Posted in Review

Take That: Manchester Arena ★★★★

As a Manchester girl myself and Take That have a long history. In my crazier younger days I have slept in arena tunnels to get the latest tour tickets and spent nights in back alleys of music stores to catch a glimpse of the now man band.

By 1992 I was hooked and excited for my first concert to see them only to be thwarted by BBC News showing scenes of chaos and young girls being dragged out of their Apollo gig having been squashed or fainted in the mania and a horrified parent putting a stop to my plans.

At the time it seemed the end of the world but had I told my 12 year old self stood in Manchester Gmex,  hollering at that very same young boy band in the following year, that 25 years later I would be heading out to see the group now all in their mid and late 40s I probably wouldn’t have believed it!

First a note to the venue, we love Manchester Arena, we’ve been most years since it opened in 1995 but it really could do with a revamp. The stairs are crazily steep with no rails and we saw several people almost take a tumble. For some unknown reason on Thursday night it was also ridiculously hot. This combined with people consuming very large amounts of alcohol seemed to be asking for trouble.

Anyway on to the show, and what can we say without giving too many spoilers other than Take That do theatre well. Few pop concerts we have been to have had the sort of staging, theatrical sets and story lines Take That do which would not be amiss at a West End or Vegas show and with it not being unusual to see elephants and giant robots grace the stage. Wonderland is no different with spectacular scenery, beautiful lazer water effects, flying carpets, soaring beds and stunning acrobatics plus the usual dose of brilliantly bonkers costumes only Take That could pull off.

It’s tough to take a new album which has only recently been released out to a live audience especially with shows like Take That where audiences often come to re live their youth and sing along and at times with the new tracks the audience felt a bit stilted.

That soon changed with the introduction of recent hit Giants which had the crowd once more up and out of their seats. By the time Gary, Howard and Mark launched into classic Take That songs the familiar roar of the crowd returned as the band smashed out favourites Back for Good, Pray and Relight My Fire, leaving everyone in no doubt why this man band are still going strong two and a half decades later.

With a little nod to their earliest followers with nineties song Satisfied and what can only be described as Take That’s very own anthem Never Forget the man band looked and sounded great especially Howard who really seemed to shine within the now smaller band of three.

We have to be honest in saying that for us it was no Circus tour which would be hard for anyone to beat but it’s still a damn good show and a must see for any Take That fan.

For Manchester ticket information see here

Posted in Review

Billy Elliot Review: Liverpool Empire, The Easiest Five Stars We Have Ever Given. ★★★★★

There are few theatre performances we have seen where the audience are on their feet in standing ovation within the first few songs but Billy is one such show and you know what it deserves it.

Brilliantly bonkers, breathtakingly beautiful and a complete emotional roller coaster is really the only way to describe the hit show which is this week celebrating its twelfth year.

Set in a northern mining town against the background of the 1984/’85 miners’ strike, Billy Elliot follows the story of a young boy who accidentally stumbles upon a love of dance through a touching relationship with local dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson, among a time of incredible working class hardship.

Billy doesn’t shy away from history and deals with the battles between the miners and the police, middle class perceptions along with the working class hatred of Maggie Thatcher head on. It is impossible for anyone with any mining history or old enough to remember the huge pit heads looming over our towns to fail to be affected by the show and it stands not only as a poignont reminder of recent British history but one which will cause you to reflect on the similarities in today’s political Britain.

It’s not all gut wrenching though. There are moments of lightness too throughout, with music from Elton John what more could you expect? It is flamboyant and bonkers and has plenty of laughs. It takes guts as a young boy to get up on stage dressed up in women’s clothing and a tutu and Bradley Mayfield as Michael did a wonderful job. His natural chemistry with Adam Abbou made for some touching scenes.  Not to mention the moments of comedy gold from the fabulous Mr Braithwaite.

Adam Abbou is exceptional as Billy, it isn’t an easy show stamina wise by any means but Adam does an incredible job of moving from the developing dancer to the breathtaking Electricity. Even in the scenes with his ‘older self’ Adam shone.

Grandma’s song will have you both laughing at the eccentricity of the character and crying at a lifetime lost to an abusive marriage.

The relationship between Martin Walsh as Dad and Scott Garnham as Tony is both touching and guttingly heart wrenching. Garnham has been treading the board for years and knows how to pack a punch. I challenge anyone to hear his lines about the closure of the mines and the effect on its workers to not consider this and the current economy, zero hours contracts and the state of some of our old mining villages and not sob into your hankies.

Billy will make you leave the theatre entirely emotionally drained but not in a negative way as above all Billy is an incredible, heartfelt and life affirming piece of theatre.

Go see it!

Billy Elliot runs at the Liverpool Empire until May 27th.

Click for ticket information

Notes for families:

Recommended age 8 plus

Contains heavy swearing.

Posted in Review

Just Soph at St Mary’s A Creative Space Chester

It goes without saying that we are keen advocates for getting children into the theatre as young as is possible but we also acknowledge it can be stressful with a small pre-schooler in tow.

The production company behind Just Soph has the answer for this. Touring libraries, schools and community spaces across the north Just Soph brings the theatre to the preschoolers. With relaxed spaces and family friendly venues you don’t have to worry about little wrigglers!

Our Chester reviewer popped down to St Mary’s Creative Space to check it out.

Last week my children and I were lucky enough to be invited to St. Mary’s Creative Space to watch a new adaption of the Rudyard Kipling Just So stories Just Soph, aimed at children aged 4-7 it was ideal for us as my youngest is 4 and my eldest turned 7 the very next day.

Despite living only 15 minutes away from St. Mary’s I can honestly say I never even knew it existed but now that I do I have a feeling it will be somewhere we visit on a regular basis. As an old church it makes the most beautiful backdrop for any event but the relaxed seating arrangements made it really child friendly and with all the children sat on cushions on the floor there was no need for parents to worry about fidgeting children blocking other peoples view.

From the minute we arrived we were welcomed with big smiles from the staff and the children were invited to get creative in a hands on area whilst we waited for the show to start. This starter activity really got the children excited about the show and they couldn’t wait to see the connection between what they were making and what they were about to watch.

The show was called “Just Soph” and it quiet literally was, Just Soph, at the front of the room telling three magical stories. How one women managed to captivate the entire audience, adults included, for 45 minutes using very minimal props, an array of voices and a few musical instruments I will never know, but she did. Her confidence was incredible and her ability to adapt the script to take questions from excited children and work around a wondering toddler who kept edging closer and closer, without ever looking fazed was mind blowing.

The show itself was extremely interesting and the use of props was sensational. It really highlighted that the most important thing required for entertaining children is not high tech equipment or expensive games but is an ability  to use ones own imagination whilst simultaneously encouraging them to use theirs. My boys particularly enjoyed the story about the whale featuring a boat, a whale and most importantly  for the tillder, a fish that looked like Dory. For me I think I rather enjoyed the story abut the camel but that was probably because it delivered an underlying message about the consequences of being work shy which I think was an excellent way of introducing this idea to young children.

Just Soph is currently touring the North west and if you get the chance to pay it a visit I would highly recommend it. However Just Soph is also touring some of the local schools so if you are unable to attend yourself it would be worth inquiring with your child’s school as this is a cracking activity to get the imaginations and the creativity of children flowing.  An absolute must for all children aged 4-7.

To find out more  check out ‘Just Soph’ on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/stutetheatre/ and on Twitter @justsophtheatre

The production will also be touring schools in and around Chester, Preston, Manchester and Staffordshire so please check the Facebook page for more information.

Reviewer: Terri

To check out our Chester reviewers blog The Strawberry Fountain, a blog on family life and a little piece of pink in a life full of blue see the link below.

http://thestrawberryfountain.com/

 

Posted in Review

Review: Underneath a Magical Moon – Beautifully Captivating, Warm and Touching ★★★★★

 

Reviewer: Michelle

Producing theatre for young children must be one of the toughest jobs in the business, after all preschoolers aren’t forgiving and if it doesn’t grab their interest then you will soon know about it!

Presented by tutti frutti and York Theatre Royal, Underneath a Magical Moon has no such worries. Captivating from the start the show makes brilliant use of simplistic yet beautiful staging and clever lighting effects to get this re-imagining of the timeless Peter Pan story across to its young audience.

Shying away from the large affluent home of the Darlings in the original Peter Pan, Underneath a magical moon reaches out to make a connection with regular families in a regular garden dreaming of adventure. We all remember the days of creating dens with bed sheets and sailing ships from boxes to be carried away to far away lands and the play demonstrates just that with a wonderful use of every day household props where even the most mundane item can become a pirate ship. We were especially impressed with the crocodile!.

Mike Kenny’s script is clever, warm and above all funny, there were plenty of laughs from the grown ups in the audience and some absolute gems among the songs from hip hop pirates to the brilliantly composed Mermaid song.

The strength of this cast of just three shines and is impressive with a multiple use of musical instruments by Grace Lancaster, Jack Brett and Chris Draper throughout. Most of all they were believable. As the Mother of a child teetering on the edge of ‘growing up’ the reflection of Wendy and her own feelings about adulthood were particularly touching.

Underneath a Magical Moon is what it says on the tin, a magical and endearing tale which will capture the hearts of both old and young alike. It was stripped back perhaps without the razzle dazzle of some larger productions but sometimes that creates the perfect way to connect truly with an audience and this is certainly true in this case..

Recommended for children age 3 – 11 years Underneath a Magical Moon runs until the 31st of December at the Waterside Arts Centre.

Click here for ticket information

 

 

 

Posted in Review

Review: Aladdin at St Helens Theatre Royal ★★★★

Reviewer: Michelle

We must admit to having a real soft spot for St Helens Theatre Royal. As someone who is passionate about getting kids in through the theatre doors we feel it is vital to produce fun and fast paced shows which grab and keep their attention in the local community reaching families who might not normally attend shows further afield.

Theatre Royal has been doing panto for years and boy do they do it well!

As always Liam Mellor’s script is clever and fast with a splash of songs old and new to get people up and on their feet. They don’t scrimp on the staging either and Aladdin produced an explosion of colour, sparkle and special effects on par with many larger theatre productions.

David Heath puts in a solid performance as Aladdin but stealing the show was The Only Way is Essex star Harry Derbidge who was surprisingly brilliant as PC Noodle. His exuberant and delightfully camp personality shines in panto and he really could have found his calling here, he gave it his all and it showed.

There were of course plenty of Towie jokes between Derbidge and Towie co star Amy Childs who looked stunning as the Slave of the Ring. Panto season can be fierce and to do it while pregnant too must be exhausting! But she does a fabulous job.

Warren Donnelly played the evil Abanazar with a wicked ease and certainly filled the auditorium with the expected jeers and boo’s each time he appeared.

We love Simon Foster, he never lets a show down as the resident Dame and this time was no different. It takes skill to hold the demand of an audience full of excited school children and adults alike and Foster as Widdow Twankey was brilliantly funny as always.

Aladdin is cheesy, over the top and slightly bonkers but that’s what makes panto at its best. If you are looking for some festive fun to kick off the Christmas holidays go see it!

Aladdin runs until the 8th January.

For information visit the theatre website

 

 

 

 

Posted in Review

Review: Winter Wonderland Manchester ★★★★

Opening for it’s fourth year Winter Wonderland is back at event City with a bang.  With giant candy canes, falling snow and the big man Santa himself it is a perfect place to let the kids work off some steam in the run up to Christmas whatever the weather.

We all remember the excitement of the fair coming to town as children, the bright lights and the screams of delight as children spun wildly on the teacups and waltzer.

With over 50 family rides and attractions all under one roof included in the ticket price Winter Wonderland is a great place to relive your youth while the kids have fun too. From traditional rides such as giant carousels and merry go rounds for the littlies to bucking bronco fun for bigger kids (and adults too), you can relax and let the children go on as many rides as they like at no extra cost. Queues do form at some of the rides but they moved fairly quickly. Sessions are limited to four hours to prevent overcrowding and those ride hoggers we all know and to try and give everyone a chance of trying out as many of the attractions as possible.

We would advise if you have littlies arriving a few minutes after the opening time as entrance queues get very busy for the grand opening each day and it can be a bit crowded.

We loved children’s favourite Sooty last year and this year, Pip Ahoy invites you to join him at Salty Cove, where you can build sandcastles at the beach or simply take a break and relax in a deck chair on the promenade. A nice little pit stop with over excited children!

As you would expect the big man himself Santa is very much in demand and there were large queues to visit him. A pre booking system would work well here as some of the local Grotto use to prevent you spending precious ride time in the queue. Gifts are available at an extra small cost of £3.50 however are given at the exit by Santa’s Elves and not Santa himself.

If rides aren’t your thing never fear! Winter Wonderland Manchester 2016 offers an array of colourful shows including an exciting new addition for 2016 – a Christmas pantomime – Cinderella, a brand new Sci-Fi show and spectacular Christmas Circus, not forgetting Basil Brush’s Full on Fox show so there really is something for everyone! Although our top tip would be to queue slightly earlier for the shows to guarantee a seat. The circus in particular was well worth a visit.

There is also a whole host of games stalls and a food and drinks stalls to purchase refreshments including hot snacks and sweet treats. Games stalls (and refreshments) are not included in the ticket price so do take a little extra cash or be prepared to say no!

All in all we had a fantastic time. If you are looking for an immersive Christmas Lapland type experience this is not the place for you but if you love the fairground you will love this!

Tickets are £19.50 for children and adults, OAPs £14 and under threes FREE. Family tickets are available for £64. (booking fees apply).

Open from 10th December 2016 until 1st January 2017

To book tickets visit www.winterwonderlandmanchester.com

Follow on Facebook facebook.com/WinterWonderlandManchester and Twitter @WWManchester

Posted in Review

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Review: Wonderfully Heart Warming and Truly Scrumptious ★★★★★

Reviewer: Michelle

It must be mildly terrifying to take an iconic film which provided the background for a whole generation of childhoods and transfer it to stage but Chitty the Musical does it with a bang.

For anyone who doesn’t know the Chitty story (where have you been?!) The plot follows the plight of Caractacus Potts and his two children Jemima and Jeremy as they try to come to terms with the loss of their mother and prevent the spoilt Baron Bomburst  getting his hands on their beloved car Chitty.

Jason Manford plays the eccentric, slightly bonkers but endearing Caractacus Potts to perfection. His rapport with the young stars is natural making it entirely believable and utterly heart warming. Hushabye Mountain is particularly beautiful and shows off Manford’s great vocal range. His relationship with Charlotte Wakefield as the strong and somewhat feisty Truly is delightful.

Sam Harrison and Scott Paige raised the most laughs of the night with their brilliant portrayal of Vulgarian spies Boris and Goran and some terribly cheesy but yet brilliantly funny jokes. With the kind of silly humour young children love and some adult innuendos for good measure they really did steal the show.

Jos Vantyler plays the nightmare of our childhood dreams with a terrifying ease and his extensive theatre experience shows, we have seen this role played in almost a panto style but Vantyler takes the role back to its original film state and is delightfully wicked.

Baron and Baroness Bomburst stay true to the film. In a land where children are forbidden and the Baron holds an obsession with toys, Phill Jupitus dead pan drop of one liners had the audience in uproar as did Claire Sweeny’s portrayal of the slightly saucy child hating Barononess.

The staging is utterly stunning with complicated scenery and beautiful projection and the whole production hits you with a feast of colour.

As Chitty lit up the stage in her final scenes our small companion simply uttered WOW and we think this sums up Chitty in one word.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang we most definitely do love you!

Chitty runs until January the 15th at the Lowry Theatre, Salford. For information and tickets see here.

Go see it!