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Jerry Springer – The Opera review at Hope Mill, Manchester – ‘briskly entertaining revival’

Michael Howe in Jerry Springer – The Opera at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester. Photo: Anthony Robling
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It’s been almost three decades since The Jerry Springer Show first graced – or rather, disgraced – our TV screens and 16 years since Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee’s gleefully sacrilegious Olivier-winning operatic re-imagining shook up the West End.

Compared to the more insidious nature of today’s reality TV, the warring spouses and sexual proclivities on parade in the show’s opening half now seem almost quaintly pantomimic. And being invited to laugh unguiltily at references to lesbian dwarfs, “chicks with dicks” and high-kicking Klansmen feels strangely out of step in 2019.

But this inaugural production from Northern Ricochet embraces the audaciousness with unapologetic brio. There are subtle changes – budding pole dancer Shawntel (brilliantly sung by CiCi Howells) is now pregnant rather than overweight – but the show’s greatest joke, the collision of high and low art, still works tremendously well.

This is mainly because of the quality of the singing, with a large ensemble cast marshalled expertly by director James Baker and choreographer Sindy Richardson and delivering Thomas’ incongruously beautiful tunes – aping everything from Puccini to Rocky Horror – with total conviction.

The show’s TV-studio setting suits Hope Mill’s bijou performing space to a tee, with the audience raked on two sides. This gives the production a fittingly gladiatorial air and lends considerable heft to the gloriously realised ensemble numbers such as Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Take Care, while adding stifling intensity to the still outrageously Christian-baiting second half.

This bear-pit-like atmosphere also allows the quieter moments and fourth wall-breaking asides from Michael Howe’s suitably slippery and charismatic Jerry to really punch through.

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Well-sung, briskly entertaining revival of a show that still has the power to shock