed by Alexander Whitley and ending with the beautiful, vibrant and sexy A Linha Curva.

Malgorzata Dzierzon used stories and dialogue about travel, migration and shifting space as inspiration for Flight. It’s a captivating vision set to Kate Whitley’s evocative soundtrack, delivered by the company with fluidity and grace. A revolving set design accompanied by Luke Halls’ video projection creates an eerie atmosphere, drawing our attention to the pace at which we move through our everyday lives. Paul Koegan’s smart lighting design works perfectly alongside the dancers, creating sharp powerful silhouettes during the stunning duet between Miguel Altunaga and Liam Francis.

Frames provides a fascinating contrast, exploring themes of permanency and the dance space or theatre as a construction site. With set design by Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen, the performance space is transformed into a white box as the dancers construct their performance within it. The sound of metal bars clashing and Daniel Bjarnason’s industrial-esque soundtrack heighten the senses as the dancers hold the audience’s gaze, moving with agility and strength. Who knew that you could make dancing with metal structures look easy and stunningly beautiful? 

And just as you think the performance could not get any better… A Linha Curva, choreographed by Itzik Galili, explodes onto the stage, giving a powerful  injection of colour and carnival to the evening. The audience begin to join in, clapping and bobbing, whooping and cheering to the sound of the samba beat. The live percussion musicians are elevated above the dance space, upbeat and vibrant they use a range of instruments, their voices and their bodies to create the dynamic soundtrack. It’s sensual, witty and terribly good – the dancers are faultless as they move alongside each other in a truly intoxicating display.

There’s a true sense of celebration throughout the performance and during the standing ovation, which is very well deserved for Britain’s oldest dance company. Rambert may be 90 this year but they show no sign of standing still.

-Kristy Stott

Rambert: A Linha Curva plus other works is at The Lowry until Friday 30th September 2016 and you can get your tickets here.