REVIEW: Yank! (Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester)

Yank! at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester © Anthony Robling
Yank! at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
© Anthony Robling
guest reviewer: Elise Gallagher
upstaged rating: 

Hope Mill Theatre swung open its doors to the European premiere of Yank! – a love story set during the second world war between two soldiers, Mitch and our protagonist Stu.

Stu (Scott Hunter) is a 19-year-old who is drafted into the army and immediately becomes the outsider. Stu is soon whisked away from the front line when he has a chance encounter with a photographer from Yank, the forces’ weekly magazine, a gay man’s haven and the production’s namesake. The photographer Artie, played brilliantly by Chris Kiely, exudes charm and sass – the tap dance number between him and Stu stole the first half for me.

Having been nominated for seven Drama Desk awards for the original in 2010, the play tackles notions of institutionalised homophobia expertly, especially through the character of Mitch (Barnaby Hughes). The story’s success hinges itself on the stark contrast between our two leads, Stu’s wide-eyed naivety and the worldly Mitch with his Hollywood charm. It is Stu’s personal journey that is the most effective device in the narrative, growing from the scared and confused 19-year-old to the brave and open reporter.

The lighting and set design which was incorporated in the second half is worthy of note, especially when done on a budget. My only criticism of the performance would be that the songs seemed to be arrived at rather suddenly; the transitions could have been delivered much less abruptly.

The hero of the night has to be Sarah-Louise Young, who didn’t just portray one character but several throughout the performance. Personifying each and every mother or wife, Young illustrated great strength and versatility in both performance and vocal style. It seemed her various appearances bookmarked a new chapter in Stu’s journey. Chris Cuming and James Baker must be applauded for their direction and choreography.

For a production to almost scream Broadway, you’d be forgiven to think that the cast and crew have arrived at the wrong venue. This was my first visit to Hope Mill and I found myself completely blown away by the quality of the fringe. The production was made all the more special by being held at Hope Mill Theatre. The theatre, barely a year old, has already resurrected once controversial productions long thought lost. Productions that tackle antisemitism in the US with Parade and now with the triumph that is Yank!.

Reaching a genuinely moving conclusion, Yank! received a well-deserved standing ovation. Running until the 8th April, the production is polished, genuine and full of class.

– Elise Gallagher

Yank! runs at Hope Mill Theatre until April 8th 2017 and you can book tickets here.

REVIEW: Parade ( Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester)

Parade at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester © Anthony Robling
Parade at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
© Anthony Robling


Everything about James Baker’s Parade is a triumph and if you are in or around Manchester, you really should get a ticket. Just go.

The dimly lit, eerie walls of Manchester’s newest performance space, Hope Mill Theatre stand with pride to present the harrowing true story about the trial of Leo Frank. Frank was a Jewish pencil factory manager in Atlanta who was tried for raping and murdering Mary Phagan in 1913. The intimate performance space in the old cotton mill provides the perfect backdrop for this emotionally charged and troubling narrative driven by the murder of the thirteen-year-old girl in the factory where she worked.

The super talented cast of 15 manage to cover 38 roles between them and all give stand-out performances. There is a beautiful balance between heartfelt, raw emotion and technical brilliance from Tom Lloyd as the accused Leo Frank; Laura Harrison gives a breathtaking vocal performance as his doting and determined wife, Lucille Frank. James Baker’s ensemble pieces are always a highlight too – under William Whelton’s stylish choreography, wielding their confederate flags and clicking their heels, the dynamic cast deliver to Jason Robert Brown’s finely crafted score. There is no weak link here.

There are memorable performances throughout from Matt Mills and Shekinah McFarlane, particularly during their second act opener – playing two of the Governor’s African American employees, they deliver a soulful and spirited ‘A Rumblin’ And A Rollin’, showing that racial tensions were still running high fifty years after the American Civil War had ended. James Wolstenholme proves his versatility as a performer – slipping into the ruthless shoes of desperate hack Britt Craig to deliver an outstanding rendition of Real Big News before stepping up as the authoritative Governor of Georgia, John Slaton.

Victoria Hinton’s stripped back set is split into 3 simple sections to aid the fluidity of the narrative with adaptable wooden pallets giving a constant reminder of the factory environment.

There’s a lot to be said about bringing musical theatre to an intimate setting like Hope Mill Theatre. Watching the performers emerge from within the audience, so close that you can see the beads of sweat on their foreheads and the tears rolling down their cheeks, is really something special. Add to this a wonderful 9 piece live band under the superb direction of Tom Chester and Mancunian producer Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment, and Mr James Baker has raised the bar for Fringe theatre once again.

I urge you to get a ticket for Parade. Just go.

-Kristy Stott

Parade is on at Hope Mill Theatre, 113 Pollard Street, Manchester M4 7JA until Sunday 5th June 2016. NOW EXTENDED UNTIL 11th June 2016! Please click here to get your tickets.