REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty (Oldham Coliseum)

Sleeping Beauty at Oldham Coliseum © Joel C Fildes
Sleeping Beauty at Oldham Coliseum
© Joel C Fildes
upstaged rating:  

The team at Oldham Coliseum always succeed in delighting their dedicated Northern audience during pantomime season and this year they’re back, and true to form, with Sleeping Beauty.

With Kevin Shaw at the helm, Oldham Coliseum triumph once again – following their tried and tested recipe of pantomime goodness. With no glitter spared, every performer has that magical twinkle in their eye and, commanding the stage, they deliver the perfect Christmas show. Perhaps what makes Sleeping Beauty so delightful is that every child (and adult) feel involved – the auditorium is just the right size for the audience to be able to interact, which is a real bonus for the younger theatre-goers.

With an unexpected reshuffling of the cast following Fine Time Fontayne’s injury in rehearsal, Simeon Truby jumps into dame Nanny Nutty’s large and vibrant Doc Marten’s and delivers a superb performance. Celia Perkins’ costume design is a real treat – bright, larger than life and guaranteed to put a smile on even the most hardened of faces. Accompanied by Dave Bintley’s toe-tappingly brilliant musical soundtrack, Fine Time and Shaw’s script is tight and littered with references to popular culture. With a range of gags for the adults and the usual panto slapstick for children, Sleeping Beauty is a real winner with the diverse crowd.

Radiant Demi Goodman steps daintily into the role of Briar Rose, oblivious to the curse that has been thrust upon her by the bitter Carabosse, played by Liz Carney. Comedy capers are plentiful from Oldham Coliseum regulars Richard J Fletcher and Justine Elizabeth Bailey as The Nutty’s with Demi Goodman doubling up to play Nicky Nutty. Sara Sadeghi is full of energy playing both the good fairy, Spinning Jenny and the ‘super shiny’ Queen Hermione; David Westbrook completes the super line-up as King Cuthbert – there is no weak link here. The chorus dancers are full of energy, unbelievably light on their feet and springier than bouncy balls.

Simply put – Oldham Coliseum’s Sleeping Beauty is everything that a pantomime should be. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments, a lively musical score and the opportunity to interact with the performance – and all in an ideal sized performance space, where everyone can feel part of the action. Packed to the brim with magic, mischief and good old fashioned fun, Sleeping Beauty is certain to get all of the family ready for Christmas.

-Kristy Stott

With performances running until 7th January 2017, Sleeping Beauty is the perfect treat for families this Christmas. To book your tickets click here.

REVIEW – The Pitmen Painters (Oldham Coliseum)

James Quinn, Micky Cochrane, Simeon Truby, Jim Barclay in The Pitmen Painters at Oldham Coliseum © Joel C Fildes
James Quinn, Micky Cochrane, Simeon Truby, Jim Barclay in The Pitmen Painters at Oldham Coliseum
© Joel C Fildes
Upstaged rating: 

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.

-Kristy Stott

The Pitmen Painters is on at Oldham Coliseum until Saturday 27th February 2016 and you can get tickets here.

REVIEW – Hetty Feather (The Lowry, Salford)

Jacqueline Wilson's --Hetty Feather-- at The Lowry until 10 January 2016 © Copyright Helen Murray 2015
Jacqueline Wilson’s
–Hetty Feather–
at The Lowry until 10 January 2016
© Copyright Helen Murray 2015
Upstaged Rating: 
Thingstars: 

“Only a few days old and lost everything – my home, my mother and my name”

Hetty Feather was left by her mother at the London Foundling Hospital as a newborn baby. Written by best-selling author Jacqueline Wilson, Hetty Feather traces the life and experiences of a foundling child – her experience in foster care, her dalliances with the travelling circus and her return into education at the Foundling Hospital. Hetty is a feisty little thing – kindhearted, intelligent and imaginative- we follow her story as she battles to overcome all odds in the search to find her real mother.

This Olivier Award nominated production is a real treat for the Quays Theatre at The Lowry this Christmas – with a talented and award-winning creative team and an energetic, tumbling and climbing ensemble of performers. Hetty Feather is a thrilling, emotional and uplifting story adapted for the stage by writer Emma Reeves and directed by Sally Cookson.

The stage is set as a circus tent and a real playground for the performers – there are red aerial silks, ropes and ladders – designer Katie Sykes has really created the perfect canvas for Jacqueline Wilson’s characters to somersault and shine. Before the show opens, Musicians Seamus H Carey and Luke Potter set the tone for the audience with their lively folk music and we are transported back to Victorian England.

Casting is perfect with Phoebe Thomas taking the title role of Hetty Feather, with her long fiery red hair she is captivating – playing a five-year-old with ease and layering Hetty’s difficult start in life with humour and defiance. All six performers show their versatility in playing a variety of roles – they enthrall with their fusion of storytelling, live music and circus skills. Sarah Goddard tugs at our heartstrings playing foster mother Peg and Ida; talented Matt Costain takes on the contrasting roles of warm-hearted foster brother Jem and stony-faced Matron Bottomly; Nikki Warwick earns hefty applause as the trapeze artist Madame Adeline with Nik Howden as Saul and Mark Kane as Gideon completing the dynamic line-up.

Hetty Feather is an imaginative and innovative production – a fabulous adventure packed with colourful characters, a lively musical score and captivating performances. With a running time of 2 hours and 10 minutes, it’s a superb treat for older children who are so often overlooked in quality children’s theatre. Hetty Feather is an outstanding entertainment choice this Christmas – giving us all of the fun of the circus as we squeal, gasp, quake and applaud in Hetty Feather’s journey to find her mother.


-Kristy Stott

Hetty Feather runs at the Lowry in Salford until 10 January 2016. 

 

REVIEW – Mr Popper’s Penguins (The Lowry, Salford)

 © Copyright Helen Murray 2015
© Copyright Helen Murray 2015
Upstaged Rating: 
Thingstars: 

Adapted from popular children’s book by Richard and Florence Atwater, Mr Popper’s Penguins is a festive theatrical treat for all of the family. The story proved its popularity back in 2011 when it was released as a feature film with Jim Carrey taking the title role. With music reminiscent of golden era MGM, romance and charming penguin puppetry, Mr Popper’s Penguins certainly lends itself brilliantly to being adapted as a musical for the stage.

Mr Popper (Russell Morton) is a painter and decorator and lives with Mrs Popper (Roxanne Palmer) in a small American suburb called Stillwater. Nothing really happens in Stillwater and Mr Popper has dreams of being an explorer in Antartica. Fascinated with the South Pole, spending every spare moment reading about it – he decides to pen a letter to his idol Admiral Drake, to tell him how wonderful he thinks penguins are.

Soon after Admiral Drake responds to the mailing by sending a huge penguin-sized crate by return – Mr and Mrs Popper’s predictable daily life takes a sudden but exciting change as they soon find themselves chasing a rookery of penguins around their home.

A super talented cast of four tell the succinct and highly entertaining story well – with performers Toby Manley and Lucy Grattan doubling up as puppeteers for the mischievous penguins Captain Cook and Greta, designed by Nick Barnes. Musical numbers composed by Luke Bateman and written by Richy Hughes are catchy and appeal to the young audience; there is a magical snow shower and a penguin dance that the whole auditorium can get involved with too.

Recommended for ages 3 and over, Mr Popper’s Penguins has the perfect running time of 55 minutes – just long enough to keep those creative little minds transfixed. If you look below the funny feathery surface there is also quite a heartwarming message for you to take away too  – the importance of having dreams and how something totally unexpected can suddenly land and change the course of your life forever.

Mr Popper’s Penguins is a gorgeous family show and guaranteed to warm your cockles this winter.
-Kristy Stott

 Mr Popper’s Penguins runs at the Lowry in Salford until 10 January 2016. 

 

REVIEW – The BFG (Octagon Theatre, Bolton)

© Ian Tilton
© Ian Tilton
Upstaged Rating: 
Thingstars: 

Following the success of James and the Giant Peach, Director Sarah Esdaile returns to Bolton Octagon to direct another Roald Dahl classic. In this adaptation by David Wood, The BFG tells the magical story of a little girl called Sophie who lives in the village orphanage. One night, Sophie spies a huge cloaked figure blowing something into the bedroom window further down the street and before she can hide from this mysterious creature, she is picked up and taken to his home in Giant Country.

Luckily for Sophie this giant is the BFG, one of the good guys – friendly, entertaining and most importantly kind hearted. He goes around at night when people are asleep to make sure that they have good dreams.

Obviously, one of the most challenging demands of producing a stage show of The BFG is managing to create the illusion of scale and height between the giants and little Sophie. Clever puppetry directed and designed by Michael Fowkes works perfectly – a delicately animated smaller version of Sophie and a trio of three huge bone-crunching ogres certainly does the trick.

Janet Bird’s design sees the Octagon main stage set on two levels allowing swift movement between scenes and different settings from the orphanage where Sophie lives to the formidable Giant Country. The design has a wonderfully home crafted quality to it – the giants with their huge papier-mâché heads and the use of cardboard and newsprint throughout. With comical dream sequences and a visit to Buckingham Palace, the story is told effectively and in a way that children can follow with ease. From the BFG’s head appearing at the Queen’s bedroom window to making Facetime calls on a huge iPhone – the design elements are a highlight.

Macy Nyman makes a noteworthy stage debut as Sophie, beautifully expressive and childlike, providing a wonderful narration as she brings the puppet of Sophie to life.

John Seaward is instantly loveable as the BFG – full of energy, kindness and humour – with a full head of flaming orange hair, he looks considerably different to the familiar Quentin Blake drawings. Introducing Sophie to his wondrous imaginative language, where the words sound very similar to English or are completely made up – so beautifully typical of Roald Dahl.

The talented pyjama-clad double up to play a range of different characters – Richard Booth, Philip Bosworth and Roddy Peters as the booming, ruthless ogres; Sarah Finigan impresses as The Queen and the cantankerous Mrs Clonkers and Emma MacLennan also adapts to a number of roles demonstrating her versatility as a performer.

Recommended for ages 5 and over, this is a fantastic ensemble production with a lot of heart. The BFG at Bolton Octagon offers families a high-quality production and a pleasing alternative from the traditional Christmas pantomime.

-Kristy Stott

 The BFG runs at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton until 9 January 2016. 

 

REVIEW – Mother Goose (Oldham Coliseum)

Mother Goose at Oldham Coliseum Photo credit -- ©Joel C Fildes
Mother Goose at Oldham Coliseum
Photo credit — ©Joel C Fildes
Date: 14 november 2015
Upstaged rating: 
thingstars: 

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?

Justine Elizabeth Bailey as Colin Goose and Richard J Fletcher as Billy Goose ©Joel C Fildes
Justine Elizabeth Bailey as Colin Goose and Richard J Fletcher as Billy Goose
©Joel C Fildes

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 as Mother Goose ©Joel C Fildes
Fine Time Fontayne as Mother Goose
©Joel C Fildes

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.

-Kristy Stott

Mother Goose is on at Oldham Coliseum until Saturday 9th January 2016.

Aladdin (Dancehouse Manchester)

93537

Following on from last year’s pantomime success, The Dancehouse Theatre, home of the Northern Ballet School, are back and keen to grant Manchester a Christmas wish by staging timeless classic Aladdin this year.

This pantomime is a perfect opportunity for the company to showcase their dancing talents, featuring many different dance styles from bhangra to ballet, all are skilled from the teeny tiny jazz dancers through to the feisty and rhythmic crew of street dancers.

The Dancehouse Theatre and Eight Freestyle poke fun at the expected pantomime tradition, managing to put their own stamp on the magical middle eastern adventure. The genie of the evil Abanazer’s diamond ring was a bolshy Liverpudlian, which ran well with the Mancunian crowd and the final fight scene between Aladdin and Abanazer played out with lightsabers, giving the nod to all of the Star Wars fans in the audience.

Although most of the energetic dance numbers were choreographed well and the popular chart music choice was a hit with the audience, there were moments in the story where the action seemed stunted and the audience were left trying to make sense of an empty stage.

There were also some problems with the sound quality throughout the show – occasionally my ear drums were rattling as the treble was booming and just like Widow Twankey sang in the show “All About That Bass”, some adjustments did need to be made.

The cast took every opportunity to interact with their eager audience by inviting people on to the stage and encouraging all to join in with the customary pantomime sing-a-long. The use of gauze to create a starry night as Princess Jasmine and Aladdin were suspended on a magic carpet was a highlight as was the amusing version of “Take me Out” to find a suitable husband for the Princess.

The Dancehouse Theatre and Eight Freestyle certainly succeeded in entertaining the whole family, with plenty of belly laughs, Christmas sparkle and not a reality TV star in sight. Aladdin runs at just over two hours long and with ticket prices starting at a mere £30 for a family of five, it really is excellent festive value for money.

-Kristy Stott

Originally published by What’s on Stage in December 2014.