PREVIEW: The Kitchen Sink at Oldham Coliseum

Tom Wells’ The Kitchen Sink opens at Oldham Coliseum this Friday

CREDIT: Oldham Coliseum
CREDIT: Oldham Coliseum
Written By Freya Lewis
The Kitchen Sink Runs at Oldham Coliseum from Friday 9th February – Saturday 24th February.

Tom Wells is one of the UK’s most innovative and intriguing young writers, and The Kitchen Sink is what struck him into status in the theatre world, leading to his Most Promising Playwright Award at the Critics’ Circle Awards and the George Divine Award for Most Promising Playwright, plus a nomination for Most Promising Playwright at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards.

Sponsored by the New Charter group, this follows, from the same team, Tom Wells’ Jumpers for Goalposts in 2016; Director Chris Lawson and Designer Anna Reid.

The play presents us with a wild look into an unusual family situation, along with an amazing northern cast. A hilarious, modern family drama that makes us think what family really means when one has huge dreams in a little town. Chris Lawson commented: “Tom Wells writes stories that matter; we relate to them because they reflect real life.”

Sue Devany, star of Dinnerladies, Casualty and Coronation Street maintains her Oldham roots as Kath. She said “When I knew my favourite local theatre, Oldham Coliseum, was doing The Kitchen Sink by Tom Wells I was over the moon…  It’s a play full of hope, humour and love.”

The play also features This Is England’s Will Travis, Hollyoak’s David Judge, alongside the outstanding young talent of Sam Glen and Emily Stott.

Here we have a Japanese Christmas Dinner and a gangster gran, along with maybe a little too much of Dolly Parton. And, of course, the kitchen sink.

The Kitchen Sink follows Kath, working two jobs with an interesting cooking passion as she attempts to keep her family on track. Her husband, Martin’s milk float is falling apart along with his business. Billy’s lost confidence in his painting and Sophie’s dreams of becoming a Ju Jitsu teacher have crumbled after punching her sensei in the face.

This charming Oldham theatre is sure to impress, and this beautiful Northern tale of a regular, extraordinary family is unmissable.

-Freya Lewis

 

Review: Hamlet at The Lowry, Salford Quays

©Manuel Harlan
©Manuel Harlan
Guest Reviewer: Ciaran Ward
Upstaged Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Following on from a critically successful production of Hamlet in 2016, the Royal Shakespeare Company opens their 2018 tour of the play at The Lowry, bringing forth the return of Paapa Essiedu as the eponymous character and a vibrant reinterpretation of one of the Bard’s most renowned tragedies.

 The five-act play – following Hamlet’s efforts to avenge the late King of Denmark (portrayed by Ewart James Walters) by murdering his usurping uncle Claudius (Clarence Smith) – finds itself in a contemporary setting through Simon Goodwin’s thoughtful direction. Despite the prevalence of modern clothing and objects, the play retains its originality by conforming to the prosody of Shakespeare’s text – enabling Goodwin to punctuate the plight inherent in Ophelia’s (Mimi Ndiweni) verse and the comic moments of the Gravedigger’s (also played by Walters) prose.

 Though the mournful dénouement stands out in the performance, the juxtaposition elicited through the liveliness of the percussive and woodwind instruments (directed by Phil James) that recurs throughout the scenes, guarantees the construction of a rounded theatrical experience for the audience. The director ensures that the expanse of the stage is effectively utilised, with the growing emotional distance present between Hamlet and the other characters, often being symbolised through their physical distance on stage.

 The protagonist’s soliloquies are executed with significant flair throughout. The hesitation of Hamlet’s question ‘to be, or not to be’ is casually expressed in a vein counter to the often melodramatic approach taken by other actors – epitomising Essiedu’s unique take on the role. An emphasis is subsequently placed upon this hesitation, with the climax depicting Hamlet holding a gun to his uncle’s head, serving as a powerful cliff-hanger that precedes the interval of the play.

The visual aesthetic of the production is never compromised: elaborate set designs ranging from the King’s materialistic court to the minimalistic graveyard are skillfully crafted by Paul Wills, thereby illustrating a world both mesmerising and frightening. Kev McCurdy’s work as Fight Director deserves equal praise, with the fight between Hamlet and Laertes (Buom Tihngang) instigating the suspense that lasts until the curtain fall.

For any production of Shakespeare’s plays, performance is key. This production, however, not only boasts engaging performances but situates them in a dynamic theatrical setting –enabling the entire cast and crew to assert this show as a compelling production that reflects the virtues of the theatre.

-Ciaran Ward

Review: Nina – A Story About Me and Nina Simone at The Lowry, Salford Quays

 © Fulton MacCallum
© Fulton MacCallum
Guest Reviewer: Daniel Shipman
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Nina – A Story About Me and Nina Simone is not a tribute concert or a jukebox musical based on Simone’s songs. It is a powerful and totally contemporary take on racial politics, which utilises the potent political element in Simone’s music that you may not have even noticed was there. The show is effectively an 80-minute monologue, interspersed with songs. As the title suggests, it is intensely personal and could not be performed by anyone else

From the moment Josette Bushell-Mingo coolly strolls on to the stage whilst the house lights are still up, it is clear that you are about to witness a masterclass in audience engagement. Before a word is spoken or a note is played, Bushell-Mingo’s casually confident demeanour has the audience on her side.  Whilst this is an extraordinary feat, it is also totally necessary for this piece to work. The first few lines set the scene of a Nina Simone concert in 1969 and the audience responds to each line with applause and cheers like the crowd at a concert would.

The stage is set up simply, as if for a concert – there is a double bass (played by Neville Malcolm), drums (Shaney Forbes) and a piano (Shapor Bastansiar) all in front of a large curtain which doubles as a screen for projections. In the final number, the band are named one-by-one and receive rapturous applause. It is thoroughly deserved, they provide the perfect musical backing to some of the finest moments in the show, with Bushell-Mingo twirling enchanting shapes around the stage as if channelling the spirit of Nina Simone herself.

Despite the heavy politics of the evening, and the message that very little has changed in terms of society’s inherent racism in the decades since Simone’s protest songs were first written and sung, the show mainly stays surprisingly light. The only exception to occurs roughly halfway through, following an archive clip of Simone saying she wishes she could take up a gun against the racists of the southern states. Even in this, a grim subject covered in a simple yet very powerful way, Bushell-Mingo continually appeals to the audience, asking them ‘stay with me’.

It works. The performers and audience come out the other side feeling as though they have truly experienced a transformation together. And at the final bows, the multiple standing ovations and shouts of ‘more!’ show just how much the audience enjoyed it.

-Daniel Shipman

Nina runs at The Lowry until 3rd February 2018 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW: Black Men Walking (Royal Exchange, Manchester)

 © Tristram Kenton
© Tristram Kenton
Upstaged Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐

Inspired by a real-life Sheffield-based Black men’s walking group, Black Men Walking is an influential and compelling brand new play written by Leeds-based rapper and theatre-maker Testament (aka Andy Brooks) in collaboration with Eclipse Theatre Company.

On the first Saturday of every month, a group of Black men meet to ramble through the Peak District. Taking in Yorkshire’s breathtaking landscape – it’s a way of escaping the day to day, making new friends and sharing their identity as Black and British together. The men talk about their own personal life experiences and discuss stories of the Black people who walked Yorkshire long before them; reaching as far back as Roman times, they claim it was an African who put the York into Yorkshire.

This particular Saturday it is just Thomas (Tyrone Huggins), Matthew (Trevor Laird) and Richard (Tonderai Munyevu) who show up for the monthly walk as the other group members have been deterred, due to the stormy weather forecast. The characters are beautifully layered, and each of their different experiences are explored, from difficult family relationships and music to racism and the way the media portray Black men.

Under Dawn Walton’s well-paced direction, Tonderai Munyevu gives a finely nuanced performance as Richard – fresh from a Star Trek convention and laden with a selection of chocolate bars, he is kind-natured and incredibly funny. Southerner Matthew is strongly portrayed by Trevor Laird – a doctor and family man, who is constantly receiving messages on his phone, hinting that he has some issues at home. Tyrone Huggins’ Thomas is the most senior member of the group, possibly showing early signs of memory problems and hallucinations associated with dementia. When the men find young millennial Ayeesha, played by the captivating Dorcas Sebuyange, on the top of the Peaks, their experience swiftly changes as the full complexities associated with being Black and British are unravelled.

Testament’s writing is poetic and punchy; honest and important; witty and urgent. Black Men Walking faces stereotypes head on and then blows them apart in order to present the real identities of Black people living in Britain today. This is a much-needed production which seeks to illuminate Black Britain’s important identities and missing histories.

-Kristy Stott

Black Men Walking runs at Manchester’s Royal Exchange until 3 February 2018.

REVIEW: Finding Alice (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

Manchester ADP
Manchester ADP
Reviewer: Elise Gallagher
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Creative collective Manchester ADP premieres a new piece of writing with Finding Alice, directed by Charlie Mortimer.

The hour and a half piece explores the lives of Camille, Ida, and Audrey – three cellmates under interrogation by prison officer Himmel. They are accused of being a part of the spy network known as the “Alice Network” run by the infamous Alice Dubois. But the question everyone wants to know is, who’s Alice?

The play opens with Camille, a fiery proud woman played by Nuala Maguire being interrogated by her German prison officer Himmel (Oates). Her naïve fifteen-year-old cell mate Ida is played by Chloe Proctor who delivers a standout performance. Camille’s character fluctuates between unrivalled fury, ignorance, and then maternal instinct over Ida, whom she promised she’d look after.

It seems Camille had made quite a name for herself before she was imprisoned, as revealed by the arrival of Audrey played by Diana Atkins, a part-English part-Belgian officer of higher rank than Camille within the Network.

Maguire plays Camille with a thick Belgian accent which I feel was prone to variation throughout the performance. Audrey speaks with an eccentric RP, one only the Queen could rival, whilst Oates plays the German Officer Himmel with a thoroughly Northern English accent. I found this inconsistency could cause confusion with the audience.

In a production like this, I feel it would either make sense to either allow each actor to perform in their native accent or encourage all actors to adopt their character’s accents, variation between the two distracts from the narrative at hand and remains unexplained.

Furthermore, I feel Oates’ delivery failed to meet the mark. I often found his delivery didn’t match that of a supposedly threatening German soldier.

However, for an opening night performance, I sincerely hope the play’s actors gather proper grounding in their roles as the tour develops.

It’s important to note that this performance contains scenes of implied sexual violence.

Most fascinating of all, the story’s foundations are completely true. The play is dedicated to Louise de Bettignies, also known as ‘The Queen of Spies’, as well as to Edith Cavell and to all the women who were apart of the Alice Network but whose names do not grace history.

Alice Dubois lived and fought occupying forces in Europe during the First World War, during which women across Europe challenged the expectations their society shackled to them. Finding Alice was selected from over two hundred script submissions sent into Manchester ADP – I thoroughly look forward to seeing more original stories and the voices they share on the stage.

Finding Alice is an intricate tale of imprisonment, desperation, resilience, and most importantly, survival. However, for such a fantastic story I feel it was let down by its performance.

-Elise Gallagher

Finding Alice is being performed at Oldham Coliseum on 10th and 15th February 2018.

REVIEW: Air Play (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

air play

Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Thing Stars: 

Air Play is a stunning 60-minute circus-style adventure for absolutely everybody from ages 6 -106. This beautiful show is currently in the midst of an international tour, playing only 4 UK venues and we were lucky enough to catch it at The Lowry, Salford Quays. It would be fair to say that the husband and wife team, Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone of Acrobuffos, held the audience, which included a lot of children, mesmerised throughout.

This two-hander follows the surreal journey of two siblings through a land of air as they turn familiar objects into complete works of art. The premise of the show is very simple – there is balloon play, huge kites of glimmering fabric, glitter and packing peanuts suspended in the air. However, the presentation is highly accomplished and wonderfully conceived and the result is magical – straddling clowning and circus with modern art, pure imagination and sprightly humour.

Huge canopies of gold and red silk dance in the wind – reminiscent of watching the flames in a fire or the clouds in the sky – as your imagination runs free trying to make sense of the images they create. An errant balloon strays far so from the stage that the audience becomes part of the spectacle in batting it back to the performers. A breathtaking night sky and a huge snow globe take over the performance space – the audience are all gripped.

Thing 2 loved the simple storytelling and slapstick style humour, particularly when the performers each disappeared inside a balloon. Bloom and Gelstone frequently break the fourth wall and invite the audience into their world – climbing among the audience interacting with children and adults, everybody gets the opportunity to be part of the magic.

The musical soundtrack is delightful – incorporating many different music styles from around the world, it sets the pace and mood for each section in the show. This is a show without spoken word which makes it a universal piece, language really is no barrier here. Both performers are skilled storytellers – their physicality and facial expressions communicate everything that the audience needs to know.

Featuring a winning blend of visual masterpieces and playful storytelling, Air Play is a heartfelt poetic performance guaranteed to enchant and amaze the young and the young at heart.

-Kristy Stott

Air Play performs at The Lowry, Salford Quays on Saturday 20 January 2018 before continuing on its international tour. Further dates, venues and tickets can be found here.

Review: Hot Brown Honey (HOME, Manchester)

© Dylan Evans
© Dylan Evans
UPstaged Reviewer: Megan Hyland
UPstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

From the moment the women of Hot Brown Honey take to the stage, they immediately command your attention and awe. This award-winning show is an explosion of female rage against the systems that have held them back for so long and it is entirely unapologetic about it. It combines an eclectic range of dance, circus, striptease and song to deliver a truly powerful message that holds nothing back.

Kim Bowers a.k.a. Busty Beatz is the queen bee, here to educate and liberate us all. Armed to the teeth with striking quotes from fellow artists and activists, a pair of comedy breasts and some impressive rhymes, she does just that. From her position atop the hive, she fills the room with a volcanic energy and takes no prisoners. And as creator, musical director, composer and sound designer, she and fellow creator, director, choreographer and designer Lisa Fa’alafi have created a truly ground-breaking production unlike anything you’ve ever seen before – but will definitely want to see again.

However, beyond the colourful creativity and fun of the performance, there are some particularly poignant moments such as Crystal Stacey’s beautifully heart-stopping aerial piece about sexual assault. In another powerful piece, we see each of the women bring their cultures to life on stage, embracing their heritage through costume, dance and music. This show pushes all the boundaries and smashes every stereotype, fighting for the place of women of colour on stage and within society. It is a fierce, political battle cry that creates discussion and evokes feeling. It talks openly about every issue that it raises and teaches you that if you’re not angry already then you should be.

Hot Brown Honey is an independent feminist masterpiece that will make you think and leave you buzzing. The talent and confidence of these women is mesmerising, from Ofa Fotu’s stunningly soulful voice to Hope Hammi’s blazing beatboxing skills. And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, Hot Brown Honey is selling merchandise, the proceeds from which go towards funding childcare for the working mothers of the cast. It is an empowering must-see performance full of laughter, joy and truth that is entirely faultless and will have you out of your seat joining in. In the words of the mother – fighting the power never tasted so sweet.

-Megan Hyland

Hot Brown Honey runs at HOME, Manchester until 23 December 2017. 

Review: Dick Whittington (Opera House, Manchester)

Dick-Whittington-Opera-House-Manchester-
GUest REviewer: Ciaran Ward
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

From the initial curtain rise, the Manchester Opera House’s production of Dick Whittington had all the makings of a classic pantomime. With colourful costumes and rudimentary set designs (designed by Mike Coltman and Ian Westbrook/3D Creations, respectively), along with several esteemed faces from the entertainment industry in starring roles (Doctor Who star John Barrowman, and veteran comedians The Krankies), everything seemed to align with the conventions of the medium. However, a couple of scenes into the play, what could have been a fantastic show for children soon transformed into a smutty production for the attention of adults, with a series of sexual innuendos plaguing the subsequent dialogue for the remaining two hours.

 Whilst double entendres are a notable feature of pantomimes, anything filtered for the understanding of adults in this production became thinly-veiled upon the addition of lewd gestures, often on the part of Barrowman or Jimmy Krankie. What may have served as a form of entertainment in the 1980s, with The Krankies’ double act as a father and son, quickly developed into an uncomfortable experience for anyone with young children, as many references to their marital relations slipped out during moments when real-life husband and wife Ian and Janette Trough broke character.

 Despite disregarding its younger audiences with its adult content, the production redeemed itself through remaining fundamentally entertaining. Slapstick elements were rife in various scenes – particularly during a lyrically updated rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas, where the main characters each threw away items of rubbish from under the sea whilst playfully hitting each other with the objects. An abundance of pyrotechnics (produced by Le Maitre) and a 3D video projection (supplied by Blue-i Technology Ltd) composed a greater visual aesthetic, forming the enchanting aspects of the show and conveying the wonder of the theatre for the younger audiences.

 The entertainment factor of the show, heightened by Tommy the Tabby Cat’s (portrayed by Ryan Kayode) Mancunian accent and Whittington’s inability to comprehend it, is sadly compromised by several cultural references to the real world. Allusions to Barrowman having had plastic surgery, and the listing of his television credits spanning from Torchwood to Arrow, instead of being apt improvisations, ultimately detract from the relatively undiscernible plot. Though Barrowman’s remains a great performer, exemplified through his frequent musical solos, his stage presence and charisma does little to rectify the transgressions the pantomime makes throughout its runtime.

-Ciaran Ward

Dick Whittington runs at Manchester’s Opera House until 7th January 2018.

REVIEW: Evita (Palace Theatre, Manchester)

 © Keith Pattison
© Keith Pattison
Guest REviewer: Karen Clough
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Evita tells the story of Eva Peron, who grew up in poverty in Argentina and found fame and adoration as an actress. She used her notoriety to highlight the struggles of less fortunate Argentinians, married a powerful military figure and went on to lead beside him as first lady when he was made President.

It’s suggested this role served her own need for love and adoration as much as it served the people’s need for hope and change. The significance of Eva’s appearance and her yearning for affection and validation from the people are themes which re-emerge throughout the show.

Set against the surrounding political unrest in Argentina in the 1940s-50s, many topics, such as sexism, objectification of women, social division and corruption are touched upon, and no doubt hold current relevance for a modern audience. Eva knows too well that her physical appeal can be used as a vehicle, to propel herself into a position of influence, as the face and heart of her country. 

Visually, this is a sophisticated production. The combined efforts of the set design (Matthew Wright), wardrobe team (Caroline Hannam, Caroline Heppell, Katie Bell, Billie Sanger, Hannah Forbes), choreographers (Bill Deamer, Kylie Anne Cruickshanks), orchestra (David Cullen) and lighting design (Tim Oliver, Mark Howett), ensure the audience are treated to a real ‘show’ experience. Under Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright‘s direction, everyone and everything looks and sounds the part for a high-end stage musical.

As would be expected from a Lloyd -Webber & Rice production, the musical numbers keep on coming – 28 in total. If you struggle to stay with back-to-back singing, bear with it in the first half, it’s quite full-on. Helpfully, narration by Che (Gian Marco Schiaretti) joins things up very nicely. Often Eva’s biggest critic, he mingles smoothly between scenes and invites us to look beneath her polished, altruistic exterior. 

Madalena Alberto is a captivating and expressive Eva Peron, from ambitious teenager to passionate leader through to Eva’s ultimate frailty. Jeremy Secomb is strong as her militarised husband, Juan Peron. Their duet ‘You Must Love Me’ is a touching moment, where Secomb lets the more vulnerable side of the President show through.

‘Rainbow High’ provides a great example of the skilful choreography and visual appeal of the show. Alberto holds the audience in goose-bumped silence during her powerful and glamorous balcony performance of Evita hit, ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’.

This is a good, well put together and entertaining Evita with convincing performances which do not disappoint. 

-Karen Clough

Evita continues to tour the UK through 2018. Further tour dates can be found here.

REVIEW: Guys and Dolls (Royal Exchange, Manchester)

© Manuel Harlan
© Manuel Harlan
Upstaged Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Royal Exchange have pulled a Christmas cracker of a show this festive season with their lively and glamorous interpretation of Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls. With Michael Buffong at the helm, the action is set in the heart of the Harlem Renaissance, encapsulating the vigour of Black America at this time – this is feel-good, toe-tappingly fabulous theatre from beginning to end.

The action centres around the gambling world – where a roll of the dice can settle even the most awkward of arguments. With every new day comes a new hustle – but will their luck stick when they try to gamble with love?

With arguably the most beautiful cast that I have seen on stage in some time, vibrant musical numbers and slick scene changes – Talawa Theatre Co’s Guys and Dolls is charming, witty and packed with sentiment. Capturing the swing and soul of Harlem in the late 1930’s and the sensual, eclectic vibe of Havana – Kenrick ‘H20’ Sandy’s choreography is a delight. With a roll of the dice, ‘Luck Be A Lady’ is a swinging, clicking sensation and a gospel style ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat’ exudes energy and fun, led with vigour by Ako Mitchell, as a towering Nicely-Nicely Johnson.

In a suit as blue as his name, Ashley Zhangazha is hugely charismatic as the infamous Sky Masterson – exuding boyish charm, holding the audiences gaze from the very start. Abiona Omonua shows versatility in her voice and gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as Salvation Army Sergeant Sarah Brown – demonstrating control in her mission to convert the gambling sinners of Harlem while also revealing her adventurous side in Havana.

Ray Fearon as Nathan Detroit and Lucy Vandi as cabaret singer Miss Adelaide, who has been waiting 14 years for a marriage proposal – share some poignant comic moments. Vandi’s ‘A Person Could Develop a Cold’ is a highlight – revealing the humour behind the tragic realisation of her situation in love.   

Michael Buffong’s Guys and Dolls is the perfect celebratory Christmas production.  Playing out in-the-round on the Royal Exchange’s iconic stage, you’ll be left with a spring in your step and a smile on your face long after leaving the theatre. This is a performance that should not be missed.    

-Kristy Stott

Guys and Dolls HAS NOW BEEN EXTENDED and runs until 3rd February 2018.