Theatre review - Putting It Together, Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

The cast of Putting It Together at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester. Picture: Phil Tragen

The cast of Putting It Together at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester. Picture: Phil Tragen - Credit: Archant

Christmas comes early here, with a show perfectly suited to the small-scale city venue that has made such a big impression in just three years. Review by David Upton

Imagine a boxed set of some of Stephen Sondheim’s best songs, performed in the box-like setting of the Pollard Street theatre, and you have the simple essence of a show devised by the composer and Julia McKenzie. She appeared in the original London production of his earlier revue, Side By Side By Sondheim.

Putting It Together further celebrates his genius with more than 30 numbers from shows including Company, Follies, Into the Woods, A Little Night Music, Merrily We Roll Along, Sweeney Todd, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, even his little-appreciated contribution to the movie Dick Tracy. They are the ones you either know, or that leave you yearning to make their full acquaintance – soon!

No-one delivers a punchline in rhyme quite like Sondheim, or can twist the emotional knife, in a descant like that of Pretty Women, from Sweeney Todd.

Simbi Akande, Alex Cardall, Andrew Gallo, Gavin James and Lauren James Ray bring a lot of sinew and style to the singing, backed by Michael Webborn’s concerted piano playing.

The first act is scintillating, while the second act gets even better, especially when melodies from a show like Company come into their element in a series of solo party pieces.

The songs are wound around the sexual politics evident when five people attend a Manhattan cocktail party. Seduction, commitment, betrayal and revenge are shaken and stirred into the plot, and thanks to smart direction from Bronagh Lagan and tight choreography from William Whelton, it’s a show that never looks constrained by its confines. Back projections and pinpoint lighting cues add to the sensation of experiencing Manchester’s very own version of an off-Broadway show.

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It’s heartening then to see that Hope Mill’s revival of 60s’ counter-culture musical Hair, earlier this year, is now set for a UK tour next year, including performances at the city’s Palace Theatre.

Putting It Together runs until November 24 – and should be considered an early Christmas present!