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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The Boy With Tape on his Face (The Lowry Theatre, Salford)

tapeface
upstaged rating:

When I walked into the Lyric Theatre at The Lowry to watch The Boy With Tape on his Face, I really was not sure what to expect. I was aware that Sam Wills was a prop comic and I knew that this show would be performed with tape firmly stuck across his mouth. Normally, I would research but a theatre friend had told me that the less I knew about The Boy With Tape on his Face – the more I would enjoy it. 

Having won the prestigious Edinburgh Comedy Award Panel Prize in 2012, Wills has recently made the final of America’s Got Talent and has just announced that he has a 7-week residency at the Garrick Theatre, London through summer 2017. His humour is perfectly simple, laden with wit and thoroughly charming – it’s easy to understand why the show with no words has managed to get everybody else talking. Recently, he has renamed the show Tape Face.

As the show opens we find Tape Face in a setting resembling backstage at the theatre, presumably he is waiting for his call to perform. He rests in a tatty old armchair, listens to the wireless and takes the occasional cat nap. Luckily for us, his curtain call never comes and his own show begins to play out.

Audience participation is the key with this show and Tape Face manages to drive plenty of unsuspecting audience members to the stage. One of the great delights of his act is the way that he conveys feelings with a look – a cheeky shake of the head or an intense raise of the eyebrows. Using everyday objects he creates mini comic sketches which are fascinating to watch – one being a western style shootout reenacted with staples and balloons.

As each unknowing punter is plucked from their chair to join Tape Face on the stage they are particularly good sports. There is only admiration for the chap who finds himself auditioning for The Full Monty and the poor fellow who keeps finding himself brought up to the stage only to be sent back down again. 

Tape Face has a wonderful universal appeal about it – there are no language barriers because there are no words. I’ve deliberately written this review without going into too much detail about the show because I believe the less you know – the more you will enjoy it…

Go see!

-Kristy Stott

For Tape Face’s full tour listings click here. These listing include London’s Garrick Theatre from 6 June 2017.

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 – Handle With Care (Week 53 – The Lowry, Salford)

Handle With Care by Dante or Die Theatre Co Week 53 at The Lowry, Salford
Handle With Care by Dante or Die Theatre Co
Week 53 at The Lowry, Salford
UPSTAGED RATING: 

“A journey of one woman and her stuff through a lifetime of self-storage”

Handle With Care is a curiously intimate site-specific performance which plays out in the metal units and brightly lit corridors of a self-storage facility. Presented as part of the innovative Week 53 festival hosted by The Lowry in Salford, Handle With Care tells the story of Zoe through the most poignant stages of her life. Exploring the central themes to the festival, Place & Identity, we are encouraged to explore ideas surrounding life experiences, the memories we hold on to and the personal possessions that we use to keep them alive.

The show is visually impressive – it’s a promenade performance with the audience following the actors around the Ready Steady Store unit in Worsley, Greater Manchester. The small audience find themselves watching the story unfold within the locker-lined corridors and small confines of each storage unit. It’s innovative and intimate and the audience are encouraged to move around the actors during the performance – it’s a bit like a fly-on-the-wall experience. The audience witness the reality of the arguments that take place behind closed doors, the domestic bickering and private moments of reflection.

What is so remarkable is the fluidity with which Handle With Care is presented – in 90 minutes we whizz through the decades in Zoe’s life, from 1988 to the present day. The dynamic cast handle the transition between varying performance spaces and they work around the strategically placed audience well . 

Fuelled by the audiences curiosity, each key is turned in each storage unit and the door flung open, to reveal another poignant incident in Zoe’s life. The detailed design is studded with costume and artefacts from the 80’s and 90’s and the soundtrack featuring The Stone Roses and Alanis Morisette pushes us through each year and into the next. 

Handle With Care is a triumphant site-specific piece and it could not be performed in a more suited environment – encouraging us to reflect on our own experiences, memories and our notions of place and identity.

 -Kristy Stott

Handle With Care continues to tour through May and June 2016: Harlow Playhouse with Lok ‘n Store from the 13th-15th May, South St Arts Centre with Lok ‘n Store from the 19th-22nd May, Lighthouse Poole with Lok ‘n Store from the 26th-29th May and Shoreditch Townhall with Urban Locker from the 3rd-25th June. For more information on the site-specific performance please click here.