Minding Frankie - The Lowry

YET another absorbing, touching and humorous tale from the home of the natural born storyteller - Ireland.

Based on Maeve Binchy's novel, this is sure to have you rooting for Noel, battling the booze in a bid to prove he's fit to take on fatherhood, and all the responsibilities that go with it.

Aside from the sleepless nights and nappy changing to contend  with, poor Noel also has social worker Moira on his case, as she tries to prove he isn't up to the job. Moira becomes Noel's nemesis and is so for most of the play, cold and judgemental.

Thanks to a fine and very natural performance by Steve Blount as Noel we crave a happy ending, even more so because the character's news he's destined to be a dad comes completely out of the blue and the far from faultless Noel is determined to use this life changing event to turn his own life around.

Clare Barrett effortlessly develops Moira as the play goes on, making her believable throughout a piece that, at just under two hours including an interval, is perfect, feel good fare for a summer night. She's also a study in versatility, playing a number of roles including the tragic mum of baby Frankie, who Noel takes in and raises as his own.

Director Peter Sheridan ensures both actors more than rise to the challenges posed when performing a two hander and Shay Linehan's adaptation is of Binchy's novel is certainly an engaging one.

Watching Minding Frankie was like watching a paperback being performed on stage and while the second act has more substance to it, the whole evening is hugely enjoyable. 

* Until June 23. The box office is on 0843 208 6000. Star rating - ***

Gates of Gold - Altrincham Little Theatre

GABRIEL, an unashamed old school ac-tor, is dying. He's a man with an ego that would fill your average sized theatre and he's been around the block and bought several t-shirts.

He lives with his long term lover Conrad, stable and loyal and loving. Enter Kassie, a woman charged with caring for the difficult Gabriel as he prepares as best he can to face his final curtain.

Gabriel can, we are told, is the most challenging of charges, prone as he is to bouts of outrageousness. It all sounds like the recipe for a very funny and poignant play. And while there are some moments of inspired humour to enjoy, I felt Frank McGuiness, the writer, fails to make full use of the dramatic potential such a scenario affords.

I've seen many gay characters in drama who have found humour even in the most dire of circumstances. Gabriel doesn't do it often enough here.

As Gabriel and Conrad, Stephen Moss and Malcolm Cooper are engaging, convincing and likeable, without you really caring Gabriel isn't long for this world. I also liked Kathryn Fennell's Cassie, still nursing the guilt she feels after a family tragedy.

But I applaud Altrincham Little Theatre for taking a commercial risk with this play, which contains strong language and some sexual references. It's so refreshing for a theatre to take a risk, when so many, both amateur and professional, have one eye permanently fixed on the box office these days.

* Until January 27. The box office is on 0161 928 1113. Star rating - ***