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REVIEW: Blood Brothers @ The Palace Theatre, Manchester

Blood Brothers - group shot

The show has Kenwright written all over it, literally – with his beloved Everton football club emblazoned on the set.

And who can begrudge him that in a show which bristles with energy, fun and tragedy, exploring the concept of nature versus nurture?

Penned by Merseyside playwright, Willy Russell, the story centres around twins separated at birth but drawn together throughout their lives by fate, with tragic conclusions.

Blood Brothers - Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone (previous cast production)Lyn Paul, who some may remember from the 1970s pop group the New Seekers, gives a powerful performance as the long-suffering working class mum, Mrs Johnstone, forced by circumstances to give up her son to middle class employer, Mrs Lyons, desperate for a child .

The promise that Mrs Johnstone can see her son every day is quickly broken, but the two boys lives are intertwined bringing together two very different worlds.

Sean Jones is particularly excellent as Mickey. We watch his progress with class division there for all to see from encounters with police in his youth to the harsh realities of adulthod. While his brother Eddie goes to university and ends up with a position on the council’s housing committee Mickey is thrown onto the scrapheap.

There are certainly tear-jerking moments but this is a show which is full of energy. The songs are a bit corny and there is no shortage of clichés in the dialogue but this show is more than the sum of its parts. It is well worth a visit.

Runs till May 26th

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Review: Kindertransport @ The Opera House, Manchester

kinderThe return of Diane Samuel’s Kindertransport to the stage 25 year years after it was first penned could not be more more relevant today.

It is a story of family relationships and secrets set against a backdrop of themes which explore the treatment of refugees, nationalism, anti-semitism and cultural identity.

The story is centered around the true events of the Kindertransport rescue of Jewish children fleeing Nazi Germany and its occupied territories before the outbreak of the Second World War.

There is a challenging uneasiness about this play in which the seemingly humane policy of providing safety for the children is set against their parents’ requirement to have work to go to to qualify for refuge. The policy split many families, leaving the parents to face their fate in the brutal Nazi regime.

Samuels also requires the audience to question the long-term consequences of conflict and its impact on the lives of subsequent generations.

There are two inextricably linked parallel stories  in the play – that of progress of young Eva (Leila Schaus) leaving her mother to escape Nazi Germany for the safety of Britain in 1938, and that of her older self Evelyn (Suzan Sylvester) with a daughter of her own in 1980s Manchester.

The stories interchange as Evelyn’s daughter, Faith (Hannah Bristow), preparing to leave home, discovers a box of papers from her mother’s past resurrecting the ghosts of a past her mother would rather was left alone.

There are some fine performances which delve into the intense relationships between mother and daughter and the themes of clinging on to roots and heritage. Hannah Bristow is particularly good as the modern daughter displaying her insecurities and selfish arrogance of youth.

 

The play is a stark reminder of one of world’s darkest periods but there are lines which are remarkably prescient, particularly as Evelyn refers to keeping her immigration papers suggesting they would be needed in case anyone wanted to send her back.

It is not always an easy play to watch and there are no tidy endings and resolutions but it certainly worth the journey.

Runs till May 5

REVIEW: 20th Century Boy @ The Opera House, Manchester

The life of glam rock icon Marc Bolan is celebrated in this musical which visits the Opera House as part of a tour marking 40 years since the star’s untimely death.

The show charts the progress of the musician from childhood through his rise to stardom, descent into hedonism to his death in a car crash.

There is an attempt at portraying Bolan’s cocky swagger and a desperate desire to make it to the top while showcasing those memorable seventies tunes.

And there is no doubt that the music is the show’s biggest strength. George Maguire manages to capture the essence of Bolan in some impressive performances.

Unfortunately, the glue that holds it all together – the script – is sadly lacking. The drama is often quite laboured, lacking energy and quite clichéd at times.

John Maher’s original script was developed with additional material from Nick Graham and Colin Giffin. Perhaps it’s a case of too many cooks, because it didn’t work for me.

There was sometimes a cringey, amateurish feel to the production with clunky scene changes and an odd set design.

That said, it was still an enjoyable night out, but it could have been so much better. Perhaps the producers would have been better off playing to their strengths and presenting a straight tribute act show.

Runs till Saturday April 21

REVIEW: Miss Saigon @ The Palace, Manchester

MISS SAIGON. Ashley Gilmour 'Chris' and Sooha Kim 'Kim'. Photo Johan PerssonThis must surely be the show of the season at the Palace Theatre in Manchester.

The lavish sets and a breathtaking staging matched by pitch perfect performances by a magnificent cast makes for a truly stunning production.

It is not just the iconic helicopter scene in Miss Saigon, when the Americans make their humiliating retreat from the devastated South Vietnam city, that makes this show linger in the memory.

In true Cameron Mackintosh style, there is nothing out of place. Every cast member makes a vital contribution and is on point.

And the dominant themes in the story of power, love and loss are hammered home in every line and every note.

In a retelling of the opera, Madama Butterfly, the musical tells the story of young Kim, a 17-year-old girl who flees her burning village to Saigon where she takes a job in a bar and brothel, ran by the infamous Engineer – a schemer with his eyes set on a new life in the USA.

Kim  meets Chris, a US Marine. They fall in love but their happiness is short-lived, and when Chris returns to America. There follows Kim’s quest to be reunited with her love, who unbeknown to him, fathered her son, Tam.

MISS SAIGON. Red Concepcion 'The Engineer'. Photo Johan Persson (2)Red Concepcion is faultless as the slippery Engineer, with a performance that evokes both revulsion and sympathy. His rendition of The American Dream is real show stopper.

Sooha Kim also excels as Kim with a skillful performance delivering a beautiful interplay with Ashley Gilmour’s Chris, matched by in incredible vocal range.

Runs till May 12

 

This Vibrant Thing festival comes to Wythenshawe Library

8GOLD RINGS_1A free festival featuring musicians, hip-hop artists and spoken word performers in coming to Wythenshawe Library tomorrow (Saturday March 17).

The This Vibrant Thing festival is taking place at two other libraries across Manchester – Longsight and North City in Harpurhey as well as Wythenshawe.

Bringing some of the UK’s most vital rising talents,  artists including hip-hop collective, 8 Gold Rings, critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter, Mica Miller and acclaimed hip-hop explorer, Abnormal Sleepz will perform.

Staged as part of Creative Spaces, a cultural initiative of Manchester Libraries, in partnership with creative change makers, Platform Mcr, THIS VIBRANT THING will see libraries transformed through music, poetry, spoken word, installations, visual art and more, featuring a line-up of rising stars, renowned artists and local talent.

Hands-on experiences, including yoga and art workshops, will give audiences the chance to test both their physical and creative flexibility.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: The Sound of Music @ The Palace, Manchester

39634_fullThe Sound of Music is at the Palace Theatre this week and is sure to have fans of the timeless musical singing along to those classic tunes.

This tale of love blossoming between novice nun Maria and the frosty Captain von Trapp when she arrives as governess to his children has been a regular festive favourite in Christmas TV schedules and is now beautifully brought to the stage with impressive and lavish sets and high production values.

It is based on the true story of the von Trapp family singers who fled Nazi-occupied Austria as political refugees.

After a slightly underwhelming start to the show when it would have been nice to have seen a little more personality from the nuns ruminating about how to solve a problem like Maria, the production picks up with some delightful performances by the children.

Lucy O’Byrne does well as Maria, delivering those familiar tunes with aplomb. Neil McDermott seemed to struggle as the Captain in the first half of the show with some of his singing being drowned by the music, but his performance grew on me and he did much better after the interval.

The interval came following a truly show-stopping performance of Climb Every Mountain, by Megan Llewellyn in the role of Mother Abbess. It was magnificent.

Acclaim should also go to Kara Lane and Howard Samuels who excelled in the roles of the Captain’s prospective wife Elsa and impressario Max Detweiler. Neither would be out of place in Hollywood roles.

Overall, a charming production which is well worth a visit.

Runs till Saturday March 17

REVIEW: Hamlet @ Bolton Octagon

Hamlet Production PhotosPhoto Credit : The Other Richard

David Ricardo-Pearce as Hamlet                                   Pic: Richard Davenport

If you are new to Shakespeare, trying to take in his longest and most quoted work could understandably be considered to be thrown in at the deep end.

But there can be no better introduction to the bard than this stunning production at the Bolton Octagon which presents an accessible and absorbing drama,  as gripping as McMafia or Collateral, without compromising on the themes Shakespeare sought to explore more than 400 years ago.

Hamlet is the classic revenge tragedy – the story of a young prince attempting to avenge the death of his father at the hands of his uncle who has usurped the throne and the dead king’s widow. Hamlet’s obsession is at the core of this drama and David Ricardo-Pearce portrayal is excellent.

The universal and timeless themes are brilliantly explored with Denmark transformed into a more contemporary militaristic  regime where the soldiers carry AK47s and the leaders are dictators akin to Stalin or Putin.

There are two halves of 75 minutes, punctuated by a 20 minute interval, and action flies by – such is the quality of the production.

And it is no one-man show. Brian Prothero is superb as the usurper, Claudio with Eric Potts delivering a suitably tragi-comic portrayal of the bumbling  civil servant Polonius, recast as a priest for this production. Also worth a mention is Margot Leicester whose portrayal Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude – now married to her former brother-in-law, the new King – is sensational.

The Octagon’s former artistic director, David Thacker, who was  invited back to direct this production, can  be proud of what has been achieved. The theatre’s 50th anniversary season goes from strength to strength.

Runs till March 10.

Dave Toomer

 

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