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Review | Head Over Heels | Hope Mill Theatre | 01/02/2023

Hope Mill theatre have gained a reputation for first class theatre, whether staging their own productions or playing host to other quality shows. Now comes the European Premiere of 2018 Broadway musical, Head Over Heels, produced by Gartland Productions.

Head Over Heels is by no means a new story, based on the 16th century book The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia. This show however is anything but dated, with Jeff Whitty’s book, adapted by James Magruder, making it fresher and more current than ever. It keeps the 16th century dialect, which although took a short while to get used to, worked really well and helped deliver some brilliant comedy.

This jukebox musical is set to the songbook of The Go-Go’s, with a few solo numbers from their most famous band member, Belinda Carlisle, sprinkled in for good measure. Admittedly, being born in the late 80’s, I missed out on knowing a lot of the songs. However, this did not take away from my enjoyment of this fantastic show, a sign of a truly great jukebox musical!

The show opens with an epic performance of We Got the Beat, which sets a fun and camp tone for the rest of the performance. It is a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is much needed in current times.

The staging itself is minimal and makes best use of the limited space at Hope Mill, making it feel much bigger than it is. By not unnecessarily pushing staging boundaries of what can be achieved in a small space allowed for Tom Jackson Greaves choreography to shine. The clever and punchy choreography encompasses towel-ography, maypole-ography and even drumstick-ography in this camp and highly entertaining production.

Inclusivity and representation is something that many shows, quite rightly, are pulled up on when they get it wrong. On this occasion however, we should celebrate casting director Lucy Casson getting it so right. From the all-female band (no doubt an nod to the Go-Go’s themselves), to the non-binary and trans actors in the company portraying similar characters, to the representation of colour across the board, Head Over Heels is the gold standard for inclusivity and representation. What was particularly great to see, was body shape representation being done right. Outstanding plus size actor Jenny O’Leary portrayed the beautiful Pamela. So often on stage (and in wider society), beauty is often represented only by slimmer people. Through Pamela, Jenny O’Leary shows that size has no impact on beauty and she plays her to perfection. O’Leary’s powerhouse vocals and comedic timings are one of the many highlights of the night.

The rest of the cast are equally outstanding. West End favourites Maiya Quansah-Breed & Luke Bayer lead the company, reunited from their stint in the award winning production of Rent at this very same venue. Another stand out was Daniel Page who had the audience in the palm of his hand with his hilarious portrayal of Dametas, who got the biggest laughs of the night when he found himself as a maypole! In fact the entire cast were sensational without a week link, with an ensemble arguably stronger than many leading casts out there.

At its heart (and boy does this show have heart), is a story of love, sexual awakenings, challenging beliefs, acceptance and tolerance. It is queer celebration at its finest, symbolised beautifully with the changing colours of the ‘Arcadia’ neon sign against the societal changes that take place in the story. At such a difficult time for both the queer community and society as a whole, this fun and uplifting show is the tonic we all need. It will surely convert the most adamant jukebox musical haters to lovers. I hope it has a life beyond this run at Hope Mill as it truly deserves it. Don’t take my word though, Go-go and grab yourself ticket!

Head Over Heels is on at Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester until 04 March 2023. Full booking info below:

Photo: Pamela Raith

Note: My ticket was gifted. Irrespective of whether a show is gifted or bought, I always ensure that my reviews are fair and based on my honest opinion alone.


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