Oldham Coliseum are certainly bound to excite their friendly Northern crowd with a brand-new stage production celebrating the life and talent of Dame Gracie Fields. Hailing from Rochdale, Gracie labelled herself as Britain’s most popular female entertainer of all time. It’s a big label and she’s a big character and there is no better place to stage the premiere of Philip Goulding’s new musical than ‘up’ at Oldham Coliseum.
Born just a short distance away from Oldham Coliseum above her grandmother’s chippy, Dame Gracie Fields first performed in the theatres of Oldham and Rochdale. The story of the local mill girl who became an international star continues to inspire many performers today.
Our Gracie is written in the style of the old music hall and incorporates live music and toe-tapping song along with movement and feel-good banter. Philip Goulding’s clever script documents Gracie Fields’ vibrant and inspirational life using her own words and infectious personality. The production transports us back to the Oldham Repertory Theatre Club of the 1960’s where we are ready to welcome Gracie Fields to the stage.
Sue Devaney takes on the title role and gives a phenomenal performance as Dame Gracie Fields; her beaming smile and rich Northern tone perfectly capture the down-to-earth personality and charming stage persona of the Rochdale-to-Hollywood star. What makes Devaney’s performance so special is her ability to connect with her audience, which arguably was also Gracie Fields’ greatest talent. Many of the audience sing and clap along enthusiastically as she belts out Sing As We Go, The Biggest Aspidistra In The World, Walter, Walter and her most famous signature tune Sally.
Six of Oldham Rep’s finest support Devaney in presenting the fascinating life of Dame Gracie Fields – playing a variety of roles between them, they present the intriguing characters that influenced Gracie during her vibrant life. As well as providing a wonderful live soundtrack, the talented company introduce us to George Formby, Laurence Olivier and Liberace. Often breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience – it’s refreshing and engaging and there is a powerful harmony between the audience and the performers. Liz Carney has a wonderfully sweet tone and gives a dedicated and wonderfully comic performance; Ben Stock generates genuine laughter from the spirited crowd as dedicated pianist Harry and flamboyant showman Liberace.
The music hall style is possibly not for everyone, packed with silly gags and an exaggerated acting style, but the Oldham crowd seemed to enjoy it on the night I attended. Regardless of this, Our Gracie is a wonderful trip down memory lane, filled with nostalgia and warm sentiment.
The Pitmen Painters is a true story following a group of men from the mining community as they rediscover and reflect on their world through art. Written by Lee Hall, best known for Billy Elliot, the play follows The Ashington Group from their first art appreciation class in the old army hut to exhibiting in national galleries and gaining critical acclaim.
The story unfolds in a small mining town in Northumbria called Ashington. It’s 1934 and a group of miners decide to hire a professor, Robert Lyon (Cliff Burnett) to teach an art appreciation evening class. Headed up by no-nonsense union man George (Jim Barclay) the group of men soon abandon the theory of art in favour of practice. Amusing and moving, under Kevin Shaw’s light directorial hand, The Pitmen Painters shines a light on a group of ordinary men who achieve unprecedented things.
Joe Strathers-Tracey’s framed projections of the original Ashington Group artwork hang at the back of the stage – depicting images inspired by a 1930’s coalfield community. It’s a thought-provoking reminder of the cultural and economic barriers that can stand in the way of achieving individual potential and expression.
The cast are brilliant and there is a real sense of camaraderie throughout with some superb individual performances. Jim Barclay gets plenty of laughs from the Northern crowd as the sharp-toned leader of the group and, in contrast, Simeon Truby plays the most promising artist of the group Oliver with sensitivity and focus. Helen Kay impresses as the bohemian art-lover Helen Sutherland and Maeve O’Sullivan adds a jot of cheekiness to the stage as the art student come life model, Susan. Cliff Burnett leads as the eccentric but humble art professor Robert Lyon, with Luke Morris, James Quinn and Micky Cochrane completing an assured line-up.
The Pitmen Painters is perfect programming for the Oldham Coliseum and is certainly worth catching. Perhaps what makes this story so brilliantly charming is that it is a true story about a group of working-class men. The real warmth in The Pitmen Painters lies in the Ashington Group’s true friendship as they embark on a discovery of themselves and each other through art.
Pantomime is always a huge amount of fun for any creative team to work on and this year’s festive offering from the team at Oldham Coliseum is a sparkling example of this. Mother Goose offers all of the traditional pantomime fun – with audience interaction at its core, all your favourite current chart hits and hilariously messy slapstick – there is much for little ones and their grown-ups to enjoy this Christmas at Oldham Coliseum.
The story of Mother Goose has been co-written by Artistic Director Kevin Shaw and our nominal dame, Fine Time Fontayne – while the story maintains its timeless appeal, many of the comic sequences and gags zap the show giving a fresh take on the old classic tale. Mother Goose is poor until she finds Priscilla, a magical goose who lays golden eggs. Now that Mother Goose no longer has to worry about money – she wants to be young and beautiful – but will her new-found wealth, beauty and youth bring happiness?
This pantomime has a superb range of musical numbers ranging from contemporary pop music through to well known show tunes. With a funky soundtrack featuring The Jackson 5, Defying Gravity from Wicked and a humorous ditty which incorporates the names of stops on the Metrolink line – there is plenty for the audience to clap along to.
Fine Time Fontayne is a superb pantomime dame with an exceptional costume designer, Celia Perkins. With an array of over-the-top frocks and vibrant Doc Martens, Mother Goose could easily have been peeled from the pages of a story book. Under Kevin Shaw’s direction, costume changes occur off stage as well as in full view of the audience – in a clever illusion Mother Goose disappears through revolving doors only to reappear immediately looking just like Kim Kardashian. Well almost.
Alongside Fine Time Fontayne there is a host of Oldham Coliseum regulars – Richard J Fletcher is a comical success as the accident prone Billy Goose with Justine Elizabeth Bailey playing his sensible older brother Colin Goose. Andonis Anthony excels as evil baddie The Demon of Discontent – with no prompting needed to rally the audience into a booing and hissing frenzy. The chorus dancers deserve a special mention also, animated and light on their feet, filling the stage with energy.
Once again the Oldham Coliseum have egg-ceeded themselves and produced a most egg-cellent pantomime. With plenty of laugh out loud moments and opportunities to sing along, Mother Goose is packed with festive cheer and is certain to get all of the family warmed up and ready for Christmas.
Mother Goose is on at Oldham Coliseum until Saturday 9th January 2016.
Playing as part of the Roundabout Season at The Lowry, Colour The Clouds Theatre Company are back with their new production Maggie and the Song of The Sea. Recommended for those aged seven and over, Maggie and the Song of the Sea explores bereavement through the eyes of a child. Colour The Clouds Theatre have been able to develop this important and universal piece of theatre with the full support of Winston’s Wish, The Charity for Bereaved Children.
Maggie (Josie Cerise) is a young girl whose world is coloured by a beautiful playground of music. Every feeling, person or object in her life has a sound – whether it is the rough sound of the scraping of a woodblock as she brushes her hair or the calming strings melody that she associates with her beloved Grandad (Scott T Berry).
Maggie’s best friend is her grandad who looks after her while her Mum (SamanthaVaughan) is at work, together Maggie and her grandad have amazing seaside adventures and take fantastic imaginative journeys to a special place called Shingle Bay.
When Maggie’s grandad dies suddenly and the adventures that they shared together come to an end, the musical backdrop disappears from Maggie’s life as she deals with the loss she feels and tries to adapt to a different world. The idea is that the young audience follow Maggie’s journey through grief and acceptance and then onwards to understanding and hope, as Maggie breaks through her wall of silence and finds her music again.
Under Alyx Tole’s direction, Maggie and the Song of the Sea offers young children the opportunity to learn about death in a safe and calm environment. Maggie’s story is told with vibrant, colourful puppetry and live music which assists the fantastic storytelling, giving a portrayal of grief that children are able to engage with.
Fully complemented by the ambiance of the Paines Plough Roundabout, CatherineManford’s charming and playful musical composition and Mark Fox’s sensitive but atmospheric lighting design provide a perfect multisensory environment to tackle this difficult subject. Writer Sarah Birch has penned this story with a truth and honesty which is truly beautiful, offering a realistic insight of a child’s journey through grief.
Maggie and the Song of the Sea visits the performance space at Oldham Library on the 10th October 2015. For information on times and tickets please click here or call the box office at the Oldham Coliseum on 0161 624 2829.
Oldham Coliseum is proud to present the world premiere of Dreamers, a new musical set in the 1990’s written by Cathy Crabb and Lindsay Williams. The narrative is set around Oldham’s legendary nightclub Dreamers – the only indie club in town, famed for its music, the variety of the people who went there and the bouncer who kept everyone under control. If you were around Oldham in the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s – you probably have a few stories to tell about Dreamers too and this production is certainly loaded with witty humour, warmth and nostalgia, giving the Oldham audience a cheerful trip down memory lane.
The first half of the play is set in the 1990’s and explores the friendships and backgrounds of the young female characters. Izzy (Sally Carman) is a confident young woman who has grown up in care and who is desperate to escape from the streets of Oldham. Izzy and her best friend Toni (Rachel Leskovac), dream of escaping the grey skies of Oldham for the picture perfect marinas of the South of France as holiday reps. However, there is a longstanding disagreement between Izzy and her old friend Roz (Justine Elizabeth Bailey) which comes to a dramatic climax at the end of the first act. The second act revisits the girls twenty years later when we realise that not everything has played out the way that we thought it would.
Despite some slightly awkward overacting, most of the cast give believable performances throughout – Sally Carman shows depth as the bolshy but vulnerable Izzy and Rachel Leskovac shines playing the younger and older version of Toni with ease. Lauren Redding is outstanding though, playing a variety of smaller parts with wit and energy, demonstrating that she is a versatile performer.
Not forgetting that Dreamers is a musical – it features some well known nineties classics with slightly tweaked lyrics, ‘Sit Down’ by James, ‘I am The Resurrection’ by The Stone Roses and ‘Friday I’m in Love’ by The Cure. There are also some original compositions written by Carol Donaldson. The play also features a community chorus of talented local women who deliver the harmonies with energy and passion.
Dreamers is packed full of wit and has plenty of references to Oldham and the infamous Dreamers nightclub which really struck a chord with the Northern audience. And the humour and sentiment can be appreciated by those who are not familiar with Oldham nightlife too – we all remember sticky carpets, Diamond White and the fear of not making it past the bouncer on the door, don’t we?
Dreamers is running at the Oldham Coliseum from 19th June 2015 until 4th July 2015.
Boeing Boeing written by Marc Camoletti and directed by Robin Herford is a superb example of a classic farce.
We’re in Paris and it’s the swinging sixties and Bernard, a batchelor and highly successful Parisian architect is flying by the tail wind of the Jet Age. With three fiancées, who are all air hostesses for different airlines and flying on different routes, he has managed to ensure that only one of the women is ‘at home’ in Paris at any one time. However, with the dawn of newer planes and faster aircraft, Bernard’s carefully timetabled system is put under severe pressure.
When Bernard’s friend Robert, who he hasn’t seen for ten years, arrives unexpectedly – he too is caught up in trying to preserve Bernard’s three-timing secret. Robin Simpson gives a high energy and hilarious performance as he desperately tries to keep each of his fiancées apart.
Under the slick direction of Robin Herford, the cast are all exceptional with impeccable timing and their performances clearly thrive with the laughter from the audience. Ben Porter as the awkward and eccentric Robert and Gilly Tompkins as long-suffering housemaid Bertha, give outstanding performances, working at breathtaking speed as they try to conceal Bernard’s wrongdoing.
The three air hostesses give sterling performances and as one door closes and another one opens – they do not miss a beat. Laura Doddington as the brassy, outspoken American fiancée Gloria and Maeve Larkin as the sophisticated Italian fiancée Gabriella. However, it is Sarah Lawrie who really makes the audience squeal with her interpretation of the manic and passionate German fiancée, Gretchen.
The Oldham Coliseum’s production of Boeing Boeing is glamorous, exhilarating and highly entertaining. And although the plot is arguably quite preposterous, we have to suspend all of our moral sensibility to fully appreciate the absurd setting, exaggerated characters and slapstick comedy. Once you’ve handed in all moral judgement at the box office, prepare to board Boeing Boeing, you will not be disappointed.
Boeing Boeing is on at Oldham Coliseum until Saturday 6th June.
Forever Young is a musical and a black comedy set in a nursing home where the residents are all retired actors. The play is based around each of the characters and their own quirks and traits – it’s rather like a collection of musical numbers punctuated by short comedy sketches.
Ironically, the play opens very quietly, the only noise being a clinical looking Sister George (Georgina White) who whistles the Kill Bill tune while slapping rubber gloves against her thighs and spraying air freshener around the residents lounge. Slowly each of the ageing thespians are revealed to us as they make their comical entries onto the stage. First up is MrBednarczyk, who is the musical director as well as a resident at the home – he reluctantly takes his seat at the grand piano to provide the soundtrack for the other characters to make their ceremonial entries on to the stage.
The cast are all superb, under the careful direction of Giles Croftand the clever choreography of Adele Parry, they all stagger to life and deliver some cracking numbers once Sister George exits the stage and closes the door. Mr Frater’s gait and word finding difficulties are highly convincing and Ms Little’s confused stare and disinhibited outbursts are all believable traits of somebody with dementia. When a conflict breaks out between Mr Frater and Mr Elkington, beside from being the slowest fight in history, it is the greatest source of humour for the audience – they roared with laughter on the night that I attended.
Musical comedy highlights are a plenty – the two romantics Ms Darcy and Mr Superville sing a sweet version of I Got You Babe as well as trying to recreate Torvill and Dean’s 1984 Olympic winning Bolero. Tiara and lace clad Ms Little also sends up a version of Aqua’s Barbie Girl with a prosthetic limb and uses her fox stole as an air guitar for an entertaining version of I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.
The play also harbours some tender moments between the characters – when Ms Little passes a tissue to Mr Frater we can only imagine that he is thinking about lost youth and love. Ms Darcy’s version of the Nirvana classic, Smells Like Teen Spirit, also reminds us of the loneliness associated with getting older.
The production is loaded with plenty of highly amusing comic sequences and characters that you could watch all day – however, there isn’t much of a plot to push it along and so it does feel like it drags at times. Nevertheless this didn’t appear to hinder the audiences enjoyment judging by their applause and squeals of laughter.
Forever Young celebrates the lives and loves of older adults and blows the assumption that people in nursing homes are just waiting for their final curtain call. As well as being a musical comedy on the surface – this play actually makes a valid commentary on the way that we treat and view older people. This talented cast of seven certainly prove that old age can be a laughing matter.
Forever Young runs at Oldham Coliseum until Saturday March 21st 2015