Review: Yank at The Hope Mill Theatre

Whilst The Opera House is given over to the premiere of Bat Out Of Hell, and old favourites like Grease and Evita play at Greater Manchester`s theatres, the bijou “art- house” of Hope Mill Theatre tucked away in a converted Mill building in trendy Ancoats plays host to the European Premiere of the Zellnik Brothers2nd World War gay love story, Yank!

Hope Mill Theatre is a true gem of a place, and already has been given (not by me) the epithet of Menier Chocolate Factory Of The North. I can clearly understand why, as they are now committed to producing three Musicals each year, and as last year`s Parade and Hair seem like distant, but pleasurable, memories, the first of this year`s offerings was as different and refreshing as apple pie!

It tells the story of Stu, a nineteen year old new recruit in the US army during the second world war. Nervous and insecure at first, and in denial of his own sexuality.

He is brought out of his shell by older Mitch, a good looking guy with whom he falls deeply in love. He is then further seduced by Artie, a photographer for the war magazine, Yank! (hence the title) and starts to work for him as a reporter. His downfall comes when he connives to return back to his unit in order to see Mitch again, and is arrested for the crime of homosexuality. Well, there`s more to it than that – but I don`t want to give too much away!

With an imaginative yet surprisingly simple set and authentic costuming by Victoria Hinton, some creative and evocative lighting by Aaron J Doofson, and the superb combined talents of James Cleeve (Musical Director), Chris Cuming (Choeroegrapher), and James Baker (Director), they left nothing to chance and created a superb and complete piece of theatrical entertainment. I do have one reservation about this Musical – and this is much more about my own reaction to it rather than anything else – but I found that at times the Music was at odds with the narrative. The story I feel would work much better as a play or a film, or maybe with different music. The music it did have was all of the correct period, evoking war time American music of the time, but for me, that didn`t have the gravitas and sincerity that this particular story needed. In simplistic terms the music came from Hollywood and Musical Comedies, when the story came from the tragic-heroic tradition and somehow they didn`t seem to cohere as well as perhaps they could have done. But that, like I said, is my concern about the writing, not about tonight`s presentation of it…

…For tonight`s presentation was sublime! The quality of the acting, singing, dancing, and everything else in between was just spot on every time. A more genuine Stu [ Scott Hunter] could not have been found. The naivety and awkwardness at the beginning balanced superbly with his now more mature final encounter with Mitch.

Mitch [Barnaby Hughes] looking every inch the Matinee Idol was the perfect opposite for him, and played his game cannily and securely. Whilst the more conniving and flamboyant Artie, was given a soupcon of style here by the talented Chris Kiely.

Nine further cast members played a whole array of characters between them, and were flawless to a man. Although I particularly emoted with Kris Marc-Joseph`s portrayal of Czechowski more than the others. For me, it just seemed that little more grounded.

However, they were all utterly amazing and this Musical can surely be nothing less than a triumph for all those involved with it.

Never before seen on European soil, this truly is something really rather special, and something that producers Ben Millerman, Hope Mill Theatre and Aria Entertainment can and will be proud of for many years to some.

Bravi, bravi, bravissimi tutti!

YANK Runs at Hope Mill theatre , Manchester until 8th April- For more information and to book tickets click HERE

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