REVIEW: Guys and Dolls (Royal Exchange, Manchester)

© Manuel Harlan
© Manuel Harlan
Upstaged Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Royal Exchange have pulled a Christmas cracker of a show this festive season with their lively and glamorous interpretation of Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls. With Michael Buffong at the helm, the action is set in the heart of the Harlem Renaissance, encapsulating the vigour of Black America at this time – this is feel-good, toe-tappingly fabulous theatre from beginning to end.

The action centres around the gambling world – where a roll of the dice can settle even the most awkward of arguments. With every new day comes a new hustle – but will their luck stick when they try to gamble with love?

With arguably the most beautiful cast that I have seen on stage in some time, vibrant musical numbers and slick scene changes – Talawa Theatre Co’s Guys and Dolls is charming, witty and packed with sentiment. Capturing the swing and soul of Harlem in the late 1930’s and the sensual, eclectic vibe of Havana – Kenrick ‘H20’ Sandy’s choreography is a delight. With a roll of the dice, ‘Luck Be A Lady’ is a swinging, clicking sensation and a gospel style ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat’ exudes energy and fun, led with vigour by Ako Mitchell, as a towering Nicely-Nicely Johnson.

In a suit as blue as his name, Ashley Zhangazha is hugely charismatic as the infamous Sky Masterson – exuding boyish charm, holding the audiences gaze from the very start. Abiona Omonua shows versatility in her voice and gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as Salvation Army Sergeant Sarah Brown – demonstrating control in her mission to convert the gambling sinners of Harlem while also revealing her adventurous side in Havana.

Ray Fearon as Nathan Detroit and Lucy Vandi as cabaret singer Miss Adelaide, who has been waiting 14 years for a marriage proposal – share some poignant comic moments. Vandi’s ‘A Person Could Develop a Cold’ is a highlight – revealing the humour behind the tragic realisation of her situation in love.   

Michael Buffong’s Guys and Dolls is the perfect celebratory Christmas production.  Playing out in-the-round on the Royal Exchange’s iconic stage, you’ll be left with a spring in your step and a smile on your face long after leaving the theatre. This is a performance that should not be missed.    

-Kristy Stott

Guys and Dolls HAS NOW BEEN EXTENDED and runs until 3rd February 2018.

 

REVIEW: Dick Whittington (Oldham Coliseum, Oldham)

Simeon Truby as King Rat at the Oldham Coliseum. © Joel C Fildes
Simeon Truby as King Rat at the Oldham Coliseum.
© Joel C Fildes
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The team at Oldham Coliseum always deliver a Christmas cracker with their traditional, cheeky pantomime fun and this year is no exception. The talented team of familiar faces are back to showcase all of the traditional elements of pantomime. With plenty of audience engagement, hilariously messy slapstick, innuendo for the grown-ups and sweeties for the little ones – there is plenty for the whole family to enjoy this festive season at Oldham Coliseum.

Penned by director Kevin Shaw and Fine Time Fontayne, Dick Whittington (Nina Shadi) follows a simple narrative about a young man from Oldham who travels South to seek his fortune. Driven by the belief that the streets of London are paved with gold – he soon finds out that they are overrun with rats but tries to make the best of it when he meets Alice (Shorelle Hepkin), the daughter of bumbling Sir Ivo Fitzwarren (Ralph Birtwell).

It’s great to see Fine Time Fontayne back as the pantomime dame, following his injury last year – he is truly entertaining and strikes a real chord with the audience. With an array of fabulous food-themed costumes and vibrant Doc Martens, designer Celia Perkins has really excelled herself this year. In fact, the whole show looks as though it has been peeled from the pages of a children’s picture-book, providing a pleasing backdrop for the pantomime mayhem and magic to play out. 

Alongside Fine Time Fontayne there is a host of fabulous Oldham Coliseum panto favourites – Richard J Fletcher is a comical success as Silly Billy Suet and is always a hit with the young crowd; Liz Carney takes on three larger-than-life roles – showcasing her ability to slip between costumes and accents, she is a triumph as Fairy Godmother Nell, Captain Bonny and the Sultana of Morocco. Simeon Truby gets the crowd going as evil baddie King Rat – his Rat Out Of Hell Meatloaf cover is definitely a highlight of the night and gets a pleasing cheer from the audience before they remember to boo and hiss. Miley Rose impresses as somersaulting Tom the Cat.

Oldham Coliseum’s Dick Whittington is everything that a pantomime should be. With plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, David Bintley’s lively musical score and the opportunity to interact with the performance – all taking place in an ideal sized theatre, where everyone feels part of the action. Dick Whittington is packed with festive magic, mischief and good old-fashioned fun – the perfect production to share with all of the family this Christmas.

-Kristy Stott

Dick Whittington runs at Oldham Coliseum until  13th January 2018 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW: Uncle Vanya (HOME, Manchester)

 © Jonathan Keenan
© Jonathan Keenan
Upstaged Rating: 

Taking inspiration from the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, HOME Manchester present Andrew Upton’s beautifully touching translation of Anton Chekov’s Uncle Vanya.

Over one hundred and fifty years have passed since Chekov’s birth and his plays have become almost as much part of British theatre’s repertoire as Shakespeare. Uncle Vanya is a complete masterpiece – portraying a society on the brink of change and an uncertain political climate – it was a revolutionary play for its time, written twenty years before the Russian Revolution. Most startlingly, to a modern audience, Uncle Vanya offers a timely commentary about the world we inhabit right now.

Director Walter Meierjohann has brought this deeply layered and finely nuanced production to complete fruition. Fascinating and truly absorbing, every word resonates and strikes new meaning – Meierjohann has teased and provoked to create a stunning theatrical feast which resonates powerfully with a contemporary audience.

Nick Holder’s Uncle Vanya straddles the tragicomic, playing the title role in a way Chekov would have applauded. Emerging as a yawning buffoon, then doe-eyed and needy, as he fawns over the Professor’s beautiful wife, Yelena. Holder interweaves comedy and anguish perfectly giving the best Vanya that I have ever seen.

Chekhov’s work is always about the ensemble and there is a host of top-notch performances in this production. Katie West gives us a gentle, diligent and honest Sonya against Hara Yannas’ beautifully elegant but idle Yelena. David Fleeshman’s gout-ridden Professor is suitably embittered by the onset of old age; Jason Merrells is brilliant as Astrov, a character who was viewed as a visionary and radical outsider at the time the play was first written; now, Astrov and his passionate appeals to plant seeds, nurture our environment and take responsibility for our society, strikes a resounding chord.

A self-playing piano haunts the characters from the back of the stage and provides a melancholic musical score composed by Marc Tritschler. The unkempt estate that the characters inhabit is suggested perfectly by Steffi Wuster’s minimalist though effective set design.

This production is completely consuming. Like a beautiful meal, I leave HOME feeling content and full with no bitter aftertaste.

-Kristy Stott

Uncle Vanya runs at HOME, Manchester until Saturday 25th November 2017 and you can get your tickets here.

 

 

REVIEW: Get A Clue ( The Arden School of Theatre: The Waterside Theatre, Manchester)

Get A Clue by The Arden School of Theatre, Manchester
Get A Clue by The Arden School of Theatre, Manchester

 

Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Get A Clue is the latest performance piece produced and performed by the third year BA (Hons) Dance and Performance students at The Arden Theatre School. The whole hour-long piece has been choreographed in just four weeks as a collaboration with international choreographer and dance storyteller, Cindy Claes.

Armed with detective style magnifying glasses, realms of unsolved case papers and a lifetime supply of paperclips, the talented ensemble present an alternative perspective on the life of a crime-solving detective. Fusing spoken word with hip-hop, dancehall and contemporary dance, the performers fill the space with energy and a good dose of wit as they showcase their skills.

The performance commences with our lead detective and her portfolio of unsolved cases – in a beautifully stylised and rhythmical sequence each file is presented to her. Uttering the subject of each case, the dancers slam each heavy pile of papers down in front of the detective. My only qualm is that this opening section may have been stronger if it had taken place in the middle of the stage.

Slowly, our detective feels the pressure of her increasingly heavy workload – she appears to become more concerned with the way that her papers are held together, than with the actual content of each case. Will she ever find her missing papers clips? Are her deceptive colleagues hiding the paper clips from her?

Paper fills the stage as it is thrown around in a display of disorganisation and madness creating a visual display of unease and chaos. Our dishevelled detective lies sprawled on the floor in the centre. Beautifully simple but powerful imagery.

There are some delightful sequences when the whole company is on stage together. The line-up was a highlight for me – simple choreography and clever storytelling by the ensemble. There is also some entertaining slapstick storytelling as two of the detective’s assistants quarrel over a chair. Each facial expression by the cast further adds to the narrative.

A dance off between our lead detective and a rival detective was particularly pleasing – confined to the simple ‘click’ – how far could these two take this basic movement to appear better than the other? Georgina Thompstone certainly shines as being a capable dancer and skilled storyteller.

This was a wonderfully entertaining showcase from a group of highly talented young dancers, who have a very bright future ahead of them. Well done!

-Kristy Stott

REVIEW: Khloé Kardashian ( The Arden School of Theatre: Waterside Theatre, Manchester)

21199388_1822108311150425_3985181653856879302_o-1
upstaged rating: 

The opening words of Chekhov’s play, The Three Sisters are projected at the back of the stage before we are introduced to a man in a mouse suit who calmly describes our journey to the theatre today. The Three Sisters is set in a Russian provincial town but we are sat in a black box theatre in the centre of Manchester. Devised and performed by the students at The Arden, Khloé Kardashian explores the real time and space of performance.

Working with the live-art and experimental theatre group, Sleepwalk Collective, the current cohort of the BA (Hons) Theatre and Performance at The Arden, have created a deeply profound contemporary piece, which certainly encourages the audience to search for their own narrative outside of the confines of the performance space.

Using a Christopher Brett Bailey inspired soundscape, beautifully overwhelming and uneasy at times, we are introduced to six different personas (Paul Burke, Tristan Chadwick, Lily Rae Hewitt Jasilek, Sam Lowe, Frank Macdonald and Kate Smith) – their voices are only ever heard when they speak down a microphone.

Reminiscent of Forced Entertainment, particularly Bloody Mess, the costumes worn by each of the performers suggest narratives for their personas. We have the darkly comical mouse with his deadpan delivery; we wonder if the elegant lady in the red dress is somehow connected to the dapper gentleman with the cummerbund. A pregnant F1 pit girl totters along pushing a small television into the view of the audience.  As the audience, we are encouraged to be active in drawing the dots on these fragmented narratives. The whole production is carefully and intelligently sculpted – there is always something different for the audience to cast their eye over.

Khloé Kardashian is a densely layered and poignant performance piece, occupying the space between text and performance – it seeks to deconstruct Chekhov and expose the illusion associated with such a naturalistic performance style. A props table is packed full of antiquities in stark view of the audience. One performer toasts a piece of bread before another chews on a cracker as he reels off Facebook-style memes into the microphone. Every little sound is heightened here – it feels awkward, fascinating and strangely entertaining.

As the darkness falls at the end of the performance to the sound of the haunting and relentless slow clap, I wondered if some themes could be excavated further as individual performance pieces. Such an absorbing performance with definite scope for further development.

-Kristy Stott

 

The Jungle Book (The Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays)

Metta Theatre's The Jungle Book ©Richard Davenport
Metta Theatre’s The Jungle Book
©Richard Davenport
upstaged rating: 

Metta Theatre are front runners in cross art form theatre practice and this week they’ve somersaulted into The Lowry, Salford with their refreshing and radical interpretation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale, The Jungle Book.

Using a vibrant and intoxicating fusion of hip-hop, street dance, circus and storytelling, Metta’s Jungle Book is suitable for all ages 8 and up. Thing 1 (age 11), a dancer and Thing 2, (almost 8 and a keen back flipper) were gripped by the acrobatics, agility and aerial hoop display. The production swaps the original setting of the Indian jungle for the mean streets of the urban jungle in Britain, which may initially be a strange concept for younger children who are big fans of the cute Disney version. Though pleasingly, Metta Theatre challenge the well-loved tale and turn it on its head. Quite literally.

Adapted by Metta’s visionary director, Poppy Burton-Morgan – Mowgli (Nathalie Alison) is a lively young girl with a shock of black hair who has been brought up by Akela (Matt Knight) and his pack of skateboarding wolves, after finding herself abandoned. The beat-loving bin man Baloo (Stefano Addae) delivers a prologue which serves introduce the audience to each of the characters – be prepared for a graffiti artist Baghera (Kloé Dean), a pole-dancing Kaa (Ellen Wolf) and an intimidating ‘bone-breaking’ (wince) Shere Khan (Kaner Scott). It’s a clever conceit – each of the main characters are still present but they have been reshaped to reflect multi-cultural Britain and the way society views those who go against the grain.

Designer William Reynolds’ effective set of street lamps and barriers is perfectly suggestive of the concrete jungle and provides the perfect playground for the performers to dangle, pivot and climb. 

Kendra J Horsburgh’s striking choreography sees the performers fill the stage with flair and grace. Ellen Wolf displays remarkable strength and mastery as she curls and hangs from a street lamp as Kaa and Matt Knight’s Akela demonstrates superb acrobatics and street-dance skills. Nathalie Alison shines as Mowgli – weaving, spinning and balancing with absolute finesse and beauty.

The Jungle Book positively bursts with creativity, talent and passion. Each performer excels at their own individual skill and as each character, but the ensemble are at their most impressive when they occupy the stage together. This is a highly captivating show for younger theatre goers to enjoy, though cleverly, it offers a more mature social commentary on the Kipling classic – making it suitable for children and adults alike.

-Kristy Stott

The Jungle Book runs until Saturday 2nd September 2017 at The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

REVIEW: Silver Lining (The Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays)

Silver Lining - A new comedy by Sandi Toksvig © Mark Douet
Silver Lining – A new comedy by Sandi Toksvig
© Mark Douet
upstaged rating: 

Storm Vera is battering the UK and people are being evacuated from their riverside homes following the imminent threat of severe flooding. With the promise that emergency services are on their way, five older age ladies wait patiently on the first floor of the Silver Retirement Home in Gravesend for help to arrive. As time ticks on and the water level rises it becomes apparent that the women have been forgotten about.

Silver Lining is a new comedy by the writer, actor, presenter and political activist Sandi Toksvig which explores the lives of five extraordinary yet forgotten older women. With only one young agency carer Hope Daley (Keziah Joseph) to assist them, the ladies realise their only chance of survival is to pull together and forge their own ‘sink or swim’ escape.

Sandi Toksvig took her inspiration for the play from the observation that there are many hugely talented older age female artists competing for very few interesting roles. The play really is a celebration of older women taking to the stage. However, despite the pressing, current and liberating subject matter, in a time of a social care crisis, Silver Lining still manages to limit itself with stereotypes of older age women. And certainly, the first Act feels mechanical, propelled by gags about death and bowels.

It isn’t really until Act Two that we really begin to get under the skin of the characters with the fruition of their ‘Great Escape’ mission. Sheila Reid gives a sparkling performance as leopard print wearing, selfie taking Gloria. Reid is suggestive of the colourful and indulgent life that the ex-barmaid has lived – boldly cracking sexual taboo’s not normally spoken about by older women. Perhaps most notably there is a beautiful monologue given by Amanda Walker as St Michael which gives a poignant description of life from the perception of somebody with dementia.

There is plenty of charm and warmth to be found in the chemistry between each of the performers. Michael Taylor’s intricate residential home set design sums up the functional, oppressive environment that the women inhabit; Mark Doubleday’s lighting design works with Mic Pool’s clever sound design to create the illusion of a storm wreaking havoc outside. Aside from this, Silver Lining isn’t quite watertight and lacks the lustre that the title promises.

-Kristy Stott

Silver Lining runs at The Lowry until Saturday 8th April 2017 and tickets are available here.

REVIEW: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cinderella (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

Birmingham Royal Ballet - Cinderella ©BILL COOPER
Birmingham Royal Ballet – Cinderella ©BILL COOPER

 

upstaged rating: 

Conjuring up all of the charm, magic and celebration of the fairytale, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cinderella is an absolute delight. With David Bintley at the helm, the enchanting story of Cinderella is brought to the stage in a celebration of ballet, childhood stories and the idea that our wildest dreams can come true.

Staged over three acts, the Birmingham Royal Ballet present the timeless tale of Cinderella in their traditional but nonetheless awe-inspiring fashion. Poor Cinderella spends most of her days in the scullery answering to her cruel stepmother and her ugly step-sisters. Marion Tait as the Stepmother, flanked by the two ugly stepsisters, is suitably prickly and unkind to Cinderella. Samara Downs gives an admirable comic performance as Skinny alongside Laura Purkiss as cake-scoffing Dumpy. With impeccable timing, the three characters add some wonderful slapstick moments – their wit and foolery providing a striking contrast against the elegance and poise of the pas de deux between Cinderella, danced faultlessly by Jenna Roberts, and The Prince played with charisma and athleticism by William Bracewell

Set design by John F. MacFarlane complements each section of the ballet perfectly – the grey, dank kitchen where Cinderella serves her stepfamily contrasts with the picture book beauty and infinity of the starry sky on the night she meets The Prince. MacFarlane’s costume design is imaginative – frogs, lizards and mice grace the stage, tutu’s twinkle in the ensemble under David A. Finn’s clever lighting design.

Birmingham’s Royal Ballet’s Cinderella was well received, by an audience of all ages, on the night that I attended. The familiar and charming tale of Cinderella and her Prince make this show more accessible to younger ballet lovers or those attending the ballet for the very first time. This enchanting production is a balletic feast of technical brilliance, striking scenery and scintillating costume. Set to Prokofiev’s spellbinding score, stunningly played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, there is much to enjoy in this breathtaking production.

-Kristy Stott

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cinderella is at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday 4th March 2017 and you can get your tickets here.

The tour continues at Theatre Royal Plymouth from 8th-11th March and Sunderland Empire from 16th -18th March.

REVIEW: The House of Bernarda Alba (Royal Exchange, Manchester)

© Jonathan Keenan
© Jonathan Keenan
upstaged rating: 

The House of Bernarda Alba is a wholly unique performance for a number of reasons. Federico Garcia Lorca’s formidable text, in a wonderfully uncompromising translation by Jo Clifford which is set within the distinctive confines of Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. Perhaps what makes this performance so special is that it is a co-production with Graeae, an all-female disabled-led theatre company.  Director Jenny Sealey weaves British Sign Language, captions and audio description into the performance adding further meaning to Lorca’s rich text, while the cast of Deaf and disabled actors take centre stage to showcase their extraordinary talents and challenge cultural preconceptions.

In The House of Bernarda Alba, the Royal Exchange have peeled away the walls on a house during a period of mourning. Kathryn Hunter takes the central role of Bernarda Alba, an old widow who rules her household and wields absolute control over the lives of her five unmarried daughters. Hunter is dangerously deceptive as Bernarda Alba, her diminutive and fragile frame purely a distraction – she exudes dominance from the beginning to end of this performance. Ruling with a silver topped cane she instils fear in her daughters and those who serve her. At her most dangerous when she is resting in her chair – latent, unpredictable and deeply frustrated. Kathryn Hunter is extraordinary, exuding matriarchal power at the helm of a phenomenal cast.

Liz Ascroft’s heptagonal stage is set with seven chairs, providing a simple backdrop for the action as it unfolds. The Royal Exchange’s in-the-round performance space further fuels the enclosed world that the Alba daughters inhabit. The captions are shown on screens around the theatre; Jenny Sealey and Jo Clifford have moulded the text admirably to fully incorporate British Sign Language and audio description into the performance. This must have been quite a challenge but adds a further dimension to Lorca’s poetry. The mechanics of communication, or the lack of, becomes a striking theme.

There were strong performances all around with some beautiful moments shared between Kathryn Hunter as Bernarda Alba and Nadia Nadarajah as the soon to be married and eldest daughter, Angustias. Hermon Berhane gives an emotive performance as Adela, adding a sense of hope, sexuality and mischief.   

At times, some of the captioning seemed like more of a distraction than a help – as the screens were quickly shuffled through in a bid to catch up with the action on stage. However, I believe that these small issues will be tackled and resolved by Jenny Sealey and the team. Despite this, The House of Bernarda Alba is a hugely successful production – captivating and unique – a useful and expressive reworking of Lorca’s classic.

 

-Kristy Stott

The House of Bernarda Alba runs until 25th February 2017 at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre and You can buy 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.