Moviecals – North West Theatre Arts Company at its best

It’s a treat going to the theatre and I sensed we were in for something special. I told my husband so…and I’m never wrong.

As we settle into our seats and the lights go down the usual announcement is made saying the performance is about to start. “Switch off your phone, no flash photography and enjoy the show…”, etc.

My husband whispers “Jesus! You didn’t tell me Idris Elba was going to be here.” You can imagine my expression. I think he’s serious but you can never tell.

I shake my head and study the playbill. Moviecals is a showcase of hit songs and dance routines from the movies covering a range of genres; from the comforting lullaby “Hush-A-Bye Mountain” (sung by Owen Maudsley) to the seductive “Cabaret” (Eva Carty), the cheeky number “Pick A Pocket” (Liam Watson), melancholy “Tomorrow” from Bugsy Malone (Poppy Evans) to the inspirational “This is Me” (full company).

It’s a preview evening. We’re privileged to be here. I’m excited but nervous knowing this is the first time the show would run in front of a live audience. Tension is in the air. I hold my breath for the first few minutes and feel nervous for everyone, front stage and back. So much responsibility.

But….they were fantastic! We were treated to full on dance routines that make you think you can dance too and songs that ring in your head for days. It was uplifting, emotional and magical.

Comedy didn’t get left out either. The links between numbers were covered brilliantly by Laurel and Hardy aka the multi-talented James Valentine and Jonny Molyneux – hilarious. Steve Cougan and John C Reilly watch your backs, these two were an absolute treat.

Jonny’s rendition of “If I Were a Rich Man” was also outstanding. Both he and James had us in stitches.

If you’ve ever been on a Disneyland theme park ride this was just the same except it stopped off at the West End and Warner Bros on the way round. I wanted to climb off and join in.

Across the 44 songs and routines covered, there was a chance for everyone to take centre stage and shine. We thoroughly enjoyed every minute.

The curtain came down as mist from dry ice filtered through the emptying seats. We drifted into the bar area and passed by the technicians whose lighting, sound and stage management skills helped bring it all together.

In the bar, front of house positions were held by students of the theatre’s stage school playing their part in making it an all-round special experience.

I applaud you all.

Was Idris Elba there? No, was he hell as like! He too should watch his back though. Apparently, my husband reckons, Prab Singh (Director…and announcer) sounds just like him.

For information about NWTAC including What’s On, booking tickets, North West Stage School and more, click here.

There may still be tickets left for Moviecals but, if you’ve missed out, sign up for their mailing list.

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Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ and a little bit of history

My knowledge of Shakespeare is limited. I studied Macbeth at school but that’s about it.

Apart from there being a storm at some point, I had no preconceived ideas about The Tempest. My expectations were high though, the two previous plays I’d been to at North West Theatre Arts Company (NWTAC) were excellent. I wasn’t disappointed.Never mind the howling wind, the amount of dialogue blew me away. There were some surprises along the way that kept the audience on its toes, as well as some very funny parts. The Arctic island really set the scene, the costumes were just right and the make-up was brilliant.

I had to admire the time and effort needed to translate the script into something that someone as dumb as me could understand.  It worked because these young talented actors gave their characters life, had great confidence and were thoroughly convincing.

The theatre is one mile from my house. One mile!  I have to pinch myself for not finding out about it sooner and they’ve been here for three years.As a company they’ve been around a while longer. I know this because I met Prab Singh (pictured), director and co-owner some months ago and he gave me some of the background.

“I started as a cast member at Abraham Moss Theatre and worked my way up to become the theatre manager. I loved it. Then the funding dried up so I asked if I could keep using the theatre in my own time alongside my job as an actor.

When the council closed the theatre down completely I teamed up with Mark Beaumont, who I’d met when we worked on The Witches of Eastwick, and we decided to set up our own company – quickly.

With no other space available, we held rehearsals in corridors, taking our shows, reviews and pantos on tour. The money from ticket sales went back into productions and, over time, we began to accumulate sets, props and costumes.

We were quite nomadic and it was hard.”

The route from being nomadic to landing in Moston took them from Abraham Moss, to a space at the Factory Youth Zone and then, of all places, to Harpurhey Baths.

“Our audience was loyal and our reputation grew. We had enquiries for hiring sets, props and costumes. If we didn’t have just what they wanted we had the ability to create, build or source it.”

When their time at the baths came to an abrupt end, they went in search of a new home; somewhere large enough to run classes, do rehearsals and put productions on all under one roof and it led them to 270A Lightbowne Road, Moston.

“It was big and empty. Like a blank canvass – just what Mark’s good at, visualising what can be done with a building space. I’ve been amazed at the level of interest and support. Local people turn up and just volunteer to help out.

It wasn’t part of the plan to start with but now we’re here in Moston we’d really like to stay.”

If the performances I’ve seen so far are anything to go by, I’d really like them to stay too.

… and if Shakespeare isn’t your thing, you might fancy their next project; ‘The Moviecals – Music from the Movies’. It promises to be a joyous evening of entertainment and I’m buzzing already. I’d book your seat early if I were you.

There’s more to NWTAC than meets the eye but that’s for another day. In the meantime click here for details of performances over the coming months. You can book on-line or call the box office on 0161 207 1617.

You can follow them on Facebook too and keep up to date with all that’s happening.

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TRENCH – A North West Theatre Arts Company Production

I’d never heard of North West Theatre Arts Company until a few weeks ago. Didn’t know a theatre even existed this close to home. I decided to see Trench, an original World War 1 musical. Written and directed by Prab Singh, it’s based on a story told by Prab’s wife’s Grandmother and on true accounts in letters and journals. It’s a love story and you know from the start how it’s going to end.When you go to a theatre, watch a performance and feel like you’re the only person in the audience it’s not because the performance is good – it’s because it’s VERY good. Trench is VERY good. There are several reasons why it makes you feel this way.

The set’s not elaborate. It doesn’t have to be but it is convincing. We’ve seen enough WW1 films to know what the trenches looked like, barbed wire and sandbags need no explanation. The production is ‘stripped back’ to basics and the imagery is enough for you to know that those are guns, tin hats and bandages. What you are left to concentrate on is the performance of the young actors playing the parts of soldiers, wives, girlfriends, children and friends.

You hear their words, listen to beautifully sung lyrics and feel their emotions.

In the back-ground a few realistic sound effects, clever lighting and the odd drift of smoke allows you to ‘sense’ the horrific reality of the battlefield scenes and the noisy atmosphere of the mill floor back home. The attention to detail is subtle and convincing.

This sensitivity in the production allows the performers to take full control of the stage. They grab your attention from the start and don’t let it go again until the finish. The only break from this is the interval when you look around and realise you’re not the only person there after all.

I take my chance to read through the programme while the lights are up. There’s a piece by Mark Beaumont (Production Designer) about how the army and Manchester Pals were formed, as well as photographs of the cast. I was struck by the fresh young faces and chilled to think that they would be similar in age to the soldiers, wives and girlfriends they were portraying. In WW1 an estimated 250,000 British soldiers were teenagers.

I buy a poppy every year. I’ve watched the remembrance service and laying of wreaths at the Cenotaph on TV countless times. Don’t think I’ve ever felt, really felt what it might have been like. Having no choice but go over the wall when the whistle blew or wait for that telegram or pick up the pieces and get on with life afterwards.

These young people made me cry. I was just glad the lights were back down…and I knew from the start how it was going to end!