REVIEW: Dick Whittington (Oldham Coliseum, Oldham)

Simeon Truby as King Rat at the Oldham Coliseum. © Joel C Fildes
Simeon Truby as King Rat at the Oldham Coliseum.
© Joel C Fildes
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The team at Oldham Coliseum always deliver a Christmas cracker with their traditional, cheeky pantomime fun and this year is no exception. The talented team of familiar faces are back to showcase all of the traditional elements of pantomime. With plenty of audience engagement, hilariously messy slapstick, innuendo for the grown-ups and sweeties for the little ones – there is plenty for the whole family to enjoy this festive season at Oldham Coliseum.

Penned by director Kevin Shaw and Fine Time Fontayne, Dick Whittington (Nina Shadi) follows a simple narrative about a young man from Oldham who travels South to seek his fortune. Driven by the belief that the streets of London are paved with gold – he soon finds out that they are overrun with rats but tries to make the best of it when he meets Alice (Shorelle Hepkin), the daughter of bumbling Sir Ivo Fitzwarren (Ralph Birtwell).

It’s great to see Fine Time Fontayne back as the pantomime dame, following his injury last year – he is truly entertaining and strikes a real chord with the audience. With an array of fabulous food-themed costumes and vibrant Doc Martens, designer Celia Perkins has really excelled herself this year. In fact, the whole show looks as though it has been peeled from the pages of a children’s picture-book, providing a pleasing backdrop for the pantomime mayhem and magic to play out. 

Alongside Fine Time Fontayne there is a host of fabulous Oldham Coliseum panto favourites – Richard J Fletcher is a comical success as Silly Billy Suet and is always a hit with the young crowd; Liz Carney takes on three larger-than-life roles – showcasing her ability to slip between costumes and accents, she is a triumph as Fairy Godmother Nell, Captain Bonny and the Sultana of Morocco. Simeon Truby gets the crowd going as evil baddie King Rat – his Rat Out Of Hell Meatloaf cover is definitely a highlight of the night and gets a pleasing cheer from the audience before they remember to boo and hiss. Miley Rose impresses as somersaulting Tom the Cat.

Oldham Coliseum’s Dick Whittington is everything that a pantomime should be. With plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, David Bintley’s lively musical score and the opportunity to interact with the performance – all taking place in an ideal sized theatre, where everyone feels part of the action. Dick Whittington is packed with festive magic, mischief and good old-fashioned fun – the perfect production to share with all of the family this Christmas.

-Kristy Stott

Dick Whittington runs at Oldham Coliseum until  13th January 2018 and you can get your tickets here.

Review: Kate O’Donnell: You’ve Changed (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

Kate O'Donnell in You've Changed at The Lowry, Salford Quays.
Kate O’Donnell in You’ve Changed at The Lowry, Salford Quays.
Reviewer: Megan Hyland
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Kate O’Donnell quite literally bares all in her new show, You’ve Changed, a hilarious and honest account of her transition in 2003. Using the backdrop of the 1930s to add a unique twist, O’Donnell explores how transitioning fourteen years ago felt a lot more like transitioning in the 1930s. And although the show itself is only an hour long, there isn’t a topic left untouched in this unapologetic story of what being transgender and transitioning is really like.

You’ve Changed combines some truly transfixing dance routines skilfully choreographed by Lea Anderson, the music of the 1930s and O’Donnell’s effortless sense of humour and sincerity to create an entertaining and insightful performance. In collaboration with her trans-led theatre company Trans Creative, the show aims to both encourage and empower other members of the trans community, whilst also educating cisgender audiences – and it does exactly that. O’Donnell takes us through every step of her transition, beginning with the moment that she said it out loud for the first time in her friend’s living room to name change documents and the cost of her surgery.

However, it is O’Donnell’s dazzling personality and humour that is the real heart of the show. She holds the audience in the palm of her hand, keeping you on the verge of tears or uncontrollable laughter at any giving moment. She commands effortless control, drawing the audience in from the moment she steps onstage dressed as Fred Astaire to the very last moment where she remerges as Ginger Rodgers. And although there are parts that may feel slightly disjointed and perhaps rough around the edges, O’Donnell’s intelligent and witty storytelling ultimately distracts and leaves you with a smile.

All in all, You’ve Changed delivers some truly powerful messages about what it’s really like to be trans and transitioning, which despite O’Donnell’s transition being almost fourteen years ago, still remain relevant today. It will make you laugh, think and maybe even cry. But the main takeaway is the question that O’Donnell herself asks – she’s changed, but have you? I certainly have.

-Megan Hyland

You’ve Changed runs at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday 11th November 2017 and continues the tour to Birmingham’s SHOUT Festival on 17th November and Lancaster Arts Centre on 1st December 2017.

REVIEW: Uncle Vanya (HOME, Manchester)

 © Jonathan Keenan
© Jonathan Keenan
Upstaged Rating: 

Taking inspiration from the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, HOME Manchester present Andrew Upton’s beautifully touching translation of Anton Chekov’s Uncle Vanya.

Over one hundred and fifty years have passed since Chekov’s birth and his plays have become almost as much part of British theatre’s repertoire as Shakespeare. Uncle Vanya is a complete masterpiece – portraying a society on the brink of change and an uncertain political climate – it was a revolutionary play for its time, written twenty years before the Russian Revolution. Most startlingly, to a modern audience, Uncle Vanya offers a timely commentary about the world we inhabit right now.

Director Walter Meierjohann has brought this deeply layered and finely nuanced production to complete fruition. Fascinating and truly absorbing, every word resonates and strikes new meaning – Meierjohann has teased and provoked to create a stunning theatrical feast which resonates powerfully with a contemporary audience.

Nick Holder’s Uncle Vanya straddles the tragicomic, playing the title role in a way Chekov would have applauded. Emerging as a yawning buffoon, then doe-eyed and needy, as he fawns over the Professor’s beautiful wife, Yelena. Holder interweaves comedy and anguish perfectly giving the best Vanya that I have ever seen.

Chekhov’s work is always about the ensemble and there is a host of top-notch performances in this production. Katie West gives us a gentle, diligent and honest Sonya against Hara Yannas’ beautifully elegant but idle Yelena. David Fleeshman’s gout-ridden Professor is suitably embittered by the onset of old age; Jason Merrells is brilliant as Astrov, a character who was viewed as a visionary and radical outsider at the time the play was first written; now, Astrov and his passionate appeals to plant seeds, nurture our environment and take responsibility for our society, strikes a resounding chord.

A self-playing piano haunts the characters from the back of the stage and provides a melancholic musical score composed by Marc Tritschler. The unkempt estate that the characters inhabit is suggested perfectly by Steffi Wuster’s minimalist though effective set design.

This production is completely consuming. Like a beautiful meal, I leave HOME feeling content and full with no bitter aftertaste.

-Kristy Stott

Uncle Vanya runs at HOME, Manchester until Saturday 25th November 2017 and you can get your tickets here.

 

 

Review: Spamalot ( Palace Theatre, Manchester)

Spamalot at The Palace Theatre, Manchester until 11th November 2017
Spamalot at The Palace Theatre, Manchester until 11th November 2017
Guest Reviewer: karen Clough
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Eric Idle’s stage adaptation of the 1975 film ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ offers all the satire, ridiculousness, mockery and hilarity you might bargain for, and then some.

Whether you’re an existing fan of Monty Python or not, this show makes for a laugh-out-loud night of ingeniously perceptive slapstick entertainment. Eric Idle has captured the essence of Monty Python in this superbly constructed musical version, demonstrating the most natural understanding of what really does make people laugh. First appearing on stage in 2004, Spamalot stands the test of time by combining classic comedy with currently themed script tweaks, which connect it with the present.

Spamalot is the calamitous tale of King Arthur (Bob Harm) and his incompetent knights (Steven Arden, Jonathan Tweedie, Norton James, Marc Akinfolarin) in their search for the Holy Grail. Struggling to command the respect of his subjects as a credible king, Arthur recruits the knights of the round table on his travels, each of them possessing a unique ineptness and comedic appeal.

Fans of Monty Python and the newly-acquainted alike will appreciate the embedded fun-poking at the ‘terribly Britishness’ of it all, the coconut shell horses, the set, props and the genre of musical theatre itself. All of this is accompanied by an equally amusing song list (John du Prez & Eric Idle) including the quintessential Monty Python anthem ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ (music directed by Dean McDermott).

This production is not just intelligently written (Eric Idle), it is slickly directed (Daniel Buckroyd), choreographed (Ashley Nottingham) and designed (Sara Perks) – it’s as good as musical comedy pandemonium gets. This is enabled by outstanding casting, their chemistry and a shared sense of fun literally radiating from the stage. The performances of each are of such a high and comparable standard that favouritism proves a struggle. Whilst there is too much brilliance to justly mention, I doubt the comic-timing of Bob Harms’ (King Arthur) imaginary horse-handling paired with Rhys Owen’s (Patsy) command of coconut shell hooves could be bettered! Vocal performances are also of great quality across the cast, with Sarah Harlington as the divaesque Lady of the Lake leading the way.

Prepare for audience interaction, high jinks, ad-lib, more irony than you can shake a stick at and a revolving door of laughter and thoroughly enjoyable idiocy.

I agree with John Cleese, it really is “the silliest thing I’ve ever seen”. It’s also ridiculously brilliant. I left the show with a warmed, laughter-aching face, I’m smiling as I write this review. Don’t let this humour masterpiece pass you by.

-Karen Clough

Spamalot runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 11th November 2017.

Review: Jubilee ( Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)

PHOTO CREDIT: Johan Persson
PHOTO CREDIT: Johan Persson
Guest Reviewer: Daniel Shipman
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Jubilee is a riot. From the slogans spray-painted on to plywood surrounding the Royal Exchange’s in-the-round space to the chaotic way the cast commandeer the stage, it is obvious from the start that this is no ordinary night at the theatre.

 An adaption of Derek Jarman’s punk film from the 1970s, Jubilee revolves around Amyl Nitrate (Travis Alabanza) and her loose collective of societal outcasts. As Amyl, Alabanza is a revelation – her heartfelt, angry, intelligent monologues are highlights of the show and I have never witnessed someone engage an audience more skilfully.

 Expertly adapted by director Chris Goode, this production brings what could have been a nostalgic glance back at punk kicking and screaming in to 2017. There are references to the Grenfell Tower disaster which occurred in June, and even the Kevin Spacey scandal which broke less than a week before previews began.

 The structure of the show is as anarchic as the rest of it; anybody looking for a coherent, sensible plot will be disappointed. What you get instead is a series of snapshots in which Amyl and her friends attempt to leave their mark on society, whether that is through performance art, sex, music or violence. As in life, the boundaries between these things are blurred.

 Forty years on from starring as Mad in the film, Toyah Wilcox plays Elizabeth I. She spends most of the time presiding over the production from a throne on the first gallery with very little to say, but the moments when she does speak allow for welcome periods of calm – something you won’t find anywhere else in the show.

 Goode’s production is constantly self-referential, it never wants you to forget that you are watching a piece of theatre. Indeed, Lee Curran’s lighting design keeps the audience lit for several scenes and the cast don’t hesitate to playfully put their arms around the shoulders of audience members.

 Whether you love it or hate it, I promise Jubilee will be unlike anything you’ve seen on stage before.

-Daniel Shipman

Jubilee runs at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre until 18th November 2017 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW: Get A Clue ( The Arden School of Theatre: The Waterside Theatre, Manchester)

Get A Clue by The Arden School of Theatre, Manchester
Get A Clue by The Arden School of Theatre, Manchester

 

Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Get A Clue is the latest performance piece produced and performed by the third year BA (Hons) Dance and Performance students at The Arden Theatre School. The whole hour-long piece has been choreographed in just four weeks as a collaboration with international choreographer and dance storyteller, Cindy Claes.

Armed with detective style magnifying glasses, realms of unsolved case papers and a lifetime supply of paperclips, the talented ensemble present an alternative perspective on the life of a crime-solving detective. Fusing spoken word with hip-hop, dancehall and contemporary dance, the performers fill the space with energy and a good dose of wit as they showcase their skills.

The performance commences with our lead detective and her portfolio of unsolved cases – in a beautifully stylised and rhythmical sequence each file is presented to her. Uttering the subject of each case, the dancers slam each heavy pile of papers down in front of the detective. My only qualm is that this opening section may have been stronger if it had taken place in the middle of the stage.

Slowly, our detective feels the pressure of her increasingly heavy workload – she appears to become more concerned with the way that her papers are held together, than with the actual content of each case. Will she ever find her missing papers clips? Are her deceptive colleagues hiding the paper clips from her?

Paper fills the stage as it is thrown around in a display of disorganisation and madness creating a visual display of unease and chaos. Our dishevelled detective lies sprawled on the floor in the centre. Beautifully simple but powerful imagery.

There are some delightful sequences when the whole company is on stage together. The line-up was a highlight for me – simple choreography and clever storytelling by the ensemble. There is also some entertaining slapstick storytelling as two of the detective’s assistants quarrel over a chair. Each facial expression by the cast further adds to the narrative.

A dance off between our lead detective and a rival detective was particularly pleasing – confined to the simple ‘click’ – how far could these two take this basic movement to appear better than the other? Georgina Thompstone certainly shines as being a capable dancer and skilled storyteller.

This was a wonderfully entertaining showcase from a group of highly talented young dancers, who have a very bright future ahead of them. Well done!

-Kristy Stott

Review: Hedda Gabler (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

HEDDA GABLER UK Tour 2017/2018 Royal National Theatre London PHOTO CREDIT: BrinkhoffMögenburg
HEDDA GABLER
UK Tour 2017/2018
Royal National Theatre London
PHOTO CREDIT: BrinkhoffMögenburg
Guest Reviewer: Gillian POtter-Merrigan
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Creating a new version of a classic is always a mission fraught with danger.  Will the original mood of the play be lost in translation?  I am happy to report, that with a few minor details, the National Theatre’s new adaptation of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler by Patrick Marber manages largely to retain the same malevolent and desperate tone as the original whilst updating the story both visually and adding another layer with the inclusion of musical interludes. 
Hedda is trapped in a marriage she despises – slowly losing her grip on herself and those around her. Lizzy Watts‘ Hedda is depicted with an underplayed desperation that remains just a whisper from insanity.  The whole cast move seamlessly from cowed to controlling within the narrative providing a fine ensemble performance.  However, Adam Best as Bract, the judge and some would say the jury on Hedda, stands out in his role as the eventual winner in the game of mental cat and mouse with a shocking denouement that drives Hedda to her last act of nonconformity albeit one which will create the scandal she has always feared.   
The desperation of the characters is palpable largely to a perfect set designed by Jan Versweyweld; a blank cold white box with the characters observed like rats trapped in a box.  Blinds filter the sun to become prison bars and the lighting is used by Verweywald to show the shifting dynamics within the group, especially the use of shadows. At the start, Hedda’s shadow looms large over the others but with her increasing inability to manipulate the story that unfolds her shadow decreases mirroring her own waning influence. The lighting as we watch Hedda breathe her last is particularly bleak.  The staging also cleverly extends to using the spaces within the auditorium to include the audience along with the placing of the actors on the stage, stepping forward only when their roles dictate.  This mechanism gives the play an almost doll’s house feel with characters being played with by both the audience and Hedda only when they are needed. 
A couple of things are confusing; if there is an entry screen for the front door why is other technology missing?  Also, the positioning of the entry screen largely obscures it from the audience.  However, these are merely footnotes in what is an unmissable provoking and entertaining retelling of Ibsen’s treaty on the female psyche. 
However these minor issues aside it is a mesmerising and reflective production and, unlike Hedda, you could wish for nothing more.
-Gillian Potter-Merrigan
Hedda Gabler runs at The Lowry, Salford Quays until 4th November 2017. 

 

Review: The Wipers Times (Opera House, Manchester)

The Wipers Times   ©  Philip Tull
The Wipers Times
© Philip Tull
Guest Reviewer: Elise Gallagher
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Set in the mud-ridden trenches of Northern Flanders an unlikely band of soldiers stumble upon a printing press amongst the bombed-out ruins of Ypres. Here, the Wipers Times is born.

The play opens with the paper’s editor Captain Fred Roberts (James Dutton), who is struggling to find a job in post-war Fleet Street. However, The wealth of the narrative follows Captain Roberts and Lieutenant Jack Pearson (George Kemp) of the 12th Battalion, who head the infamous paper.

The paper wasn’t concerned with the words of so-called ‘war experts’. Instead, they offered their readers a cocktail of satire, parodies, poems, spoof advertisements and cartoons -perfectly illustrating that humour is a relief to anyone, even in their darkest times. When you think of the First World War images of death, destruction and ruin come to mind, not of the humanity and humour of the men who fought in it. Refreshingly, this play gives another face to the First World War, a perspective I haven’t witnessed before.

Long-time collaborators Ian Hislop and Nick Newman have already made an award-winning television film in 2013 from this story; here, they deliver a thoroughly-researched production punctuated with facts. As editor of the satirical magazine Private Eye, it’s clear to see why Hislop was attracted to the story.

Caroline Leslie’s direction allows for scenes to seamlessly alternate between that of military attack to a music-hall comedy sketch. Dora Schweitzer’s design merges the confines of the trenches and barbed wire fence to create a light-up frame to host the paper’s vaudevillian sketches.

The narrative was carried by a stand-out cast who had undeniable chemistry. Dutton and Kemp particularly shone, leading their cast expertly and readily filling the theatre with laughter. It’s clear to see why Dutton has attracted the attention of prestigious awards such as WhatsOnStage’s Best Newcomer. Dutton and Kemp are absolute delights who have a clear command over comedy – I look forward to seeing what they do next.

I genuinely liked this production. However, I couldn’t help but feel that the venue of Manchester’s Opera House was ill-suited for it. For such a unique tale of an extraordinary situation and characters, I found the venue was too large and overshadowed the story, diluting the warmth and feeling from the audience before they had a chance to receive it.

Whilst the puns are one of the main driving forces in this production, the jokes eat away at time which could have been spent on character development. There are truly touching moments amongst the mockery, such as a young officer writing a poem dedicated to his friend who has been killed in action.

The story progresses without escalating into powerful drama – I believe a conscious choice, but one many may not expect from a play about the First World War. Our characters seem to only exist within the confines of the war, which many may not like, however, I don’t see too much of an issue with this. After all, once the war was over, the paper ceased to exist.

Rather sadly, the audience learns that the editors of the Wipers Times were forgotten. Hislop, Newman, the cast and crew have ensured that this will no longer be the case. God bless the piss takers.

-Elise Gallagher

The Wipers TImes runs at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 4th November 2017

Review: Superposition (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

© Sam Ryley
© Sam Ryley
Guest Reviewer: Elise Gallagher
Upstaged Rating: 

Spoken word, science and strip clubs combine to create Chanje Kunda’s one-woman cabaret show exploring the laws of attraction and the meaning of life.

Manchester poet, playwright and performance artist Chanje Kunda presents Superposition at the Lowry Theatre. Kunda took lessons in several disciplines of dance in the lead up to her show. Two are pole and lap dancing, which are commonly performed in certain venues for a particular clientele, but Kunda sets out to reinvent this.

“As a woman, I wanted to find out about the laws of attraction. I wanted to know how the universe works and about my place in the universe. So, I decided to ask these questions to a philosopher, to a physicist and to my son.”

Superposition is a frank, hopeful yet honest look at the questions that surround the universe, juxtaposed through the lens of lap dancing and quantum physics.

During one scene Kunda illustrates the similarities between the properties of particles and the routines of a nightclub. She explains that if the atom was a nightclub, “the nucleus would be dancing in the middle of the nightclub” whilst the electron would be orbiting the nucleus “getting to see the sexiness from all angles”. She explains this all whilst pole dancing, I must add.

The prospect of a show marrying poetry, pole dancing and particle physics to perform on stage is a daunting prospect, and it had the potential to go very wrong. However, it didn’t. The narrative pivoted between Kunda’s lessons in erotic dancing (including “floor fuckery”), the body positivity reflections against the backdrop of her life. And all seamlessly fused together in a dialogue of dance fusion, philosophy and music.

At one point Kunda empathises with a cat on heat and discusses the many questions life has to offer with her curious son. She then puts on the most glorious pair of ‘stripper shoes’ which she at first wobbles, unbalanced, in – but a short time later she is working the pole, transfixing the audience.

At the end of the rabbit hole that Kunda has sent us down she studies her audience and says, “I’m letting you watch me because you paid,” and in that moment we are forced to think about the politics and conflict of ownership, the policing and imposed restrictions of bodies and more importantly, the politics of black women’s bodies. When asking to pick out a lap dancer, Kunda looks for one with a “badonk-donk bum”, only there were none; instead, the lap dancer had breasts that even gravitational force couldn’t pull down. In the body confidence workshop she attended, where they were all asked to undress, and she was the only black female, she was staggered to see that their pubic hair was like down or fur rather than the texture of her own.

I imagine, it goes without saying, that this kind of show is an acquired taste. However, behind the poetry, the pole, and the heels there is a rawness which laces between the words and the movement and transcends boundaries.

The show circles around and around, looping upon itself – but it isn’t repetitive. My only qualm with the performance as a whole was that sometimes Kunda was overshadowed by the volume of the music.

In an age where women’s eroticism is often portrayed quite cheaply, Kunda searches for a new way to elevate and celebrate it – through the disciplines of science, spirituality and sensuality. The hour passed very quickly.

-Elise Gallagher

Further UK tour dates for Superposition can be found here.

Review: Sunset Boulevard (The Palace Theatre, Manchester)

Sunset Boulevard at Manchester's Palace Theatre
Sunset Boulevard at Manchester’s Palace Theatre
Guest Reviewer: Ciaran Ward
Upstaged Rating: 

Ria Jones and Danny Mac star in the Curve touring production of Sunset Boulevard, respectively portraying the faded silent film star, Norma Desmond, and the struggling Hollywood screenwriter, Joe Gillis. The musical, based on the 1950 Billy Wilder film, with music composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, depicts the close-knit working relationship that both characters form, and the dire consequences that manifest from their alliance with each other.

Norma’s glamorous past is soon contaminated by the bleak stage lighting (designed by Ben Cracknell) and the melancholy score of ‘Once Upon a Time’ (directed by Adrian Kirk) – defining the state of depression that dominates the emotional depth of the character. A direct antithesis is provided through the bright spotlights and melodic harmonies inherent in the ‘This Time Next Year’ number, where almost all members of the ensemble cast look forward to the freedom that the future offers for their success.

The tragic underscores of Jones’ character generate a sense of heartfelt pathos among the audience. Her attachment to the past is compounded, in the narrative, through the vintage movie cameras that serve as a ubiquitous presence on stage; every time they come into focus, the audience is reminded that Norma is trapped within her former sense of stardom. Soon it becomes clear that this middle-aged woman is doomed to live in the shadow of the girl she once was, forever.

Joe’s response to this, in various moments of the play, is both cathartic and endearing. The Tango (choreographed by Lee Proud) that accompanies the ‘New Year Tango’ number, reflects the growing intimacy between the two characters and the ways in which Joe serves as a solace to the perturbed mind of Norma. Her suicidal tendencies become less pronounced as their attachment grows, with this substantiating a sense of ease and tranquillity in the conflict of the plot – one that makes the tragic climax so unanticipated.

Elements of foreboding, however, become predominant in the second act, with the detachment of Norma’s grand staircase into three distinct parts, paralleling her fractured relationship with Joe, and foreshadowing the three shots that resonate deeply in the penultimate scene. These elements provide the foundation for the iconic ‘I’m ready for my close-up’ moment in the dénouement, which Jones reinterprets to perfection, with this characterising the metamorphosis of the play, in the genre, from a musical to a tragedy.

-Ciaran Ward

Sunset Boulevard runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 4th November 2017.