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.