REVIEW: Gangsta Granny (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

Birmingham Stage Company's Gangsta Granny by David Walliams. ©Mark Douet
Birmingham Stage Company’s Gangsta Granny by David Walliams.
©Mark Douet
upstaged rating: 

The Lowry fizzes with excitement with the arrival of the Birmingham Stage Company’s adaptation of David Walliams’ much-loved Gangsta Granny.

Since 2008 David Walliams has taken the children’s literary world by storm – writing nine children’s books and selling more than 12.5 million copies worldwide. Children (and grown-ups) love his books and it was clear to see that this stage show was also well received. Gangsta Granny has been a staple read in our house- the immersive sheer brilliance of Walliams’ wit has ignited our imaginations and prompted conversation. While the stage show doesn’t offer the same enveloping delight as diving into the original, the charm and excitement of the live stage match the vigour and flamboyance of Walliams’ writing.

Adapted by Neal Foster, Gangsta Granny tells the story of Ben (Ashley Cousins) and the relationship that he has with his little scrabble playing, cardigan wearing, cabbage chomping Granny (Gilly Tompkins). Ben loathes having to stay at his boring Granny’s house every Friday when his Mum (Louise Bailey) and Dad (Benedict Martin) go to watch their Strictly Stars Dancing show.

Vibrant and colourful, each character looks as though they have sprung from the pages of Tony Ross’ wonderful illustrations. Travelling around on her motorised scooter we soon learn that Granny is not as boring as we have been led to believe. Action packed and dream-like with a wicked brilliance, Gangsta Granny is poignant with some top-trumping wit and offers a thoughtful twist as Ben comes to realise that beyond the drab exterior, his gran is wild and adventurous.  

‘It’s important to follow your dreams Ben, it’s all you’ve got to guide you.’

Jacqueline Trousdale’s set is colourful and snappy, the simple design makes scene changes swift and fluid. Jak Poore’s ballroom themed musical composition is lively and comical, adding further depth to the production.

© Mark Douet
© Mark Douet

 

Gangsta Granny is fun and fast paced and the perfect outing for children, parents and grannies. It continues to tour right through summer  2017 – running at 2 hours and 10 minutes, it is the ideal treat for those children who read, share and love Walliams’ writing.

-Kristy Stott

Gangsta Granny gets a WEST END transfer! Catch David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny at The Garrick Theatre, London from 26th July 2017 to 3rd September 2017- tickets are available here.

Gangsta Granny continues to tour the UK right through to September 2017. Click here to find your nearest venue and book tickets.

REVIEW: Cyril the Squirrel (The Lowry, Salford)

Cyril the Squirrel is so sq-exciting
Cyril the Squirrel
thingstars: 

Theatre maker Cathy Shiel’s background in early years teaching really shines through in this delightful and touching new piece of children’s theatre, Cyril the Squirrel. This charming tale is pitched perfectly for children aged 3 and up and is packed to the brim with bright visual storytelling and amusing interaction. With clowning, puppetry and performance, Cyril the Squirrel has plenty to keep those inquisitive minds engaged for the full 45 minute running time.

The tale unfolds within Woody Woodland when Cyril (Jennifer Birch), a grey squirrel, meets Rosie Red (Cathy Shiel), a red squirrel.The heartwarming tale explores themes around friendship and diversity as the two become best friends despite sneaky Willy the Weasel and his best efforts to divide them.

With their little eyes wide, many children in the audience were gripped from the very start of the show. This production has interaction at its core, inviting children to engage with the performers throughout – it’s a sure way to get theatres toughest critics on your side from the outset. The narrative is simple and pitched at a perfect level for younger children; the clever use of instruments, highly visual tricks and puppetry succeed in feeding their excitable minds and imaginations.

Fresh from The Royal Exchange’s The Crucible, Alastair Gilles shows his versatility as a performer in doubling up as the crafty Weasel and the calming and knowledgeable Owl. Cathy Shiel and Jennifer Birch are dynamic, suitably animated and fun, working alongside each other as Rosie Red and Cyril.

Lara Booth’s set design provides the ideal balance between simplicity and woodland magic – complete with hidey holes and vines. Will Hague’s squirrel tail design is the perfect visual for younger children to understand the difference between the two characters on stage.

FullSizeRenderCyril the Squirrel is a superb piece of children’s theatre – smart and well pitched. Thing 2 laughed along with many of the jokes throughout the show and took away the important message that it is interesting to be different, change can be good and that diversity makes the world go round.

 

 

-Kristy Stott

Cyril the Squirrel continues to tour throughout July 2016: The Dogs Trust, Denton 26th July 2016 (plus and post-show doggy themed workshop) and The Atkinson, Southport 30th July 2016.

REVIEW – Leaper – A Fish Tale (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

Leaper - The Fish Tale by Tucked In Theatre Company
Leaper – The Fish Tale by Tucked In Theatre Company
Thingstars: 

It’s quite alarming to find out that around 90% of global fish stocks are over-exploited, fully exploited or in recovery from exploitation. In severely depleted areas, the only way to restore fish stock is by introducing protected reserves. However, considering a massive 72% of our planet is water and only 4% of this is currently protected, it becomes evident that without urgent measures we may be the last generation to catch food from the oceans.

It’s really important to educate the younger generation to care for their planet from an early age and Tucked In Theatre Company explore this idea through their production of Leaper – A Fish Tale. There are no blinding statistics or complicated language but charming puppetry, original music and a set with a wonderful hand-crafted quality. The energetic cast of three: Lizzie Franks, Philip Bosworth and Robert Welling tell the story of Leaper the fish and the beautiful but perilous ocean world that she inhabits.

Through the eyes of a little girl, we follow Leaper on her journey to encounter the ever growing natural and man-made dangers in our ocean. After accidentally falling into the water to retrieve her dropped prawn cocktail crisp packet, the little girl makes friends with Leaper as they explore the waterways together, travelling from the tiny stream to the vast ocean and back again.

The young audience were engrossed by Claire Harvey’s wonderful puppet design featuring a school of fish, a noisy duck and a formidable brown bear. Jim Harbourne’s warm and upbeat musical score provided continuity and familiarity for the little ones and Annie Brooks’ design had a real home-made appeal. However, there was a lot of story to cram into a short running time of 60 minutes and with frequent set changes, some of the sections felt rushed. The young members of the audience would certainly benefit from a slower pace which would give them time to reflect and understand.

Following our visit to watch Leaper – A Fish Tale,  Thing 2 was busting with questions about fish and our oceans, proving that theatre can be a powerful way to tap into a child’s understanding of the world and our environment. Tucked In theatre have to be applauded for their imaginative approach in tackling a complex subject and their ability to make it accessible to children. After all, our children are the future generation and the earlier we educate them about our planet – the brighter their future.

-Kristy Stott

 Leaper is showing next at the Blackwood Miners Institute in Caerphilly on the 30th April 2016 and at 96 Shenley Road in Borehamwood on the 2nd May 2016.

 

REVIEW – Horrible Histories: Groovy Greeks (The Lowry, Salford)

Horrible Histories: Groovy Greeks and Incredible Invaders
Upstaged Rating: 

THINGSTARS: 

Groovy Greeks is the energetic and informative new Horrible Histories show produced by The Birmingham Stage Company. Currently being performed in rep alongside Incredible Invaders, Groovy Greeks flies through thousands of years of Greek history faster than soaring Apollo on his fiery chariot.

Based on the brilliant books by Terry Deary, the CBBC show Horrible Histories has always been welcomed viewing in our house. Encompassing history, fun and gore, it is as much fun for parents as it is for children.

The energetic storytelling by the cast of four is really complimented by designer Jacqueline Trousdale’s 3D animation and the Bogglevision 3D specs which are handed out to the audience for the second half. The action is given a full seal of approval by the original author Terry Deary too, his familiar rich tone providing the voice of Zeus.

First up we meet The Trojans, a clever skit on The Simpsons complete with Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Mr. Burns. Next up, following a quick and seamless change, we have The ‘Hungry’ Games. The show uses many popular family TV shows to guide us through the history of Ancient Greece – we see Greece’s greatest thinkers collide in the Big Brother House and we vote for the most talented omnipotent power in ‘The God’s Have Talent’ – will our winner be a hip-hop Athena or a Lily Allen-esque Aphrodite?

What is perhaps so special about Horrible Histories on stage, is the interaction between the performers and the audience. Under Neal Foster’s clever direction, the performers keep their young (and old) crowd engrossed throughout the whole show – whether it is inviting a willing audience member to the stage, a mass singalong or making the crowd part of the chorus in an Ancient Greek Drama.

Considering the popularity of Horrible Histories, I was surprised to see that there were a lot of empty seats in the Lyric Theatre on the night that I attended. Maybe this was a reflection on playing Groovy Greeks alongside Incredible Invaders and the cost involved in purchasing tickets for both shows. Nevertheless, it was evident that the diverse audience were gripped for the full two hours running time.

Playing to a predominantly young audience has to be one of the most challenging but arguably, one of the most rewarding jobs in theatre. Groovy Greeks has a brilliantly entertaining cast who bounce off each other and enthuse their audience with vigour and curiosity. Any show that manages to tap into the minds of our young historians and future creatives must be celebrated and Groovy Greeks does just that.

-Kristy Stott

Horrible Histories: Groovy Greeks and Incredible Invaders is at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday 9th April 2016 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW – The Witches (The Lowry)

Sarah Ingram in The Witches © Catherine Ashmore
Sarah Ingram in The Witches
© Catherine Ashmore
Upstaged Rating: 

THINGSTARS: 

Roald Dahl’s wonderful and vibrant stories have captured the imaginations of millions of children (and adults) across the world. Translated into 58 different languages, Dahl’s rich and impressive portfolio has been successfully adapted for stage and screen over the years. The Witches has always been a favourite in our house, fascinating, terrifying and always prompting curious questions, and it translates perfectly to the stage in this adaptation by David Wood.

“Horrible things can be exciting”

An 8-year-old Boy goes to live with his cigar-puffing Grandma in Norway following the death of his parents. An expert on witches, his Grandma has many fascinating stories to tell and explains to him how to spot a witch. To honour his parents last wish, Boy and his Grandma return to England so that he can continue his education and it is here that he comes across some of the cruellest and most powerful child-hating witches.

Under doctor’s orders, Grandma (Karen Mann) and Boy (Fox Jackson-Kenn) take a trip to Bournemouth to allow Grandma time to recover from a bout of pneumonia. It is highly unfortunate that their home in Bournemouth, The Hotel Magnificent, is also the venue for the annual witches AGM. Under the guise of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Hotel Magnificent houses some of the most prolific witches in the world and the most feared Grand High Witch (Sarah Ingram).

Under Nikolai Foster’s impressive and paced direction, this production is a scream from beginning to end. The talented cast of seven play a multitude of characters between them as well as playing a range of instruments.  

Fox Jackson-Keen plays Boy, a versatile performer – he engages skilfully with the audience using puppetry and acrobatics, giving the show an interactive dimension. The relationship between the two friends, Boy and chocolate-chomping Bruno (Kieran Urquhart) is touching and hilarious. Superb physicality and super sparkly costumes allow several of the cast to slip between roles – most notably, Elexi Walker is a complete howl as the feisty Liverpudlian, Mrs Jenkins. Headed up by Sarah Ingram’s brilliantly terrifying Grand High Witch, sniffing and squealing, the small coven of witches contort about the stage itching and scraping their skin – perfectly peculiar and comical.

Isla Shaw’s delicious costume design of larger-than-life sparkles and neon brights works wonderfully alongside the simple set design, clever projections and special effects. The witches scaly scalps, which are exposed in the 1990 film adaptation, are covered by wacky headdresses, designed by Diana Hudson, seeking to engage the young audience rather than alienate and upset.

Nikolai Foster has seasoned the recipe just right for this production – a little dose of fear, a lot of heart and lashings of humour. The Witches is a truly fantastical show and a marvellous introduction to theatre for many of the younger audience members. With a first half of 45 minutes and a second half of 30 minutes, it’s the perfect show for children over the age of 7.  

-Kristy Stott

The Witches is at The Lowry, Salford until 26th March 2016.

REVIEW – Kite (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

-Kristy Stott

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

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

 

REVIEW – The Little Match Girl (The Lowry)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

-Kristy Stott

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

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

THINGSTARS:  

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

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

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

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

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

-Kristy Stott

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

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

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

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

 

 


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

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

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

THINGSTARS:  

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

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

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

–Thing 1 (aged 9)

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

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

-Kristy Stott

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

Snow_Queen_A5_Back_Public_2_-_web_image_large-445x449

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


REVIEW – The Chair (The Royal Exchange, Manchester)

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

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

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

If your Nerves are made of Steel,

If you’re brave and if you dare,

Come sit upon the Barber’s Chair.”

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

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

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

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

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

-Kristy Stott

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