REVIEW: Shappi Khorsandi – Oh My Country

shappi-khorsandi
reviewer: demi west
upstaged rating: 

Shappi Khorsandi’s ‘Oh My Country!’ tour hit the stage at the Lowry Theatre in Salford for the final destination of 2016. The comedian and author, who continues to tour through 2017, celebrates her 40th year in Britain by expressing her love for her adopted land through a series of comedic, satirical anecdotes.

The supporting comedian Tom Lucy made sure that the audience was ready for Shappi with his dry, awkward humour, and interaction with the crowd. Lucy’s humour, driven by conversation with audience members, resulted in the crowd emitting spouts of laughter at the comedian’s unorthodox approach to comedy. Despite Tom being just nineteen, he delivered his jokes with confidence, succeeding in warming the audience up and leaving me wanting to see more.

Shappi took us on a journey and started the show with how she came to be in the UK, and ending it with tales from more recent times, including the clashes of culture between her two young children. This throughline runs throughout the show, often coming back to her children who both carry characteristics of their mothers cultural heritage. If you are someone who has followed Shappi throughout the duration of her career, you will know that anecdotes concerning her children are something that feature frequently throughout her shows. Nevertheless, the ongoing theme of culture and identity offers something fresh to longstanding fans, who are used to the idea of culture popping up occasionally, but not completely driving a show.

The linear narrative worked well, as it gave the show consistency and told Shappi’s story of embracing and accepting both sides of her heritage. This gave the show a personal touch, but could often lose its comedic effect, with some anecdotes coming to an end with no punchline at all. However, this did help to set the overall tone of the show, which was mainly concerned with nationality and what it means to be British.

The show did seem to be significantly lower on comedy than Shappi’s other performances and was motivated by stories rather than her usual material. Regardless of this new approach, the show still offered some of Shappi’s best jokes, expressed in her usual theatrical style.

Whether you are new to Shappi or have followed her career for a while, ‘Oh My Country!’ offers something fresh and enjoyable for all types of audience members. For me, Oh My Country is arguably one of Shappi’s most intimate and personal tours yet.

-Demi West

Shappi Khorsandi’s -Oh My Country continues to tour through 2017. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

Christmas Cheer at Winter Wonderland Manchester

circus5

Thing 1 and Thing 2 had a blast at Winter Wonderland Manchester yesterday evening, as did their parents. Now in its fourth year, this fantastic festive event, housed in the 22,000 sq ft of EventCity continues to attract people of all ages. With all of the fun of the fair under one massive roof – there is plenty of enjoyment for all of the family.

A red curtain peels back to reveal a massive winter playground, complete with falling snow – it’s like a Mancunian grotto packed with exhilarating rides, little Christmas market stalls, festive eateries and even a little bar for the grown-ups.

Aside from the thrill of fairground rides, there is much more to enjoy – a mini pantomime, a Christmas circus tent and even a beach. The main stage fizzes with live performances from Pip Ahoy, Basil Brush, Jedi warriors and Elsa and Anna from Frozen. We fully intended on watching the Jedi show but only realised that we had gone to the wrong stage when it was too late. We fully expected “Where’s Darth Vader?” and “When are the Jedi’s coming on?” Instead, the boys were gripped by a daring unicyclist and a funky young juggler in a Christmas themed circus bonanza.

The choice of rides was superb – whether you want to spin yourself dizzy on the waltzers, take a ride on one of the mini roller-coasters or parade your prowess on the mechanical bull – there are laughs for everyone.

A Winter Wonderland would not be complete without a visit to see Santa…and luckily he has taken time out from his busy schedule to visit all of the boys and girls in Manchester.

Voted ‘Best Family Day Out’in the Raring 2 Go Awards last year, Winter Wonderland Manchester runs until 1st January 2017. With all rides and shows included in one ticket price, it really is a fantastic festive treat.

Roll up, roll up…

-Kristy Stott

 

 

REVIEW: Sweet Charity (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)

Kaisa Hammarlund in Sweet Charity © Richard Davenport
Kaisa Hammarlund in Sweet Charity
© Richard Davenport
upstaged rating:   

Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre has hit the Christmas show jackpot in staging Sweet Charity this year. Under Derek Bond’s masterful direction, the musical theatre classic fills the Great Hall – bursting with big Fosse numbers, a superb live band and an extraordinary cast – it’s as if Sweet Charity was made to be performed in the round.

When Sweet Charity first burst onto the Broadway stage in 1966, it struck a chord with the audience of that era – vibrant and electric, encapsulating the spirit of the sixties. Fifty years on this iconic musical comedy continues to delight modern audiences. Our loveable heroine, Charity Hope Valentine is ‘stuck on the flypaper of life’. Working as a dance-hall hostess, she dreams of breaking free and finding her true love.

The diminutive Kaisa Hammarlund packs a punch as Charity Hope Valentine. Commanding the stage, she holds our gaze and clutches at our hearts. Comedic, graceful and free – Hammarlund’s Sweet Charity is a complete tour de force.

Staging this musical in the round must not have been without some very difficult challenges but Derek Bond’s direction fully embraces the Royal Exchanges wonderful space. James Perkins’ set design works with the unique auditorium – colourful sixties attire and well-placed props are simple and highly effective in guiding the audience through Charity’s calamitous life. Aletta Collins’ choreography is fast-paced and lively, fully allowing the animated and hugely talented cast to fill the performance area. The dance hall scenes are cleverly crafted with Cat Simmons shining as the hard-faced Helene and Holly Dale Spencer delivering a superb performance as Nickie. In a show packed full of show-stopping numbers, the two deliver a dynamic and heartfelt pairing when they sing ‘Baby, Dream Your Dream’.

Recommended for ages 11 and up, Derek Bond’s Sweet Charity is an absolute triumph. With its irresistible Cy Coleman musical score, supervised by Nigel Lilley and directed by Mark Aspinall, played superbly by a live band; an ensemble that dazzle and a top-notch central performance from Kaisa Hammarlund – it just has to be on your must-see Christmas list this year.

-Kristy Stott

Sweet Charity runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester until 28 January 2017 and you can get your tickets here.

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.

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: 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: 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: My Big Fat Jobseeker’s Wedding (The Lowry, Salford)

My Big Fat Jobseekers Wedding at The Lowry, Salford
My Big Fat Jobseekers Wedding at The Lowry, Salford
Reviewer: demi west
upstaged rating: 

Adult themed pantomime My Big Fat Jobseeker’s Wedding is the latest production from Manchester based theatre group Ard Knox. It invites the audience into the life of a stereotypical council estate family, where money is tight, and drama lurks around every corner.

The play is centred in the family sitting room, which is reminiscent of The Royle Family, setting the scene perfectly for the cliché type of humour that’s on offer. The formula that is used does not bring anything new to the genre, and nor does it particularly do well what it intends in the first place. This is by no means down to the acting, which offered a clear visual rapport, showing how much the cast have spent time together, really helping to create the friendships on stage.

The failed gags, however, are down to the poor writing, and jokes were often relying on simple gags and toilet humour which was both predictable and forgettable and felt as though it was aiming for cheap laughs. The script also offered a very incohesive narrative which felt as though it was written with scenes in mind rather than the whole story,  rather a stitch together of random characters and scenes into a form of linear narrative. However this was hidden by some overarching jokes throughout, like the chat room on the laptop, which helped bring together the story in some way, but it did not deny the outlandish random plot points that made no sense.

Despite that the characters were stereotypes, they were very good stereotypes, resulting in people relating them to someone they knew, which made them funnier. However, some characters again were completely out of place and ruined the believability of the other characters. For example, the son was a ‘cowboy’, relying on Sergio Leone references as jokes were completely out of place for a northern working class sitcom style play, which overall tarnished the suspension of disbelief.

Overall My Big Fat Jobseeker’s Wedding was a big fat random collage of cheap jokes and crude humour, that I’m sure would suffice for a quick laugh while drinking with a couple of friends, but would leave no further than that, as it falls flat in offering nothing more than a cheap attempt at Mrs Brown’s Boys.

-Demi West
You can find out more about Ard Knox Theatre Company by clicking here.

REVIEW: The Shawshank Redemption (The Lowry, Salford)

The Shawshank Redemption © Mark Yeoman
The Shawshank Redemption
© Mark Yeoman
reviewer: megan hyland
upstaged rating: 

Adapted by Owen O’Neill and Dave Jones from Stephen King’s critically acclaimed novel and the iconic 1994 film, the Shawshank Redemption tells the familiar story of Shawshank Maximum Security Penitentiary. Whether you know the story or not, this production is accessible for all audience members, with its hard-hitting and emotional performances drawing you in from the beginning.

thumbnail_Paul NichollsThe play follows Andy Dufresne, (played by Paul Nicholls) an intelligent and charismatic banker imprisoned for the double murder of his wife and her lover. The story is beautifully narrated throughout by his fellow prisoner Red – played by Ben Onwukwe who brings brilliant animation and magnetism to the well-loved character. Throughout the twenty years in which the play is set, we see Andy interact and develop relationships with his fellow prisoners – played by an outstanding supporting cast – all the while forming a rather resourceful plan.

The all-male cast offer a range of powerful and gripping performances, from the quiet and bumbling but lovable librarian ‘Brooksie’, played by Andrew Boyer to the terrifying and sinister prison tormenters Rooster and Bogs, played by Jeff Alexander and Sean Croke, whose performances were exceptional and uncomfortably convincing. The entire cast had incredible physicality and great chemistry, particularly between Nicholls and Onwukwe, who bring both humour and charm to their characters. Nicholls gave a charming and likable performance as Andy, effortlessly transitioning from Andy’s distanced and quiet personality to bold, raw performances with Jack Ellis’ performance as Waden Stammas being the perfect menacing contrast. Each scene was thick with tension, but the hard topics especially were handled effortlessly and tension was quickly diffused with wonderfully dry humour.

Gary McCann’s set and costume design although simplistic added greater authenticity to the story, and allowed it not to distract or take away from the incredible acting performances. Although the costumes and set design were reminiscent of the 1994 film of the same name, they were magnificent in their own right. Paired with Dan Samson’s eloquent sound design, they create a genuine and intimidating prison atmosphere.

Transferring this story to the stage can’t have been an easy task, but director David Esbjornson has done a faultless and beautiful job. The cast bring a new life to the familiar roles, without leaving behind the story we’re familiar with. And although not a light-hearted watch, the play tells a riveting and heartfelt story of friendship, strength and hope that resonates with the audience.

-Megan Hyland

The Shawshank Redemption runs at The Lowry Theatre, Salford until Saturday 10th September 2016 and you can get your tickets here.