REVIEW – Kite (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

The-Wrong-Crowds-Kite-_main
Upstaged Rating: 
Thingstars: 

Kite is a stunningly beautiful and inventive play from Devon based theatre company The Wrong Crowd. No spoken words are needed in this highly visual production, instead delightful puppetry, an enchanting soundtrack and movement bring the story of a young girl and her kite to life.

Following her mother’s death, a little girl (Charlotte Croft)  is transported from her home in a seaside town to live with her grandmother (Liz Crowther) in a small flat in London. Lonely and heavy hearted, her memories of the life she used to know and the environment around her begin to fade away. Until one magical night, she finds a handmade kite and patching up a hole in the wing, the two embark on a wild adventure together.

Thing 2 was gripped by the performance, his eyes darting to follow the wonderful kite flying about the stage. He even moved to sit on the stairs to get a better view of the action, reaching his hands out to try and reach the kite as it flew high above.

Kite is so pleasingly pretty and well-thought out – delicate choreography is balanced with striking imagery by performers Linden Walcott-Burton and Nicola Blackwell. With slick scene changes and clever lighting design, the performers reconfigure designer/ director Rachel Canning’s set to create a train carriage, a heavily packed tube and a small kitchen. Isobel Waller-Bridge’s atmospheric soundscape is perfectly suggestive for a young audience, fusing original spellbinding music with ambient sound.

A real highlight of the hour-long show comes towards the end of the production when puppets of the little girl and her grandmother dance along a beautifully lit backdrop of the London skyline.

Taking some of its inspiration from The Snowman and The Red Balloon, Kite is unpretentious and thoughtful – a wondrous example of children’s theatre. Each show also includes a post-show meet-up with the cast and their puppets. Little smiley faces and sparkly eyes greeted the performers, as the young audience were given the chance to see the puppets and talk to the performers about their show.

Throw caution to the wind and see Kite this weekend. It’ll be like a breath of fresh air on an otherwise rainy day in Salford.

 

-Kristy Stott

 Kite runs at the Lowry Theatre in Salford until Sunday 21 February 2016. 

To find out more about The Wrong Crowd Theatre Company and  national tour dates for Kite please click here.

 

REVIEW – The Little Match Girl (The Lowry)

The Little Match Girl at The Lowry, Salford
Date: 16 January 2016
Upstaged Rating: 

 

When the tale of The Little Match Girl comes up in conversation it is met with smiles and nostalgia for being a poignant childhood story. Hans Christian Andersen’s original tale about child poverty in the 19th century can be a tough moral lump to swallow – the sad ending of The Little Match Girl remains etched in your mind. This charming dance adaptation by choreographer Arthur Pita is uplifting and beautiful and with an ending so magical, The Little Match Girl will leave you smiling as you wipe the tear from your eye.    

The story is set on an icy Christmas eve in a fictional Italian city, little Fiammetta skips along the streets selling her matches. Cold and hungry, she meets good and bad people on her journey – those who take pity and give her a gold coin and those who steal it back from her along with her shoes. Left with only one match to keep her warm, Fiammetta’s body cannot fight the freezing cold anymore. In a heartwarming scene, her beloved Grandmother appears to guide her up through the starry sky to the moon.

Designer Yann Seabra’s snowy terrain quickly transforms into a magical lunar landscape, complete with astronaut and moon buggy. Cloaked and top-hatted Frank Moon provides the astonishing ethereal soundtrack – playing the lute, a violin and a music box amongst others. Arthur Pita’s direction keeps the audience gripped, telling the classic story with a good dose of humour and an outstanding attention to detail – pitched perfectly for the recommended age of five and over.

A cast of just four conduct swift costume changes to play a total of eleven characters. Corey Annand puts in a skilled and delicate performance as the forlorn match girl Fiammetta while Valentina Golfieri burns brightly as the brutish match boy and the haughty daughter of the wealthy Donnarumma family. Angelo Smimmo shows off a superb singing voice as the father of the Donnarumma family and as Fiammetta’s celestial grandmother. The towering figure of Karl Fagerlund Brekke completes the impressive lineup, taking on four diverse roles which include the astronaut and Mother Donnarumma.

With a running time of just one hour, Arthur Pita’s The Little Match Girl is ideal for little children’s big imaginations. However, I highly recommend this enchanting adaptation as a must-see for all ages – just perfect in every way.

-Kristy Stott

REVIEW – Hetty Feather (The Lowry, Salford)

Jacqueline Wilson's --Hetty Feather-- at The Lowry until 10 January 2016 © Copyright Helen Murray 2015
Jacqueline Wilson’s
–Hetty Feather–
at The Lowry until 10 January 2016
© Copyright Helen Murray 2015
Upstaged Rating: 
Thingstars: 

“Only a few days old and lost everything – my home, my mother and my name”

Hetty Feather was left by her mother at the London Foundling Hospital as a newborn baby. Written by best-selling author Jacqueline Wilson, Hetty Feather traces the life and experiences of a foundling child – her experience in foster care, her dalliances with the travelling circus and her return into education at the Foundling Hospital. Hetty is a feisty little thing – kindhearted, intelligent and imaginative- we follow her story as she battles to overcome all odds in the search to find her real mother.

This Olivier Award nominated production is a real treat for the Quays Theatre at The Lowry this Christmas – with a talented and award-winning creative team and an energetic, tumbling and climbing ensemble of performers. Hetty Feather is a thrilling, emotional and uplifting story adapted for the stage by writer Emma Reeves and directed by Sally Cookson.

The stage is set as a circus tent and a real playground for the performers – there are red aerial silks, ropes and ladders – designer Katie Sykes has really created the perfect canvas for Jacqueline Wilson’s characters to somersault and shine. Before the show opens, Musicians Seamus H Carey and Luke Potter set the tone for the audience with their lively folk music and we are transported back to Victorian England.

Casting is perfect with Phoebe Thomas taking the title role of Hetty Feather, with her long fiery red hair she is captivating – playing a five-year-old with ease and layering Hetty’s difficult start in life with humour and defiance. All six performers show their versatility in playing a variety of roles – they enthrall with their fusion of storytelling, live music and circus skills. Sarah Goddard tugs at our heartstrings playing foster mother Peg and Ida; talented Matt Costain takes on the contrasting roles of warm-hearted foster brother Jem and stony-faced Matron Bottomly; Nikki Warwick earns hefty applause as the trapeze artist Madame Adeline with Nik Howden as Saul and Mark Kane as Gideon completing the dynamic line-up.

Hetty Feather is an imaginative and innovative production – a fabulous adventure packed with colourful characters, a lively musical score and captivating performances. With a running time of 2 hours and 10 minutes, it’s a superb treat for older children who are so often overlooked in quality children’s theatre. Hetty Feather is an outstanding entertainment choice this Christmas – giving us all of the fun of the circus as we squeal, gasp, quake and applaud in Hetty Feather’s journey to find her mother.


-Kristy Stott

Hetty Feather runs at the Lowry in Salford until 10 January 2016. 

 

REVIEW – Mr Popper’s Penguins (The Lowry, Salford)

 © Copyright Helen Murray 2015
© Copyright Helen Murray 2015
Upstaged Rating: 
Thingstars: 

Adapted from popular children’s book by Richard and Florence Atwater, Mr Popper’s Penguins is a festive theatrical treat for all of the family. The story proved its popularity back in 2011 when it was released as a feature film with Jim Carrey taking the title role. With music reminiscent of golden era MGM, romance and charming penguin puppetry, Mr Popper’s Penguins certainly lends itself brilliantly to being adapted as a musical for the stage.

Mr Popper (Russell Morton) is a painter and decorator and lives with Mrs Popper (Roxanne Palmer) in a small American suburb called Stillwater. Nothing really happens in Stillwater and Mr Popper has dreams of being an explorer in Antartica. Fascinated with the South Pole, spending every spare moment reading about it – he decides to pen a letter to his idol Admiral Drake, to tell him how wonderful he thinks penguins are.

Soon after Admiral Drake responds to the mailing by sending a huge penguin-sized crate by return – Mr and Mrs Popper’s predictable daily life takes a sudden but exciting change as they soon find themselves chasing a rookery of penguins around their home.

A super talented cast of four tell the succinct and highly entertaining story well – with performers Toby Manley and Lucy Grattan doubling up as puppeteers for the mischievous penguins Captain Cook and Greta, designed by Nick Barnes. Musical numbers composed by Luke Bateman and written by Richy Hughes are catchy and appeal to the young audience; there is a magical snow shower and a penguin dance that the whole auditorium can get involved with too.

Recommended for ages 3 and over, Mr Popper’s Penguins has the perfect running time of 55 minutes – just long enough to keep those creative little minds transfixed. If you look below the funny feathery surface there is also quite a heartwarming message for you to take away too  – the importance of having dreams and how something totally unexpected can suddenly land and change the course of your life forever.

Mr Popper’s Penguins is a gorgeous family show and guaranteed to warm your cockles this winter.
-Kristy Stott

 Mr Popper’s Penguins runs at the Lowry in Salford until 10 January 2016. 

 

REVIEW – Snow Queen (The Z-Arts Centre, Manchester)

Snow Queen at Z-Arts Centre in Hulme, Manchester.
Snow Queen at Z-Arts Centre in Hulme, Manchester.
Upstaged Rating: 

THINGSTARS:  

One of my earliest theatre memories is playing the part of Gerda in a very traditional production of Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen. It’s always been one of my favourite stories and so I was particularly excited to hear that it would be the Christmas production at Manchester’s family-friendly Z-Arts this year. With the intelligent fusion of live performance, puppetry and digital storytelling – Z-Arts are nothing short of triumphant with their refreshing twist on the classic fable of the Snow Queen.

Set in the modern day, looked-after child Kai (Gordon Millar) is afraid that he may have to leave the comfortable home which he shares with his foster parent Aunty Jayne (Denise Kennedy) and Gerda (Nisa Cole), her adopted daughter. Kai is a keen gamer and uses his alternative existence in cyberspace to escape the reality that he may have to return to live with his father in the future. Becoming increasingly withdrawn from his beloved Gerda and spending longer time gaming, makes him susceptible to the evil Snow Queen (Bryony Thomas), a super virus intent on entering our world through Kai. Gerda sets out to rescue Kai from the clutches of the Snow Queen by following him into his alternative digital world.

Jane Linz Roberts’ set design moves fluidly to suggest a range of different settings – Aunty Jayne’s home, a range of eclectic settings in cyberspace and the Snow Queen’s ice palace. Powerful and highly effective digital projections by Cubic Flowers suggest the atmosphere perfectly – as we shiver through an ice cold blizzard and avert our eyes from the swarm of spiders. Humorous puppets by Liz Walker in the form of farting frogs, Robber Girl, and snowflake soldiers Derek and Keith make many children and their grown-ups giggle.

Bryony Thomas’ Snow Queen is a true villain, moving like an arachnid around the stage – low to the ground and contorted – just the right amount of horror for a young audience. Thing 1 and Thing 2 were impressed by Gordon Millar’s performance as Kai. Nisa Cole also played the young Gerda well and Ebony Feare and Denise Kennedy demonstrated their versatility playing a range of diverse characters between them.

Writer Philip Osment and director Jonathan McGrath have certainly delivered a fantastic family friendly show for Z-Arts this December. Following the show, Thing 1 and Thing 2 prompted a discussion about fostering and adoption, proving that theatre can educate as well as entertain.

-Kristy Stott

The Snow Queen glides to Z-Arts from the 3rd – 13th December 2015. For more information and to book tickets please click here.

This Christmas Z-Arts want to offer children in care FREE tickets – but they need your help.

Z-Arts have produced a cracking show with a difference – Hans Christian Andersen’s SNOW QUEEN becomes an evil online virus and the heroes, Kai and Gerda are brought together within the care system. It’s a story of friendship triumphing against all odds.

To help support Z-Arts as they seek to raise just £6 per child please click here.

 

 


REVIEW – The BFG (Octagon Theatre, Bolton)

© Ian Tilton
© Ian Tilton
Upstaged Rating: 
Thingstars: 

Following the success of James and the Giant Peach, Director Sarah Esdaile returns to Bolton Octagon to direct another Roald Dahl classic. In this adaptation by David Wood, The BFG tells the magical story of a little girl called Sophie who lives in the village orphanage. One night, Sophie spies a huge cloaked figure blowing something into the bedroom window further down the street and before she can hide from this mysterious creature, she is picked up and taken to his home in Giant Country.

Luckily for Sophie this giant is the BFG, one of the good guys – friendly, entertaining and most importantly kind hearted. He goes around at night when people are asleep to make sure that they have good dreams.

Obviously, one of the most challenging demands of producing a stage show of The BFG is managing to create the illusion of scale and height between the giants and little Sophie. Clever puppetry directed and designed by Michael Fowkes works perfectly – a delicately animated smaller version of Sophie and a trio of three huge bone-crunching ogres certainly does the trick.

Janet Bird’s design sees the Octagon main stage set on two levels allowing swift movement between scenes and different settings from the orphanage where Sophie lives to the formidable Giant Country. The design has a wonderfully home crafted quality to it – the giants with their huge papier-mâché heads and the use of cardboard and newsprint throughout. With comical dream sequences and a visit to Buckingham Palace, the story is told effectively and in a way that children can follow with ease. From the BFG’s head appearing at the Queen’s bedroom window to making Facetime calls on a huge iPhone – the design elements are a highlight.

Macy Nyman makes a noteworthy stage debut as Sophie, beautifully expressive and childlike, providing a wonderful narration as she brings the puppet of Sophie to life.

John Seaward is instantly loveable as the BFG – full of energy, kindness and humour – with a full head of flaming orange hair, he looks considerably different to the familiar Quentin Blake drawings. Introducing Sophie to his wondrous imaginative language, where the words sound very similar to English or are completely made up – so beautifully typical of Roald Dahl.

The talented pyjama-clad double up to play a range of different characters – Richard Booth, Philip Bosworth and Roddy Peters as the booming, ruthless ogres; Sarah Finigan impresses as The Queen and the cantankerous Mrs Clonkers and Emma MacLennan also adapts to a number of roles demonstrating her versatility as a performer.

Recommended for ages 5 and over, this is a fantastic ensemble production with a lot of heart. The BFG at Bolton Octagon offers families a high-quality production and a pleasing alternative from the traditional Christmas pantomime.

-Kristy Stott

 The BFG runs at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton until 9 January 2016. 

 

REVIEW – The Possible Impossible House (The Z-Arts Centre, Manchester)

Being a huge fan of Sheffield based experimental theatre company Forced Entertainment – I was very keen to find out more about their first production for young people, The Possible Impossible House.

The Possible Impossible House --Forced Entertainment--
The Possible Impossible House
–Forced Entertainment–
Upstaged Rating: 

THINGSTARS:  

The Possible Impossible House is a wonderful exploration of the power of storytelling and a lesson for all, young and old, in setting your imagination free. The magical adventure begins as we travel down the long winding corridors of The Possible Impossible House. Claire Marshall is our guide and she leads us through the twisting passageways. When we reach the library we meet a little girl who is sketched onto a blank page in an algebra book. This endearing little doodled character is desperately missing the matching scribbled spider who used inhabit the opposite page – we are invited to join her on her mission to find her little eight legged friend.

It’s essentially a two hander with Claire Marshall recounting the story to the audience while Cathy Naden provides the humorous soundtrack. Comedy is created through storyteller, Claire and sound-maker, Cathy as they both compete to take control of the story. Both performers are supported by wonderfully scruffy illustrations by Vlatka Horvat as our journey spans elaborate marble ballrooms, secret cupboards and black holes and we meet an array of familiar but surprising creatures – talking animals, a not-so-very-frightening-ghost and an army of dancing soldiers.

“I really liked Cathy. She made me laugh when she interrupted and when she ate celery and pretended to be a mouse…everybody was laughing!”

–Thing 1 (aged 9)

The storyline is beautifully childlike, as if penned by a 7 year old, it’s spontaneous and imaginative. Under Tim Etchells’ direction, Horvat’s magical doodles are projected on to large pieces of torn brown cardboard all going to prove that good quality children’s theatre does not have to rely on lavish sets or costumes.

This production is as much fun for the adults in the audience as it is for the little ones. As always Forced Entertainment blow apart our traditional expectations of theatre- which is children’s theatre in this case. The result is witty, engaging theatre that doesn’t patronise – layered with irony and humour and pitched at a level that both children and adults can appreciate.

-Kristy Stott

You can catch The Possible Impossible House at Lancaster Arts at Lancaster University on the 12th December. 

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The Snow Queen glides to Z-Arts from the 3rd – 13th December 2015. For more information and to book tickets please click here.


REVIEW – The Chair (The Royal Exchange, Manchester)

The Chair at The Royal Exchange, Manchester
The Chair
at The Royal Exchange, Manchester
UPSTAGED RATING: 

There is the eerie flickering of candlelight and the faint sound of Edwardian music hall as we walk into Manchester’s Royal Exchange Studio and take our seats. Barber Owain Sawyers (Gary Lagden) is tending to his client – he’s comfortable with using a cut-throat razor as he spruces up his latest victim customer and it soon becomes apparent that Sawyers doesn’t shy away from a spot of dentistry either…

“If you’re sure that Ghosts aren’t real,

If your Nerves are made of Steel,

If you’re brave and if you dare,

Come sit upon the Barber’s Chair.”

Written and directed by Lewis Gibson, The Chair is set in a barber shop in an creepy Cardiff port called Tiger Bay. Our barber and accomplished storyteller Sawyers is assisted by his aide Hans (Christopher Preece) and together they animate stories of mermaids, ancient Egypt and mysterious tales of wonder and suspense.

Gary Lagden keeps the diverse audience captivated with his skilfull storytelling – he moves through from Sawyers’ Welsh lilt to take on a range of different accents and physicalities as each twisted and chilling tale unfolds before us. The poetic and haunting performance is heightened by Louie Whitmore’s ghostly set and the macabre musical score played by versatile performer Christopher Preece. The shadowy set doubles up to provide a spooky soundscape – an upright piano howls unconventional chords to build suspense before it transforms into a ship’s sail and a large drum provides the uneasy beat of a blue moon.

Director Gibson folds the audience into the action as a few willing members step up to take a seat in the barber’s chair – there’s the offer of a trim and even a dram of whisky for some enthusiastic volunteer. Lagden’s Sawyers often looks out into the crowd and refers to us as sailors or ancient skeletons; sometimes he holds our gaze for a millisecond longer than is comfortable and it all adds to the unsettling atmosphere. My son, Thing 1 looked curious but equally terrified when Sawyers made his way over to him and my other son, Thing 2 averted his gaze for fear that he would be next. Both Things, aged 9 and 6,  were compelled by the performance of The Chair from start to finish.

The Chair at the Royal Exchange, Manchester
The Chair
at the Royal Exchange, Manchester
The pace of the production is pleasing too – there is a humorous ditty about anatomy and surgery just before the mirror takes centre stage for the grand finale. No spoilers here.

The Chair is a thrilling hour long journey of creepy magic, adventure and storytelling that is suitable for all ages from 7 upwards.

-Kristy Stott

The Chair is running at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester until Sunday 18 October 2015.

REVIEW – Maggie and the Song of the Sea (The Lowry)

Maggie-and-the-Song-of-the-Sea
Upstaged Rating: 

THINGSTARS: 

Playing as part of the Roundabout Season at The Lowry, Colour The Clouds Theatre Company are back with their new production Maggie and the Song of The Sea. Recommended for those aged seven and over, Maggie and the Song of the Sea explores bereavement through the eyes of a child. Colour The Clouds Theatre have been able to develop this important and universal piece of theatre with the full support of Winston’s Wish, The Charity for Bereaved Children.

Maggie (Josie Cerise) is a young girl whose world is coloured by a beautiful playground of music. Every feeling, person or object in her life has a sound – whether it is the rough sound of the scraping of a woodblock as she brushes her hair or the calming strings melody that she associates with her beloved Grandad (Scott T Berry).

Maggie’s best friend is her grandad who looks after her while her Mum (Samantha Vaughan) is at work, together Maggie and her grandad have amazing seaside adventures and take fantastic imaginative journeys to a special place called Shingle Bay.

When Maggie’s grandad dies suddenly and the adventures that they shared together come to an end, the musical backdrop disappears from Maggie’s life as she deals with the loss she feels and tries to adapt to a different world. The idea is that the young audience follow Maggie’s journey through grief and acceptance and then onwards to understanding and hope, as Maggie breaks through her wall of silence and finds her music again.

Under Alyx Tole’s direction, Maggie and the Song of the Sea offers young children the opportunity to learn about death in a safe and calm environment. Maggie’s story is told with vibrant, colourful puppetry and live music which assists the fantastic storytelling, giving a portrayal of grief that children are able to engage with.

Fully complemented by the ambiance of the Paines Plough Roundabout, Catherine Manford’s charming and playful musical composition and Mark Fox’s sensitive but atmospheric lighting design provide a perfect multisensory environment to tackle this difficult subject. Writer Sarah Birch has penned this story with a truth and honesty which is truly beautiful, offering a realistic insight of a child’s journey through grief.

-Kristy Stott

Maggie and the Song of the Sea visits the performance space at Oldham Library on the 10th October 2015. For information on times and tickets please click here or call the box office at the Oldham Coliseum on 0161 624 2829.

For more information on Winston’s Wish and the work that they do – please visit www.winstonswish.org.uk

REVIEW – Aliens Love Underpants Live (The Lowry)

© sjsphoto
© sjsphoto
Date: 2 july 2015

THINGSTARS: 

This best-selling children’s book Aliens Love Underpants, written by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort, is pretty much staple bedtime reading in our house. Now the hilarious family favourite, presented by Big Wooden Horse and Nick Brooke Limited, has been adapted for the stage by Adam Bampton-Smith.

Apparently, aliens love underpants of every size, shape and colour but they can’t get their extraterrestrial fingers on any underpants in space so they have to obtain them by other means…

Most children find absolutely anything to do with underpants funny so the show is an immediate hit with Thing 2 (5 years old) and when he is asked by a member of the cast about his favourite pants – he promptly and proudly replies, “Dinosaur pants!”. This introduction acts as a frame story for the original tale and engages many of the children in the audience. The cast inform us that the original show has been cancelled (boo) but to avoid disappointment they will make up their own show (yay).

The talented cast of four, Mark Collier, Abigail Carter-Simpson, Eve Pearson-Wright and Alex James Ellison, take us through the well-loved tale which features original music, a highlight being the country and western line dancing pant shop owner. The audience is also treated to some real footage of Neil Armstrong on the moon, alien puppetry by Isla Shaw and lighting effects by Will Evans.

© sjsphoto
© sjsphoto

When our underpant hero Timmy (Alex James Ellison) comes around to solving the ancient riddle of the washing symbols, I did see that some children became quite restless – though, I have no doubt that many of the parents, including myself, saw it as an education. However, there was plenty of martian mischief and humorous interaction between the cast and the audience which kept most of the children gripped for the duration.

With a running time of 55 minutes and no interval, Aliens Love Underpants is a ‘laugh your pants off’ treat for those families with children aged from 3-8 years old.

-Kristy Stott

Aliens Love Underpants is at The Lowry, Salford until 5th July 2015. It continues its tour at Theatre Royal, Wakefield on the 7th and 8th July 2015. For more tour dates and venues click here.