REVIEW: The Commitments (The Palace Theatre, Manchester)

The Commitments © Johan Persson
The Commitments
© Johan Persson
upstaged rating: 

Based on the 1991 film and Roddy Doyle book of the same name, The Commitments is an outstanding must-see musical like no other. For those unfamiliar with the much-loved story, the plot follows a dysfunctional soul band from Dublin, Ireland – by the name of The Commitments – and their journey to become “the world’s hardest working band”. Live on stage, the cast performs several classics from the film – such as ‘Mustang Sally’ and ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ – as well as other soul songs that weren’t featured in the film.

Deco (Brian Gilligan), in The Commitments © Johan Persson
Deco (Brian Gilligan), in The Commitments
© Johan Persson

Brian Gilligan stars as the lead singer of the Commitments, Deco Cuffe. Both Gilligan’s vocal talent and stage presence are striking, and he brings great likability to the infamous Deco. As the frontman, he is perfectly cast – Gilligan steals every scene that he appears in. However, the rest of the cast offer equally faultless performances. As a group, they work together as a boundlessly energetic network, overloaded with enthusiasm.

Stand-out performances are delivered by Gilligan, Sam Fordham and the girls – Amy Penston, Leah Penston and Christina Tedders. Sam Fordham is the confrontational and paranoid bodyguard (and backup drummer) Mickah, whose performance provides a lot of laughs. And although the girls are intended to be backing singers, their incredible voices are rightfully paraded, with the characters often stealing the limelight from the arrogant Deco and letting their voices be heard. Their performances are perfectly synchronised, and they bring glamour to the otherwise charmingly unrefined group. Even Kevin Kennedy, better known for his role as Curly Watts in Coronation Street was unrecognisable as Jimmy’s dad and the caretaker.

And while the musical is a terrific nod to the iconic film and book, it also stands alone as an astounding production in its own right. Director and choreographer Caroline Jay Ranger has put together a spectacular blend of meticulously choreographed performances and quick-witted, engaging scenes. With Soutra Gilmour using both skilful set design and simplistic costuming to bring 1986 Dublin to life on stage.

Although the Commitments has a particularly large cast and crew, their efforts are all reflected in the sheer brilliance of the production. On its opening night in Manchester, the performance received a standing ovation, and it’s not difficult to see why. Within the cast, there is not a single weak link, with each of them putting an astonishing amount of enthusiasm and effort into their performance. The atmosphere is electric, and the musical is a credit to, what are perhaps, theatre’s hardest working cast and crew.

-Megan Hyland

The Commitments runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until 8th April 2017. The production continues at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking from 17th-22nd April 2017.

REVIEW – Wonder.land (The Palace Theatre, Manchester)

Wonderland_poster_notitle
Date: 2 July 2015
Upstaged Rating: 

Wonder.land is a brand new musical, directed by Rufus Norris,  that is being performed as part of the Manchester International Festival. Taking its inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s classic novel Alice in Wonderland, the new musical tells the story of Aly, a young teen who battles with bullies at school and struggles to find happiness at home with her mother and baby brother ‘cabbage pants’ Charlie. Aly is unable to look to her father for support either, as although he loves her dearly, he is addicted to online gambling.

Aly finds her solace in Wonder.land, an immersive, technicolour online world where “you can be exactly who you want to be”, which in Aly’s case is a brave and beautiful avatar named Alice, a blue-eyed blond who looks like she has just stepped out of the looking glass.

Damon Albarn has created the weird and wonderful soundtrack for this musical – combining the familiar feel of signature Albarn with a wondrous dose of otherworldliness. Furthermore, the lyrics by Moira Buffini feel natural and unforced, full of wit – littered with references to the Lewis Carroll’s classic novel but still made relevant and accessible to a contemporary audience.

Rae Smith’s design is a highlight – capturing the grey and mundane urban grit of the city and the chaos and vibrancy of wonder.land and aided by projections by 59 Productions and lighting by Paule Constable, the transition between the two worlds is remarkably smooth. As hard as Aly, charmingly played by Lois Chimimba, tries to keep the two worlds separate, the boundaries between real life and wonder.land seem to ‘blur’ into one.

With mischievous and intricate costume design by Katrina Lindsay, the show is well cast with all members giving strong performances. Rosalie Craig as Alice has a wonderful singing voice and moves convincingly as an avatar; Golda Rosheuvel as single mother Bianca and Paul Hilton as online gambler Matt, also impress as parents at odds with each other. Anna Francolini gives an outstanding and highly comical performance as Ms Manxome, a vibrato singing, technophobe high school teacher who can’t abide ‘bad odours, weird artwork and phones’.

Just like Aly, sometimes when the real world gets all too mundane and we need to escape, we can all find our own wonder.land on our smartphone screen, leading us down a rabbit hole into an extraordinary new world. Wonder.land is a brilliant, relevant and modern take on Lewis Carroll’s classic novel and an enveloping experience for your senses.

-Kristy Stott

Wonder.land is at the Palace Theatre in Manchester until 19th July. Following its premiere in Manchester, it will visit the National Theatre’s Olivier Theatre in November before travelling to the Théatre du Chatalet in Paris in 2016.

What’s on in Manchester this Easter for Families?

Here’s our listings of the best theatre and activities taking place during the Easter school holidays.

The Easter holidays run through from Good Friday, the 3rd April until Friday 17th April – for most schools. I say most schools because I don’t want to confuse any already frazzled parents, but some schools (including the one my children go to) only get one week off, so will miss out on some of the good stuff on this list.

The Edge Theatre and Arts Centre, Chorlton

Oxford Playhouse and untied Artists present the world premiere of this brand new family show The Boy Who Bit Picasso at The Edge in Chorlton.

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This show promises a lot of interaction as the audience are invited to take part in a variety of art and craft activities. Suitable for ages 4-8, there will be plenty of storytelling and music as the children are introduced to one of the twentieth century’s most influential artists, Pablo Picasso.

 

The story is inspired by Antony Penrose’s book which follows the story of Tony who becomes friends with Picasso – telling the true story of how Tony spent his childhood with one of the greatest artists ever to have lived.

We would definitely be attending this one if we could (see first para) – for you lucky ones with two weeks off school – this sounds like a good pick for the holidays.

The Boy Who Bit Picasso comes to The Edge Theatre and Arts Centre in Chorlton on Tuesday 14th April 2015 with 2 showings at 11am and 2pm.

TOP TIP: Be sure to wear play clothes because it could get messy

The Lowry

Room on the Broom has always been a big hit in our house and it’s coming to The Lowry this Easter. The story originally penned by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler has been adapted for stage by the wonderful team at Tall Stories.

Room on the Broom tells the story of a witch and her cat flying happily along on their broomstick until a stormy wind blows the witches hat, bow and wand down to the ground. Luckily, the witch meets some new friends who manage to locate all of her belongings. However, can the witches broomstick hold up to carrying her and her cat and a dog, a bird and a frog? I’m sure you know the rest of the story, I’m sure like me you have probably read and enjoyed it more times than you can count.

Suitable for ages 3+ and running at 55 minutes long, this musical production promises to be full of songs and giggles for all of the family.

Room on the Broom is at The Lowry Theatre from April 7th until April 12th 2015.

Waterside Arts Centre

A slightly different offering from the Waterside in Sale which may appeal to parents and older children alike. The centre is holding an Artful Playground Easter School, which runs for 4 days, from 7th until 10th April. It is suitable for children/teens aged 7-16 years and will be a musical theatre bonanza made up of singing, acting, dancing and most importantly FUN. There will be a final showcase on the Friday for family and friends.

The Artful Playground Easter school runs from 10am-4pm from Tuesday 7th April until Friday 10th April 2015 and costs £80 (with a £10 discount for Musical Theatre Class members).

In addition to this, Waterside Arts Centre are also having film screenings of How to Train Your Dragon II and The Boxtrolls on Tuesday the 14th April. Visit their website for times and prices.

Z- Arts

Where Caterpillars Go is showing at Z Arts over the Easter break. Suitable for under 5’s, the production follows an inquisitive caterpillar’s journey into a beautiful garden. This thoughtful show promises to explore life, growth and loss through live music, movement and fun.

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Inspired by the show there will be a free workshop from Tuesday 7th April – Friday 10th April where participants can create their own paper garden and lanterns as well as experiment with clay and printmaking.

Where Caterpillars Go is showing at Z-Arts on Thursday 9th April at 11:30 am and 2:30pm.

Oldham Coliseum

Charlie and Lola’s Extremely New Play is being welcomed to Oldham Coliseum on the 8th and 9th April.

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Ideal for ages 3+ and a running time of 1 hour 15 minutes, the show includes puppets, live action and music based on the books by Lauren Child and the much loved BBC TV show.

Charlie and Lola’s Extremely New Play is at Oldham Coliseum from Wednesday 8th April until Thursday 9th April, showing at 11:00am and 1:30pm. Tickets are £10.00. Click here to book.

The Palace Theatre, Manchester

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The Cat in The Hat joins us this Easter at The Palace Theatre in Manchester to cause mayhem and mischief. As soon as that red and white hat appears around the door, Sally and her brother know that they are in for a crazy adventure. But will their mum find out when she gets home?

Based on the wonderful novel by Dr Seuss, we reckon that this show would be a great introduction for young children aged 3+ to the theatre.

The Cat in The Hat is at Manchester’s Palace Theatre from Tuesday 7th April – Wednesday 8th April. Please check out the ATG ticket site for prices and times.

The Royal Exchange

For older children, aged 7-11, the Royal Exchange have their Revolting Rhymes Easter Drama Course. The acting, singing and crafting course runs for 3 days from April 13th – April 15th 2015. With a focus on Roald Dahl’s swizzfiggling stories, these sessions are proving to be very popular so we recommend you book early to avoid disappointment.

The Revolting Rhymes Easter Drama Course runs in The Studio at the Royal Exchange from April 13th until April 15th 2015 and costs £50.

Trafford Music Service

The service is offering an Easter music course suitable for KS1 children (aged between 5-8 I think) – its a 2 day course taking place on Monday 13th and Tuesday 14th April. Children can attend one or both days and the courses take place at The Claremont Centre in Sale.

Children will be able to take part in singing, ukulele and violin sessions and percussion lessons and the course is suitable for those who can already play an instrument or complete beginners. The course costs £35 per day and runs from 9:00am until 3:30pm. All instruments are provided, all you need to do is provide a packed lunch.

There are only 30 places so if your child is interested I advise that you fill this online form and submit as soon as you can.

Silver Blades Ice Rink

This post would not be complete without a ‘FROZEN” mention now would it? Altrincham Ice Rink (as I nostalgically like to call it) are holding a Frozen Sing-a-long on Thursday 16th April 2015 between 5:30pm and 7:30pm. I think that the ice rink have won the battle of the Frozen Sing-alongs by pulling this one out of the bag!

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There will be figure skating demo’s including a Frozen Sing-along show – followed by an opportunity to meet and greet and a free skating session.

Ticket price is £7.00 and to find out more about this event and other events at Silver Blades Ice Rink over Easter please click here.

 

Upstaged manchester would like to wish you all a happy Easter. Please tweet your mini reviews of any of the shows or activities that you’ve taken part in to us @UpstagedMCR .