Five months into the year, two meteorological seasons in and it’s only now it’s almost June that I’ve made my first theatre visit of the year – and boy, did I choose a good show to see. There have been other opportunities, other shows that I’ve wanted to see, but working full-time outside of central Manchester has made it somewhat tricky. Thankfully, if there’s one show to break my dry spell and force my ‘out of office’ ON, it has to be the new stage adaptation of Little Miss Sunshine at The Lowry. Based on the 2006 film release of the same name, Little Miss Sunshine drives into The Lowry’s Quay theatre as part of its national tour.
Little Miss Sunshine at The Lowry
(Please note, I was gifted two tickets to review Little Miss Sunshine at The Lowry on Tuesday 28th May 2019)
From Tony Award- winners James Lapine (Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George) and William Finn (Falsettos, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee), Little Miss Sunshine is a new theatre comedy based on the 2006 American film which was nominated for four academy awards and achieved over $100.5 million dollars. If you’re a fan of the film, like me, it’s likely Little Miss Sunshine has carved a space within your heart too all because of its leading lady – Olive Hoover.
In an unlikely tale, our lead character Olive battles mean girl cast stereotypes and adversity in her quest to be a beauty queen. The Hoover family has more than a few troubles, but young Olive has her heart set on winning the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest. When an invitation to compete comes out of the blue, the Hoovers must pile in to their rickety yellow camper van taking all of the family with them. Leaving two burning questions on the audience’s lips… Can the van survive the 800-mile trip from New Mexico to California – but more importantly, can this fractious family also survive?
The show opens to a typical family scene: the Hoovers eating KFC around the dining table. We are introduced to each member of the family, the problems they each face and the way they interact with each other. It’s clear that they are related in some way, a motley crue that no one would put together if they weren’t. Although the set is sparse, it’s laced with detail to encourage your imagination – the looming background which periodically flashes to mark the family’s highway progress to the wonderful neon signs to illuminate the static settings. Nothing fancy but more than enough.
Little Miss Sunshine Cast
Played by Evie Gibson on opening night, Olive Hoover is without doubt the star of the show and is truly comfortable taking centre stage. At aged 8, that’s certainly no easy feat. Evie has presence, energy and best of all – a noticeable passion for the stage.
The show also stars some familiar faces: Mark Moraghan (Coronation Street, Holby City), Lucy O’Byrne (Evita, Les Misérables, The Sound of Music), two-time Olivier-award nominee Paul Keating (Little Shop of Horrors, The Full Monty), Gabriel Vick (Avenue Q, Les Misérables, Eastenders), and Ian Carlyle (The Lion King, We Will Rock You).
Just like the film, the show centres on the themes of winning and losing – in particular losing. Each character seems to have experienced lost: lost love, lost youth, lost dreams accounting for just some. When forced to spend time together, this reveals to each character that underneath their issues they are indeed a close loving family with bonds that can’t be broken, leaving the audience feeling satisfied (despite the family’s individual battles) that they truly have won.
With audience reactions billing the theatre show as, “even funnier than the film” and “complete escapism”, I was particularly looking forward to spending an evening completely switching off from the day job. On that level, it certainly did not disappoint and did indeed transports me to an American highway (far away from the M62).
Overall, sugary sweet, almost twee in parts thanks to its unavoidable American twang and compounded with its musical score. Grandpa Hoover’s penchant for sex, drugs (and rock n’ roll?) mixed with a subversive sense of humour balances the twee with the dark themes running throughout the show. However, this being a dark comedy laced with gallows humour, I felt that the boundaries could have been pushed even further to truly differentiate it from the film. Touching and hilarious in parts, with plenty of belly laughs to justify a £22.50 ticket spend as real value for money.
You can catch Little Miss Sunshine at The Lowry until Saturday 1st June, with both matinee and evening performances available. Tickets start at £22.50 and are available to buy from The Lowry by clicking here.
*Evie Gibson & Mark Moraghan not pictured