Review | Awful Auntie | Manchester Opera House

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Growing up in a world of Harry Potter, Roald Dahl and Malory Towers, I love the adventures that characters can get up to in a big haunted house, so was very excited to see how the award-winning author and comedian David Walliams’ Awful Auntie was transformed into a stage production by Birmingham Stage Company.

After recent success with the tour of Gangsta Granny, Neal Foster’s adaption of Awful Auntie brings fun, panto-esk elements of comedy and spookiness.

Set in 1933 after Lord and Lady Saxby are murdered, young Stella Saxby must solve the mystery of her parent’s death, all without getting caught by her awful auntie Alberta. With the help of a friendly chimney sweep ghost, Soot, Stella is on a mission to stop Alberta becoming the owner of Saxby Hall.

The excellent music orchestrated music by Jak Poore sets the scenes for the murder mystery tale.

Timothy Speyer’s performance of Aunt Alberta reminded me of the horrible Miss Trunchball from Matilda, but a true entertaining perofmrnace. Loud, garish and a haunting laugh will make you hate this character quicker than you can say, Saxby Hall.

Georgina Leonidas and Ashley Cousins make the perfect team of Stella and Soot, and both actors bounce off each other to create some hilarious moments on stage.

The highlight of the show has the be the brief moments that the mad butler Gibbon passes onto the stage. Richard James’ makes the audience roar with laughter with his short moments between scenes where he’s seen mowing the carpet, catching himself in a giant net and burning the slippers for breakfast.

Aunt Albert’s owl Wagner is a puppet, moved by the talented Roberta Bellekom. The use of puppets is intelligent and entertaining, as they create scenes that might not be possible to attempt on stage, such as Wagner flying over the stage while holding onto a little puppet of Stella.

The mixture of storytelling elements makes this show entertaining for all the family, and I suggest seeing this production before it closes.

Awful Auntie is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Sunday 24th June and tickets are available here.

Review | Summer Holiday | Octagon Theatre, Bolton

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My earliest birthday present I can remember is receiving a VCR tape of Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday, and ever since then, this musical has held a special place in my heart. Bolton Octagon Theatre’s production definitely lived up to my expectations of this show.

Based on the 1963 film, this show is jam-packed with catchy tunes to twist to, energetic dance routines (including an exceptional flamenco dance) and the ability to visit multiple European countries without even leaving cheery old Bolton.

This site-specific production, directed by Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti, takes the audience on tour around Bolton. Starting at the Bolton bus station where the cast prepares for their holiday, to jumping on a double-decker bus with the cast for a sing-along.

The cast aren’t just talented performers, but also talented musicians, as every cast member makes up the band and accompanies all the well-loved songs. Shoutout to Isobel Bates, who manages to make playing the trumpet and flute, with a second between the two, look effortless and sassy.

Living up to Cliff Richard’s stellar performance of Don is the very talented and easy on the eye Michael Peavoy, who did get a couple of wolf whistles during the shower scene. Peavoy’s vocal ability is beautiful, and you can’t help but fall in love with his carefree spirit as a bachelor boy turned hopeless romantic.

Eleanor Brown plays Barbra, the movie star who wants a normal life. After running away from Momager Stella and stowing away on the bus, Barbra falls in love with bachelor boy Don, but can she change his mind about relationships?

Each character has their own little storyline. I do have to applaud the director’s decision to swap genders of one of the girls and turn them into a male character. Al, played by Robert Jackson, ends up falling in love with Edwin, played by Luke Thornton, and it’s so lovely to see their relationship develop on stage.

The singing is so strong and powerful by all performers, but I especially loved the deep and soulful tones of Alexander Bean, playing the role of Cyril, whose low voice makes you smile.

The stand out performer for me though was Barbra Hockaday’s performance of Momager Stella, who manages to do it all in this production. The icing on the cake was a flamenco dance that made me cry with laughter. A true comic performer with a larger than life stage presence.

The whole production is heartwarming, feel good and very silly. This production gets you in the mood for the summer and up and dancing by the end of the show. You need to see this production before it closes.

Summer Holiday is playing at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre until Saturday, 23rd June. Tickets and information can be booked here.

Review | Things We Want | Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

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The UK premiere of this comedy takes its turn on the award-winning Hope Mill Theatre’s stage and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

The themes of grief and how different people react to it is met with comedy as three brothers living together for the first time since childhood. Drugs, love and new age spirituality consume their search for purpose until a surprise visit from an upstairs neighbour turns everything upside down and challenges all the brothers thought they believed.

At first, the acting was a bit hammy and bit over the top on the comedy acting, like an American sitcom. But after a while, it toned down a bit as the actors relaxed into the show.

With such a small cast, the team worked well together to create a dramatic and tension-filled piece of theatre. Each actor holds there own, but there was a stand out performance from Alex Phelps playing the role of motivational mastermind turned drunk Teddy.

William J Holstead makes the perfect drunk turned positive sober businessman of Sty, who seems to be the level-headed brother of the three, and Holstead’s comedy is

Paddy Young who plays Charlie and Hannah Ellis Ryan who plays Stella are the love-stricken couple that who have to deal with a number of problems.

Director Daniel Bradford’s take on this script is clever and fast-paced. During the interval, I was eager to know what happens next and find out how the story would end up.

Sadly, the ending was a bit underwhelming. The tension and drama had built up all through the show, and the ending was just a bit disappointing. But maybe that’s a metaphor for life, that there’s all this big build up and it never turns out like you expect.

THINGS WE WANT IS PLAYING AT HOPE MILL THEATRE WEDNESDAY 30TH OF MAY – SATURDAY 9TH OF JUNE, AND YOU CAN BOOK TICKETS FOR THINGS WE WANT HERE.

Review | Blood Brothers | Manchester’s Palace Theatre

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A musical and story that has been done time and time again and seen many tours all over the world, Blood Brothers never loses its charm and style.

Having seen the 2010 tour production with Lyn Paul in the lead role of Mrs Johnstone in my hometown of Bournemouth, seeing Paul reprise the role in her final production was terrific.

When a struggling single mother is faced with the decision of keeping both twins babies or give one away to a woman desperate for a child, the children are separated at birth, never to see each other again. Fast forward seven years and the boys connect and become blood brothers; the women have decisions to make as to whether they let the boys bond.

After debuting the role of Mrs J in 1997, Lyn Paul is a seasoned professional and natural on stage, noted as the ‘definite Mrs Johnstone’. She definitely lives up to this name, as her vocal performance and character brings tears to the audience’s eyes and them leaping to their feet for a standing ovation. A mastermind and a perfect actress for the role – Lyn Paul is a marvel.

Playing the two loveable, charming and comical Mickey and Eddy is Sean Jones and Mark Hutchinson. Seeing both characters from young boys grow up into men is a beautiful transition and both Jones and Hutchinson excel as young boys and their naughty minds.

Acting as the ghost of the past and every character’s conscience, the Narrator is played by the dominating Mathew Craig. Craig’s vocals are splendid, and he captures the audience’s attention from the getgo and guides us through the story.

This production, directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright, is entirely faultless and has to be one of the best productions I’ve seen this year.

Blood Brothers ends its UK tour at Manchester’s Palace Theatre and runs until Saturday, May 26th. More information and tickets can be booked here.

Review | Manuel Linan – Sinergia | Pavilion Dance South West

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When one says Flamenco dancer, they usually think of a Spanish lady in a red dress, or sadly now, the emoji of the said dancer in the red dress. One might not even consider a male Flamenco dancer, but Manuel Liñan is breaking conventions of dance with live singers, guitar, and dancing to the spoken word.

The use of Flamenco steps as the percussion to accompany the guitarist and singers creates words and script, telling a story through his feet.

Victor Marquez’s exquisite guitar playing makes the instrument come to life. With delicate phrasing and dynamics, the instrument has its own breath.

I have never been so mesmerised by feet before, but Liñan´s quick and precise footwork is stunning and creates its rhythmic phrases.

Opening the show with a piece danced purely to speech, Liñan´s movements are a mixture of cheeky and severe, creating a mixture of emotions within the audience.

The movement and guitar flow and connect fluidly between the beautiful voices of  David Carpio and Ismael de la Rosa. Their influential voices bring drama and attitude to the piece – even though they only sang in Spanish, I understood the story through the storytelling in their voices alongside the dancing.

Using flamenco hand rhythms, the singers accompany every step Liñan takes, creating the perfect combination.

Using only a handful of white chairs around the stage that are moved or tipped over to create sounds, the emphasis and focus are on the performer’s talent themselves rather than a complex set.

Pure white and yellow lighting in used, like the set, with doses of primary colors to quickly change the mood. Similar to the simple set, the focus is on the performer’s talent and ability to change the mood quickly.

A very moving piece of dance that left the audience leaping to their feet and wanting more. Quick, quirky and entertaining.

Reviewed at The Pavilion Dance South West on 5 May.