Miss Saigon


A Cameron Mackintosh production of Boubil and Schõnberg’s Miss Saigon

Directed by Laurence Connor

This smash hit production of Miss Saigon opened in London in 2014 and has been on a UK tour since July 2017. Landing in Manchester with as much drama and pizzazz as the much lauded helicopter in Act 2, this show delivers on every level. Performed all over the World since 1989, Miss Saigon is a world class production that updates the Puccini opera Madame Butterfly. It tells the story of a doomed love affair between an honourable American G.I and a young peasant girl turned prostitute during the Vietnam War.

This is a lush, Technicolour experience with a lavish set, inspired lighting, sound and projections and a huge cast who sing and dance with real passion and commitment. The energy on stage never wavers and through multiple seamless set changes the story unfolds without a single glitch.

The big musical numbers are real crowd pleasers. The Movie in My Mind highlights the dreams, aspirations and coping strategies of the girls who survive by selling their bodies to the American soldiers. I Still Believe depicts the agony of two women loving the same man as Kim (Sooha Kim) and Ellen (Zoë Doano) sing with heartfelt poignancy and raw passion. The plight of the mixed-race children ostracised after the war is told in Bui Do sung as film footage displays the plight of abandoned, fatherless children. The most hi- octane numbers are undoubtedly The American Dream with the powerhouse performance of The Engineer (Red Concepción) with a white Cadillac driving on stage.

Kim’s Nightmare is the most powerful number. The roar of the helicopters moving over the audience before appearing to land on stage to evacuate the troops is genuinely tense and exciting. This scene at the Embassy gates is powerful and the switch that allows us to experience both sides of the gates is inspired. The Vietnam War may have ended over 40 years ago but this is a timely reminder of the dispossessed and vulnerable as the Syrian refugee crisis unfolds.

The performances are strong with Ashley Gilmour epitomising the all American hero and Na-Young Jeon as a sassy, sexpot Gigi. Sooha Kim brings great emotional range to her performance as Kim. She moves fluidly from reticent, shy country girl to pragmatic prostitute and eager young bride to determined survivor and fiercely protective mother. The undoubted star is The Engineer who gleefully steals every scene. Red Concepción is an exuberant, unapologetic master of sleaze and manipulation.

I’m not a fan of musicals and approached Miss Saigon with a degree of scepticism but it is a genuine feast for the eyes and ears. It is a real spectacle to behold and the hype is well deserved. The standing ovation at the end was clearly not the first and will definitely not be the last for the powerhouse experience that is Miss Saigon.

Images by Johan Persson.

Booking for Palace Theatre until May 12th.

Tickets for Nationwide UK tour.



By Mary Shelley

Adaptation by April De Angelis

Directed by Matthew Xia

Matthew Xia reanimates Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 200 years after its first publication. This new adaptation by April De Angelis sticks closely to the original text and relates the story in flashbacks as the traumatised Dr Frankenstein tells his story to the Captain of the ship which rescues him from the ice. Xia turns his focus to producing a darkly Gothic exploration of the perils of dogged human ambition at the expense of family and friends. In this visceral production he also explores the vulnerability of those seen as “Other” in this World – the abandoned, the wounded and the misunderstood. The creations that don’t conform to our perception of idealized perfection or cosy sameness.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote this extraordinary piece of literature in her late teens and was barely 20 when it was first published in January 1818. The child of the early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, she had fallen in love with the married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley at 17. Flouting social propriety of the period she had children with him before he was free to marry her after the suicide of his first wife. Traveling in Geneva in 1816 they joined the poet Byron and together conspired to each write a ghost story. From this challenge came Frankenstein, a Gothic novel influenced by the Romantic Movement and the study of Galvanism. The themes of death and reanimation must have resonated strongly with Mary. Her own Mother had died shortly after her birth and she was to have buried two of her babies before her novel was publisher.

Opening in sheer blackness the story unfolds with Captain Walton (Ryan Gage) on stage throughout the performance as the calm and steady listener to Victor Frankenstein’s wild, frenzied story that comes to life in a series of vivid flashbacks. Trapped on his ship in the ice Walton is transfixed as audiences and readers have been for two centuries.

This storytelling honours the original book but perhaps at the cost of developing authentic and empathic relationships between the characters. The dialogue sometimes sounds ponderous and doesn’t always flow in the way natural conversation would. The scenes can appear more as static tableau scenes and therefore the power of this drama can suffer at times.

The only truly potent and memorable character on stage is the Monster. Harry Atwell looms over the rest of the cast partly due to sheer physical presence and primarily because he steals the show as this doomed, traumatised creation, abandoned and rejected like a wounded refugee from the Underworld. Atwell is all wild eyed and unkempt with more than a look of Marty Feldman, yet his sensitive nature and eagerness to learn and to love and be loved seems very much taken from the creature as portrayed in the television adaptation Penny Dreadful by Rory Kinnear.

His journey is tragic and heartrending as he starts out stammering hesitant words and twitching with movements that seem like a creature with agonising phantom limb pain as nerve endings are raw or still newly knitting together. His journey is brutal as wounded and rejected, he becomes increasingly vengeful. Yet he evolves to develop a humanity and awareness that seems greater than the men before him. His quest for knowledge and his self education are sadly not really explored in this production but the result is a fully fledged man who feels emotions and can articulate his pain. Shaped by his experiences and composed of unknown body parts he is literally Everyman.

However this production like it’s namesake is deeply flawed. The other characters never develop in a satisfactory way. Indeed some feel as wooden as the bizarre marionette used to portray William the child. This addition seems awkward and uneccessary on stage and does nothing to create the emotional potency of a child’s death. There are occasional moments where humour appears to seep in jarring the intensity. The character of Henry, Frankenstein’s friend or the introduction of The Professors creates an almost vaudeville humour that simply does not work.

Designer Ben Stones has created a set which is lush with gore and bones and limbs. Death is everywhere and escape impossible. From the trunks filled with wedding clothes or body parts to the spectacular honeymoon bed or the Frankenstein’s laboratory; detail is everything in this lavish production. The costumes are fabulous and create an almost filmic aspectic to this theatre of the grotesque.

This is visually a feast in carnage and pathos. There are some moments of real terror and genuine poignancy, yet it all feels unsatisfactory and a lost opportunity to truly chill the audience. Just as the characters are trapped on the ice, I felt trapped in my seat daring to hope but feeling ultimately doomed to disappointment.

At The Royal Exchange until April 14th

Images by Johan Persson

She Bangs The Drums

Museum of Science and Industry

Contact Young Company

Directed by Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit (Sh!t Theatre)

Contact Young Company working with the brilliant women of Sh!t Theatre and the Peoples History Museum was always going to be an intriguing project. She Bangs The Drums explores and celebrates the history of the Suffragettes and Manchester’s rich heritage of radical politics. 100 years since The Representation of the Peoples Act gave women partial voting rights this explosion of passion and energy would have been applauded by the Pankhursts.

Staged in part of the Museum of Science and Industry, the setting feels almost church-like with industrial beams and brick archways which are used to great effect with clever projections and bicycles adorned with twinkling lights flitting past the audience.

A band called Powerful Women are tucked in an archway and are central to much of the performance providing great music and vocals. There is drama, poetry, spoken word, dance, comedy and so much more. This is a show packed with all the elements that showcase the wide range of skills at CYC and could have resulted in a muddled mess. With a sound creative team including Cheryl Martin and Keisha Thompson and inspired direction the result is cohesive and beautifully balanced.

Packed full of historical facts such as the brutal force-feeding of prisoners and current references to #MeToo and #BringBackOurGirls, this is a trip from the lethal hatpin in a Suffragettes hat to the rape alarm in my daughter’s schoolbag. Cheeky, charming and incredibly poignant, this is a celebration of women everywhere, past and present.

March 8th – March 11th 2018



Written by Annie Baker

Directed by Bijan Sheibani

Circle Mirror Transformation is the award winning second play by Annie Baker who won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Staged in a recreation centre it covers a six week amateur drama class where five ordinary people come together through drama exercises and during refreshment breaks. The genius lies in the inherent simplicity and ordinariness of everything and everyone. Baker writes with delicacy and acute insight into the human need for connection and attachment. How we circle around each other and seek out what is familiar or attractive, how we mirror each other in order to attach and how we all experience transformation in the process.

This small town drama group has strong echoes of group therapy sessions. All five actors give great performances and director Bijan Sheibani ensures the group dynamics that Baker has nurtured get fully explored. Amelia Bullmore utterly embodies the facilitator Marty who is all sinewy energy and positive encouragement, with a lot more going on behind that calm facade. James, her husband is likable, steady and reliable yet seemimgly, easily swayed by a fresh pretty face. Lauren is sixteen and equally diffident, difficult and delightful as she grows from child to adult. Teresa is all fluid grace and beauty but internally is floundering and ambivalent about her place in the world. Con O’Neill gives newly divorced Schultz a rich blend of blundering, puppyish exuberance and affection, coupled with a whiff of hangdog desperation.

Designer Samal Blak has created a set for the community centre space that is instantly recognisable in its ordinariness and utilitarianism. The brilliance is in the mirrored wall that reflect images of the actors on stage and of the audience. In watching them we see ourselves reflected in all their interactions, in their hopes and disappointments. We see both the complexity and the often, utter randomness of how we connect in our world.

The sound and lighting sync perfectly in a way the characters never can. The nine strip lights are always in unison with the bars of sound – controlled and predictable unlike the counting exercise where the characters repeatedly fail. A perfect indicator of how difficult it is to make our mark with each other while giving others the space and security to dare to make theirs.

Circle Mirror Transformation is special because it shines a brilliant and tender light on the fragility of all of us, in our need for connection, acceptance and love. It highlights the circle of life which is in constant flux even when there is apparent stillness. Sometimes I think everything I do is propelled by my fear of being alone.

At HOME 2-17 March 2018

THE AUDIT (Or Iceland, A Modern Myth)


Written/Directed by Andrew Westerside

Devised/Performed by Rachel Baynton and Gillian Lees

This is the follow up to Proto-type’s last work dissecting contemporary politics. A Machine they’re secretly Building delved into the world of surveillance, whereas The Audit is a razor sharp analysis of the 2008 global financial crisis, viewed as the worst since The Great Depression of 1933. Sharply observed and clever this show feels like part theatre/part podcast/ part Jackanory for grown ups. A heartfelt and thought provoking plea to wake up and look at what is going on around us. An invitation to react and respond rather than just remain ignorant and accepting.

Rachel Baynton and Gillian Lees are a great combination and perfect foil for each other. Together they deftly create a strong emotional response evoking shock, anger and clarity around the facts while also subtly provoking awareness of our own acquiescence and willingness to be nurtured towards a false sense of security.

The performance includes original writing that contains some beautiful spoken word and deftly, measured performance, blended with emotive new music and film. Taking the audience from The Great Depression of 1933 to Bill Clinton signing off on deregulating the financial industry in 1999. The subsequent buying up of mortgage bundles that were not always secure, the false assurances to guarantee insurance cover from titans like A.I.G and the assumption that the housing market would continue to boom and the crazed greed of the banks sounds so wildly speculative that it beggars belief that it was allowed to happen. It did.

The Audit focuses on the ordinary people of Iceland, a country that made it’s first radio contact with the world in 1906. It is not a happy story. It is a horror story. Not a nice story. The global crash of 2007/08 left banks such as Lehmans with 619 billion dollar debt, led to the first run on British banks in 150 years and of course crippled Iceland whose three biggest private banks all defaulted with catastrophic consequences. The public protests in Iceland brought down the government and led to the creation of a new Constitutional Assembly which pledged that the country’s resources should belong to the people rather than a select few. Iceland has made a strong economic recovery in the past 10 years.

This probably sounds rather dry and heavy going. The brilliance of Proto-type’s approach is to engage, inform and entertain. I wish our education system made these two women the Trinny and Susannah of make overs in how we educate and inform our young people. They are not preachy but they are passionate. They are never dry and boring but they exude warmth and wit. The clarity and insight here allows for the telling of a modern horror story of greed that resonates with age old folk stories that we should not forget.

The Audit is a chilling and telling reminder of what happens when we forget the lessons of the past and sleep walk through our lives dumbing down and silencing the questions our gut instincts are screaming at us. When the storm is coming what do we do? What can we do? What is possible if we stand together?

Take your pots, take your pans. Bang them! Make the World move…

The Lowry – 28th Feb and touring.

Tour dates

Brief Encounter


Adapted and directed by Emma Rice

A Kneehigh production

Ten years on from its first hugely successful staging and Emma Rice and Kneehigh have revived Brief Encounter. This musical adaptation blends the 1936 Noel Coward play Still Life and the iconic 1945 film Brief Encounter. If the originals depict ordinariness and repressed passion played “with a deliberate colourlessness”, then Rice wilfully and mischieviously paints a canvas around the lovers that is warm, vivid and earthily sensual.

The production draws you in from the start with a band (clad in old fashioned cinema ushers costumes) playing in the foyer, to striking up in the aisles and chatting randomly to audience members. Suddenly a couple in the front row burst into argument and the elegant woman flees her seat, only to rush unto the stage and through the projected screen where she becomes part of the black and white film. This is a celebratory affair and Rice has a very large bag of tricks and surprises at her disposal.

There is some great use of Noel Coward songs such as Go slow, Johnny with Jos Slovick on mandolin during the boat scene and Beverly Rudd giving her winsome version of Mad About The Boy. The music numbers feel very natural with the songs never seeming as if shoehorned into the production as in many musicals. Various background scenes tend to unfold during the songs on stage, or they are performed in front of the plush red velvet curtain almost like Vaudeville numbers.

The blend of live theatre and film is exhilarating as it is done so well. Scenes of crashing waves on screen allude to repressed passion on stage. Trains arrive and depart in spectacular ways particularly in the scene when Laura contemplates suicide. From railway station buffet menus to champagne bubbles to pressure gauges to mishaps on boating lakes, every tiny nuance is there. The use of lighting is key to mood throughout the piece from the sombre but comforting light of the standard lamp in the living room to the glorious boat house scene. This is a triumph which feels like an old black and white film has been lovingly and pain stakingly hand painted in rich Technicolor. It is no surprise that the design team involved have won so many awards for their previous work on this production.

Jim Sturgeon and Isabel Pollen embody the doomed lovers Alex and Laura with all the restraint and earnestness of the original film. The scene where they hover onto real sensuality at the boat house is the most poignant. Other moments seem too contrived and work less well such as when they literally swing from the chandeliers.

The rest of the cast are the real life blood of this production as they get to be fully fleshed out and larger than life characters. The other lovers are of course not hindered by pleasant spouses in the background and are free to express their love. Lucy Thackeray as would-be posh Myrtle Bagot and Dean Nolan as the lusty Albert are well matched as the older lovers and great to watch. Nolan also gives a lovely depth and sweetness in his other role as Laura’s husband. Beverley Rudd is a riot as the earthy and sweetly saucy young Beryl falling in love with Stanley, her devoted young suitor Jos Slovick. These characters all bring a hefty dose of bawdy humour and slapstick which is mainly infectious and joyful. There are times where the sharp contrast against the scenes with Laura and Alec can seem jarring and risk marring the emotional impact of the final scenes.

A real theatrical delight, although it sometimes feels like every item in the kitchen cupboard has been added to this 70 year old recipe, the result is a winner. Leaving the theatre you want to laugh and skip and…….remember every minute. Always.

At The Lowry until Saturday w4th Feb.

At The Old Vic 2nd March- 2nd September 2018

Images by Simon Turtle

The Newspaper Boy


Written by Chris Hoyle

Directed by Simon Naylor

A Dibby Theatre production

Part of Queer Contact 2018

From start to finish The Newspaper Boy is a real joy to watch. Writer Chris Hoyle has such a natural ear for dialogue and a genuine affection for his characters ensuring they are all warm, earthy and colourful. The look and feel of this production is absolutely 1992 from the iconic television ads to the music of New Order and the clothes by John Richmond and Comme des Garçons. This is a real labour of love and perfectly evokes the joy and the anguish of coming out in the Nineties.

The cast do a great job as an ensemble. Christian is on a high speed trajectory from Moston to Didsbury via the nation’s tv screens and Daniel Maley is great as the naive, awkward boy who may be growing up too fast but is having a brilliant time until the newspapers break the scandal. He has the super confident soap veteran Mandy as his ballsy guide to drugs, clubs and fashion. Hollie-Jay Bowes is totally believable as the sweet ingenue/spoilt brat/faghag who just wants to get wankered and not have another cute guy love her like a fucking sister!! The fifteen year old Christian falls in love with the older boy Max who Sam Retford embodies with charm and genuine honour and sweetness.

Director Simon Naylor directs the sex scenes with genuine tenderness . This is a coming of age in a really special and joyful way that is later brutalized and cheapened by an ignorant media obsessed with the moral high ground and the desire to sell newspapers. When Christian says I’m proud of us it is said with a naivety about the personal, social and possible legal repercussions. Regardless of this Chris Hoyle has written young love in a joyous way that anyone could be proud off.

The older cast members bring additional depth to this story and of course were young people in the Nineties so can draw on their experiences. Eve Steele gives a chilly television executive in Burberry and heels but blisters with her genius take on a Manc drug dealer on the club scene. Samantha Siddall as Christian’s Mum is perfectly cast as the proud parent basking in the glory of a famous child while still worrying for his well-being. Karen Henthorn is just brilliant as the feisty, chain smoking Gran who adores Christian. Her performance shifts from impish to red eyed and broken, with the stuffing knocked out of her as the scandal unfolds.

The staging works really well and built over several levels allows for creative space to move the action on stage across a range of settings. The family home in Moston to soap star Mandy’s place in Didsbury via Flesh night at The Haçienda and the Granada studio offices and the set for famous soap Mancroft Walk. The energy ramps up a gear as a throng of tv crew thrust through the audience to film another scene on set. The audience are watching this unfold on stage while overhead monitors play out the filmed scene. A large tv screen above Christian’s bed shows scenes from the soap as the family watch Christian and Mandy on scene as the young lovers. Interspersed with iconic Nineties ads for Gold Blend and Milky Way the feeling of slipping back 25 years becomes stronger and stronger. It is a clever and impressive use of this small, bustling theatre. 53Two is quickly becoming a hugely exciting space to see theatre in Manchester.

Based on some of Hoyle’s personal experience as a child actor on Coronation Street, this play highlights the hypocrisy of television programming that storylines teenage pregnancy by a teacher but baulks at teenage gay sex with another young man. Staged as part of Queer Contact 2018 this is a funny and poignant take on an important subject.

Images by Richard Kelly

At 53Two until Saturday 24th February