Review: Hot Brown Honey (HOME, Manchester)

© Dylan Evans
© Dylan Evans
UPstaged Reviewer: Megan Hyland
UPstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

From the moment the women of Hot Brown Honey take to the stage, they immediately command your attention and awe. This award-winning show is an explosion of female rage against the systems that have held them back for so long and it is entirely unapologetic about it. It combines an eclectic range of dance, circus, striptease and song to deliver a truly powerful message that holds nothing back.

Kim Bowers a.k.a. Busty Beatz is the queen bee, here to educate and liberate us all. Armed to the teeth with striking quotes from fellow artists and activists, a pair of comedy breasts and some impressive rhymes, she does just that. From her position atop the hive, she fills the room with a volcanic energy and takes no prisoners. And as creator, musical director, composer and sound designer, she and fellow creator, director, choreographer and designer Lisa Fa’alafi have created a truly ground-breaking production unlike anything you’ve ever seen before – but will definitely want to see again.

However, beyond the colourful creativity and fun of the performance, there are some particularly poignant moments such as Crystal Stacey’s beautifully heart-stopping aerial piece about sexual assault. In another powerful piece, we see each of the women bring their cultures to life on stage, embracing their heritage through costume, dance and music. This show pushes all the boundaries and smashes every stereotype, fighting for the place of women of colour on stage and within society. It is a fierce, political battle cry that creates discussion and evokes feeling. It talks openly about every issue that it raises and teaches you that if you’re not angry already then you should be.

Hot Brown Honey is an independent feminist masterpiece that will make you think and leave you buzzing. The talent and confidence of these women is mesmerising, from Ofa Fotu’s stunningly soulful voice to Hope Hammi’s blazing beatboxing skills. And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, Hot Brown Honey is selling merchandise, the proceeds from which go towards funding childcare for the working mothers of the cast. It is an empowering must-see performance full of laughter, joy and truth that is entirely faultless and will have you out of your seat joining in. In the words of the mother – fighting the power never tasted so sweet.

-Megan Hyland

Hot Brown Honey runs at HOME, Manchester until 23 December 2017. 

Review: Dick Whittington (Opera House, Manchester)

Dick-Whittington-Opera-House-Manchester-
GUest REviewer: Ciaran Ward
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

From the initial curtain rise, the Manchester Opera House’s production of Dick Whittington had all the makings of a classic pantomime. With colourful costumes and rudimentary set designs (designed by Mike Coltman and Ian Westbrook/3D Creations, respectively), along with several esteemed faces from the entertainment industry in starring roles (Doctor Who star John Barrowman, and veteran comedians The Krankies), everything seemed to align with the conventions of the medium. However, a couple of scenes into the play, what could have been a fantastic show for children soon transformed into a smutty production for the attention of adults, with a series of sexual innuendos plaguing the subsequent dialogue for the remaining two hours.

 Whilst double entendres are a notable feature of pantomimes, anything filtered for the understanding of adults in this production became thinly-veiled upon the addition of lewd gestures, often on the part of Barrowman or Jimmy Krankie. What may have served as a form of entertainment in the 1980s, with The Krankies’ double act as a father and son, quickly developed into an uncomfortable experience for anyone with young children, as many references to their marital relations slipped out during moments when real-life husband and wife Ian and Janette Trough broke character.

 Despite disregarding its younger audiences with its adult content, the production redeemed itself through remaining fundamentally entertaining. Slapstick elements were rife in various scenes – particularly during a lyrically updated rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas, where the main characters each threw away items of rubbish from under the sea whilst playfully hitting each other with the objects. An abundance of pyrotechnics (produced by Le Maitre) and a 3D video projection (supplied by Blue-i Technology Ltd) composed a greater visual aesthetic, forming the enchanting aspects of the show and conveying the wonder of the theatre for the younger audiences.

 The entertainment factor of the show, heightened by Tommy the Tabby Cat’s (portrayed by Ryan Kayode) Mancunian accent and Whittington’s inability to comprehend it, is sadly compromised by several cultural references to the real world. Allusions to Barrowman having had plastic surgery, and the listing of his television credits spanning from Torchwood to Arrow, instead of being apt improvisations, ultimately detract from the relatively undiscernible plot. Though Barrowman’s remains a great performer, exemplified through his frequent musical solos, his stage presence and charisma does little to rectify the transgressions the pantomime makes throughout its runtime.

-Ciaran Ward

Dick Whittington runs at Manchester’s Opera House until 7th January 2018.

REVIEW: Evita (Palace Theatre, Manchester)

 © Keith Pattison
© Keith Pattison
Guest REviewer: Karen Clough
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Evita tells the story of Eva Peron, who grew up in poverty in Argentina and found fame and adoration as an actress. She used her notoriety to highlight the struggles of less fortunate Argentinians, married a powerful military figure and went on to lead beside him as first lady when he was made President.

It’s suggested this role served her own need for love and adoration as much as it served the people’s need for hope and change. The significance of Eva’s appearance and her yearning for affection and validation from the people are themes which re-emerge throughout the show.

Set against the surrounding political unrest in Argentina in the 1940s-50s, many topics, such as sexism, objectification of women, social division and corruption are touched upon, and no doubt hold current relevance for a modern audience. Eva knows too well that her physical appeal can be used as a vehicle, to propel herself into a position of influence, as the face and heart of her country. 

Visually, this is a sophisticated production. The combined efforts of the set design (Matthew Wright), wardrobe team (Caroline Hannam, Caroline Heppell, Katie Bell, Billie Sanger, Hannah Forbes), choreographers (Bill Deamer, Kylie Anne Cruickshanks), orchestra (David Cullen) and lighting design (Tim Oliver, Mark Howett), ensure the audience are treated to a real ‘show’ experience. Under Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright‘s direction, everyone and everything looks and sounds the part for a high-end stage musical.

As would be expected from a Lloyd -Webber & Rice production, the musical numbers keep on coming – 28 in total. If you struggle to stay with back-to-back singing, bear with it in the first half, it’s quite full-on. Helpfully, narration by Che (Gian Marco Schiaretti) joins things up very nicely. Often Eva’s biggest critic, he mingles smoothly between scenes and invites us to look beneath her polished, altruistic exterior. 

Madalena Alberto is a captivating and expressive Eva Peron, from ambitious teenager to passionate leader through to Eva’s ultimate frailty. Jeremy Secomb is strong as her militarised husband, Juan Peron. Their duet ‘You Must Love Me’ is a touching moment, where Secomb lets the more vulnerable side of the President show through.

‘Rainbow High’ provides a great example of the skilful choreography and visual appeal of the show. Alberto holds the audience in goose-bumped silence during her powerful and glamorous balcony performance of Evita hit, ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’.

This is a good, well put together and entertaining Evita with convincing performances which do not disappoint. 

-Karen Clough

Evita continues to tour the UK through 2018. Further tour dates can be found here.

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: Kate O’Donnell: You’ve Changed (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

Kate O'Donnell in You've Changed at The Lowry, Salford Quays.
Kate O’Donnell in You’ve Changed at The Lowry, Salford Quays.
Reviewer: Megan Hyland
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Kate O’Donnell quite literally bares all in her new show, You’ve Changed, a hilarious and honest account of her transition in 2003. Using the backdrop of the 1930s to add a unique twist, O’Donnell explores how transitioning fourteen years ago felt a lot more like transitioning in the 1930s. And although the show itself is only an hour long, there isn’t a topic left untouched in this unapologetic story of what being transgender and transitioning is really like.

You’ve Changed combines some truly transfixing dance routines skilfully choreographed by Lea Anderson, the music of the 1930s and O’Donnell’s effortless sense of humour and sincerity to create an entertaining and insightful performance. In collaboration with her trans-led theatre company Trans Creative, the show aims to both encourage and empower other members of the trans community, whilst also educating cisgender audiences – and it does exactly that. O’Donnell takes us through every step of her transition, beginning with the moment that she said it out loud for the first time in her friend’s living room to name change documents and the cost of her surgery.

However, it is O’Donnell’s dazzling personality and humour that is the real heart of the show. She holds the audience in the palm of her hand, keeping you on the verge of tears or uncontrollable laughter at any giving moment. She commands effortless control, drawing the audience in from the moment she steps onstage dressed as Fred Astaire to the very last moment where she remerges as Ginger Rodgers. And although there are parts that may feel slightly disjointed and perhaps rough around the edges, O’Donnell’s intelligent and witty storytelling ultimately distracts and leaves you with a smile.

All in all, You’ve Changed delivers some truly powerful messages about what it’s really like to be trans and transitioning, which despite O’Donnell’s transition being almost fourteen years ago, still remain relevant today. It will make you laugh, think and maybe even cry. But the main takeaway is the question that O’Donnell herself asks – she’s changed, but have you? I certainly have.

-Megan Hyland

You’ve Changed runs at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday 11th November 2017 and continues the tour to Birmingham’s SHOUT Festival on 17th November and Lancaster Arts Centre on 1st December 2017.

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: Jubilee ( Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)

PHOTO CREDIT: Johan Persson
PHOTO CREDIT: Johan Persson
Guest Reviewer: Daniel Shipman
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Jubilee is a riot. From the slogans spray-painted on to plywood surrounding the Royal Exchange’s in-the-round space to the chaotic way the cast commandeer the stage, it is obvious from the start that this is no ordinary night at the theatre.

 An adaption of Derek Jarman’s punk film from the 1970s, Jubilee revolves around Amyl Nitrate (Travis Alabanza) and her loose collective of societal outcasts. As Amyl, Alabanza is a revelation – her heartfelt, angry, intelligent monologues are highlights of the show and I have never witnessed someone engage an audience more skilfully.

 Expertly adapted by director Chris Goode, this production brings what could have been a nostalgic glance back at punk kicking and screaming in to 2017. There are references to the Grenfell Tower disaster which occurred in June, and even the Kevin Spacey scandal which broke less than a week before previews began.

 The structure of the show is as anarchic as the rest of it; anybody looking for a coherent, sensible plot will be disappointed. What you get instead is a series of snapshots in which Amyl and her friends attempt to leave their mark on society, whether that is through performance art, sex, music or violence. As in life, the boundaries between these things are blurred.

 Forty years on from starring as Mad in the film, Toyah Wilcox plays Elizabeth I. She spends most of the time presiding over the production from a throne on the first gallery with very little to say, but the moments when she does speak allow for welcome periods of calm – something you won’t find anywhere else in the show.

 Goode’s production is constantly self-referential, it never wants you to forget that you are watching a piece of theatre. Indeed, Lee Curran’s lighting design keeps the audience lit for several scenes and the cast don’t hesitate to playfully put their arms around the shoulders of audience members.

 Whether you love it or hate it, I promise Jubilee will be unlike anything you’ve seen on stage before.

-Daniel Shipman

Jubilee runs at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre until 18th November 2017 and you can get your tickets here.

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

imgID102509944.jpg.gallery
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: Sister Act (The Palace Theatre, Manchester)

Sister Act at The Palace Theatre, Manchester
Sister Act at The Palace Theatre, Manchester
guest reviewer: Ciaran WArd
upstaged rating: 

Craig Revel Horwood’s adaptation of Sister Act remains faithful to the previous Broadway and West End productions of the show. The musical, taken away from the varying locations of Las Vegas and San Francisco in the 1992 film, is instead set solely in Philadelphia, USA – heightening the danger and the limitations that the play’s protagonist, Deloris Van Cartier (portrayed by Alexandra Burke, winner of The X Factor in 2008) feels in her every moment at the convent where she must remain undercover, posing as a nun.

 The transition from dialogue and stage action, to the scheduled musical numbers, is entirely seamless throughout. Alan Menken’s music, accompanied by Glenn Slater’s lyrics, are interspersed aptly, along with Horwood’s additional choreography that is executed effortlessly from the play’s ensemble cast. What defies expectations here, is the cast’s subsequent ability to concurrently hold and play string, woodwind and brass instruments; these provide the instrumental justification for the spontaneous singing that can sometimes feel forced and unrealistic in other musicals.

Throughout the narrative, the pacing is maintained at a rate that engages the audience’s attention instantly – a feat achieved through the play’s exposition beginning in medias res, with Deloris’ nightclub performance quickly developing into her witness of a brutal gang murder. Frequent alterations in set dressing contribute to this effect, with the play’s visual aesthetic comprising a gothic church that is visible in the background of every scene: a symbol of the sanctuary that the convent offers Van Cartier.

 Stand out moments, such as Burke’s magnifying vocals and ad-libs, are not limited to the show’s lead. Joe Vetch’s performance as Eddie often ascends into a virtuoso falsetto, whilst Liz Kitchen’s Sister Mary Lazarus at one point descends into a Will Smith rap that is both anachronistic of the play’s setting in 1978, and of her perceived status as a pious Catholic nun. Consequently, Lighting Designer Richard G Jones’ spotlights often drift from the show’s acclaimed star onto other members of the cast who contribute sparks of creativity, individual to this version of the musical.

 Considering this is the second time the Palace Theatre has played host to the Curve, Leicester production of Sister Act, none of the theatricality of the extended year-long tour has diminished. Indeed, Burke’s performance retains its spark and vigour throughout, resulting in a play worthy of a premature standing ovation during the encore, and its title as a ‘Divine Musical Comedy’.

-Ciaran Ward

Sister Act runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 29th July 2017.

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.