Interview | Hannah Ellis Ryan on the UK Premiere of “Things We Want”

With the opening night just around the corner, I caught up with Play With Fire’s founder Hannah Ellis Ryan to see how the rehearsals have been going and what the show is going to entail.

After launching in 2014 with their acclaimed production of Orphans at the award-winning Hope Mill Theatre, the resident theatre company Play With Fire is bringing the UK Premiere of Jonathan Marc Sherman’s Things We Want to Manchester.

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.

After receiving its Wolrd Premiere Off-Broadway in 2007, directed by and starring Ethan Hawke, Hannah is nervous but very excited to put Manchester’s stamp on the piece. “I am a bit nervous about being the first people to show this wonderful play to the UK, but I’m so excited too.”

“Two things shows should do is to entertain and educate the audience – we hope that our production of Things We Want does both,” says Hannah. “The themes in the show hopefully will be relevant to all audiences members in some way or another, so we need to do to script justice.”

Things We Want, directed by Daniel Bradford, features Alex Phelps, William J Holstead, Paddy Young and Hannah Ellis Ryan. This production marks Play with Fires’ first time collaboration with Swaggering Crow, a new theatre collective set up by Paddy Young and William J Holstead – two graduates from Manchester School of Theatre.

Since setting up Play with Fire in 2014, Australian Drama School graduates, Hannah Ellis Ryan and Daniel Bradford have moved to Manchester and created some incredible productions! “Having the ability to play with scripts and develop our versions of the shows is cool and keeps us interested.”

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.

Since launching PWF, Hannah and Daniel have opened Hope Studios – offering affordable and accessible rehearsal space for Manchester’s creative community.

Their next production for PWF will be their first main stage production for Oldham Coliseum – coming in September 2018.

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.

Review | Titanic the Musical | The Lowry, Salford Quays

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Taking the story of a disaster that influenced and changed history, Maury Yeston and Peter Stone’s award-winning score and book tackles the story from the creation of the boat to the memorial of the fallen passengers. In two and a half hours, the show takes the audience on the journey and with impressive staging and direction by Thom Southerland makes the audience feel like they are onboard the ship and involved in the action too.

Opening with a lavish and exciting “How Did They Build Titanic?” as the different classes arrive in Southampton to depart on the “dream ship” and “floating city”. Throughout the whole production, the theme of dreams is evident with every character – whether it’s dreaming of being in a higher class, the dream marrying your one true love or getting a job and living a new life in America. Regardless of class, the characters all have their hopes and that powers through the show.

While the story could is a sad one, Yeston and Stone find the comedy and highs in the stories. Adding the comic element to the story is the larger than life and first-class wannabe Second Class passenger Alice Beane, played by Claire Machin. An impressive and quickly worded “First Class Roster” introduces the audience to the First Class passengers, informing their names and achievements.

The lower class steal the show, especially Victoria Serra as Kate McGowan, who is the leading force in the lower class. Leaving Ireland due to an unexpected pregnancy, Kate tries to create a better future for her unborn baby by migrating to America. Serra’s clear and loud voice is tremendous in “Lady’s Maid.”

A strong performance from Niall Sheehy as Frederick Barrett who powerfully sings “Barrett’s Song.” Using some clever choreography by Cressida Carre and supported by the male ensemble, the audience is quickly taken below decks to the boiler room where they work tirelessly to try and make the ship sail faster. I would like to applaud Howard Hudson with a creative and compelling lighting design throughout the show.

An excellent production that is slick and left me speechless. You must see this show this year.

Titanic the Musical is playing at Salford Quay’s Lowry Theatre until Saturday, May 12th, and information and tickets can be found here.

Review | The Jungle Book | The Lowry, Salford Quays

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Who’d have thought that a ceiling of ladders and a set that looks like a school gym climbing frame would transform the Lowry stage into a jungle filled with adventure and excitement!

This brand new musical version of Kipling’s classic tale is a breath of fresh air, with an emphasis on acceptance, diversity and the constant reminder that “we all live in the same jungle” reminds the audience that everyone should be accepted, even if they look a bit different.

When people say The Jungle Book, most people think about the Disney cartoon. With brand new songs and script, the story is more focused on the original book, but so much better.

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This show isn’t just a children’s show; there are plenty of jokes for the adults too (including a lot of references to avocado on toast!). The direction by Max Webster and the choreography by Lizzi Gee is smart with the use of puppets and how the actors play the different animals.

The fact that Mowgli (played by Keziah Joseph) is never referred to as a girl or a boy, and just as a man-cub is lovely. A highlight of the show and a recurring motif in the show is Mowgli’s song “No one,” she sings, “will tell me who I am” strengthens Mowgli’s character and place in the jungle.

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Mowgli has “The perfect modern family!” with a panther and bear as parents. Deborah Oyelade’s fierce performance as strong feminist “black panther” Bagheera, who stalks around the stage with sass, and Dyfrig Morris’ bumpkin-like Balloo.

Lloyd Gorman’s Shere Khan is a mixture of Rum Tum Tugger and Scar but really rocks the Elvis-style jumpsuit. A comical performance that left the audience booing along as Gorman entered for his bow.

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With choreography and directions nodding towards Lion King, the show is a marvel and sublime piece of theatre. A West End transfer must be considered!

The Jungle Book is showing at Salford Quay’s the Lowry until Sunday, May 6th, and information and tickets can be booked here.