Review: Spamalot ( Palace Theatre, Manchester)

Spamalot at The Palace Theatre, Manchester until 11th November 2017
Spamalot at The Palace Theatre, Manchester until 11th November 2017
Guest Reviewer: karen Clough
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Eric Idle’s stage adaptation of the 1975 film ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ offers all the satire, ridiculousness, mockery and hilarity you might bargain for, and then some.

Whether you’re an existing fan of Monty Python or not, this show makes for a laugh-out-loud night of ingeniously perceptive slapstick entertainment. Eric Idle has captured the essence of Monty Python in this superbly constructed musical version, demonstrating the most natural understanding of what really does make people laugh. First appearing on stage in 2004, Spamalot stands the test of time by combining classic comedy with currently themed script tweaks, which connect it with the present.

Spamalot is the calamitous tale of King Arthur (Bob Harm) and his incompetent knights (Steven Arden, Jonathan Tweedie, Norton James, Marc Akinfolarin) in their search for the Holy Grail. Struggling to command the respect of his subjects as a credible king, Arthur recruits the knights of the round table on his travels, each of them possessing a unique ineptness and comedic appeal.

Fans of Monty Python and the newly-acquainted alike will appreciate the embedded fun-poking at the ‘terribly Britishness’ of it all, the coconut shell horses, the set, props and the genre of musical theatre itself. All of this is accompanied by an equally amusing song list (John du Prez & Eric Idle) including the quintessential Monty Python anthem ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ (music directed by Dean McDermott).

This production is not just intelligently written (Eric Idle), it is slickly directed (Daniel Buckroyd), choreographed (Ashley Nottingham) and designed (Sara Perks) – it’s as good as musical comedy pandemonium gets. This is enabled by outstanding casting, their chemistry and a shared sense of fun literally radiating from the stage. The performances of each are of such a high and comparable standard that favouritism proves a struggle. Whilst there is too much brilliance to justly mention, I doubt the comic-timing of Bob Harms’ (King Arthur) imaginary horse-handling paired with Rhys Owen’s (Patsy) command of coconut shell hooves could be bettered! Vocal performances are also of great quality across the cast, with Sarah Harlington as the divaesque Lady of the Lake leading the way.

Prepare for audience interaction, high jinks, ad-lib, more irony than you can shake a stick at and a revolving door of laughter and thoroughly enjoyable idiocy.

I agree with John Cleese, it really is “the silliest thing I’ve ever seen”. It’s also ridiculously brilliant. I left the show with a warmed, laughter-aching face, I’m smiling as I write this review. Don’t let this humour masterpiece pass you by.

-Karen Clough

Spamalot runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 11th November 2017.

Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (The Palace Theatre, Manchester)

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Guest Reviewer: Karen Clough
Upstaged Rating: 

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, one of the first productions borne of the Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice partnership in the 1970s, is making as colourful an appearance as you might expect at Manchester’s Palace Theatre.

The story is adapted from the Bible’s book of Genesis, in which Joseph is one of 12 sons of Jacob. Joseph, a dreamer, attracts jealousy and contempt from his brothers, who fear that their father favours him and that the gift of his coat of many colours symbolises this. When Joseph dreams he is destined to rule them, they cannot risk that it may be prophetic, so fake his death and sell him as a slave, in the hope he’ll never be seen again.

Following in the footsteps of likeable household-name ‘Josephs’ spanning four decades, Joe McElderry (of X-Factor) has stepped into Joseph’s Dreamcoat and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying it.

After a leisurely start, the large and enthusiastic cast and choir (Stagecoach Chester and Wirral choir) were revealed on a stage filled with glitz, colour and bold lighting (Sean Cavanagh, Nick Richings). The impressively co-ordinated choir brushed off a curtain malfunction with true ‘show must go on’ professionalism.

The entire script is sung, the story joined up by a vibrant and cheery-voiced narrator, Trina Hill. Within a bizarre show, the narrator helpfully keeps the audience in the loop of the story amidst a buzzing, constantly moving and singing stage crowd (Bill Kenwright, Henry Metcalfe). At times this was overwhelming, McElderry’s presence lost in the mayhem of comic inflatable sheep, Elvis (Ben James-Ellis), Egyptians, a golden motorcycle, curious handmaiden (Anna Campkin, Sallie-Beth Lawless, Gemma Pipe) wardrobe choices, Joseph’s range of skirts and, not forgetting, The Coat (Phil Murphy). McElderry did well to recover command of the stage and audience attention as the lead and gave undeniably strong renditions of the show’s best-known hits, ‘Close Every Door to Me’ and the finale ‘Any Dream Will Do’.

This is a chaotic, cheery and at times disorienting whirlwind of a show, performed by a cast who seemed to fully recognise and laugh along at the boldness and absurdity threaded through it. The youngest and oldest in the audience showed their appreciation the most. Take your children or your grandmother – they’ll be dancing in the aisle, or sitting with their hands high and their heads swaying by the end.

-Karen Clough

REVIEW: Dirty Dancing (The Palace Theatre, Manchester)

The cast of Dirty Dancing at The Palace Theatre, Manchester
The cast of Dirty Dancing at The Palace Theatre, Manchester
GUest Reviewer: Karen Clough
upstaged rating: 

I’ll open in the same way as the show – straight to it, from curtain-up. Eleanor Bergstein’s Dirty Dancing is a triumph. A fun, energetic, uplifting and entertaining piece of well-executed theatre magic. I wondered if I could be objective of such an iconic story that
holds a place in the heart of those who grew up with the original.

With enormous shoes to fill for the cast, Johnny (Lewis Griffiths) and Baby (Katie Eccles) especially, the show won over the audience. Whilst honouring the story many know so well, ambitious and successful, they manage to make it their own.

Not everyone knows the story… Set in the 60s, Dirty Dancing is the all-American tale of an unlikely union between sultry, unattainable, cool and misunderstood Johnny and awkward, naïve and eternally optimistic Baby. It takes place at Kellerman’s holiday resort which privileged Baby visits with her family for the summer and where she meets dancer Johnny, whose background fits more with the school of hard knocks. Baby volunteers to step in to cover Johnny’s partner for the end-of-season performance, Johnny has his work cut out teaching her to dance. They practise at every opportunity and not only does Baby learn to dance, they fall in love. For Baby, it’s a story of awakening and coming of age, for Johnny a story of finding something in life which is virtuous and sincere.

The all-important music (Conrad Helfich) does not disappoint, featuring the soundtrack hits you’d expect to hear, accompanied by faultlessly fantastic choreography (Gillian Bruce) and delivery of legendary dance scenes.

A visually busy and exciting production, which relentlessly makes great use of the stage (Federico Bellone). Clever set design (Roberto Comotti) enables the smooth recreation of a range of scenes and locations, coupled with summery lighting (Valerio Tiberi) and vibrant costume (Jennifer Irwin) to transport the audience into the holiday season at Kellerman’s.

In addition to the outstanding dancing and excellent all round presentation from the entire cast, first class vocal performances come from Michael Kent (as Billy Kostecki), Sophia Mackay (as Elizabeth) and Jo Servi (as Tito Suarez). Goofy comedic brilliance is offered up by Greg Fossard and Lizzie Ottley (as Neil Kellerman and Lisa Houseman). These features combine to make Dirty Dancing a show full of talent, humour, laughter, romance, flirtation and non-stop engagement.

A whistle-stop tour of the Dirty Dancing many know – an audience of smiling faces cheering the show to a close said it works.

-Karen Clough

Dirty Dancing runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 22nd July and continues to tour until September 2017. For further dates and tickets click here.

REVIEW: Taha (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

TAHA
Reviewer: Karen Clough
upstaged rating: 

Taha follows the inspiring story of Palestinian poet Taha Muhammed Ali (Amer Hlehel) – a story of humanity and hardship, hope and devastation, opportunity and misfortune, discovery and challenge, achievement and survival. The story is told from the perspective of Taha, recounting his life journey in a nostalgic, fireside storyteller style.

The stage design (Ashraf Hanna) was starkly minimal, a successful means for Taha’s story to hold the stage alone, supported by the thoughtful use of simplistic lighting (Muaz Jubeh) and carefully considered musical interjections (Shehadeh Habib Hanna) to punctuate the production. Deliberately unattractive bursts of strings accompanied the tone of adversity well. Even Taha’s wardrobe was understated and modest, a reflection of the title character and also a non-distraction from the story’s message.

Born to parents who had suffered tragic losses and were cautious to celebrate him, Taha was a curious and creative boy, who recognised at a young age there was a role for him in taking care of his family. Keen to develop himself and provide, the audience followed Taha’s transition from inquisitive boy to proud and resourceful young man, who grew to earn celebration by others. Taha’s love of culture, learning and poetry was portrayed beautifully by Hlehel. Poetry marked a range of poignant hopeful to crushing life events and was translated and projected onto a screen behind Taha, recited simultaneously. The use of language in this way was powerful and gave Taha credibility and integrity whilst reaching across the audience.

Against a backdrop of adversity, religion, politics, war and loss, the story of Taha and his poetry is more concerned with the emotions and fortitude of his human experience and is told in a heart-warming and self-deprecating style. Like Taha’s poetry, the story gives the modest and relevant message that our focus should be drawn to humanity, informed but not dominated by surrounding politics. Looking around at the audience, they watched with an air of respect and endearment. Amer Hlehel delivered his solo performance as Taha with an honesty and authenticity which engaged the audience throughout, demonstrating a true talent for conveying human experience and emotion, generating empathy for Taha with ease. Hlehel deserved his enthusiastic applause from an audience entirely on their feet at the end.

A thoughtful production with superb acting and direction (Amir Mizar Zuabli), though as a solo performance, for me, it was just a little too lengthy.

-Karen Clough

Taha continues at London’s Young Vic from 5th July to 15th July 2017 and tickets are available here.