Review: The Wipers Times (Opera House, Manchester)

The Wipers Times   ©  Philip Tull
The Wipers Times
© Philip Tull
Guest Reviewer: Elise Gallagher
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Set in the mud-ridden trenches of Northern Flanders an unlikely band of soldiers stumble upon a printing press amongst the bombed-out ruins of Ypres. Here, the Wipers Times is born.

The play opens with the paper’s editor Captain Fred Roberts (James Dutton), who is struggling to find a job in post-war Fleet Street. However, The wealth of the narrative follows Captain Roberts and Lieutenant Jack Pearson (George Kemp) of the 12th Battalion, who head the infamous paper.

The paper wasn’t concerned with the words of so-called ‘war experts’. Instead, they offered their readers a cocktail of satire, parodies, poems, spoof advertisements and cartoons -perfectly illustrating that humour is a relief to anyone, even in their darkest times. When you think of the First World War images of death, destruction and ruin come to mind, not of the humanity and humour of the men who fought in it. Refreshingly, this play gives another face to the First World War, a perspective I haven’t witnessed before.

Long-time collaborators Ian Hislop and Nick Newman have already made an award-winning television film in 2013 from this story; here, they deliver a thoroughly-researched production punctuated with facts. As editor of the satirical magazine Private Eye, it’s clear to see why Hislop was attracted to the story.

Caroline Leslie’s direction allows for scenes to seamlessly alternate between that of military attack to a music-hall comedy sketch. Dora Schweitzer’s design merges the confines of the trenches and barbed wire fence to create a light-up frame to host the paper’s vaudevillian sketches.

The narrative was carried by a stand-out cast who had undeniable chemistry. Dutton and Kemp particularly shone, leading their cast expertly and readily filling the theatre with laughter. It’s clear to see why Dutton has attracted the attention of prestigious awards such as WhatsOnStage’s Best Newcomer. Dutton and Kemp are absolute delights who have a clear command over comedy – I look forward to seeing what they do next.

I genuinely liked this production. However, I couldn’t help but feel that the venue of Manchester’s Opera House was ill-suited for it. For such a unique tale of an extraordinary situation and characters, I found the venue was too large and overshadowed the story, diluting the warmth and feeling from the audience before they had a chance to receive it.

Whilst the puns are one of the main driving forces in this production, the jokes eat away at time which could have been spent on character development. There are truly touching moments amongst the mockery, such as a young officer writing a poem dedicated to his friend who has been killed in action.

The story progresses without escalating into powerful drama – I believe a conscious choice, but one many may not expect from a play about the First World War. Our characters seem to only exist within the confines of the war, which many may not like, however, I don’t see too much of an issue with this. After all, once the war was over, the paper ceased to exist.

Rather sadly, the audience learns that the editors of the Wipers Times were forgotten. Hislop, Newman, the cast and crew have ensured that this will no longer be the case. God bless the piss takers.

-Elise Gallagher

The Wipers TImes runs at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 4th November 2017

REVIEW: The Band (The Manchester Opera House, Manchester)

Faye Christall as Young Rachel (centre) with Five To Five as The Band in The Band, credit Matt Crockett
Upstaged Rating: 

Huge crowds gathered outside of Manchester’s Opera House this week for the press night of The Band, the new musical written by Tim Firth, featuring the music of Take That. Many Take That fans had queued outside for hours in the hope that they would catch a glimpse of co-producers Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen on the red carpet.

This is not just a musical for Take That groupies, but it’s a musical for anybody who grew up with a boyband. This is a musical which celebrates the music of Take That and so much more besides. Littered with warm nostalgia from the outset – fond memories of Top of The Pops, reading your weekly issues of Smash Hits and the days when we covered every inch of our bedroom wall in posters.

This musical is really very special and the standing ovations at every performance in Manchester so far are a testament to that.

The play tells the story of five friends. We are first introduced to them as teenagers in 1992 before the fast forward button is pressed and we see them reunited as 40-something women desperate to rekindle the feelings of their youth.

The show opens with a teenage Rachel (Faye Christall) setting the scene for her love of The Band. It’s as if through listening to their music The Band really come to life in her bedroom as she gets ready for school. Her older self, played by Rachel Lumberg, looks on fondly as she remembers her youth.

Packed with stellar performances from all of the characters from both eras. And perhaps what is most striking to me, is that these characters are completely accessible as real women. Heather as a teenage rebel (Katy Clayton) contests to shock her friends with the biggest revelation as her older self (Emily Joyce) twenty-five years later. The super fit could-be Olympic diver, Claire (Sarah Kate Howarth) has to face her pals years later, after an unhealthy relationship with food.

The Five to Five lads, stars of BBC talent show Let it Shine, sparkle in every scene that they are in. With their stunning harmonies, they do not detract from the narrative but fully showcase the wonderful soundtrack and celebrate the music of Take That.

Jon Bauser’s stage design is phenomenal – the transition between the two eras is the slickest that I have ever seen. Complete with pyrotechnics, Relight My Fire is a real showstopper when we see the girl’s bus ride home spectacularly transform into a raging chariot. The whole theatre singing the words to the Take That floor-filler, the atmosphere electric.

Ultimately it is the memorable and loveable female characters that shine on stage – the music just makes them sparkle even brighter. 

The Band is a complete triumph. This musical tugs hard at your heartstrings and tickles your funny bone. And the good news is that co-producers David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers announced that the musical will tour for another year following the huge demand for tickets. Go and get yours!

-Kristy Stott

The Band runs at Manchester’s Opera House until 30th September 2017 before transferring to Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre from 4th-14th October 2017. The tour continues through until July 2018 and you can check out the tour dates and venues here.

PREVIEW: THE BAND at The Manchester Opera House OPENS TOMORROW

THE_BAND_ATG_0317_ 600 x 3392

There is just over twenty-four hours to go until the most eagerly awaited new musical – written by the award-winning Tim Firth (The Girls- Musical 2015) and featuring the music of Take That – goes in front of The Manchester Opera House audience for the first time.

The show begins in Manchester tomorrow, 8th September with national press night on Tuesday 26 September.

THE BAND is a new musical about what it’s like to grow up with a boyband. For five 16-year-old friends in 1992, ‘the band’ is everything. Fast forward twenty-five years on and we are reunited with the group of friends, now 40-something women, as they try once more to fulfil their dream of meeting their heroes.

The Band is being played by young performers AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns, Yazdan Qafouri and Sario Solomon, who, as Five to Five, won BBC’s Let It Shine and the chance to star in the musical.

THE BAND Five to Five © Jay Brooks
Five to Five © Jay Brooks

The Band will be running at The Manchester Opera House from Friday 8th September all the way through till 30th of September, before embarking on a major UK tour until July 2018. Excitement is building fast with advance box office sales already topping a record-breaking £10MILLION.

Tickets for this hotly-anticipated show are available to book online from or by calling the box office on 0844 871 3018 (fees may apply).

For full tour listings please click here.

Summertime Theatre – What’s on for Families in Manchester through August

Looking for things to do, plays to see and creative activities for the family over the summer?

Look no further – I’ve compiled a comprehensive and diverse list of the best plays, music and arty stuff happening for children through the wonderful month of August and as always many are FREE…

The Lowry

The King of Tiny Things
The King of Tiny Things

Recommended for those aged over 3, The King of Tiny Things is set on a magical midsummer’s night. Two sisters huddle together, fearful of what the darkness holds, when a mysterious winged creature appears and leads them on a moonlit adventure. Together they rescue juggling slugs, contortionist worms, and a trio of acrobatic baby bats. But while the girls are busy being brave they overlook their winged friend, the King of Tiny Things, who needs their help most of all. Can they save him in time…

Starring four of the world’s most exciting circus artists Metta Theatre bring Jeanne Willis and Gwen Millward’s enchanting story spectacularly to life with circus, puppetry and song. Fun for all the family.

The King of Tiny Things somersaults into The Lowry in Salford on the 6th August 2015, with 2 showings at 2:00pm and 4:30pm.

Running alongside the main art exhibition at The Lowry, ExtraORDINARY -Everyday objects & actions in contemporary art, is ExtraORDINARY at The Lookout. The Lookout is a family activity space with different activities taking place throughout the summer on Wednesdays and Saturdays between 11:00am and 12:30pm. Activities include puppet making, junk modelling and paper patchwork and the best part about these activities are that they are completely FREE. Hurrah!

ExtraORDINARY at The Lookout in The Lowry runs through until 18th October 2015 and you can find activity listings here.

Waterside Arts Centre

Forensic Science in Action is back at Waterside Arts from 3rd August until 5th August 2015 so put on your white suit, gloves and mask, grab a scene kit and learn some of the essential skills needed – fingerprinting, DNA profiling and footwear marks – to be a forensic scientist.  It’s a one day workshop and it costs £20.00 per child – the Monday and the Tuesday are for for 7-11 year olds and the Wednesday is for older children aged 12-16 years.

For those aged 10 and up there are ComedySportz Summer Workshops happening on the 26th and 27th August from 11:00am until 4:00pm. The fun costs £40.00 for the full 2 days and kids will learn the basics of comedy improvisation, creating characters and scenes in a fun and friendly environment before showcasing their talents at 5.30pm on the 27th.

Artful Playground’s Musical Theatre course runs from Monday 24 – Friday 28 August from 10am – 4pm each day at Waterside Arts Centre in Sale. It’s suitable for children aged 7–16 and costs £80 per child. Children will have sessions in acting, singing, dance/ movement and have lots of fun putting together a production which will be a performed for friends and family. To book your place, call Artful Playground on 0161 438 2021.

In addition to this, Waterside Arts Centre are also having film screenings of Shaun the Sheep (2015) (U) and Cinderella (2015) (U) on 31st August 2015. Visit their website for times and prices.

The Edge Theatre and Arts Centre, Chorlton

A couple of summer dance courses are taking place at The Edge in Chorlton from 10th August until 14th August. Jungle Jumpers runs from 9:00am-10:00am and is suitable for ages 6-9 years old. Dance Explosion runs from 10:30am until 12 noon and caters for children aged from 9-12 years old. Sessions are led by resident professional dancer Genevieve Estevez-Baker and cost £25.00 per child for the week. For more information and to book, click here.

Z- Arts

Z-Arts in Hulme has a series of OneLoveDance Holiday Clubs available over the summer. The clubs run from 10:00am to 5:00pm (with an early drop off/ late pick up available at an extra cost) and themes these are Annie (10th – 14th August) and Frozen (17th – 21st August). The week is spent learning songs, dances and the script from the popular musicals. Throughout the week they are provided with professional singing, dance and drama tuition from highly experienced tutors. This includes activities that work on their confidence and team building skills. These holiday schools are really good value at £75 for the week – making them just £15 per day.


Bolton Octagon

Bolton Octagon have a super Stage It Summer 2015 performance project running for 2 weeks from 17th August – 28th August (omitting weekends) from 10:00am to 4:00pm each day. The project is suitable for ages 11-18 year olds and gives young people the chance to work with professional theatre directors on a production to be performed in the Octagon main auditorium. The 2 week course costs £100 and culminates in 2 performances, taking place on Thursday 27th August and Friday 28th August at 7:30pm in the main house.

There are a couple of arts events taking place as part of the Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2015:

From 28th-31st August 2015 there are Fairy Tales on Foot, an interactive storytelling playground, with fairy tale adventures popping up where you’d least expect them across Bolton town centre. Meet Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Beauty and the Beast and many more. You’ll experience all of the best moments of these beloved stories portrayed by actors and musicians. There’ll be live music, singing and even some dancing.
This event is completely FREE and we love that.


Katy_Ashworth_557ecb87c979eKaty Ashworth, a favourite from CBeebies is also performing in her live show as part of the Bolton Food and Drink Festival. The children’s television favourite will be performing in 2 live shows at 10:30am and 2:30pm from the Friday 28th- Sunday 30th August 2015. The shows are taking place at the Children’s Marquee, Le Mans Crescent and cost just £1.00.

The Manchester Opera House


Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom LIVE skips into Manchester’s Opera House for the 1st and 2nd August 2015. Join Ben and Holly, and their friends on this exciting musical adventure packed full of games, songs and laughter on an enchanting journey through the Magical Kingdom. With actors, masks and colourful costumes.

And you can get your tickets here.

Open-air Productions in Trafford


Our favourite open-air theatre makers Heartbreak Productions are back with their version of the popular David Walliams book, Mr Stink.

mr stink

On a perfectly average afternoon, two restless souls unite on a bench in an average English town – one of them the lonely 12 year old Chloe and the other an incredibly smelly homeless man. Oh, and let’s not forget his loyal dog, the Duchess. Watch the colourful characters from the celebrated novel by David Walliams come to life in Heartbreak Productions’ adaptation of Mr. Stink for the open air. This show takes place in Longford Park, Stretford at 5:00pm on 16th August and Dunham Massey, Altrincham at 6:30pm on the 21st August 2015.  For full listings and other venues click here. Tickets are £10.00 with under 5’s free of charge.

Imperial War Museum North

What a Performance runs at the Imperial War Museum in Trafford throughout August on the 5th, 24th, 25th and 27th with four performances on each date (11.15am, 12.15pm, 1.15pm, 2.15pm). 

Each session brings real experiences from wartime – you can hear stories from the Second World War, both at home and abroad, including the bravery of an undercover agent dropped into France and the hard work of a factory worker in Trafford Park. Suitable for all ages and is entirely FREE.

Black-Out! is another super free event recommended for ages 7 and over, taking place between 12pm and 3pm (just drop in!) on 20th August. Your children can take part in a treasure hunt exploring the new special exhibition Horrible Histories®: Blitzed Brits. A must for inquisitive young minds and I hear that there are a few prizes up for grabs too.

Blitzed Brits at the Imperial War Museum North
Blitzed Brits at the Imperial War Museum North

Storytelling sessions

There is also FREE daily storytelling sessions happening throughout the whole of August at 1:30pm. Discover the blitz through the eyes of 10 year old Dotty in Dotty’s Daring Blitz Adventure. Follow Dotty as she goes on a daring rescue mission and get your hands on with ARP artefacts and unique pieces of shrapnel collected by children over 70 years ago.

Intu Trafford Centre

Intu Trafford Centre is home to In the Night Garden LIVE until 22nd August. The popular CBeebies favourite takes place in its own all-weather, purpose-built inflatable showdome with many family-friendly facilities. This site-specific structure is a huge hit with children and parents and its immersive theatrical experience makes audiences feel they are actually entering the magical world of the TV show In the Night Garden.

My children are past being interested in In the Night Garden now but it’s sure to be a certain hit with many of the younger children. This show sold out very quickly down at the O2 in London so if you don’t want to disappoint your little one – I’d probably get your tickets while you can.



CBBC is bringing the magic of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Athletics Championships to MediaCityUK in Salford on the 22nd and 23rd August from 10:00am to 5:00pm with the CBBC Summer Sportarama. This exciting event is FREE to attend and will give children the chance to take part in athletics events and other activities designed to give them a flavour of the championships taking place in Beijing. There are too many activities to list really – the opportunity to compete on a running track, football freestyling and a chance to have a go at being a presenter as well as hands on craft activities with CBBC Art Ninja Ricky Martin and a CBeebies sport area for the younger children too.

Have a creative, active and crafty summer everyone and tweet me with your events and adventures @upstagedMCR