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Aug 14th

Meera Syal Becomes a Patron of HOME in Manchester

By Cameron Lowe

Comedian, actress and writer Meera Syal MBE is today, 13 August 2014, announced as a Patron of HOME, the new centre for contemporary visualart, theatre and film which opens in Manchester in spring 2015.

Meera Syal Meera Syal, who studied English and Drama at Manchester University, joins fellow patrons, Danny Boyle, Phil Collins, Nicholas Hytner, Asif Kapadia, Jackie Kay, Rosa Barba and Suranne Jones, in supporting Manchester’s dynamic new cultural hub.

Syal has worked extensively across theatre, film, TV and radio throughout her career and is an award-winning author, playwright and screenwriter. She both wrote the screenplay and acted in the BBC Film adaptation of her first novel Anita and Me, which now features on both GCSE and university syllabuses. Her stage credits include the RSC’s Much Ado About Nothingset in modern-day India and the Bollywood-themed musical Bombay Dreams. In 2011, she was appointed the Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at the University of Oxford.

Syal is perhaps best known for her roles in BBC comedy series Goodness Gracious Me (which she also co-created) and the International Emmy Award-winning The Kumars at Number 42. The two shows have been instrumental in establishing British-Asian comedy’s place on our TV screens. Further acting credits include The Real McCoy, Band of Gold and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.

Syal was awarded an MBE in 1997 and won Media Personality of the Year at the Commission for Racial Equality’s Race in the Media Awards (2000), as well as the EMMA (BT Ethnic and Multicultural Media Award) for Media Personality of the Year in 2001. Her contribution to the arts has been recognised within academia by an honorary doctorate from SOAS, and honorary degrees from the University of Manchester, University of London and University of Roehampton.

Meera Syal says:

‘I loved my time at Manchester as an undergraduate and am over the moon to be becoming a Patron for HOME, which will add to the city’s reputation for exciting contemporary artistic expression. It’s great to be part of a dynamic new organisation committed to discovering and fostering diverse talent and new voices across art forms.’

Jim Forrester, Chair of Trustees at HOME, comments,

‘We are thrilled to have Meera join our team of patrons for HOME. She will bring with her a wealth of experience in theatre and film and a passion for Manchester and its creativity, and a love of the arts in us all.’ 

Aug 6th

Rock of Ages at Glasgow's Kings Theatre

By Cameron Lowe
Rock of Ages rolled into Glasgow this week and blew the roof off of the King's Theatre.
Rock of Ages

The jukebox musical has been a staple of live entertainment for decades. Elvis made movies in this format back in the 50s and live audiences have enjoyed fresh presentations of their favourite hits since Buddy and Return to the Forbidden Planet mastered the genre 25 years ago. But never in the history of the jukebox musical have a cast, writer and audience had so much FUN! 
The story is broadly predictable while the presentation and dialogue will have you rolling in the aisles! Sherrie (Cordelia Farnworth) is a small town girl who travels to LA for fame and fortune. Drew (Noel Sullivan) is a city boy trying to turn his bar job at the Bourbon Club on the Strip into a rock career. There is instant chemistry but Drew gets caught in the "friend zone". Meanwhile, corporate big wigs (other wigs feature heavily in this 80s themed storyline) with German accents have dastardly plans to turn LA's famous Strip into a shopping mall. The club recruits rock god, Stacee Jaxx (Ben Richards), to perform and save the Strip. But Stacee is a famous womaniser and (you guessed it) Sherrie catches his ever roaming eye ...
The setting provides the perfect excuse to cram in more 80s rock classics than you could shake a Stratocaster at! Classic hits from Foreigner, Starship, Bon Jovi, Journey, Europe, Whitesnake and more are rocked out and mashed up at a rate of knots! The 80s provides a rich vein of musical gold to be mined and this production digs up every last nugget.  But it is the comedic approach to the entire show which really lifts this musical way above the plethora of competion. The dialogue from Chris D'Arienzo has the tongue so firmly in the cheek that what might have been cheezy becomes hilarious. Direction from Kristin Hanggi gives the cast plenty of freedom to have as much risqué fun as they dare! The choreography is outstanding. Physicality from the talented cast is delightfully OTT. If there was an Olivier for Comedy Choreography it would certainly be awarded to Kelly Devine.
The plaudits continue when it comes to performances from this outstanding cast. Noel Sullivan proved that his rock voice still tops theatrical charts following his successful tour of We Will Rock You. Amazing! Cordelia Farnworth was a talented lead with a voice which ranged from powerful rock chick to soulful ballad mistress. But these two great performances had to compete with some OUTLANDISH characters for the affections of the audience; and this show has those by the bucket-load! Ben Richards was perfect as Stacee Jaxx - self centred, narcisistic and wonderfully loathable. Supporting characters from Daniel Fletcher, Stephen Rahman-Hughes, Jack Lord, Rachel McFarlane, Jessie May and Cameron Sharp were given ample opportunity to shine  ... and they took it!
This is a fantastic show. Funny, nostalgic, naughty and melt your face rockin' in equal measure! Miss it at your peril.
Mon 4 – Sat 9 August
Mon - Sat eves 7.30pm
Wed & Sat mats 2.30pm
Tickets: £12.90 - £50.90
Box Office: 0870 060 6648 (bkg fee)   (bkg fee)
Aug 1st

Award Winning Musical ALTAR BOYZ gets a UK Premier

By Cameron Lowe


Hallelujah! After five hilarious years and over 2000 performances Off-Broadway, ALTAR BOYZ will make its UK Premiere in a strictly limited run of 14 performances at Greenwich Theatre from Friday 3 October 2014. On sale now.

With their heavenly harmonies, divine dance moves, and faith that’s stronger than their hair gelthe ALTAR BOYZ are ready to spread the good news through the glory of sweet pop music

Get set for a foot-stomping, rafter-raising musical comedy about a fictitious boy-band on the last night of their Raise the Praise tour. TheBoyz are five all-singing, all-dancing heartthrobs – Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham – trying to save the world one screaming fan at a time. Their pious pop act – including lyrics like Girl You Make Me Wanna Wait and Jesus Called Me On My Cell Phone – worked wonders on the bingo hall circuit, but when fate brings them to New York, will the boyz take a bite out of the forbidden apple?

Full of sharp parody, sinfully spectacular dancing and irreverent humour, ALTAR BOYZ has been adored by audiences all over theworld. With an extraordinary mix of side-splitting songs, uncontrollable laughs and light-hearted fun, this award-winning and totally original musical is 90 minutes of heavenly delight that is destined to rock the masses of all denominations!

ALTAR BOYZ will be directed by Steven Dexterwhose credits include Loserville in the West End and the World Premiere of Stiles and Drewe’s Honk! at the Watermill Theatre.

Casting is to be announced. 

Twitter @AltarBoyzUK |

Aug 1st


By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York


Sutton Foster as Violet and the cast, waiting at a bus station, photo Joan Marcus.

“Violet” is like an expressionist painting with brush-stroked characters. We see the visual depth of the central figure (Sutton Foster), and the others that interact with her add bits of color.

It is a picture with sound. The production by Brian Crawley (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music) is a chamber operetta, with Foster’s strong, rich voice underpinned by deep sweetness. The score moves through a terrific panoply of southern music, from country in Nashville, to blues in Memphis and gospel in Tulsa.

Sutton Foster is superb as Violet, a young woman from the mountains of North Carolina who is on a religious odyssey seeking healing – not just spiritual. When she was 13, her father was swinging an axe when the blade flew off and hit her on the cheek. You don’t see the scar. Foster wears no make-up, but you see the wound through her anguish. Director Leigh Silverman makes the injury a metaphor rather than a horrific event.

Now, it is September 1964 and the grown woman has started out from Spruce Pine by bus to travel to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to see a TV evangelist who can perform the miracle of giving her a new face. She has a fantasy of being a movie star — she names them all: Bardot, Cyd Charisse, Grace Kelly, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman. 


Joshua Henry as Flick, Colin Donnell as Monty, Sutton Foster as Violet, photo Joan Marcus.

Along the way at a bus station rest-stop she meets two servicemen, one white and one black, who are traveling together. Violetis cynical, not trusting, but they win her over. Joshua Henry is excellent as Flick, the intense black soldier, whose unforgettable stentorian voice powers a bluesy, R&B sound.

The white soldier, Monty (Colin Donnell) makes a comment, “Last year, he coulda been thrown in jail for sittin’ here.” The civil rights act had just passed, though real desegregation didn’t happen so quickly after the law, so it was odd to see black man traveling with a white man on the bus and Violet socializing publicly with both.

When they stop in Memphis, the music is country. Monty sings about looking for a woman. Annie Golden is very good playing a hotel hooker in the number, “Anyone Would Do.” Anastacia McCleskey is excellent as an R&B music hall singer doing “Lonely Stranger.”

There are interactions that seem more modern than past. The white soldier starts out seeing Violet as a girl to put her legs up, but then curls up on her lap. He has joined the Green Berets and will go to Vietnam. The black soldier is more protective.


Emerson Steele as young Violet, Ben Davis as the preacher, photo Joan Marcus.

The dénouement is the arrival at Tulsa and the religious healing. Fortunately, the backdrop to the faith healer is a troop of evangelicals in red robes riveting audience attention with gospel vocals and frantic dances. Rema Webb is smashing as the jazzy gospel performer Lula Buffington who joins the preacher (Ben Davis) and the choir in “Raise Me Up.”

Among others in the cast, Emerson Steele is excellent as the young Violet, a little girl with a powerful country singing voice. Father (Alexander Gemignani) is a sweet and sensitive guy who schools his young daughter in poker to teach her arithmetic.

Finally, Violet is “healed,” because the people she meets care for her in spite of the scar. Both soldiers, in fact, want her, and not just for a one-night-stand. So it’s a metaphor, but not a hokey one. And the southern music is a standout.

Violet.” Book and lyrics by Brian Crawley based on “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts; music by Jeanine Tesori; directed by Leigh Silverman. Roundabout Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street, New York City. 212.719.1300. Opened April 22, 2014; closes Aug 10, 2014. 7/31/14.

Lucy Komisar is a New York Journalist and theatre critic. Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.

Aug 1st

Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens

By Cameron Lowe


Bill Russell  and  Janet Hood 's musical 'Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens' will soon be performed in Manchester as an official event for Manchester Pride this August. The show is being produced by Side by Side Productions, a fringe theatre company set up to in 2009 to create opportunities in developing the upcoming musical theatre fringe scene for actors and audiences in the North West.

Inspired by the NAMES Project Memorial Quilt, 'Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens' is an immensely powerful musical written to involve the community in a theatrical response to the AIDS crisis from the early 1980's to the present day. Told through a spectrum of individuals who are living with or have suffered from HIV or AIDS, the characters address loss of life and celebrate spirit, love and support through humour, song, rage and hope. Elegies applauds and reflects on some important lives, generating a feeling of love, humanity and common cause that will send you out glowing.The production will be supporting the work of HIV charity George House Trust, through association with Manchester Pride this year. The show runs nightly at 7:15pm on the 20th-24th August at Joshua Brooks on the corner of Charles Street & Princess Street in Manchester and you can get a ticket to see this rarely performed gem of a show for just £8 (in advance).

Tickets available from: 

Follow on Twitter  @sbsproductions 

Jul 22nd

Memory Points will Ring a Bell at the Southbank Centre

By Cameron Lowe

A promenade performance across Southbank Centre’s site, Thursday 7 – Monday 18 August 2014

Memory Points

Chosen as one of the Top Ten theatre pieces for 2013 by The Guardian’s theatre critic Lyn Gardner, Platform 4’sMemory Points is an uplifting show about memory loss. This intimate and interactive experience filled with love is inspired by Platform 4’s work with the Alzheimer’s Society.

Wearing headphones, audiences of up to five people will be guided through the unseen spaces of 
Southbank Centre’ssite by a unique sound track with music by Pete Flood (Bellowhead: Southbank Centre Artists in Residence), whilst encountering an imaginary world of installations, miniature sculptures, films, and photographs. Audiences are encouraged to dress up and delve into their own memories and relationships. 

Platform 4 present magical performances which captivate, involve and put human relationships at the heart of the event.

Catherine Church, Platform 4’s Artistic Director said:
We are thrilled that this special project which has brought the company such acclaim will now have a final flourish in one of the best places in the world to see art of excellence. It is incredibly important that regional work of artistic excellence finds a place on a national and international stage.

Memory Points
Part of Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love
Thursday 7 – Monday 18 August 2014
Hour-long tours from 10.30am-9.30pm see website for exact dates and timings
Promenade piece across Southbank Centre’s site
Tickets £15
50% concessions (Limited availability)
Tickets: 0844 847 9910

Jul 18th

NEW YORK REVIEW: Of Mice and Men

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Kosovar in New York

John Steinbeck’s play, which he adapted from his novel, is a poignant narrative about human connections among people leading lives of what is wont to be called quiet desperation.


James Franco as George and Chris O’Dowd as Lennie, photo Richard Phibbs.

Sensitively directed by Anna Shapiro, it tells the story of George (James Franco), a California ranch worker who in the Depression has hooked up with Lennie (Chris O’Dowd) a mentally retarded fellow who is too strong for his own good.

They work as itinerants on farms and ranches. They stay together out of undefined affection that defeats the loneliness that would otherwise engulf them. The play was first produced on Broadway in 1937.

Franco as George is tough, strong and silent but also sad and weary. O’Dowd’s Lennie is big and hulking, but with a voice is that is soft and cracking. Both of them show gentle sides. They give memorable performances.

George complains how Lennie ruins his life. They have to leave the places they work, because Lennie is always getting into trouble. But Lennie giggles about them looking out for each other. It’s Steinbeck’s metaphor for people taking care of one another to defeat the wretchedness of lives destroyed by economic conditions.

When they arrive at a new ranch, they are directed to beds in a bunkhouse. They set by Todd Rosenthal exudes grunginess. They run into Curley (Alex Morf), the misnamed close-cropped son of the boss, who is suffused with anger and hostility. He is especially miserable, because his new wife (Leighton Meester) is tarty and flirty with the ranch workers, but pays no attention to him.


James Franco as George and Jim Norton as Candy, photo Richard Phibbs.

Family is missing all around. George says, “Guys like us that work on ranches is the loneliest guys in the world. They ain’t gotno family. They don’t belong no place. They come to a ranch and work up a stake and then they go in to town and blow their stake. And then the first thing you know they’re poundin’ their tail on some other ranch. They ain’t got nothin’ to look ahead to.”

“But not us!” Lennie declares. “And why? Because… because I got you to look after me…. and you got me to look after you… and that’s why!”

George and Lennie dream they will save to buy a farm with animals and a garden.

Candy (Jim Norton) an old man with a blind, lame sheepdog he’s had since he was a pup mourns when the animal is put to death by one of the ranch hands, because he is useless. Candy wants to join the imagined farm, because he is afraid he won’t be able to get any more jobs and “I won’t have no place to go.”


Chris O’Dowd as Lennie and Leighton Meester as Curley’s wife, photo Richard Phibbs.

A black worker (Ron Cephas Jones) is also lonely, segregated in his own small shack. With no one to talk to, he reads books. He’d join the farm, too.

The wife complains there are no women to talk to. Her fantasy is to get into the movies.

Will any of their dreams be realized?

Alas, Lennie’s strength is inversely proportion to his intelligence. He likes to pet animals, but handles them too roughly. That’s the “mice.” In the end, men and their dreams are also destroyed. It was what the Depression did. The play is important not only for the history it tells, but because it reminds us what life is like for many people of that underclass today.

Of Mice and Men.” Written by John Steinbeck; directed by Anna D. Shapiro. Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street, New York City. Opened April 16, 2014; closes July 27, 2014.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and theatre critic.  Her web site is The Komisar Scoop ( .  

Jul 9th

Forbidden Planet Returns!

By Cameron Lowe
25 years after Captain Tempest and his crew first journeyed into hyperspace, and 14 years after the last UK tour, Olivier Award-winning rock spectacular Return to the Forbidden Planet is back and exploding onto stage in a major new 25th Anniversary production.
Return to the Forbidden Planet

Inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest and packed with rock n’ roll classics including Great Balls of Fire, Good Vibrations, Heard It Through the Grapevine and Born To Be Wild, Return to the Forbidden Planet is a musical of meteoric proportions that will be remembered for light years to come. With stunning special effects, a brilliant cast of actor-musicians, a mad scientist, a huge green-tentacled monster and a rock ’n’ roller-skating robot, your in-flight entertainment is guaranteed! So fasten your seatbelts, set your ray guns to stun and prepare for blast off!
“Deliriously addictive”

Return to the Forbidden Planet opened at the West End’s Cambridge Theatre in September 1989, where it ran for over 1500 performances and won the 1990 Olivier Award for Best Musical (sorry Miss Saigon, spaceships trump helicopters!).
Forbidden Planet Returns

The original design team return to recreate their award-winning original production, helmed by writer by Bob Carton, who directed the West End production and as artistic director of Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch now returns to direct this highly anticipated 25th Anniversary tour.
Bob Carlton said today: “It was an incredible time when Return to the Forbidden Planet landed in West End, in what was a vintage year alongside shows such as Miss Saigon and Buddy. And it’s thanks to the audiences, who took it to their hearts and rocked out every night, that it became such a cult success. I can’t wait to bring it back 25 years later, to introduce it to a whole new generation and to reunite with original fans of the show. I’m thrilled to be able to return to the Forbidden Planet, along with the original design team, and get reacquainted with Captain Tempest and his crew once more!”
Return to the Forbidden Planet is directed by Bob Carlton and choreographed by Frederick ‘Frido’ Ruth, with musical direction by Greg Last. It is designed by Rodney Ford with lighting design by Mark Dymock and sound design by Rick Clark.
Twitter @FPReturns
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Jul 9th

Tribute to Mallard Steams onto the Stage

By Cameron Lowe
A composer and writer, whose work has been performed across the world in everything from festivals to fields, has turned his attention to the stage - and the story of one of the world's most famous trains.

Newcastle-based, award-winning John Kefala Kerr has created numerous works for orchestras, ensembles and choirs and has collaborated with artists in dance, theatre, fine art and animated film worldwide.
And this month, his latest work, Steamsong; an hour-long multi-media opera inspired by the 1938 Class A4 Pacific train, Mallard, is due to have its world première in the North East.
Seventy five-years-ago, the Doncaster-built train broke the world speed record for a steam locomotive - and broke its way into the hearts of schoolboys and train lovers across the world.
Now a star exhibit at the National Railway Museum, York, Mallard hit the record breaking speed of 126mph on the East Coast Line with driver Joseph Duddington at the wheel - and it was a remark made by Joseph at the time that inspired Steamsong.
"He said `I gave Mallard her head and she jumped to it like a live thing,'" said John. "That made me think, not about what separates living beings from objects - but what connects us to them and, in this case, it was steam. 
"Steam, like human breath, is wispy and ephemeral, yet it can provide enough force and pressure to power a huge, heavy train like Mallard to phenomenal speed and our fragile breath powers our lungs in the same way."
As well as providing a poetic tribute to Mallard, Steamsong uses the concept of steam and breath to link a number of figures and events from 1938, from Albert Einstein to the victims of the pre-war Nazi pogroms.
Not only has John provided the score for the show - which uses a combination of music, theatre, song, digital sound and projected video - but he also wrote the libretto, drawing inspiration from time spent at The National Railway Museum at Shildon, County Durham.  
"I was composer in residence there," he said, "and they were incredibly generous in letting me talk to volunteers and visitors, so I got a very real sense of the emotions Mallard, in particular and steam trains, in general, generated in people." 
Steamsong will be performed by a cast of 10 singers and a seven-strong instrumental ensemble at the Gala Theatre, Durham on 12 and 13 July at 7.30pm.
Featuring, among other instruments, a violin, accordion, harp and tuba, it is expected to be a highlight of the Brass: Durham International Festival which takes place at venues throughout the city between 11 and 20 July.
For further information about Steamsong contact
Jul 7th


By Cameron Lowe
Review by Graham Clarke

As musicals go it does not get any brighter or more uplifting than this international touring production of Mama Mia!

Mamma Mia in Blackpool

The film version of this his show was built around major stars such as Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth who were chosen for their acting  and being able to add star names to the film rather than their singing ability. In this production, it is the strong vocals, dancing and chemistry between the main characters that give it that added sparkle.
Since the film was taken from the show it is not surprising to see that the storyline is very familiar. Bride to be Sophie Sheridan (Niamh Perry) is due to get married to Sky (Bart Edwards).  She is unsure who her father could be; is it builder Sam Carmicheal (Richard Standing), City Financier Harry Bright (Keiron Cook) or Australian traveller Bill Austin (Michael Beckley)? Whilst looking through one of her mother's old diaries she decides to invite them all to her wedding, under the false pretence that is her mother, Donna (Natalie Langston) who has sent out the invitations.
Set on a Greek island, the lighting and the azure blue and ghost white that are prevalent throughout the show bring Mediterranean sunshine into Blackpool.
The Abba songs fit perfectly into the dialogue of the show and it feels like they were written for this superb production.
Providing some humour and well-timed jokes are Donna Sheridan's friends Rosie (Sue Devaney) and Tanya (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Devaney plays the role Julie Walters played in the film. This is a hard act to follow but Devaney pulls it off with ease. 
The choreography is tighter than a Scotsman's wallet: the scene where all the cast perform Voulez Vous at the end of the first act is performed with the precision of Strictly Come Dancing finalists.
As in the latter part of Abba's career the songs in the second part of the show become more solemn as the story unfolds and the wedding day approaches. There is a twist in the tale, though, and the ending might not be what you expect.
The show ends as the audience are brought to their feet for Mama Mia!, Dancing Queen and Waterloo.
With the show running until 14 September, it is definitely worth a trip over the Pennines to witness this entertaining, dazzling and uplifting show. Would I recommend it? In the words of an Abba it: I Do, I Do, I Do.
Tickets are available from and