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42 Balloons - Lowry Theatre Review

Reviewed by Jess Boot-Cowie
Tickets were gifted in return for an honest review

The stage, upon entering the auditorium of the Quays Theatre at the Lowry in Salford, is completely covered in a black curtain. When it opens, the stage is constructed to look like the inside of one of Larry Walters’ 42 weather balloons, which he used to carry himself in a lawn chair into the sky in 1982. The new musical by Jack Godfrey and directed by Ellie Coote tells of his dream to fly, in this unconventional manner, his girlfriend Carol’s sacrifices to get him there, and the cost of the dreams. 

Photo by Pamela Raith Photography

42 Balloons proudly states that it is ‘80s infused’, and this is certainly true. There are beats, there are synthesisers, there is an ensemble bopping in a rainbow of Wiggles-esque flight suits. The characters narrate the events to the audience, talking about themselves in thirdperson: it takes some getting used to, but once your ear has been tuned in, it’s strangely mellifluous. Other musical theatre influences can be heard in and amongst the songs - it feels as though some Lin Manuel Miranda motifs creep in during ‘1982’ and Dear Evan Hansen seems to put in an appearance during ‘Up and Away’. That being said, there are motifs within the show itself, with reprises coming up often, and you come away humming songs.
This is the second sharing of Goulding's musical, following a concert sharing at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2022, with several of the cast returning. One such is Evelyn Hopkins, who has vocals like butter and commands the entire stage in inch high heels. Charlie McCullagh is astounding as Larry. Awkwardly charming with near perfect comedic timing, you are unable to look away when he is alone on the stage, and his chemistry with Hopkins is undeniably tantalising.
Milla Clarke’s scenic design is the show stealer. To set the musical inside the balloon seems impractical at many moments, with ensemble climbing and perching halfway up slopes. And yet the minimal space is surprisingly effective, the whitewash of the walls allowing for the projections that form such an intrinsic part of the design of the show. Through these, we see how high Larry really does fly, as well as the many screens in the TV studios, the plans of his contraption. Andrzej Goulding puts everything that cannot be put into words onto the walls of the stage with starling clarity. The band is only revealed halfway through the show, and spend the second act appearing and disappearing, keeping the audience on their toes unexpectedly. 

Photo by Pamela Raith Photography

42 Balloons is laugh out loud funny, tender, tug on the heartstrings, and full of tracks that you will inevitably come home and download. If this does not go on to have a further run, I would be very surprised.


42 Balloons plays at The Lowry in Salford until Saturday 18th May 2024. You can find out more and book tickets through

Photo by Pamela Raith Photography

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