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Sep 21st

HAIRSPRAY

By Kirstie Niland

Blackpool Opera House, until Saturday 23rd September 2017

The fabulously coiffured UK tour of Hairspray arrived in Blackpool this week with an explosion of colour and choreography – and yet another standing ovation at the Opera House.

The Winter Gardens has clearly put the seaside resort firmly on the map as a popular stop-off for sensational shows.

The latest smash hit musical to transform the stunning Opera House stage takes us back to the 60s for the story of Hairspray's loveable heroine Tracy Turnblad. Played by newcomer Rebecca Mendoza with bucket-loads of energy and aplomb, Tracy's passion for dancing catapults her on to national TV, whilst her passion for equality finds her leading the way for black and white teens to dance together on the famous Corny Collins Show. She also lands the local heartthrob Link Larkin (with understudy Daniel Clift stepping expertly into the spotlight for press night).

Layton Williams and Annalise Liard-Bailey are well cast as cute couple Seaweed and Penny, and Lauren Concannon, Melissa Nettleford and Emily-Mae Walker are pure dynamite as…The Dynamites.

The songs are all sensational but my favourite was the duet by Tracy's Mum and Dad, You’re Timeless to Me, performed by a cross-dressing Matt Dixon as Edna and comedian Norman Pace as Wilbur. With lashings of old-time charm and a dance routine reminiscent of Morecambe and Wise this is a classic match made in heaven.

 

A close second was I Know Where I’ve Been by musical theatre and reality TV star Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle, whose larger than life stage presence and powerful vocals demonstrate that she truly does have the X Factor.

The entire show keeps us and the energetic cast (literally) on our toes with excellent choreography by Olivier Award-winning Drew McOnie and direction from Paul Kerryson. The costumes and set are bright, bold and beautiful and the result is a kaleidoscope of colour rotating through a fast-moving, feel-good show that has us all cheering and up out of our seats to celebrate the happy ending.

In Maybelle’s words, Hairspray is servin' up the whole damn feast and there’s still time to see it this weekend.

Book tickets here

Tour dates here

Photographs by Darren Bell

 

Sep 14th

Shirley Valentine

By Kirstie Niland

The Grand Theatre Blackpool, until Saturday 16th September 2017

"I used to be the Mother. I used to be the Wife. But now I'm Shirley Valentine again".

As Jodie Prenger delivers that well-known line you could be forgiven for thinking she really is in Greece, sitting by the sea wearing a sunhat, shades and a happy glow.

For the talented TV and West End star is so believable as the disenchanted, Liverpudlian housewife who flies off to Mykonos that the audience is behind her all the way - rejoicing as she discovers the life she never had and thought she’d wasted.

 

We’re not the only ones. Her previously snooty neighbour is so in awe of her courage she gives Shirley a glamorous silk kimono to take with her, and her swotty old school adversary, Marjorie Majors – now a high-class hooker - reveals she was actually jealous of Shirley at school.

So she always was "Shirley the Brave", she just doesn't realise it – until she finds herself skinny-dipping with Greek taverna owner Costas when he takes her out on his boat and several voyages of discovery.

Many will be more familiar with the film version of Shirley Valentine starring Pauline Collins and a host of other household names, including Julia McKenzie (Gillian), Joanna Lumley (Marjorie), Tom Conti (Costas), Alison Steadman (Jane, the friend who abandons her on holiday) and Bernard Hill as husband Joe.

But this is Willy Russell’s original one-woman play, so it's Jodie’s job to bring the characters in Shirley’s story to life. She does it so well I could picture Julia McKenzie telling her she’s marvellous and Tom Conti declaring her stretch marks lovely, marks of life…before she tells us, the audience, who have become her friends and confidantes by now: “Aren’t men full of shit!”

Educated at Elmslie School and Blackpool and the Fylde College, Jodie has gone a long way before returning to her roots at the Grand Theatre. After winning the role of Nancy in BBC1’s I’ll Do Anything, she’s played a wide range of high-profile roles and has recently finished a stint as Les Misérables' Madame Thénardier in Dubai. TV credits include Waterloo Road and a slot on ITV’s This Morning, and she’s even worked as an agony aunt.

Her bubbly nature and ability to engage and connect with the audience when she breaks the fourth wall, combined with an impressive talent for accents, keeps our attention and ensures the comedy drama pushes all the right buttons during the highs and lows.

You could have heard a pin drop when she explains as Shirley: “I have allowed myself to lead this little life, when inside me there was so much more. And it's all gone unused. And now it never will be. Why do we get all this life if we don't ever use it? Why do we get all these feelings and dreams and hopes if we don't ever use them?”

 

We will her not to back out of the holiday when her horrified grown-up daughter Milandra stomps out, calling the idea of two middle-aged women going off to Greece “obscene".

Then there’s comic relief and we laugh uproariously when Shirley shouts out of the window at her departing daughter: That's right, Milandra, I'm off to Greece for the sex. Sex for breakfast, sex for lunch, sex for tea and sex for supper. A neighbour shouts back: “Sounds like a marvellous diet, love!” and Shirley responds: "It is! Have you never heard of it? It's called the F plan!"

The stage set follows Shirley’s transformation, beginning with the kitchen she has spent her life in, forced to talk to the wall, then changing to a bright Greek beach where a rock becomes her companion instead.

Shirley Valentine premiered at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre in 1986 before becoming a hit movie in 1989. Willy Russell’s witty and moving mix of gentle humour and realism is totally in tune with the mindset of a married woman who feels taken for granted; and Jodie Prenger, under the expert direction of Glen Walford and with input from Willy Russell himself, steps deftly into the role and performs it perfectly.

The costume change and shift in Jodie’s demeanour show Shirley blossom and feel beautiful, reflective of the girl she once was and the more content woman she has become. When Joe comes to get her - regretting his neglect and the chips and egg he pushed onto her lap because there was no steak for the dinner he expected like clockwork - he doesn't recognise her.

Then he sees his young love Shirley Valentine, who has decided that she's alright, and that instead of saying: "Christ, I’m forty-two", from now on she’s going to say: ’Shirley, you’re only forty-two, isn’t that marvellous".

Shirley Valentine IS marvellous and so is Jodie Prenger. I hope between them they prompt a recognition that sometimes it's okay to live the life we want, not the one we have to - along with a surge in holidays bookings to Greece!

Book tickets here

Tour details here

Photographs by Manuel Harlan

Aug 31st

Dirty Dancing

By Kirstie Niland

Until Saturday 2nd September 2017, Blackpool Opera House

The cult musical Dirty Dancing continues to thrill audiences of all generations and the UK tour is currently smashing it in Blackpool.

The cast’s evident delight at the standing ovation on opening night added to the everlasting charm and they drew lots of laughs and applause throughout as the 1963 love story of Johnny Castle and Frances "Baby" Houseman unfolded at Kellerman’s holiday resort.

It’s the second time I’ve seen the live show and it is difficult not to compare the characters to the film version, but the cast manage to resemble the original stars as well as add their own personal touch to their performances, succeeding in delivering all of the anticipated lines and moments with panache. Lizzie Ottley in particular puts a stamp on her role as Lisa Houseman, with hints of Marilyn Monroe enhancing her humourous rendition of the Hula Hana song.

This is also true of the actual scenes, with all of the favourites in there plus a few extra parts providing depth to characters that are more one-dimensional in the film.

For example Neil, the grandson of the resort’s owner Max Kellerman, is much more likeable, and we see him go on his own journey, from trying and failing to impress Baby with his job, to setting off on his own path of discovery. Greg Fossard gives Neil an endearing quality that makes us really happy for him as he gets his backpack on and leaves Kellerman’s to join the Freedom Rally.

Then some additional scenes featuring Marjorie Houseman highlight Baby’s fall from grace and the pedestal her father has placed her on, and explain his eventual acceptance of Johnny despite the class difference – he wasn’t always an upwardly mobile doctor and the Housemans do remember what teenage love felt like. The backstory helps us warm more to Baby’s seemingly spoilt sister Lisa as the two become closer through the drama and experience of their summer romances.

The plot of the film was controversial at the time of the film’s release in 1987 but screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein won her fight to keep the storyline involving an illegal abortion - and against all odds the low budget movie became a box office hit. Carlie Milner's acting skills and performances with the English National Ballet and National Ballet of Ireland make her the ideal choice for the streetwise yet innocent Penny Johnson who falls pregnant but for whom the show must go on - and whose captivating dancing Baby is so envious of.

There’s no doubt that the attraction of this film is the upbeat love story, music and dancing, but the subplot and social issues keep it real, meaning we root even more for Johnny and Baby’s love to conquer the class divide. It’s also why it never gets old. The movie reached its 30th anniversary this August but three decades on the issues are still relevant and we all long for a happy ending.

Lewis Griffiths and Katie Eccles as the world-famous Johnny and Baby have plenty of chemistry and charisma, expertly mimicking the movements of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey to successfully pull off all of the film's magical moments - and then some. The bedroom scenes are definitely more racy and we see a little bit more of Johnny in the show than we do in the film! Lewis has the necessary presence to turn a couple of thousand heads as he strides up the aisle for the iconic “Nobody puts Baby in a corner" scene; and Katie shows unrelenting feistiness as the idealistic Baby falls in love, learns a few lessons about real life along the way and, through Johnny, begins to settle into her real, grown up name of Frances. Ahhh.

Together they join the ensemble for a finale just as exhilarating as if it was the first time.

Book tickets here

Photographs courtesy of Winter Gardens Blackpool.

Aug 23rd

Sister Act

By Kirstie Niland

Until Sunday 27th August 2017, Blackpool Opera House

The sensational Sister Act has arrived in Blackpool and what an entrance the cast made on opening night, gaining a standing ovation and rapturous applause from a full house of over 2,600 people.

This exciting musical, with its highly-accomplished cast, deserves only the best from a leading lady - and they’ve definitely got that in Alexandra Burke, who brings true star quality to the show.

 

Bursting on to a stage set in 1970s Philadelphia, the wayward Deloris Van Cartier dreams of making it as a famous singer, but discovers that the music world isn't interested, her married lover wants her dead (after she witnessed him commit murder) and she has no one to turn to for help.

Time to change her habits. Literally – for Deloris is placed under witness protection in a convent as Sister Mary Clarence, where she causes havoc amongst the nuns before being put in charge of the choir to keep her out of trouble.

Already a fan of Alexandra Burke since her X-Factor win in 2008, I was expecting her vocals to be amazing. What I didn’t anticipate was how funny she would be. As with all much-loved movies, it’s an enormous feat to step into the shoes of Hollywood greats like Whoopi Goldberg. However, such is Alexandra’s comic timing and stage presence, all thoughts of the film version were forgotten within minutes since she makes this role her own, combining beautiful, rich vocals with an engaging performance that had me rooting for Deloris and her fellow sisters to reunite for a performance in front of the pope.

Every single character portrayal was faultless. From the nuns, whose personalities jumped out from their habits (a special mention to Liz Kitchen as the funky Hip Hop Hippy Sister Mary Lazarus, and Susannah Van Den Berg as the jovial Sister Mary Patrick) to bad boy Curtis, played by Aaron Lee Lambert with a swagger and smooth tones reminiscent of Barry White.

Superbly directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood, the nuns’ gospel choir scenes, accompanied by the show's live band, are glorious; and a slow motion fight complete with musical instruments as weapons is hilariously inventive. The costumes and set provide the perfect contrast between changes, switching from a kaleidoscope of 70s colour and kitsch to stark black and white against church panels.

Credible performances from the cast elicit the intended feel-good factor as the moral and material makeovers take place. Joe Vetch is endearing as meek cop Eddie whose loyalty and strutting Saturday Night Fever style makeover means he gets his gun as well as the girl. Sister Mary Robert finds her remarkable voice (belonging to the talented Sarah Goggin) along with the courage to wear Deloris’s blessed purple "FM" boots.

And of the course the biggest deliverance of all comes from the sisterhood and the relationship between Deloris and the brilliantly formidable Mother Superior. As they grow to like and respect each other and their respective beliefs, Karen Mann ensures the exasperation of the nun in charge is comically evident, and Alexandra Burke shows her fine acting prowess, drawing hearty laughs from the audience with her prayers: “In the name of the son, the Father and the Holy Smokes…Jesus Christ I want that dress!" – followed by heartfelt smiles as she glows beneath Mother Superior’s high praise: “As true a sister as this convent has ever known”.

Meanwhile the Opera House was postively glowing too, beneath falling glitter and a giant disco ball that sent lights shimmering across the magnificent auditorium and an exuberant audience - who all clearly agreed that Alexandra Burke and Sister Act are simply Fabulous, Baby!

Book tickets here 

Photos by Jay Brooks

Aug 10th

TRIUMPH IN THE RAIN

By Kirstie Niland

Sunday 6th August, West End Proms, Lytham Festival, Lancashire

Singing along to Jerusalem in the middle of a downpour, picnic hampers out, Prosecco in hand - where else except Lytham Festival’s West End Proms. With a host of musical theatre stars lined up for the finale of another week of excellence from Cuffe & Taylor there was no way a bit of rain was getting in the way of a celebration for Brits Up North.

BBC Radio Lancashire’s Sally Naden put her plastic poncho on over her party dress and stilettos and kept everyone’s chin up with a chat while we waited for it all to begin. The audience covered up in an array of hoods, hats and even a survival bag. The West End Proms Childrens’ Chorus opened the event with a welcome sunny and polished performance of Food Glorious Food, and Blackpool's own Jodie Prenger gave us a flash of her wellies under her ball gown and some characterful numbers including As Long As He Needs Me.

There’s no doubt there was less arm-waving than you’d expect for You’ll Never Walk Alone, even though English National Opera soprano Jo Appleby sang it beautifully. 

The charming Britain's Got Talent winning band Collabro livened things up with Let It Go and also impressed with a fantastic staging of This Is The Moment from Jekyll & Hyde.

Having never seen Marti Pellow in a musical theatre setting before Summertime proved a nice surprise, meanwhile Claire Sweeney provided oomph and entertainment with Hey Big Spender.

Young Britain’s Got Talent finalist, 13-year-year-old Beau Dermott, cut a tiny figure with a big voice on the grand Lytham Festival stage alongside the 60-piece Heart of England Philharmonic Orchestra.

The West End Proms Children’s Chorus made another appearance to accompany Jon Lee singing Joseph’s Close Every Door, and the ex-S Club 7 singer also performed a sweet duet of Sixteen Going on Seventeen with local lass and rising West End star Lucie Mae Sumner.

The highlight of the evening was clearly Lea Solanga who brought Broadway magic and the captivating stage presence which has won her awards as Kim in Miss Saigon and Fantine in Les Misérables. Singing a variety of the numbers she has made her own, including I’d Give My Life for You, she gave a heartfelt speech to the audience – and recommended the current Miss Saigon tour at Birmingham Hippodrome which is receiving sensational reviews.  

Ruthie Henshall showed her incredible versatility with a powerful delivery of Sunset Boulevard’s As If We Never Said Goodbye before joining the other female leads and ensemble as a jailbird for a spirited performance of Chicago’s Cell Block Tango.

The spectacle of Phantom of the Opera brought plenty of drama to the proceedings, with Jo Appleby’s soaring soprano the perfect match for Luke McCall’s dramatic tenor.

It was well and truly worth getting soaked for the part I was waiting for – a selection of songs from Les Misérables, including Collabro's fabulous alternative to Javert’s solo song Stars and Lea Salonga’s poignant rendition of Eponine’s On My Own.

No proms should finish without fireworks and a patriotic song and we were treated to two cracking displays as we all sang along to Land Of Hope and Glory. But this was still not the end - the climax was a full cast performance of the magnificent One Day More.

Cuffe & Taylor, the singing stars of West End Proms and the hardy audience - we salute you.

Save the date for Lytham Festival 2018 which has been brought forward to July 23 to 29 to avoid clashing with the Ricoh Women’s British Golf Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club.

www.lythamfestival.com

Photos: Lytham Festival

 

Aug 5th

WALK LIKE A MAN IS ROCKING THE GRAND THEATRE BLACKPOOL

By Kirstie Niland

Until 27th August 201

 

Walk Like A Man, the musical story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, was like listening to the soundtrack of my life from childhood through to parenthood.

 

 

When I bought the Bay City Rollers' single Bye Bye Baby in 1975, never would I have imagined that 32 years later my son would be breakdancing to a song co-written by the very same man in 2007, at virtually the same age I was. It was a revelation to me that Four Seasons member Bob Gaudio co-wrote both of these tracks, and that so many happy memories would come flooding back with songs I loved in movies, or from before I was born but played to me by my parents.

 

The foursome playing the band were pitch perfect, with Valli’s distinctive voice incredibly well impersonated, and the show featured classics including Sherry, Let’s Hang On, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, My Eyes Adored You, and December 63 (Oh What a Night!).

 

The choreography and harmonies were spot on, as were the corny jokes which charmed the ladies in the audience. In fact their act is so similar to the real Jersey Boys that Walk Like A Man recently won the National Music Tribute Awards' Best Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons act. If that wasn’t testament enough then an audience full of happy faces singing, dancing and clapping along certainly is.

 

 

 

If you’re partial to a trip down memory lane and a night packed full of feel-good classics, then this is the summer show for you.

 

Book it here. 

Aug 5th

RAVE REVIEWS FOR HACIENDA CLASSICAL AT LYTHAM FESTIVAL

By Kirstie Niland

Combining an orchestra with acid house DJs sounds as unlikely as holding a rave on Lytham Green – but they did it and the audience was mad for it. 

Haçienda Classiçal is much more than a nostalgic trip down memory lane to 80s and 90s Madchester, it’s pure musical genius, blending opposite genres to create a concert appealing to all ages and backgrounds.

And Lytham absolutely loved it.

Following a warm-up by electronic dance band 808 stage, the Haçienda club’s original DJs Graeme Park and Mike Pickering took to the stage with the Manchester Camerata Orchestra and the AMC Gospel Choir.

Happy Monday’s singer Rowetta was tremendous, reaching a crescendo with the 1986 Candi Staton track You Got the Love – a track she sang on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show in memory of those who died in the Manchester bombing.

Haçienda Classiçal gives Rowetta a sensational platform to showcase the impressive vocals she has lent to some of the world’s biggest bands, including Simply Red and the Black Eyed Peas.

A personal favourite was a rework of Mory Kante’s Yeke Yeke – and everybody’s favourites included Blue Monday, featuring the voice of New Order and Joy Division co-founder himself, Peter Hook.

The beachfront stage with the beautiful Lytham skyline as a backdrop was the perfect setting for a hugely uplifting rendition of the Ultra Naté floor filler Free.

And to remind us where the Mad in Madchester comes from, the legendary Bez gave us some signature dance moves in a bright yellow anti-fracking T-shirt.

Lytham Festival has gone from strength to strength since the event organisers Cuffe & Taylor first launched it in 2009. It has grown from a one-night show with Lesley Garrett and Alfie Boe to a week-long extravaganza attracting around 70,000 festival-goers to see stars such as Rita Ora, Tom Jones, Michael Ball, and this week Olly Murs and Louisa Johnson.

Haçienda Classiçal truly embodied the Lytham Festival’s billing of a "well-crafted mix of nostalgia, contemporary and classical music" with something for everyone to enjoy".

In the words of the Inner City classic, they’re having big fun, and the party’s just begun…

Still to come: Madness; The Official Aftershow Party featuring DJ Rusty Egan with Steve Norman of Spandau Ballet; and A West End Extravaganza and Firework Finale with Lea Salonga, Collabro, Ruthie Henshall, Claire Sweeney, Jon Lee, Jodie Prenger, Lucie Mae-Sumner, Beau Dermott, Jon Lee and Marti Pellow, accompanied by the 60-piece Heart of England Philharmonic Orchestra.

Book your tickets here.

Nov 16th

Shawshank Redemption

By Kirstie Niland

Blackpool Winter Gardens Opera House

Until Saturday 19th November

“Sometimes kid, you gotta suck it up,” declares a seasoned inmate.

And at Shawshank that can mean literally anything, from everyday bullying to being gang raped or murdered for being honest. The irony and injustice of being incarcerated under corrupt rule is something most of the inmates have come to accept. Even the resourceful prison “fixer” Red refuses to have hope.

But not Andy Dufresne. Despite being innocent yet condemned to a double life sentence for the murder of his wife and lover, Andy brings hope and meaning into the inmates’ lives while playing the long game, anchored by the vision of Rita Hayworth - and a rock hammer.

The Academy award-winning movie, based on Stephen King's novella Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption has been adapted by Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns for the theatre. I was keen to see how the legendary movie would work on stage.

I wasn’t disappointed.  Under the direction of David Esbjornson, the play unfolds like a pop-up book as the characters spring up into action, pent up energy bursting through their denim uniforms, ready to battle through the often terrifying pages of life inside a maximum security prison.

There is no curtain up, just lights up, and we are thrown violently behind bars to the sound of deafening bangs, clunks and clanks. Spotlights skim the towering prison walls and surround the prisoners, with new arrivals stripped of their clothes and former lives, the old hands preparing to greet or beat them. The Opera House, with its high ceilings and expansive stage, is perfect for the imposing Shawshank set.

As with all famous films, there’s always an urge to want the cast to look like the screen actors, which calls for a suspension of disbelief. Morgan Freeman’s Red and Tim Robbins as Dufresne are both daunting acts to follow, no matter how talented the cast. However, committed and confident performances from London’s Burning star Ben Onwukwe and Eastender’s heartthrob Paul Nicholls took my mind off the original, and focused it firmly on these two accomplished artists, and the characters' journey through a drama about friendship, loyalty, isolation, regret, and hope - as the men deal with the flickering reality of a light at the end of the tunnel.

This is not a show where secondary characters blend into the background. Every single cast member contributes something important, presenting us with an excellent portrayal of the extremes of prison life. In one moment you witness a man clutching the pages of Lady Chatterley’s Lover amidst howls of laughter; in the next there are howls of pain at the murder of a man who died because of his naivity and loyalty. And then there is panic and pathos in one of the most heart-breaking scenes; the attempted suicide of the oldest inmate Brooks, the institutionalised prison librarian who cannot face being released into the outside world. In these moments I forgot the original and became immersed in the live action in front of me.

Some aspects deviated from the film, which as a huge fan I would have preferred to remain true to the original, but they did not detract from how impressive the production was overall.

For the Opera House, Shawshank Redemption is a successful foray into some serious drama in between the hit musicals, and I would highly recommend it. Be it the film or stage version, this is a story that never gets old, and neither does Dufresne’s motto of “Get busy living or get busy dying.”

So go and see it while you can J

The Shawshank Redemption will run at Blackpool Opera House from Monday November 14 to Saturday November 19 and tickets are on sale now from www.wintergardensblackpool.co.uk

 

Photograph courtesy of Blackpool Winter Gardens

Oct 22nd

Last Night a DJ Saved My Life

By Kirstie Niland

Blackpool Opera House until Sunday 1st November

I guessed that the world premiere of Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, starring the legendary David Hasselhoff, was going to be a lot of fun - and it was even better than expected.

This show has the feel good factor by the bucket load – a simple story with a moral message, packed with 90s (and the odd 80s) hits and populated with stereotypical party people of the day.

 

It’s written and directed by Jon Conway, who along with Shane Ritchie, created the jukebox musical concept with 70s show Boogie Nights. So this story told via the hits of the day was bound to be a recipe for success. Especially for those of us who remember when dungarees, Hammer pants and sparkly Union Jack dresses were the dress code to Spice Up your Life. (Floppy hats off to costume designer and production photographer, former glamour model Linda Lusardi).

Add to the mix high energy dance routines, plenty of neon, and retro sound and light effects and you are catapulted on to the party isle of Ibiza with Penny (Stephanie Webber), as she arrives to spend the summer with her Dad, a DJ and night club owner played by The Hoff. There she learns about the dangers of drugs and falls in love with holiday rep and aspiring DJ, Rik (Shane Ritchie JNR). Meanwhile her dad learns, well, how to be a Dad.

Even though the plot includes blackmail, drug dealing and the aftermath of divorce, the overall feel is light-hearted, with the journey through first love, making mistakes and doing the right thing incorporating plenty of cheesy moments to make you smile.

The Hoff is of course the main attraction, and manages to effectively combine comedy, schmaltz and straight acting. Such is his cult status he could carry almost anything off no matter what vocal range is required but his powerful rendition of Barry Manilow’s Even Now is lovely, and he pays an entertaining homage to his Baywatch days with true superstar style.

The Voice contestant Stephanie Webber demonstrates why Will.I.Am. was so impressed with her singing, and Kim Tiddy of Hollyoaks as the Hoff’s girlfriend Mandy is a similarly strong vocalist. Both are excellently cast in their roles, as is Barry Bloxham as the villain of the piece, Ebenezer.

However it’s Shane Ritchie JNR who injects the most warmth into his character as likeable lad Rik, showing all the signs of following in his Dad’s footsteps to become a well-loved household name. Having previously stepped into his shoes to play Roddy in Boogie Nights, Shane Ritchie JNR proves he has become a major talent in his own right and has us cheering when he finally wins approval from Penny’s Dad and the coveted DJ spot at Club Nirvana.

 

His family were out in force to support him, including parents, Shane Ritchie and Coleen Nolan, and brother Jake Roche of Rixton fame. He certainly did them all proud.

PR Sarah Rhodes promised us the party night of the year and Last Night a DJ Saved My Life delivered, right up until the fun-packed finale. I won’t spoil the surprise but the audience loved it.

Judging by the applause, in the words of the classic 90s Yazz favourite - the only way is up!

Photographs courtesy of Linda Lusardi

Last Night a DJ Saved My Life runs until Sunday 1st November, Tuesday to Sunday evenings at 7.30pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2.30pm.

Adults - £39.50, £35.00, £30.00, £20.00

Concessions - £35.00, £30.00, £25.00

Show and Dine Package - £24.50

Groups 10+ - £35.00, £30.00

Groups 20+ - £30.00, £25.00

 

Tickets are available from www.wintergardensblackpool.co.uk

Oct 11th

A Tender Thing

By Kirstie Niland

The Dukes, Lancaster

Until Saturday 17th October

Ben Power’s re-working of the greatest love story ever told has resulted in a beautiful and bittersweet production which more than lives up to its name. A Tender Thing looks at what might have happened if Romeo and Juliet had lived and stayed together beyond their youth.

The result is a gentle, mesmerising tale of two Morecambe pensioners reaching the end of their lives after decades of happiness by the sea, having suffered loss amidst the love and laughter. A Tender Thing is a poignant but powerful tale of young love grown old.

The Duke’s theatre in the round provides the intimate setting for this clever work of art, brought to life under the direction of Louie Ingham. Ben Power has seamlessly woven together the text of Romeo and Juliet with some of Shakespeare's sonnets to create the tale of a couple whose love has stood the test of time but who eventually face the same threat of separation as the original star-crossed lovers.

The elderly partners are given dialogue from other characters to stretch their story over the additional decades, for example their childlessness is attributed to the death of their daughter with words from the nurse who cared for the young Juliet in the classic play. Then when Juliet discovers she is terminally ill and does not want its consequences to change her in the eyes of her lifelong mate, Romeo uses words from the famous love Sonnet 116 to reassure her: “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” And just as the Bard's Romeo and Juliet addressed themes of youth and age, so does Ben Power’s version, with the lithe young Lucas Button and Ruby Henderson using interpretive dance in a haunting depiction of the aged couple’s younger selves and their memories as they reflect on events and each other.  

Shakespeare’s words bring warmth and tenderness to a familiar bedtime routine, as the weary but still playful pair bid each other goodnight: “Parting is such sweet sorrow that I’ll say good night until tonight becomes tomorrow....Oh blessed, blessed night.” But true to the classic tragedy a grey morning awaits them.

Rachel Daniels’ minimal set features a multi-purpose box which is transformed realistically into a bed and a dining table by the cast, and the seaside setting is peppered with deck chairs, baskets and sea shells as the sands of time quite literally drift away under the fading light.

A Tender Thing is a moving mix of emotions and words, with Ian Blower and Jenny Lee as the aged Romeo and Juliet both endearing and believable in their mature but ever-youthful love for each other.

Photographs courtesy of The Dukes, Lancaster.

Tickets £12.50 to £16.50 online or at with from the Box Office: 01524 598500