Our Favourite Productions of 2016

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With all of the big Christmas shows in full swing, it feels like a good time to look back at the highlights of a busy year for theatre in Manchester. Here are Upstaged Manchester’s theatrical highlights of 2016. Which shows would make your list?

 Wit at The Royal Exchange

Julie Hesmondhalgh’s portrayal of Dr Vivian Bearing, an American Professor who finds herself diagnosed with advanced metastatic ovarian cancer, was striking and raw – nothing short of magnificent. Cancer is a hard subject matter to tackle on stage, especially in a performance as honest as this. Wit had everything. Powerful enough to make some cry and poignant enough to make everyone laugh, think and discuss.

The Girls at The Lowry Theatre

The Girls at The Lowry, Salford © John Swannell
© John Swannell

 

I am just so pleased that The Girls is on its way to the West End and is set to open at London’s Phoenix Theatre from January 2017. The collaboration between Gary Barlow and Tim Firth is a perfect recipe for success. Hilarious and heartbreaking all at the same time, I spent most of Act 2 looking through a blur because my eyes were so teary from laughing and crying at the same time. Just fabulous.

Husbands & Sons at The Royal Exchange

Husband’s & Sons had the perfect line-up of creatives and performers – all of the best in the field working together on one show. Director Marianne Elliott, of War Horse and Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, at the helm of a truly phenomenal cast – including Ann-Marie Duff and Louise Brealey. Fused with Bunny Christie’s ingenious design, Husband’s & Sons was heartfelt and gritty. So good, I wanted to watch it all over again.

The Encounter at HOME

A strikingly different theatre experience to anything that I have witnessed before. Every member of the audience is issued with a set of headphones and using cutting edge audio technology  is transported to the Amazonian rainforest and into the head of Loren McIntyre, a stranded photojournalist. The Encounter is gripping,  an adventure story which gets inside your head. Literally.

Parade at Hope Mill Theatre

I always enjoy James Baker’s productions massively – with every show he raises the bar of the Manchester Fringe Theatre scene a little higher. Parade was nothing short of a triumph. The dimly lit, eerie walls of Manchester’s newest performance space, Hope Mill Theatre added a further dimension to the production – intimate and powerful, something quite special.

Origins at The Lowry Theatre

Origins by Animikii Theatre. Developed with The Lowry.
Origins by Animikii Theatre.
Developed with The Lowry.

An intense new piece of physical theatre by Animikii Theatre Company exploring the story of the world’s first murderer: the killing of Cain by his brother Abel. Captivating storytelling communicated only through movement and sound. Adam Davies and Charles Sandford are highly skilled performers and with every detail loaded to perfection, Animikii Theatre Company are certainly ones I’ll be watching out for in the future.

 

Rambert: A Linha Curva at The Lowry

Now in their 90th year and still leading the dance world with their innovative and exhilarating dance works. A Linha Curva is sensual, witty and terribly good. The dancers are faultless, moving alongside each other in a truly intoxicating display. Rambert may be 90 this year but they show no sign of standing still.

Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes at The Lowry

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

The Red Shoes is a breathtaking balletic display – a beautifully tragic tale poignantly told. Terry Davies’ musical score, using the music of golden-age Hollywood, and Lez Brotherston’s ornate set and dazzling costumes ooze 1940’s glamour. Following it’s sell out run in 2016, it returns again to The Lowry in July 2017. So if you didn’t catch it this time round, get your ticket booked for next year!

Sweet Charity at The Royal Exchange

Kaisa Hammarlund in Sweet Charity © Richard Davenport
Kaisa Hammarlund in Sweet Charity
© Richard Davenport

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 – Derek Bond’s Sweet Charity is an absolute must-see. At the Royal Exchange until 28th January 2018 – there is still plenty of time to bag a ticket. You’re welcome.

REVIEWER: CIARAN WARD

A Streetcar Named Desire at The Royal Exchange

Sarah Frankcom’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’  modern domestic tragedy, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, was an exhilarating piece of theatre that warranted much more than a five-week run. Maxine Peake’s effortless performance as the fallen Blanche DuBois was every bit as riveting and worthy of acclaim as her predecessors, Vivien Leigh and Gillian Anderson.

REVIEWER: DEMI WEST

GM Fringe 2016: Fast Fringe at The Dancehouse Theatre

The ‘GM Fringe 2016: Fast Fringe’ show was by far the most memorable comedy that I have enjoyed this year. The selection box of comedians kept the show fresh, each offering a diverse style of comedy that was sure to please all audience members. The Fast Fringe is a brilliant way to sample and discover different comedians, along with guaranteed laughs.

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you – thank you for all of your support this year. 

Wishing you all the best in 2017.

-Kristy Stott

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Christmas Cheer at Winter Wonderland Manchester

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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

 

 

Looking for an explosive half term treat?

The Hollywood Special Effects Show heads to the Lowry, Salford on the Friday 3 and Saturday 4 June.

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Following its success at the 2016 Big Bang Fair, the largest science fair in the UK, The Hollywood Special Effects Show visits The Lowry, Salford.

The Hollywood Special Effects Show is an interactive science and special effects show for the whole family.

Recommended for ages 6 and over, audiences will be able to get closer to the action than ever before. Theatre-goers will be invited behind the scenes of many favourite films to discover the explosive science and trade secrets that are involved in creating movie magic.

With a team of movie professionals, audiences will marvel at gruesome sci-fi monsters, feel the blaze of an onstage inferno and experience apocalyptic weather and huge explosions.

Using more pyrotechnics than any other UK touring theatre show and with a cannon capable of firing a projectile over 500 metres…be prepared to be blown away.

The Hollywood Special Effects Show is at The Lowry, Salford on Friday 3rd June  and Saturday 4th June 2016. You can book your tickets through The Lowry here or you can give the friendly Box Office a call on 0843 208 6000.

Running Time: 1hr 40 mins including the interval

-Kristy Stott

 

 

Mini Critic : The Next Step – Wild Rhythm Tour (The Lowry, Salford)

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The Next Step is a Canadian reality-style TV show that follows a group of young dancers and in the UK, this popular tween drama is broadcast on CBBC.

In this explosive collaboration,The Next Step has teamed up with new CBBC show Lost and Found Music Studios and the result is The Next Step: Wild Rhythm Tour.

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Young dancer and fan of the show Evie went along to The Lowry with her mum Karen to check it out…

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“Hi. My name is Evie and I am nine. I was lucky enough to go and see The Next Step at the Lowry for my birthday present off mum and it was way more than awesome!

When I have time I sit back and watch The Next Step on TV and it was just fantastic to see them dancing in front of my very own eyes. I felt like my brain was going to burst with excitement!

I loved seeing the dancers being themselves and getting to know their real personalities. James and Eldon were hilarious although the girls always rule. I enjoyed the choice of music and the emotions and drama of the different dances.

The video clips inspired me to start dancing more and maybe if I work hard and believe in myself I could be in A Troupe one day. I can’t wait to see them on tour again in October.”

Evie really enjoyed The Next Step and mum Karen was impressed by the interaction during the Q&A and the positive message that the young audience take away with them…

“I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as it’s based around a TV dance programme but I can honestly say we both loved it. And I reckon by the audience response and feel of excitement in the theatre that the was general feeling from everybody. My daughter sat in awe watching the energy and passion of the dancers in front of her and you could see the commitment they give to their dance. The show was full of interaction, humour, drama and emotion and you felt totally engaged with the show and performers.

The interactive aspect was great as the kids got to be involved in a Q+A session engaging with the dancers and learning a little more about them and their aspirations. The dancers and singers were great role models for the kids and told how if they believe in themselves and work hard and show commitment they will achieve their goals. A great message for the kids to take away. I always thought it was just a TV programme but it is so much more. On a personal level this cast and their stories mean such a lot to my daughter. She has had troubles at school even at the young age of nine and she says the programme helps her solve problems at school as the programme looks at relationship dynamics and how the cast work through them. Fantastic as our kids need all the help and tools they can in order to live life to its max.”

The Next Step begins touring again in the autumn.

Kicking off at the SECC in Glasgow on 21 October 2016 with more dates in Manchester, London. Nottingham,  Brighton, Birmingham, Portsmouth, Bath and Cambridge. You can click here to get your tickets.

 

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REVIEW – Breakfast at Tiffany’s (The Lowry)

Pixie Lott in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
© Sean Ebsworth Barnes
Upstaged Rating: 

Holly Golightly has aroused much discussion over the years, from the page of Truman Capote’s Novella to the big screen classic portrayal by Audrey Hepburn in the 1960’s. Now, Breakfast at Tiffany’s comes to The Lowry, Salford and we are transported back to Capote’s original 1940’s New York setting.

Pop star Pixie Lott steps into Audrey Hepburn’s ‘Givenchy’ shoes as the charming Holly Golightly. With authentic design by Matthew Wright, Lott certainly looks the part in her fabulous vintage wardrobe and super-sparkly diamonds – however, this is certainly an ambitious role for her first stage show.

Capote’s novella has been adapted for the stage by Olivier Award-winning playwright Richard Greenberg and revolves very much around the on-off romance between Holly and struggling young writer Fred (Matt Barber). Besotted and fascinated by the extroverted and effervescent Holly, Fred tells the story from his perspective and acts as narrator. Matt Barber puts in a brilliant performance, leading the audience through an array of emotions following his infatuation with Holly Golightly.

© Sean Ebsworth Barnes
Under Nikolai Foster’s direction, Robert Calvert puts in a sturdy performance as Golightly’s estranged husband Doc towards the end of Act One which just keeps us ticking over to Act Two. However, many of the other characters feel slightly underdeveloped, giving us little chance to really understand them. The balance on stage does seem a little skewed when a beautiful fluffy white cat (Bob The Cat) steals the stage from the main action.

Ben Cracknell’s vivid lighting design teamed with Matthew Wright’s authentic set and costume design is a real highlight and really gives the live performance a filmic edge.

Now, all the pre-show talk has been about Pixie Lott taking on the iconic role of Holly Golightly – there really is no doubt that she can sing. Strumming her acoustic guitar she performs 3 live songs, most notably ‘Moon River’ and she is soulful, engaging and unique.

This production of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is certainly a gem but is regrettably lacking the clarity and cut of a real Tiffany diamond.

-Kristy Stott

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is at The Lowry until Saturday 16th April 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

What’s on in Manchester this Easter for Families?

Are you looking for the best theatre and creative activities taking place in Greater Manchester during Easter? Look no further.

We’ve compiled a list of the best theatre shows and creative activities for all of the family.

The Easter holidays run through from Monday 4th April until Friday 15th April 2016 – for most schools. This list covers all family fun happening from March through to mid-April.

HOME,  Manchester

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Into The Hoods: Remixed Photo Credit: Hugo Glendinning

Into The Hoods: Remixed is the new updated hip-hop version of the Sondheim classic. Set in the ‘Ruff Endz Estate’, the story follows two lost school children who have been tasked to find an iPhone as white as milk, trainers as pure as gold, a hoodie as red as blood and some weave as yellow as corn. Along the way, they meet DJ Spinderella, wannabe singer Lil Red, vivacious rapper Rap On Zel, budding music producer Jaxx and embark upon a storybook adventure into the heart of a pulsating community!

Into The Hoods: Remixed is recommended for ages 7 + and is at HOME, Manchester from 6th April to 9th April 2016.

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A live adaptation of E. Nesbitt’s classic story The Railway Children (U) will be broadcast at HOME on the 28th March 2016 at 11:30 am. 

 

While you’re at HOME why not take a look at the current exhibition – Designs for Living: Clare Dorset and Chery Tenneson which is recommended for families. Admission is FREE and it opens from 11 am each day.

Oldham Coliseum

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How The Koala Learnt to Hug comes to Oldham Coliseum on Wednesday 30th March 2016. Recommended for ages 3 and over, it’s a charming production based on the book by Steven Lee. With puppet characters, great stories, sing-along songs, superb games and first class hugging all you’ll need are your ears…and your arms!

The Edge Theatre and Arts Centre, Chorlton

Back by popular demand…The Boy Who Bit Picasso returns to The Edge in Chorlton on ‘Easter’ Saturday.

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The Boy Who Bit Picasso come to The Edge in Chorlton. Photo Credit: Geraint Lewis

The story is inspired by Antony Penrose’s book which follows the story of Tony who becomes friends with Pablo Picasso.

This show promises a lot of interaction as the audience are invited to take part in a variety of art and craft activities. Suitable for everyone aged 4 and up, there will be plenty of storytelling and music as the children are introduced to one of the twentieth century’s most influential artists, Pablo Picasso.

The Boy Who Bit Picasso comes to The Edge Theatre and Arts Centre in Chorlton on Saturday 26th March 2016 with 2 showings at 11 am and 2 pm.

TOP TIP: Be sure to wear play clothes because it could get messy

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Lullaby Lane is a unique theatrical experience for children aged from 3-6 which fuses the energy and vibe of a music gig with the intimacy of theatre. It’s a charming little tale exploring childhood memories of forgotten friends, cherished toys and music-making. Featuring vibrant characters and Fran Wyburn’s original musical score, Lullaby Lane provides a great introduction for children to experience an array of string instruments, including banjo, harp, ukulele and guitar. Lovely running time of 45 minutes – perfect for little people.

Half Moon Theatre present Lullaby Lane at The Edge, Chorlton on 8th April 2016 and at Waterside Arts, Sale on 10th April 2016.

And something for the parents…

Mum’s The Word Comedy Club is the comedy gig designed for parents of babies aged 18 months and under. Hosted by comedian and new Mum, Katie Mulgrew, it’s a relaxed affair – feel free to feed, change and nurse your baby. However, the acts do perform their usual adult material so if you have an exceptionally bright 18-month-old or a mimicker, I’d probably avoid. There is a strict policy and only babies under 18 months will be permitted.

Presented by Katie Mulgrew, Mum’s The Word Comedy Club is at The Edge in Chorlton on Friday 1st April 2016 with little ones going free.

The Lowry, Salford

Calling all Michael Morpurgo fans! Where My Wellies Take Me comes to The Lowry, Salford this March. Interweaving poems and songs, we follow 9-year-old Pippa on a May Day ramble through the beautiful English countryside. Based on Clare and Michael Morpurgo’s book, Where My Wellies Take Me is a lively show celebrating the beauty of nature.

Michael-Morpurgo-mainSPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Michael Morpurgo will be available to meet and greet members of the audience after the performance!

Where My Wellies Take Me is at The Lowry Salford on 20th March 2016 at 2 pm.

 


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We’re super excited about Roald Dahl’s The Witches flying into The Lowry at the end of March. Adapted by David Wood and directed by the fabulous Nikolai Foster, Dahl’s scariest book is brought to life.

Featuring a talented bunch of actor-musicians, an original score and mind boggling illusions, The Witches promises to be a terrifying treat for all the family. Watch the trailer…if  you dare…

The Witches is at The Lowry, Salford from 21st March to 26th March 2016.

And for younger ones… Peppa Pig, George and the rest of the crew are back in Salford for their brand new live stage show, Peppa Pig’s Surprise.

Enjoy fun, games and surprises in this charming, colourful show with new songs and new life-size puppets. Running at 1 hour and 20 minutes, Peppa Pig’s Surprise promises to be the perfect theatre show for all pre-schoolers.

Peppa Pig’s Surprise is at The Lowry, Salford on 30th and 31st March 2016.

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Play Dough Photo Credit: Richard Davenport

 

 

Join Unlimited Theatre for Play Dough at The Lowry on 2nd April 2016 at 4 pm. Recommended for ages 7 and up, Play Dough is a playfully interactive show for young people 7+ and their families about the value of money. Hosts Queenie and TooMuch will lead your team through a series of high-energy games while telling you their story, and everything they know about how money really works.

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The Battle of Hastings -Groovy Greeks and Incredible Invaders – Horrible Histories Photo credit: Mark Douet

Horrible Histories needs no introduction. It’s a fabulous show and this edition focuses on the Groovy Greeks and the Incredible Invaders. We’ll be there – who wants to join us?

Horrible Histories – Groovy Greeks and Incredible Invaders is at The Lowry from the 5th April to the 9th April 2016.

 

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“The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold, wet day.”

From the moment his tall, red and white-striped hat appears around the door, Sally and her brother know that The Cat in the Hat is the most mischievous cat you will ever meet. With the trickiest of tricks and craziest of ideas, he turns Sally and her brothers rainy afternoon into an amazing adventure. But what will mum say when she gets home?

The Cat In The Hat is the perfect first theatre experience for children aged 3 and up and it is at The Lowry, Salford from the 11th to 13th April 2016.

A must-see for all dancers aged 3-133…

The_Tap_Dancing_Mermaid_mainTessa Bide brings her solo show, The Tap Dancing Mermaid to The Lowry, Salford on Sunday 17th April 2016.

Stick your 50ps to the bottom of your shoes and gather round to hear the Moon’s magical story about a tap dancer who creeps out of her house every night to dance to the sounds of the sea. Marina Skippett has been forbidden to dance at home by her tractor-sized Aunty. Follow her exciting adventure with stunning puppetry, live music and tap dancing.


Z-Arts, Hulme

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Engine House, the company behind critically acclaimed productions of Red Riding Hood and Flat Stanley join forces with “Britain’s favourite literary lunatics” LipService (Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding) to create a brand new show for children and their families, adapted for the stage by Olivier Award-winning writer Mike Kenny. Suitable for children over the age 4, Snow White is a magical and comic re-telling of the much-loved fairytale.

Snow White comes to Z-Arts, Hulme on the 19th March 2016.

You can also join in at the FREE Brother’s Grimm Fun Day at Z-Arts – craft, drama and storytelling – on 19th March from 12noon-4pm and it is suitable for all ages. Hurrah!

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We’re Stuck! is a theatre show recommended for ages 8-11. Join Dr Volcano and the robots on a special adventure into the heart of a top-secret research institute, where cutting edge scientists need your help tackling some extremely tricky problems. Running at 70 minutes, this interactive show promises to stretch your brain in unexpected directions.

This show is recommended for ages 8-11 due to the content and some of the problem-solving tasks, it is not advisable to buy tickets for anyone below this age range.

We’re Stuck! is at Z-Arts, Hulme from 12th April -16th April.

In addition to the performance, our friends at Z-arts have teamed up with China Plate and Manchester Science Festival to bring you a series of fun events and activities across the Easter holidays to tackle some extremely tricky maths, science and art conundrums! Why not work on your comedy skills  with the We’re Stuck comedy week?

 

For families with children 8+ and children under 8, there will be free activities on Friday the 15th April! No need to book in advance, turn up on the day to get involved! Click here for info.

Waterside Arts Centre, Sale

Gorilla by Anthony Browne comes to Waterside Arts Centre, Sale from the 2nd April to 4th April 2016. Running at just 50 minutes and recommended for the ‘nearly fours’ and up, Gorilla has a really impressive creative team behind it. The story is based on an award-winning picture book by former Children’s Laureate Anthony Browne and it is brought to you by the team who produced Charlie and Lola’s Best Bestest Play and James and The Giant Peach. Take a look at the trailer…


 

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If you missed Snow White at Z-Arts – you get another chance to catch the Olivier Award-winning writer Mike Kenny’s magical and comic adaptation of the classic fairytale.

Snow White comes to Waterside Arts, Sale on the 12th and 13th April 2016.

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Lullaby Lane comes to Waterside Arts, Sale on the 10th April 2016.

There’s another chance to experience the charming Lullaby Lane at if you missed it the first time round at The Edge in Chorlton.


 

The Royal Exchange

The Royal Exchange is home to Flying Saucers every Sunday. The events, activities and workshops for under 11s include storytelling sessions, craft workshops, Hard Hat Sundays and entertainment for all the family. Some workshops are age-restricted and ticketed, so it’s a good idea to book in advance as they can be very popular. Around The World in 60 Minutes is taking place on Sunday 20th March 2016 and is suitable for ages 5-8, costs £3.00 a child and adults are free. Booking is strongly recommended.

Find out more by clicking here or give the Royal Exchange box office a call on 0161 833 9833 – they’re a friendly bunch.

Trafford Music Service

The service is offering an Easter music school suitable for primary school children (from reception to year 6), running for 3 days from 4th April to 6th April 2016. During the course children will be given the opportunity to sing as well as play a selection of instruments including the violin, ukulele, guitar, recorder, fife and percussion.

The course costs £35 per day and runs from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm. All instruments are provided, all you need to do is provide a packed lunch.

For more information and to book click here!

Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Join everyone for an afternoon of storytelling at the Octagon Theatre. During Storyplay: Beauty and The Beast, your little ones will be transported on a literary journey of fun and adventure – meeting all of their favourite characters, brought to life by actors from the Octagon Company.

Meet in the relaxed play area in the Octagon Bar at 4:30pm on Friday 15th April 2016. Recommended for families of all ages and costs £4 per child with a free adult place per child.

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The Macbeth Curse engulfs the Octagon in Bolton from 19th April to 23rd April 2016. Written by Terry Deary, author of Horrible Histories The Macbeth curse promises to be a perfect introduction to the magic and madness of Shakespeare. Recommended for ages 7 and up and with a running time of 60 minutes. Each showing also includes a 20 minute Q&A session after each performance.

Manchester Museum

Two FREE events are happening at Manchester Museum as part of the Greater Manchester On Film Festival (GMOFF) . While you’re paying Stan the T-Rex a visit, why not catch a FREE screening of Jurassic Park (suitable for ages 9+) or Jurassic World (suitable for 12+)?

Jurassic Park screens at 11 am on 2oth March and Jurassic World screens at 2 pm. Hit the links to book your FREE tickets through Eventbrite. There is also junk modelling from 1 pm so why not have a go at making your own  junk model dinosaur to take home?

The Whitworth

Another fantastic FREE event as part of the GMOFF at The Whitworth on Saturday 26th March 2016.

Enjoy a screening of the stop-motion animation Fantastic Mr Fox (PG) in The Whitworth’s Grand Hall. After the film, there is also the opportunity to take part in a family art activity led by The Whitworth. You will be able to have a go at making 3D art inspired by Mr Fox and co. and the wildlife in Whitworth Park. Recommended for ages 7+ and all under 16’s must be accompanied by an adult.

Interested? Booking in advance is a must. Hit the link!

National Football Museum

Finally, for budding footballers – courtesy of the GMOFF, there is a FREE screening of Carlitos and the Chance of a Lifetime at the National Football Museum on Sunday 27th March 2016. The screening starts at 11 and is recommended for ages 9 and over – however, it is a Spanish film with English subtitles which many younger children will struggle to follow. Under 16’s must be accompanied by an adult and any adults must be accompanied by a child. You can book through Eventbrite here.

 

Upstaged Manchester would like to wish you all a happy Easter and it would be super to hear your views on any of the shows or activities.

Please tweet your mini reviews to @UpstagedMCR   #upstagedfamily

 

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REVIEW – WIT (The Royal Exchange, Manchester)

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Julie Hesmondhalgh in WIT at the Royal Exchange, Manchester ©Jonathan Keenan

Upstaged Rating: 

Wit is Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, a humorous, emotional and ultimately devastating story set in the final few hours of Dr Vivian Bearing’s life.

Dr Vivian Bearing is an American Professor of 17th-century poetry specialising in the metaphysical works of John Donne. A brilliant university lecturer and scholar, she now finds herself diagnosed with advanced metastatic ovarian cancer. While in university she was the tough teacher; now as an inpatient in a university teaching hospital she is the one being examined and studied.

Julie Hesmondhalgh is magnificent in the title role of Dr Vivian Bearing, playing out the final hours of Vivian’s life and also flashbacks to her past. Despite tackling the a subject as harrowing as cancer, Wit is delivered with a brittle humour resisting any kind of sentimentality – with Vivian realising, towards the end, that she prefers kindness to intellectualism. Her slim frame is covered by 2 hospital gowns and she wears a pink baseball cap on her hairless head – she is articulate and chooses the words she uses with care. Brutally announcing ‘I will never forget the time that I found out I had cancer’ the stage turns and we are transported back to when she first received the prognosis from Dr Kelekian (Tom Hodgkins).

Hannah Clark’s set design of a revolving stage and blue-green walkway and swing doors is perfectly suggestive of a sterile hospital environment. Chairs, hospital beds and IV poles are wheeled and passed urgently about the stage as clinical observation is pitted against the raw human emotion of Hesmondhalgh’s shattering performance.

Raz Shaw‘s direction is paced and perceptive and the supportive cast are also strong – Esh Alladi is superb as purposeful clinical fellow Dr Jason Possner MD, lacking empathy and communication skills – he brands the bedside manner course at med school ‘a colossal waste of time’. In contrast, Jenny Platt as Nurse Susie Monahan offers an alternative presence – finding time to moisturise Vivian’s hands when talking becomes difficult. Julie Legrand is impressive as the university academic who first taught Vivian about Donne and the power of punctuation.

Manchester’s Royal Exchange has certainly started the new year with a cracking show and  Julie Hesmondhalgh gives a striking performance at the centre of it. Cancer is a hard subject matter to tackle on stage, especially in a performance as honest as this – Wit may make some cry but it will definitely make everyone laugh, think and discuss.

-Kristy Stott

Wit is at the Royal Exchange until Saturday 13th February 2016 and you can get your tickets here

Big Fish Little Fish Family Rave

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Photo Credit : Kristy Stott

Since Big Fish Little Fish launched in Manchester in November 2015 their family raves have proven to be the hottest ticket in town. Always a sell-out gig, with tickets selling out for the Manchester January event in 15 minutes – once you’ve been you will know why.

With creative and exciting family fun at their core, Big Fish Little Fish host day-time dance music events which are as much about the parents as they are about the children – it’s like being at a mini festival, right in the middle of Manchester. Designed to attract the post-rave generation of parents and their offspring – it’s cool, social and there is probably no better place for it than Chorlton. We were lucky enough to bag tickets so we schooled our little fish together, and mooched on down to Chorlton Irish Club to experience the vibe for ourselves.

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‘The Parachute Dance’ is a highlight.               Photo credit : Kristy Stott
The events are recommended for families with children under the age of 8 as many of the activities are designed for younger ones. These 2-4 hour party people have taken care of everything with a secure buggy park outside and a baby chill out area upstairs. Although many of the rave parents took to the dancefloor with their babies in a sling or in arms. It’s good for mum and dad and the babies certainly enjoyed the sensory stimulation from bubble machines and roving colourful club lights. The club classics are also played at a lower level which suits little ones and parents too – great to see fellow Chorltonites striking up banter with each other. Did I mention that there is also a licenced bar?

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Photo Credit : Kristy Stott
For those who need a quieter area – there is a chill out area complete with books; for those creative minds, there are some super craft activities too – many of the children enjoyed the scribble wall and playdoh. There was also the opportunity to create your own tie or add a temporary tattoo to complete your look.

Giant balloons and glow sticks make the dance floor fun for the little people while the grown-ups fully appreciate tunes by DJing duo Heavy Feet. Every event has a theme too – this particular event was a ‘Hat and Moustache’ rave with prizes for the most creative headpieces.

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Healthy treats from The Nice Lolly Co to keep everybody happy…
Prior to becoming a big hit up North, Big Fish Little Fish have been running events in and around London as well as hosting gigs at Camp Bestival and Kendal Calling. And now they are branching out all the time with gigs planned for Edinburgh and Cardiff.

If you want to be one of the first to know about Big Fish Little Fish events – you can sign up to their mailing list here.

 

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REVIEW – The Girls (The Lowry)

The Girls at The Lowry, Salford © John Swannell
The Girls at The Lowry, Salford
© John Swannell
Date: 19 January 2016
Upstaged Rating: 

Get a ticket and go and see The Girls. It is a phenomenal production. A thunderous applause and a well deserved standing ovation greeted the passionate performers and production crew on the press night. Being able to witness everybody around you in the stalls leap to their feet, cheering and clapping is a rare occurrence and a worthy testimony to show how fabulous The Girls really is. Just go.

The Girls is a heartwarming, super charming and quintessentially English new musical inspired by the true story of Yorkshire’s real Calendar Girls – a group of Women’s Institute members who, in memory of one of their husbands, produce a nude calendar to raise money for Leukaemia Research. This new musical charts the journey of a group of ordinary ladies as they achieve something incredible and explores the effect that their strength has on everyone around them.

The writing collaboration between the master of popular songwriting, Gary Barlow and Tim Firth who wrote the film and the play for Calendar Girls, is a perfect recipe for success. Add some outstanding performers to the mix and you have a musical which is not only highly entertaining but one which fully connects with its audience. Hilarious and heartbreaking all at the same time, I spent most of Act 2 looking through a blur because my eyes were so teary from laughing and crying at the same time.

Robert Jones’ set design of olive green drawers and cupboards is suggestive of quaint, rural England. Providing the perfect canvas for the action to unfold, whether indoors or on a Yorkshire hill top, in this close-knit and supportive community.

Tim Firth, Gary Barlow & the original Calendar Girls credit Matt Crockett
The Original Calendar Girls     ~The Girls at The Lowry, Salford~   – Credit Matt Crockett

 

This production is packed full of superb musical numbers with that unmistakeable Barlow hook, the lyrics are loaded with wit and most importantly we can relate to them. ‘Who Wants a Silent Night?’ is delivered with pizzazz by parish organist and single mother Cora (Claire Machin). Retired school teacher Jessie (Sara Kestelman) sings a poignant and uplifting ballad about growing older, ‘What Age Expects’ which was a highlight for me. With tunes so catchy and memorable many of the audience left humming and singing their way out of the theatre.

Joanna Riding is outstanding as Annie – putting on a brave face as her husband John (James Gaddas) battles against cancer. Their partnership on stage is believable and touching; humorous and real – providing the hope and inspiration for the calendar girls extraordinary triumph. Claire Moore gives an energetic, brave and brilliant performance as close friend Chris – she is immediately likeable, defiant and loyal – she is not afraid to speak out against the traditional Women’s Institute values, but she does so with humour and conviction which the audience laugh, clap and cheer along with.

The leader of the Women’s Institute Marie, played admirably by Harriett Thorpe, struggles to get the women to fall in line with her ideas. Ex air-hostess and golf enthusiast Celia played brilliantly by Vivien Parry and struggling alcoholic Ruth, played with expert timing by Debbie Chazen complete the line-up. The tightly woven sub-plot featuring Chris’ son Danny (Ben Hunter), love interest Jenny (Chloe May Jackson) and his best friend Tommo (Josh Benson) gives a further injection of comedy and shows the effect that the women’s bravery and influence can have on the younger generation.

The Girls is a fantastic musical – I really hope that it gets a well-deserved airing in the West End – but don’t just take my word for it – go see for yourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Kristy Stott

The Girls is at The Lowry until Saturday 30th January 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

Trick or Treat? Our theatrical picks for the family this October…

Your car is starting to get iced up in the morning, you’ve turned your central heating on and your local shop has made room on the shelves for fiery orange pumpkins, massive tubs of jelly sweets and…mince pies???

It can only mean one thing…
october

We’ve rounded up the best theatrical events happening for families across Manchester this October…

The Lowry

As always The Lowry, Salford have a fantastic offering this October, especially during the half term week which runs from Sunday 25th October – Saturday 31st October.

Hurricane Boy is first up with 2 showings,  on Sunday 18th October. Running at just under an hour and recommended for ages 5 and upwards Hurricane Boy features physical storytelling alongside live music and it has received some great reviews so far from little ones and their families.

There’s all round entertainment from your TV favourites Milkshake Live! on Monday 26th October at 2pm. If your children are a little older, Morgan & West at 7pm may be more up their street – with a combination of illusion and all-round silliness, they guarantee a magic show that is suitable for all of the family, ages 5 and up.

Elsa and Anna glide in on Wednesday 28th October for ANOTHER Singalong Frozen. Do we ever tire of singing along to Frozen?? On the same day we have a Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler classic flying in – The Scarecrows Wedding. Now, we’ve been to see a number of these Donaldson classics transferred from page to stage and they are always a hit with young audiences. The Scarecrows Wedding runs from 28th October until 1st November and is recommended for those aged 3 and up.

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The Scarecrows Wedding –The Lowry

Now, who loves dinosaurs?

Dinosaur Zoo is fabulous, it really is. I took my Thing 2 when he was 3 and he was gripped throughout. Fresh from attacking the West End, Dinosaur Zoo stomps into The Lowry from the 30th October until the 1st November. Read our last review here…

Z-Arts

You need to be quick for this one…on 10th October Flyaway Katie, suitable for ages 2-7, is at Z-Arts in Hulme. Based on the popular children’s book by Polly Dunbar and presented by Long Nose Puppets and Manchester Literature Festival –  it’s been described as ‘magical and beautiful’ (The Guardian). Also, Bear and Butterfly zooms in on Wednesday 28th October, suitable for ages 4-7, it explores themes around love, loss and friendship when a bear and a caterpillar become friends. Flyaway Katie and Bear & Butterfly are showing as part of the UK wide GetCreative Family Arts Festival. Hit the link to find out more about events happening around Greater Manchester and beyond…

Film Club happens at Z-Arts on Saturday 24th October with showings of The Princess & The Frog at 1:30pm and The Wiz at 3:30pm.

We’re Stuck is being presented as part of Manchester Science Festival 2015 on the Wednesday 28th and Friday 30th October. It’s your chance to get involved in shaping and developing this interactive new show which focuses on how great and how utterly rubbish our brains are at maths. It’s free and suitable for children aged 7-11 and their grown-ups.

The Possible Impossible House by Forced Entertainment at Z-Arts
The Possible Impossible House by Forced Entertainment
at Z-Arts

Now Forced Entertainment are one of my favourite theatre companies, at the forefront of contemporary theatre and I am thrilled that they are presenting a children’s show on Halloween. The ACTUAL All Hallows Eve – 31st October – at Z-Arts. It’s called The Possible Impossible House and it’s their first children’s show – suitable for ages 6 and up. You also get a free ticket to Z-Arts Halloween Party if you book for the show.

The Royal Exchange 

On Monday 12th October  at 1pm the Royal Exchange are host to Michael Rosen: Children’s Poetry Event. It’s part of the Manchester Literature Festival event and tickets are only £4. Michael Rosen is one of the well known figures in the children’s book world, publications include: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and This is Our House. Sadly, my children are in school on this day – however, the event may be of interest to my home ed friends.

The Chair The Royal Exchange
The Chair
The Royal Exchange

The Chair creeps into the Royal Exchange from the 14th October to the 18th October -recommended for ‘brave souls’ over the age of 7. With live music, songs and a cut-throat razor…book at your own peril.

The Edge Theatre & Arts Centre, Chorlton

A good selection of children’s theatre as always at The Edge. Rosie’s Magic Horse gallops in on the 17th October and is recommended for ages 3-8 years of age. Strictly Balti is suitable for older children over the age of 11, exploring ideas of identity on 23rd October. Next up we have the The Toothy Adventures of Davy Denture (for ages 3-7) on the 27th October and The Adventures of Pom ( for ages 0-4) on the 28th October.

Waterside Arts Centre, Sale

And in case you can’t make those dates above…Waterside Arts gives us another chance to catch Rosie’s Magic Horse on the 11th October and Strictly Balti on the 21st October. 

We're Going on a Bear Hunt --Waterside Arts Centre--
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
–Waterside Arts Centre–

In addition to this, Little Angel Theatre presents family favourite, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt from the 17th October until the 20th October. With a super running time of 45 minutes, it’s just perfect for those little fidgets aged 2 and over.

The ‘Half Term Show’ at Waterside Arts is The Elves & The Shoemaker running from 29th October until the 1st November, recommended for those aged over 3. And for those little pickles aged 0-18 months there is 16 Singers on the 30th October – its a combination of music and signing woven into a sparkling little show for babies.

The Met in Bury

Gulliver -- The Big Telly Theatre Company --The Met, Bury--
Gulliver — The Big Telly Theatre Company
–The Met, Bury–

For ages 12 and up Gulliver sails into The Met in Bury on Tuesday 27th October. Followed by We Are Bronte on the 28th October, which is again suitable for ages 12+.

The Toothy Adventures of Davy Denture --The Met, Bury--
The Toothy Adventures of Davy Denture
–The Met, Bury–

For younger children aged 3-7, The Toothy Adventures Of Davy Denture visits Bury on Friday 30th October.

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