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.
It was always going to be a big ask to bring Patricia Highsmith’s tense psychological thriller to the stage and this production doesn’t quite pull it off in the way that Alfred Hitchcock famously did on the silver screen.
There is much of merit in the show, with some effective mood lighting and innovative use of sets, but the pace and direction lets it down and it is certainly a play of two halves.
The story is based around the consequences of a chance meeting on a train between Guy Haines, an ambitious architect and alcoholic wreck, Charles Bruno. In a drink-fuelled stupour, Bruno comes up with a hypothetical plan, where he would to murder the wife Haines is about to divorce in exchange for Haines killing Bruno’s father. When Bruno unexpectedly keeps to his side of the bargain, pressure is applied for Haines to deliver, thus providing the main premise for the drama.
But prior to the interval, the dramatic action is laboured, slow and frankly quite boring. When you don’t care that much about the fate of the characters, you know something is wrong. However, maybe some-one had a work in the break, because the pace picked up in the second half culminating in the dramatic conclusion at the end.
Chris Harper as Bruno and Jack Ashton as Haines deliver reasonable performances although there are one or two instances of the audience perhaps laughing when they shouldn’t as Bruno becomes increasingly psychotic.
Overall, not a terrible night at the theatre, but one that is distinctly underwhelming.
Runs till February 10
A stage adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is one of those productions that could go horribly wrong.
But Bolton Octagon continues its 50th year celebrations in fine style with a superb version based on the classic novel.
Jessica Baglow takes on the title role, providing a convincing and passionate portrayal of the strong willed woman, ahead of her time.
And Baglow’s impressive performance is matched admirably by Michael Peavoy who is perfect in the role of the smouldering, brooding tragic hero – Mr Rochester. For anyone who has read the novel, he is everything you expect. Read More…
Bolton Octagon’s season has been completed with a wonderful production of Alan Bennett’s beautifully crafted and bitter-sweet monologues familiar to fans of the Northern bard by TV performances by Thora Hird, Patricia Routledge and Bennett himself.
And David Birrell, Cathy Tyson, and Sue Wallace do great justice to Bennett’s scripts for Chip in the Sugar, Lady of Letters and Cream Cracker Under the Settee.
Birrell is superb as the repressed gay man with a history of mental health issues living with his mam. He successfully delivers a performance which conveys that typical Northern humour bearing the distinctive Bennett stamp.
Tyson is also more than competent as the the busybody not afraid to to express her views in a series of letters to her MP, the police, the chemist and eventually writes herself into trouble.
But for me it is Sue Wallace who excels in a tear-jerking portrayal of 75-year-old Doris, after a fall in her home considers the options of whether to face her grim fate or end up in a care home.
If you think this production is a recipe for a depressing night out – don’t. This production pulls off the remarkable task of presenting a moving commentary on the issues around loneliness and community whilst at the same time making us laugh.
It is well worth the trip to Bolton.
Runs til July 8.
Is there anything Sheridan Smith can’t do? Gritty drama, sit-com, and now a faultless performance in the hit Broadway musical, Funny Girl.
Smith excels as Fanny Brice, the role made famous by diva Barbara Streisand in the film which tells the true story of a gawky girl stumbling her way into the limelight rising to stardom as part of the hugely popular Ziegfeld Follies.
This bitter-sweet tale weaves together the glitz of Brice’s fabulous career and her rocky relationship with husband Nicky Arnstein. Smith delivers a masterclass in musical theatre, with outstanding performance of those classic tunes, which include People and Don’t Rain On My Parade. Read More…
Last night’s Halloween performance of Little Shop of Horrors revived the B-movie spirit on stage at The Palace Theatre, Manchester.
Little Shop of Horrors has bounced from screen to stage to screen to stage since the gory story’s first appearance in 1960s B-movie, then bereft of the Motown inspired choruses many of us now could not imagine the show without. It was only after this movie was turned into an off-Broadway musical that it found life as an all singing all dancing sci-fi horror flick in 1986, starring a then unknown Steve Martin and the voice of Levi Stubbs from the Four Tops.
What is essentially a simple love story about a hapless goof, a girl with a ‘past’, and a giant man eating alien plant, found itself back on the stage at Manchester’s Palace Theatre last night. Sell A Door Theatre Company took us back to Skid Row, New York, where life’s ‘a joke’, but the music keeps spirits unusually high, and Crystal, Chiffon and Ronnette (played by Sasha Latoya, Venessa Fisher and Cassie Clare) led us through the story with impressive vocals and high energy.
Stephanie Clift delivered a solid performance as the damsel in a tight dress Audrey, melting hearts with her rendition of ‘Somewhere That’s Green’, proving that even the most mundanely suburban dream can look like heaven from Skid Row – especially when expressed in a song by Alan Menken, who would go on to write music for Disney princesses.
X Factor’s Rydian Roberts’ operatic portrayal of Audrey’s abusive boyfriend and sadistic dentist, Orin, went down well with the audience until his untimely demise in Act I, and was welcomed back in Act II in a number of comedic bit parts.
As expected it was Audrey II that the crowd really went wild for (who couldn’t love a Mean Green Mother from Outta Space?). The ever expanding alien plant was brought to life by puppeteer Josh Wilmott and voiced by Neil Nicholas. The delivery of darkly delightful numbers such as ‘Git It’ and ‘Suppertime’ successfully lightened the mood for any squeamish members of the audience when it came time for the feeding of dismembered dentists to the bloodthirsty botanical.
Though the true horrors present in this show are a little closer to home – domestic abuse, exploitation and hopeless systemic poverty all play out on Skid Row. And whilst the gory exuberance of cast, set and sound do as good a job as the film to place us a comfortable distance away from the real meat of the story, the production managed to, in true B-movie style, provide the audience with a simultaneous sense of merriment and unease as these sinister themes were (literally) danced around.
Runs till Saturday November 5
To Mod fans, Small Faces will be a forever a part of their musical and cultural identity with their classic songs as important trademark parkas and Lambrettas.
And they would not be disappointed with this fantastic and often touching celebration of their music brought to the stage by director Tony McHale.
The story is told from the point of view of a 44-year-old Steve Marriot looking back on those raucous and whirlwind four years in the lives of the young musicians who burst on the scene in the sixties to follow their dreams of making great music, only to enter a world of exploitation ultimately ending in tragedy.
Bringing to life those timeless classics – Whatcha Gonna Do About It, Tin Soldier, Lazy Sunday, Here Comes the Nice, Itchycoo Park and of course All or Nothing – the play successfully strikes a balance between musical celebration and a poignant portrayal of betrayal and tragedy with some amazing performance from a very strong cast.
The stand-out performance is Chris Simmons as the older Steve taking on the role of narrator sliding gradually into booze and drug induced oblivion, reflecting the fate of the tragic singer.
For anyone interested in the music and culture of the sixties this is a must-see show, with references to such musical legends as Sonny and Cher and Dusty Springfield.
Tragedy is a definite theme of the production but I wouldn’t want to give the impression the show is in any way maudlin or depressing. What shines through above all else is the power of that great music and why it should be celebrated.
Runs till Saturday October 22