Sweet Charity, 5 Stars

Sweet Charity
Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre
Rich and Vibrant production of Cy Coleman’s “Sweet Charity”.

Sweet Charity, 7:30PM December 30, 2016, The Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester.


DIRECTOR: Derek Bond
DESIGNER: James Perkins
SOUND DESIGNER: Richard Brooker
MUSIC: Cy Coleman
LYRICS: Dorothy Fields
BOOK BY: Neil Simon


CARMEN, Lucy Jane Adcock
URSULA, Christine Allado
SWING & DANCE CAPTAIN, Michelle Andrews
SWING, Olly Christopher
FRENCHY, Michelle Cornelius
OSCAR & ENSEMBLE, Daniel Crossley
NICKIE, Holly Dale Spencer
BETSY, Natalie Hope
HELENE, Cat Simmons
HERMAN, Sévan Stephan
MANFRED, Alex Thomas-Smith

Photo Credit: Richard Davenport

No “Charity” Case!

Time is running out so before you read this review go straight over to the Royal Exchange website and buy a ticket for this exceptional production. Got one? Phew!

And so, now that you are blissfully aware of your attendance to this production I can continue without breaking any hearts like those of Charity Hope Valentine. Even though this review is based on the technical elements of this show I would not be able to do this review justice without mentioning the incredible work of Kaisa Hammarlund (Charity Hope Valentine), Bob Harms (Vittorio Vidal), Sévan Stephan (Herman) and the incredible cast and ensemble who really own this tight and polished production. Even though the stage is small for a cast of fifteen, the expert direction of Derek Bond, who last year brought us the equally impressive “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Royal Exchange, and the characterful choreography of Aletta Collins make this close-up theatre feel the size of the Albert Hall when needed and also draw us in to the confines of the more romantic scenes. Overall, well rounded and exceptional performances from the whole company!

Now moving swiftly onto the more technical side of things. Because of the “in the round” layout of the Royal Exchange Theatre the design for it’s musical productions are always ingenious and really honour the 360 space, this show designed by James Perkins with lighting design by Sally Ferguson and sound design by Richard Brooker was no exception! As the theatre sits flat on a grade three listed floor I was expecting no gimmicks built into the stage deck however as soon as I entered the theater an abstract lined pattern appeared to be covering the stage deck in what looked like a nice piece of projection mapping or gobo coverage however when other patrons walked across the space to their seats they did not become covered in lines, which is always one of my qualms with floor covering gobo’s. Lighting designer, Sally Ferguson had subtly raised the stage and fitted programmable strips of LED’s under the floor covered with a frost creating one of my favorite technical features of the show! The LED floor strips were accompanied in the preset by a magnificent chandelier type structure in the roof of the theatre covered with festoon bulbs which later descended towards the stage in a claw like manner when visiting Daddy Brubeck’s (Josie Benson) “Church of the Rythm of Life”. Hung amongst the chandelier in the ceiling were, I believe, 5 LED wash moving heads, something similar to a Robe Robin 100. These were used to create some magnificent and colourful moving effects on the stage deck which were really brilliant and worked very well for this show. Given the lack of space for large scenic trucks these pieces of technical genius formed most of the locations for the show incredibly effectively.

At the top of act one lighting designer, Sally Ferguson blew me away with a graphic equalizer type of pixel mapping effect progressively spreading across the floor during the breathtaking overture. The lighting design continued to excite throughout the whole show with beautiful colour palettes and some brilliant rotating gobo effects. The scenic design was also consistently brilliant throughout the show with flower arrangements, light up mirrors, glowing diner signs all flown in at different moments. One of my favorite scenic elements was the painted stage deck, in the center of the stage was a painted circle which was different to rest and when lit looked like a central spot or special without needing one, a brilliant effect!

Other set was delivered by the ensemble and two large trucks formed a large apartment bed and the curved seats of a classic American diner in the 70’s. One stroke (or rather a couple of strokes) of scenic genius solved one moment in the show which could have caused a large hot air balloon shaped problem in such a small space, this was brilliantly and slickly achieved. To find out what I mean you will have to watch the show as it is incredibly impressive! One of my favorite moments when lighting and scenic design came together was to produce a lift in the center of the stage, a brilliant use of moving shutters and stage hydraulics took the audience into the confines of the lift, brilliant!

My one tiny problem with the technical elements of the show and is by no means the fault of any of the creative team but simply lack of space. I’m not sure whether the hazer itself was positioned in the roof or if it was just a fan, but throughout the show haze was blown down onto the stage through a central column creating a confusing effect technically. At first it made it look like it was raining and then that a apollo 8 was taking off in the roof. This didn’t effect my enjoyment of the show it was just odd. Other than that the technical elements of this show were outstanding and cast haze like shame on many technically safe productions going on in London. This show could, like “Little Shop of Horrors” last year, easily transfer to the West End and sit very happily amongst the other current productions.

Overall, an incredible cast, outstanding and brave design, magnificent choreography, brilliant direction and one of the youngest most accomplished musical directors I seen leading a wonderful band. This certainly is no “Charity” case! Book a ticket now because I’m definitely booking a second! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐5Stars.

Review by
Joe Thomas

Sweet Charity runs at The Royal Exchange Theatre until January 28th 2017. Tickets can be found for performances at https://www.royalexchange.co.uk/whats-on-and-tickets/sweet-charity many performances are already sold out, so book now to avoid disappointment. Standard tickets from £16.50, Banquette tickets £10. Monday – Saturday evenings, 7.30pm. Saturday, Sunday and Thursday matinees, 2.30pm. Box Office 0161 833 9833.