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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REVIEW – Into The Woods (The Royal Exchange, Manchester)

Into The Woods — The Royal Exchange, Manchester
© Jonathan Keenan
DATE: 9 december 2015
UPSTAGED RATING: 

Manchester’s Royal Exchange Christmas production is always a welcomed alternative to the traditional festive fare and this year Artistic Director Matthew Xia has taken on the Stephen Sondheim spectacular, Into The Woods. With a notoriously challenging musical score that makes even highly accomplished musicians run for the hills, Manchester’s Royal Exchange makes Into the Woods look like a walk in the park. Laden with wit, plenty of trees and stellar performances throughout –  the execution and delivery of this contemporary fairytale adventure is superb.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and the book by James Lapine, Into The Woods takes the main characters from Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Cinderella and intertwines each of their fairytale quests. The musical is tied together with an original story about a baker, his wife and their wish to start a family. As the result of a witch’s curse, the couple are childless and their only hope is to reverse the evil spell by venturing into the forest to track down a list of ingredients.

The show runs at a lengthy three hours – the first act is a complete joy ending on a high with every character getting their wish. The second act sees a darker evaluation and the arrival of a giant, with booming voiceover by Maxine Peake, who threatens to undo all of the good work.

Into The Woods — The Royal Exchange, Manchester
© Jonathan Keenan

Puppeteer Rachel Goodwin moves the emaciated Milky White perfectly with David Moorst playing foolish Jack. Prepare yourself for Natasha Cottriall’s Little Red Riding Hood’s encounter with Michael Peavoy’s Wolf which is hilariously funny – with a clever illusion that will keep you guessing.

Award-winning actress Gillian Bevan becomes The Witch and intelligent costume design means she carries an impressive vegetable patch around with her too. Note-perfect performances from Francesca Zoutewelle as Cinderella and Isabelle Peters as the disturbed but angelic-voiced Rapunzel. The show is packed with laughs throughout but comic highlights are definitely reached during the ‘Agony’  duet between Rapunzel’s Prince, Marc Elliott and Cinderella’s Prince, Michael Peavoy.

Suitable for ages 10 and up, Matthew Xia’s Into The Woods is a triumph – with its glorious Sondheim musical score, arranged by Julian Kelly and played superbly by a live band, with top-notch performances all round – it should certainly be on your must-see list this Christmas.

-Kristy Stott

Into The Woods is running at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester until Saturday 16 January 2016.

March Must-Sees

Our pick of the best Manchester Theatre this month

Rather like the Mancunian weather at the moment – we’ve got an eclectic month of theatre planned for March. It’s a lucky dip of cultural goodness – so feast your eyes on our top picks for this month.

Blood Brothers (Palace Theatre)

Written by Willy Russell, Blood Brothers tells the moving story of twins who were separated at birth, grow up on opposite sides of the tracks, only to meet again with fateful consequences.

This smash hit musical sees multi-platinum selling artist and my favourite crooner, Marti Pellow take the role of narrator and the critically acclaimed Maureen Nolan play Mrs Johnstone.

© 2015 Keith Pattison
© 2015 Keith Pattison

Featuring a superb musical score, which includes Bright New Day, Marilyn Monroe and the emotionally charged Tell Me It’s Not True, the show has been affectionately named the Standing Ovation Musical.

Blood Brothers runs at the Palace Theatre, Manchester from 2nd March 2015 until 14th March 2015.

Sham Bodie (Kraak, Northern Quarter) – 5th March

Sham Bodie is a monthly night held at Kraak in the NQ. Essentially, it’s like lots of the best nights out rolled into one package. There is stand-up and live comedy sketches, from new and established acts, as well as live music from some really good bands. This month features BBC New Comedy Award finalist Tom Little, Fab Radio’s Nina Gilligan and Michael J Dolan. There is also music from garage blues two-piece, Dirty Heels. Sham Bodie only costs a fiver! And this month, in honour of St Patrick’s Day on the 17th, they have teamed up with their pals at Jameson to bring you free whisky. Yes, I said FREE WHISKY…go on, go on, go on….

SICK! Festivallogo

Launched in 2013, SICK! Festival is the first of its kind in the UK, dedicated to revealing, debating and exploring the physical, mental and social challenges of life and death.

SICK! isn’t for the faint hearted or those who fancy a bit of frivolous escapism- the festival explores a variety of issues such as rape and mental health, amongst others, through a variety of different mediums – art installations, film and performance. The festival runs through most of March and events are taking place all over Manchester and Salford. Please take a look at the program of events.

Anna Karenina (The Royal Exchange)

Ony Uhiara, takes the title role of Anna, a dutiful wife and a loving mother. When she meets Count Vronsky it turns her world on its head, putting everything that she has ever known at risk. In a parallel story, Levin is trying to live justly in a social system built on injustice. Spurned on by the woman he loves, he turns his back on wealthy society and heads for his country estate, determined to refashion it into a vision of a fairer world. Tolstoy’s epic masterpiece, set against the backdrop of imperial Russia, explores what happens when two very different couples grapple with the strongest emotion we humans are capable of feeling – love.

Olivier-nominated director Ellen McDougall makes her Royal Exchange debut in this contemporary version of the Leo Tolstoy classic.

Anna Karenina runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre from 19th March 2015 until 2nd May 2015.

 BRINK (The Studio, The Royal Exchange)

This promises to be an interesting world premiere by The Royal Exchange Theatre Young Company and written by Jackie Kay (one of my favourite writers – love Red Dust Road).

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The production explores the idea of being on the ‘brink’ – what brings you to the brink? When you are close to the edge – do you push forward or do you step back? Everything is possible when you are so close to the brink.

BRINK is running in The Studio at the Royal Exchange from 26th March 2015 until 29th March 2015.

Maxine Peake as Hamlet (The Cornerhouse)

For those of you, like myself, who didn’t manage to catch Maxine Peake as Hamlet the first time round at The Royal Exchange – this film screening of Hamlet at Manchester’s Cornerhouse may be for you.

Hamlet is possibly Shakespeare’s most iconic work, exploring ideas of love and betrayal and themes of murder and madness.

This groundbreaking version of Hamlet, directed by Sarah Frankcom, was the Royal Exchange’s fastest selling show of the last decade. It had a complete sell out run in the theatre and Maxine Peake’s Hamlet was described as  “delicately ferocious” by The Guardian and “a milestone Hamlet” by the Manchester Evening News.

I’m definitely going to catch it this time round.

Cornerhouse have 3 showings of this unmissable performance.

Mon 23 March: Doors 19:15, Starts at 19:30
Sun 29 March: Doors 14:45, Starts at 15:00
Thu 2 April: Doors 19:15, Starts at 19:30

Birmingham Royal Ballet – Coppélia (The Lowry)

And finally, something for the little ones – Birmingham Royal Ballet are visiting The Lowry with Coppélia, it runs from March 4th until March 7th.

But more importantly, the Birmingham Royal Ballet are also presenting First Steps – A Child’s Coppélia on Friday 6th March at 1pm.

In this hour long version, the delightful story has been specially adapted to suit children aged from 3-7.

The Lowry are also holding a Family Fun Day on Saturday 7th March from 12-1:30pm, which is free to all matinee ticket holders.

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