It’s a good job the theatre recently became my new neighbour when I moved to Salford Quays in the summer, as I’ve rarely been away from the place recently.
Back Wednesday night and I’ll be honest, I would kill for a 100 year nap right now. No sympathy here, my love.
So the Christmas trees are up in the foyer and it was time for a fairytale and a bit of enchantment to take me away from grey skies, dark mornings and derailed trams causing havoc to my commute.
I’ve had a real treat of late – after quite the interval from both, I’ve been privileged to enjoy the opera and, on Wednesday, the ballet, over the last month..
The story starts in 1890, meaning that with some growing up time, the (spoiler) ‘awakening’ was scheduled for the 2010s. Now this all set the scene for a hybrid of the traditional and contemporary in terms of costume and reference.
I have no problem with this (how perfectly generous of me). There is room for reimaginings as it keeps a classic text alive, refreshed and on the radar. Otherwise we can risk losing tales (and indeed musical scores – don’t worry, fellow fans, Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score is there from start to finish) to the annals of literary history.
To be perfectly honest, beyond the footwear, no period for me particularly took centre stage, and the thread of fairytale and fantasy still ruled.
Indeed, I admit to becoming a little confused in the later scenes as to who, one hundred years on, was asleep, awake, dead or alive, and what those beautiful little wings on some signified.
That’s on me and didn’t impede my enjoyment of the beautifully choreographed dancers as they shared the stage with enchanting set builds and sounds of the pre-recorded score (hands up, I do yearn for the live orchestra -particularly when spoiled with one earlier in the month in the same theatre – ‘keep music live’ and all that).
I cried like a baby (oh quick mention of the marvellous puppetry of a young Princess Aurora and later – spoiler – child of her own) at the end. Hormonal or simply carried away on a tide of emotion inspired by theatrical artistry – you decide!
And you can do that by catching the final performance of Sleeping Beauty, a gothic romance, at The Lowry Theatre this evening, Saturday 26th November.
New Adventures dance company – full wonderful cast with blogs here.
“SLEEPING BEAUTY” is directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne working with his regular collaborators and New Adventures Associate Artists, Lez Brotherston (Set and Costumes), Paule Constable (Lighting) and Paul Groothuis (Sound Design).
La Traviata is perfect for opera newbies as well as diehard opera fans.
And I would wholly support this. I guess I would be placed in the middle lane in that I really do enjoy opera, have seen a respectable number of different productions but have yet to reach double figures.
I now wish I’d seen La Traviata much sooner as it’s shot to the top two of my opera league table.
The reason? The beautiful, beautiful music, the powerful themes of love and tragedy, excess and loss. It’s playful and funny, tragic and devastating, it’s everything and quite frankly a little extra.
The ballrooms and bedrooms of high society are a dizzying whirl in the life of Violetta, the most glamorous courtesan in all of Paris. Living life on her own terms, to her surprise she falls in love with the naïve young Alfredo. But this intoxicating romance takes a devastating turn when her past life catches up with her, and she’s forced to sacrifice what may be her only chance of real love.
This love story is one which has lent itself to many a medium over the decades and indeed centuries (cough, Pretty Woman, cough Moulin Rouge).
Love crossing the divide and ducking convention, all whilst challenged by scandal, self-doubt, judgement, status and imposed social hierarchy.
So the plot is strong and Verdi’s score rousing, emotional and, I’m sure, recognisable to many. But with these solid foundations in place, what of the execution?
Granted, this is the first time I have seen a production of La Traviata, but I am willing to take on all challenges when I perhaps blindly say that it was just exquisite.
From curtain up when we’re presented with our Violetta in a writhing state of pleasure and gay abandon, our own voyeurism is reflected back at us by the giant projected eye peeping at proceedings from the rear of the stage.
Like a painting come to life, the colours rich, the movements hypnotic, this opening scene in Act 1 was captivating, as the company delighted us in their depiction of revelry the likes of which Salford Quays had never seen (and I’ve been last person standing at Dockyard on a Thursday…).
Our company, led by Máire Flavin (Violetta) and Oliver Johnston (Alfredo), entranced with their pitch-perfect, breathtaking vocals and our live orchestra, led by Jonathan Webb, simply enchanted as they brought the famous score to life.
We were taken from a ‘will they, won’t they’ cliffhanger of the first act, to a ‘they did’ but then ‘oh no’, to a heart-wrenching final act of tragic resolution. Two hours (with two x 20 min intervals), passed by in mere moments, such was my investment in the company’s performance.
Should I perish in a whirlwind of excess (little La Traviata joke there), I’ll be glad to know I had the chance to see this production first.
But I’ll leave the last word to Máire herself…
And she’s just the lead…
You have one final chance to see La Traviata tonight, 17 November. Click this link immediately for tickets.
But all is not lost, Opera North is bringing two more productions to The Lowry this week with Orfeo ed Euridice on Friday 18 November and Orpheus on Saturday 19 November.
Conductor Jonathan Webb, Director Alessandro Talevi, Set & Costume Designer Madeleine Boyd, Lighting Designer Matthew Haskins, Choreographer Victoria Newlyn Photo credit: Richard H Smith
I enjoy a ‘reimagining’, especially of a classic text or narrative with strong themes. It might not always ‘hit the mark’ or runs the risk of negative comparison to what an original that some might consider sacred. But it can also be enjoyed in its own right as a separate piece and do a service to the original in keeping it alive and provoking interest in those who haven’t yet had the pleasure.
As aware as I am of the themes and celebrated existence of Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov (although type Anton into Google and Du Beke is top of the pops – that’s showbiz, Chekhov) and his Cherry Orchard, I’ve never seen a production. Therefore I am regrettably about to let you down, and myself, on comparisons between the two versions, and the innovative ‘reimaginings’ of original characters from the original text.
But, as every production and piece of art should be treated individually and on its artistic merit, I will focus on taking this approach (she says, desperately)…
The set is the ship, the ship the set, sometimes static, sometimes revolving at various speeds. With screens we are able to see what they see, including a cleverly immersive eclipse achieved for us all with lighting and imagery.
Set in the ‘home’, each introduced character was individually carved out, and with familial tensions, co-worker flirtation, power struggles and tensions, it had domestic sitcom undertones and even long running serial drama potential.
Had the narrative not been crafted to have a very definite beginning, middle and an end, and a 140 min(ish) duration, the repartee and relationships between the characters definitely had scope for more situations, background exploration and storylines in a more serialised medium.
I guess I’m saying that I believed that this group of people on stage had history, such was their interactivity, and so it is to their credit that I wanted to know more.
Now, with every (well, most) fictional spaceships, comes the main ship’s computer.
We’ve had the sinister Hal (2001: A Space Odyssey), the dry, laconic Holly/ies (Red Dwarf) and here we have Divya (Chandrika Chevli), the passive-aggressive but perfectly pleasant ‘not quite paramour’ to enamoured crew member, Lenka (Maanuv Thiara), who even proposes marriage.
In the related but, Google tells me, completely different field to AI, let’s talk robots.
Red Dwarf had Kryten, The Cherry Orchard has Feroze (Hari Mackinnon, my favourite of the characters and admittedly (and, perhaps, ironically) and one which provoked real emotion in me. That poor little robot servant, malfunctioning, abandoned by the family and crew, and, despite promises made, heinously left behind on the ship to ‘die’ alone.
No spoiler alert given as my gift to you is the preparation that I wish I’d had, in order to get through this.
And whilst the Captain of the ship, Prema Ramesh (Anjali Jay), equally provoked emotion in me, it was of a very different nature. Her arrogant commanding of the ship and clear disregard for the bottom of the class system, crew and ‘downdeckers’, had my hackles rising and it was deeply satisfying to not only see an uprising result in her removal from power, but also witness her separation from the ship and, yes, the Cherry Orchard, the place she coveted the most. Pity the planet she was headed to.
Gosh, I’m a savage little sod, but kudos to Anjali Jay for triggering me so splendidly in a solid and literally commanding performance.
I’ll end on the fact that whilst I, again regrettably, don’t know the parallel that lies in the original text (or even if there is one), there was a part of the play that remains with me as I continue to desperately and, as yet, unsuccessfully, work out just how this special moment was realised.
Yes the production gave me cause to consider societal hierarchy, inherited entitlement, the importance and anchor that is ‘home’ and that we all have the potential to affect change.
But, reader, it was a card trick that shook me to my core. A very clever card trick and one that is almost worth seeing the play for, alone. Bravo to the grumpy, sweary, sarcastic, (randomly gifted?) amateur magician and youngest/eldest (it’s a space/time continuum thing) daughter of the Captain, Varsha (Tripti Tripuraneni).
Any undertones of ‘mixed bag’ coming from this write-up is in no small part down to my own frustration in being unable to draw parallels and identify what I imagine is undoubtably a clever repurposed Cherry Orchard, perfect for celebrants of the sci-fi genre and contemporary theatre-goers alike.
Suffice to say, my interest is provoked and, having happily engaged in Patel’s production last Thursday night, I’m now ready to find out just what I’ve been missing in Chekhov’s.
Monday evening saw bucketfuls of rain in Salford but more importantly, press night of The Shawshank Redemption at The Lowry Theatre…
Produced by Bill Kenwright and starring Joe Absolom and Ben Onwukwe, the title will score high recognition points, I’m sure, but not necessarily in this medium.
Whilst starting life as Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption, a short novel written in 1982, the 1994 film adaptation starring Tim Robbins is a firm fan favourite.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of either…
Part of the huge film following, I have to admit I haven’t read the book, despite Stephen King being a huge part of my teen literary years.
And so whilst there were slight differences between the film and the play in terms of story and scenes, I can’t tell you whether that was a stylistic choice based on the different mediums, or whether it was a play of the book rather than a play of the film.
It honestly doesn’t matter and, regardless of which, this production manages to bring every bit of magic to the story that the film does.
Who could forget Morgan Freeman’s iconic narration as character Red? Well quite honestly me on Monday night, as Ben Onwukwe made it his own.
With the action around him frozen, and taking centre stage to address the audience directly, we were taken along with him as we met Andy Dufresne, the inmates and guards and travelled through the decades as the play came to its satisfactory and moving conclusion.
Joe Absolom gave a performance we’ve come to expect; measured yet vulnerable, steady yet passionate, it was faithful to the complicated ‘hero’ of our story so many of us feel like we know
Indeed all cast made the parts their own and each drew us individually into characters, and situations, which were familiar but given new life.
The sets were simple and enough, the quick changes taking you where you needed to be, the lighting and music playing their part in adding context, placement and, indeed, dramatic undertones and setting the mood perfectly.
I always get nervous (dramatic) when stepping into a different adaptation or medium of a narrative I love, for fear of my own unfair comparison or disappointment.
No need here. The standing ovation said it all.
On at The Lowry until this Saturday 5 November, don’t miss your chance to see for yourself.
The play has been adapted by Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns, and directed by David Esbjornson.
Wednesday night I entered a veritable dreamscape, just off Oxford Road. No, silly, not Kro.
Immersive can mean different things when it comes to art and theatre. It was Wednesday night, raining hard, I had a sore throat and I had 11 work hours under my belt. I was simply a joy.
I was too tired to dance.
I was worried I might have to dance.
I love to dance but the conditions were challenging and I was firmly wearing my coat and scarf indoors, and looking very preppy partly due to a penchant for an autumnal preppy aesthetic and partly due to the ‘pity me’ cold, enveloping my very being. The big scarf was staying.
But reader, I was immersed! And I didn’t even need to leave my theatre seat.
Based on the real stories and testimonies of LGBTQIA+ people across generations, GROOVE is a brand new performance exploring the dance floor as a place of protest, identity, belonging and desire, embracing what it means to be queer, then, now, and in the future.
The concept was understood and appreciated by me. The execution by OUTBOX was simply sublime.
I was immersed in the music and the strobes, never imposing, only ever energising and enhancing to the message. Levels rising, ebbing and flowing, as the cast took to their individual spotlights to dance, sing, skate, speak, share, strip and shed…
It wasn’t an assault on the senses but a stimulation of.
I felt like I’d stepped out of my Wednesday woe and into a world where people were the living embodiment of what it is to be free, Free, fierce and fabulous. On the dance floor, if sadly not everywhere else.
The piece says,
and I feel, however we identify as people, we can all relate .
I’m not going to break the show down into an essay – as I always say, for me art is something that should make you feel. Educate, sometimes, but most definitely make you feel and the way to do that is to experience it.
Bob Dylan is a man whose legend belies his status of being alive. Problematic a statement, not least grammatically, I know.
But it’s a rare artist that I feel achieves such status in their own lifetime both at their peak and beyond. To achieve greatness through folklore (with a capital ‘folk’) and you should have been theres whilst still going strong and continuing to tour, no less, is quite the thing.
In fact, as part of our own Mancunian musical you should have been theres, my mother-in-law was indeed there the night that Dylan ‘going electric’ came to an almighty head one fateful night in May 1966 at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, as the notorious heckle Judas rang out…
Not nearly as infamous an occasion but his legend in his own lifetime status allowed me to go and see him in concert at Manchester’s Apollo a few years back. And he’s coming back again. And the point of this preamble is his…accessibility.
Indeed, playwright and filmmaker (and writer and director of Girl From the North Country), Conor McPherson discovered this most surreally when Dylan’s own record company approached him to ask if he’d consider using his music in a theatre show.
In an interview with journalist, Nick Curtis, as featured in the theatre programme, McPherson dismissed this as a) he’d never written a musical and b) didn’t think of ‘Dylan as a musicals musician’.
Not my favourite genre, and as a fan of Dylan’s music, me neither.
But McPherson’s idea to set the play in Dylan’s birthplace of Duluth, Minnesota, in 1934, repositioning them and providing new context, and the fact that Dylan’s management told McPherson…
Bob Dylan has read it, likes it and is happy for (you) to go ahead
…lead to both it and I appearing at The Lowry last night, myself intrigued and curious to see just what a Dylan driven musical looked (and indeed, sounded) like.
It sounded great. The spirit and essence of Dylan’s music was preserved (20 songs, no less, from Sign On the Window through to Forever Young).
The talented company brought it home with fabulous vocals and musicianship, with some multi-talented multi-tasking, going on, with characters showing up on the drums for instance when least expected!
The music lent itself to the period, the geographical backdrop understood, and my fears that the narrative would provide wholly inappropriate and tenuous links to the incoming songs unfounded.
The plot was enough to provide a platform for the songs without becoming too jarring but don’t get me wrong. This was no saccharine narrative purely there for decoration. With themes including mental health, rape, racism and murder to boot, it was certainly holding its own and strong enough to take hold of our attention.
There were inevitable signifiers to what was to come in the songbook, but, hey, they’re songs I liked so I looked forward to them, content in the knowledge that they were on the horizon.
I even got thrown a bone when the opening strains of my favourite Lay Lady Lay got a cameo as an intro to another song.
And as 2 hours (plus interval) drew to a close, it was clear from the standing ovation that the audience of Dylan, musical and good old theatre-lovers had found lots of enjoy, as had I.
Girl From The North Country is at The Lowry upto and including 24 September 2022.
My partner and I moved recently. From suburbia to ‘urbia’. From a house to an apartment.
I think like a lot of people about a lot of life choices, a penny dropped, at some point, over the pandemic.
I won’t speak for my partner, Actual Manc, but have sought his blessing to light-touch invade his privacy even by speaking just for myself…but I’ve spent a fair amount of time wondering whether I’ve failed at life’s ‘rules’.
Dark times ‘knowing’ I have, lighter times thinking that I still have but that perhaps made me a rebel.
However I think to be a rebel, there’s a fair amount of pro activity and decision-making involved.
And it wasn’t my/our decision not to have children.
And Here I Find Myself.
Hull-born, Manchester-based Wayne Steven Jackson last night brought the preview of his solo show to The Lowry on Friday night, to a captive audience in The Studio.
The world has shifted. Laws have been amended, rights instated, and possibilities created. But what if, after all this change, things still don’t work out the way we planned?
After multiple unsuccessful attempts to become a father, a single gay man, on the brink of turning 40, questions how he ended up here, whose rules he has been following, and, most importantly, what happens next
As a preview ahead of a tour, I don’t want to be too explicit in my description of the performance, but the show certainly starts on a comedic note.
Via pinned up paper and projection, an unknown ‘voice’ gave instructions to our performer.
Milestones came into play. Milestones (or lack of) were what caused my own crisis of confidence one 31 December in a Lake District camping pod. Accompanied by my partner, champagne, the contents of the M&S deli range and a pending new year, I reflected on life and panicked that I had no markers in place for the next 12 months. And I felt more…redundant than I ever had.
Milestones can be anchoring, they can also be hindering if not set by yourself or relevant to your life.
Wayne describes historical milestones as dictated by changing laws, and where he found himself at those times, setting the scene of his bedroom beautifully by the colours of his bedding, the pop culture iconography on his walls and his own approach to his sexuality and life at that time.
Life’s expectations bring their own specific milestones too. As Wayne alludes, meet someone, get married, have children…but then those parental milestones can give a blueprint for what follows. Move to area dictated by catchment area, first day of school, secondary school, exams, university, grandchildren…
But what if it hasn’t happened. Perhaps never will.
What are the alternative milestones? And here was the big one, did I even need any?
And so back to the stage and with a whimsical soundtrack, and repetition of movement and direction complimenting the rhythmic nature of the performance, incremental changes begin to creep into both the direction and approval of the unseen voice.
As the performance reaches a crescendo, whimsy increasingly turns to the more sinister, approval of ‘the voice’ turning to disapproval, streamers turning to shreds, Wayne’s messaging becomes all too real, more difficult to see, to hear.
But as they say, the brightest days come after the storm and once you start to separate out the inner voice from the outer, the only acceptance that matters, only then can you start to tear up the rulebook and perhaps (in my case) move away from that ‘desirable’ but wholly claustrophobic catchment area, sit on your potentially dangerous balcony, and heal in your own time.
Art should challenge you, tap into your feelings and explore your own take on life.
And whilst I apologise for potentially making this review more about myself than intended, I’m grateful to the artist for generously channelling his life into his art, and for validating my own reflections and thoughts, causing me to share here more than I have ever done in 9 years.
Thank you Wayne Steven Jackson 😊 Oh, and when the show tours, go and see it, it’s fantastic!
Cocktails have been enjoying their time in the sun once again and any respectable joint worth their salted rim will offer you a cocktail list.
And whilst they come in a variety of shapes and sizes (it can be a bit of a Russian roulette experience as to what’s coming and whether it presents in a generous fish bowl or mean-spirited little thimble), I’ve never seen them come quite like this.
Whilst nestled in a deck chair on First Street, watching Djokovic serving up a storm in the semi-final on Wimbledon centre court, Bunny Jackson’s was bringing to us the first UK pour of American’s biggest selling single-serve premixed cocktails.
These spherical little fellas are BuzzBallz and having shown up for the first pour all just for you, I’m here to tell you that they pack a hell of a punch for such a cute little drink. They might look fun but they’re a serious business and strictly adult-only.
All 200ml balls are 13.5 per cent abv, made with premium spirits and bursting with real fruit juice, and natural flavours, I was told.
But how could I be sure this would all lead to a delightful drink experience? There was clearly work to be done and both I and the cocktails were…
Six varieties to try, I delegated the creamier options to my plus 1, with me taking on the fruitier flavours on offer. How very professional and organised of us.
Tequila ‘Rita was my favourite, so much so that i had a second just to make sure I was right.
I was right.
Close behind was the Strawberry ‘Rita. Word of warning, make sure you pour it down your throat, not your top. Pretty colour though (and it washed out so bonus points awarded).
Finally the Chili Mango and ooh what a kick, the heat hitting the back of the throat in a satisfying way.
Plus 1 took his task seriously and took on his trio of tipples with gay abandon, great aplomb and absolute gusto. What a trooper.
Choc Tease is definitely one for the Baileys lovers (can I say that?). Naughty but nice on many levels. The Lotta Colada was a veritable coconut in a can, and finally the ultimate test, the Espresso Martini.
With this name there really is nowhere to hide and given the popularity of this cocktail type, expectations are high. Verdict? A great version of an Espresso Martini – who needs floating coffee beans?
That’s all well and good, but how can you be sure yourselves?
Well good news. BuzzBallz are not just for me, my plus 1, for first pours or for Wimbledon semi-finals. Those fun little ball-shaped cans of cocktails are behind the bar now at Bunny Jackson’s.
Not only that, the First Street dive bar will be running a deal for a bucket of three BuzzBallz for £15.
Not even kidding and who can resist a bucket?
Bunny Jackson’s are also be upping its game with a Wing Wagon – a 40ft long Winnebago, yes 40, converted into an al fresco chicken bus, complete with deck chairs, loungers, and its famous 25p wings – positioned next to its big screen showing more sporting events this summer.
Bunny Jackson’s Mof Gimmers, says
But again, whilst my written word is my blogger’s bond, see for yourself, and visit the Bunny Jackson’s website to find out more and to book a space:
Well here’s its sister from the same mister and if you haven’t heard, been or listened to Hacienda Classical, you don’t know what you’re missing. Actually I’ll tell you (but in slightly less aggressive tones than this introductory paragraph).
It’s where DJs share the stage with classical musicians, creating a symphony of iconic sounds, where strings meet synths meets decks meets maracas. It’s a beautiful collaboration between The Hacienda and the holy trinity of Manchester Camerata, DJ Graeme Park and musical director Tim Crooks
And on Friday it was realised at Castlefield Bowl, that curious little amphitheatre where on a quiet day plays host to office workers bedecked in lanyard chic, eating their sandwiches, sushi and salads.
Castlefield itself holds legendary status. Being a self-titled honorary Manc and all, the area was my intro to Manchester, moving over to work at Granada TV in 2000 at its OG Quay Street site, with lunchtimes spent either sat on a blanket in St Peter’s Gardens (summer) or having one of them there new-fangled panini or ciabatta sandwiches at (air quotes) gastro-pub Oxnoble on Liverpool road (all seasons).
And we all know that when the temperatures hit 16c plus, with little to no control, our bodies take us straight to Dukes 92, Barca, The Wharf. It’s the Manchester in the Summer law.
But there’s another piece of legislation creeping into Manchester in the Summer book of policies and that’s to head to the frankly fabulous and, for many years underused, Castlefield Bowl for the superb programme of musical moments that is Sounds of the City.
Add to the mix Hacienda Classical, temperatures hitting, yes hitting…
the early 20s
we were ready for business and an epic Friday night.
Attempting to break the world record for the number of open Didsbury Gins transported through crowds of shiny happy people, I had only one choice: up or down.
Whilst you’ve gotta get up early to take your seat/stance on the fabled elevated concrete steps of the ‘Bowl, an earlier commitment meant that this was not to be.
After a valiant effort to take my place on the other elevated location of what we’re calling ‘the grass verge’, much jostling and displacement of Didders Gin later, it was mission abandoned when I realised that this blog post would either have to be accompanied by images only of the backs of people’s heads who could see the stage or stock images, the decision was made to shimmy (read stumble) back down to take our chances at ground level.
As I was ably led through the crowds, snaking our way towards frontish-central, I was surprised at how relatively easy at this particular soiree it was.
Gig craft! It’s called gig craft!
husband/plus 1/decorated gig craft specialist
Anyway, gig craft employed and duly executed, we found our dance floor for the night and what a night it was.
Heartbreak and promises, I’ve had more than my share
Swap that out for streamers, strobes and many gins and you’re getting an idea of my night
All ya your favourites – tracks, DJs, faces, memories, beats (as ‘they’ say), classical musicians filling a stage bedecked by those iconic black and yellow stripes, the railway arches ferrying people in and out of God’s own country on trams and trains alike, Bez freakily dancing maracas in hand as he bounced onto the stage unannounced…
the wonderful DJ Paulette at the decks, Hooky next to, having a chat…it wasn’t Year of our Lord 2022, it was just Friday in Castlefield, Manchester and nothing mattered (apart from I really, really needed the loo and the portaloos felt like miles away and I hate portaloos).
MC Tunes could get a party going in an empty room, and with the god-like Hooky seemingly overseeing proceedings via DJ sets, low-slung bass playing, singing and just generally serving up excellent him-ness, life was great.
And as the final confetti cannon went off and the iconic strains of You Got the Love heralded the end of the party, we all marched off, ticker tape in our hair and god knows where else, down the canal paths, past the boarded up (The) Knott – RIP – and onto that quiet little intersection of Deansgate where we jostled for black cabs, Ubers, trams and trains, once more having taken a ride on time into our pasts and what makes Manchester and its people great.
I’ll be honest from the off, it’s the course I’d like and hope to do and so it was slightly surreal but incredibly nice to be asked to this closed showcase and evening of short plays written by University of Manchester MA Playwrights, performed by Manchester-based actors.
So far so my bag.
I was advised that each play was written in response to the playwrights’ first semester of teaching, in which they were tutored by award-winning playwright Chloe Moss. In these creative seminars, students were encouraged to think about how ‘form’ and ‘structure’ can be manipulated and used innovatively, before working collaboratively to write their own short plays.
First up we had TheSlaughterbrute, written and directed by Matthew Skelton.
“Three soldiers deep under the earth and sea, find themselves fighting each other and morality in a bitter bid for survival under tyranny.”
What we had here was in the realms of French farce meets sci-fi.
A brilliant sub-genre to my mind.
With efficient and clever use of lighting and sound to set the scene, we see the plot twist and turn as a test by the Commander (Ferdinand Ray) to see if a soldier in training would turn traitor if tempted, lead to a fatal consequence. Turns out ‘Jack’ (Harry Bloor) was such an anti-traitor that he murdered the Commander as a traitor.
So far, so ‘oops’. But then whilst Jack had passed the final test, the Chaplain (Rory Calland) regretfully informs him that penalty for killing a Commander was execution.
What followed was a lesson in mind-bending moral quandaries.
I passed the test, I’m not a traitor.
I killed who I thought was a traitor.
Yes. But he was pretending. You killed a Commander so you must be killed.
But he presented as a traitor.
So I very much so passed the test.
Yes but also in doing so you failed the biggest.
(Please note I’m heavily paraphrasing the more sophisticated actual dialogue for reasons of failing memory but you get the general idea).
And so round and round and round.
More twists followed as Jack and the Chaplain played cat and mouse to seek a solution where both came through alive.
With smart, rhythmic, poetic dialogue and double twists delivered with a comic edge, the play placed us in a dystopian world but kept it real with a debate over when if ‘doing the right thing’ incidentally leads to a wrong thing, which act trumps the other and in the end is it really just about who’s left standing, the rights or wrongs of it all irrelevant?
(And is that sentence of mine so long it’s practically offensive?)
A literal change of scene and the second play, The Footstool, entered stage right. Written by Liam High and directed by Judi Amate…
“When their grandfather, Carl, suffers a heart attack, estranged brothers Phillip and Peter find themselves reunited after 15 years, when Peter ran away from home. So much of their lives have changed but can the brothers move beyond their past differences and mend their wounds with Carl before it’s too late? The Footstool is an exploration of co-dependent and toxic relationships, intergenerational masculinity and the possibility of forgiveness.”
There are some shorts that where quite a lot can be fit into just a snapshot.
In 20 minutes, we had the decline and perhaps/perhaps not death of a grandfather, the arrival of a long lost brother and reconciliation bridging 15 years’ estrangement.
It was a play of two halves and three relationship dynamics. The first half introduced a comedy performance by Rory Calland as the grandfather, Carl, worthy of Wilfred Bramble. Yes he was dying but he was funny.
The knowledge of the return of the runaway grandson, Peter, was enough to drive Carl to another heart attack. Carl appeared to be the reason Peter left.
And the return of the prodigal twin brother, Peter, was nearly enough to send Phillip, into a metaphorical heart attack.
Peter had abandoned Phillip when he left. But equally Phillip had abandoned Peter by not joining him. Joint resentment on both sides.
Peter used to get Phillip to crouch on the floor to be his footstool.
Oof, we thought.
Phillip, turns out, actually liked this. It was their connection. They didn’t have a secret language but they had an intriguing shared memory of the womb where one grabbed the other’s foot and never wanted to let go.
I had so many questions, can one twin born mere minutes before the other be enough to create a power imbalance? Create a hierarchy in dominance? A theme of abandonment?
I was, actually, momentarily distracted by aggressively trying to remember being in the womb, I’m so competitive…I did remember throwing an iron at my dad though, whilst still in nappies.
Ladies and Gentlemen? Me.
Is the perfect short, one with a neat and tied up in a bow conclusion or one that leaves you wanting more.And is the latter a good thing if you’re not going to get that next instalment? I think so if there’s resolution within the first.
What ties all the plays together is a resolution in the short term, but with a triggered imaginary for what could come next.
In my fantasy, Carl survives his second heart attack to whinge and whine another day, with long enough for the three to come together to thrash out the abuse which one twin undertook, which of the three relationships in play can survive and which should be put out to pasture and consigned to the past?
And I mean that as a compliment.
Short break between shorts, and straight into the energetic Why I Didn’t, written by Imogen Chillington, and co-directed along with Lauren Ellis-Stretch.
“A young woman learning how to exist as an adult in a world that doesn’t want to make space for her. Processing her first break up and trying to understand the disaster that is ‘modern’ dating, ‘I’ starts to understand how her experiences impact and change her and how to survive trauma.”
I think maybe the excellent Megan Keaveny, as ‘I’, should perform this annually to freshers as a cautionary tale.
The monologue was heartbreaking and frustrating in equal measure. And I mean this as high praise. There but for the grace of god goes I, as…well ‘I’ innocently and naively justifies to herself poor behaviour by an ex, poor behaviour by a current and frankly poor behaviour by ‘friends’.
Like a protective older sister (ok technically I could be ‘I’s’ mother (technically), you wanted to seek him out and tell him where to get off.
And as ‘I’ had a slow realisation that poor behaviour was a great deal more sinister, that poor behaviour accounted to date rape (actually let’s just call it rape), you wanted to hunt him down and, well…
Thoughts of ‘ ah bless her’ and ‘you daft lass’ turned to ‘help her’.
A powerful message and energetic yet subtle performance (seemingly an oxymoronic statement but true), with a witty script that knew when and how to change tack and tone, whilst staying true to the character.
We saw a happy, funny, unlucky-in-love girl who we laughed with in da club, as she scrolled through tinder, unravel before our eyes, taking our emotions on a roller coaster ride.
And with little time to recover, our final short of the evening; In Limbo, written by Judi Amato and directed by Liam High.
“Sophie is dead. Probably. She thinks. How could the happiest time of her life turn to this? A play about the darkest sides of motherhood, In Limbo follows Connor (Kai Ross) and Sophie (Madeleine Healey) as they joyfully prepare for the arrival of their baby – and the reality of early parenthood and post-partum depression.”
This was a cleverly constructed tale told through a non-linear timeline, which created a powerful impact (damn you Short Play Showcase, my mind’s been shot to shit in under two hours).
Beautifully acted we jump between the extremes of a couple, clearly in love and with an excellent line, may I say, of ‘bantz’, from the excited parents-to-be to broken down parents-realised.
The size of the bump providing the immediate visual signpost to where we’re at on the timeline, we’re seeing a loving couple taking time out with some reluctance to leave the baby, to pregnant couple enjoying discussing names, to mother frantically imagining hearing the baby cry (excellent use of sound to cause a mis-step in the audience’s perception of reality) to an unravelling of a mother’s mind, a terrified father developing a reluctant but real mistrust of what she might do, infidelity and a breakdown in trust on both sides.
It was a deep-dive exploration into mental health and relationships, with believable dialogue and performances, cleverly portrayed with a manipulation of time that for me landed well in helping to portray the wildly conflicting emotions at play.
And so the metaphorical curtain came down on the showcase (a second one was to follow the next evening) and now must come down on my blog post, which to say considering the subject matter, perhaps wins the award for longest yet.
Some wonderful and exciting talent on show, providing firm reassurance that the future (and indeed, present) of the Manchester arts scene is safe in the hands of some wonderful creatives.
Over the years, people have performed fringe shows in all sorts of unusual spaces, including camper vans, tents, Roman forts and even in a crypt…
This year, the venues include: Chapeltown Picture House, Foundation Coffee House, Frog and Bucket, Whitefield Garrick Theatre, GM Police Museum, Gullivers, International Antony Burgess Foundation, The Kings Arms, Lock 91, Moston Small Cinema, Salford Arts Theatre, The Seven Oaks, Lions Den, The Peer Hat, The Squad House, Twenty Twenty Two, Whitworth Locke…
The programme of events is packed with over 100 productions, including drama, comedy, music, mime, children’s shows, storytelling, puppetry, visual arts, spoken word, walking tours, running tours and lots of fabulous performers, at affordable ticket prices.
In addition, some of the shows are free to offer access to a non-traditional theatre-going audience.
Straightaway, my takeaway on this play is how there are some incredibly talented actors in this country and there is largely a huge disconnect between talent and plaudits.
Much of this, of course, as in life, is to do with how commercially viable a vehicle is. And I get that. Not everything is for consumption by the masses and nor should it be.
We wouldn’t get the dark, the taboo, the controversial, the sharp, the left field, the triggering, the hugely important art that we do if everything played to ticket sales and middle England.
But sometimes I just wish there was room in society for that spotlight and comment on talent displayed in fringe to be shared more widely.
Ok, too far, I know. That’s life. I just get overexcited sometimes. What I’m trying to say is…
Yasmin Dawes as Patricia – you were brilliant.
There are triggers in this play that were clearly signposted both in the literature and by the lovely people of The Lowry, encouraging us to leave and take a break at any point we needed.
Indeed the full name of the one-woman play is triggering which is why I’ve adopted the approach by the theatre to the main title of my post. The full name is:
Patricia Gets Ready (for a date with a man that used to hit her).
We’re taken on a journey by Patricia from her bedroom. And she’s funny and we wonder whether we should laugh, already primed to cry.
Then we get into it and we do laugh. Because she is funny. And she seems ok. She’s obviously had trauma but she seems to be approaching this rendezvous with humour and sass.
Then we delve deeper and she’s not ok and we’re not ok with her going on this date. And as the complexities and layered reasons for survivors of domestic abuse staying with their abusers become clear through Patricia’s flip-flopping approach to the date and seeing him again, it’s tense.
We’re with Patricia’s unseen mum, pleading with her not to go back. We’re heads bowed as she plays out a seemingly subservient role in the date. But then we’re joyous and relieved as we then realise that that didn’t play out as we see Patricia play out an empowering and ‘winning’ role in the date. And it’s going to be ok.
But then we’re back again and seeing that Patricia is beginning the date for real. But how will this play out?
And we’re tense again, hopeful, nervous, touched by the story, the sharing and the all too real knowledge that there are Patricias (and Patricks) everywhere playing out such a reunion or meeting, as often as daily each time they struggle with whether this is the day that they don’t go home and walk away forever.
Behind every great message is a great writer, in this case it’s Martha Watson Allpress. And I had to check that the writer wasn’t Yasmin herself such was the conviction with which the material was delivered. An artistic collaboration made in heaven.
Produced by Nur Khairiyah (Khai) and directed by Kaleya Baxe, it was 60 minutes of theatre that made you feel. All performed in the Lowry Studio – often the biggest and boldest stories are told in the smallest of spaces.
On for one night only in Salford, whilst not an opportunity to see on this current tour, info can be found here Summary, awards , reviews and gallery or @patgetsready on the old socials.
Photography and illustration – Xanthus, Greta Mitchel, Korey J Ryan & Heedayah Lockman
Salford help and support:
Saheli works for Asian women in Manchester through a safe space and helpline (0161 945 4187 – Mon to Fri, 9am to 5pm). Information and support is offered in Arabic, Bangla, English, Gujarati, Punjabi and Urdu. http://saheli.org.uk
1982 was a very special year. My brother was born in the January, the Hacienda was born in May. And the rest is history.
That said, history came alive Saturday night when the shutters flew up on what is now the Hacienda apartments car park, and 1000 of us flooded in (note a last minute ‘glitch’ meant this ended up being 500 at a time split over two sessions , but pretty sure Tony Wilson would have had a wry smile on this face at this aptly chaotic turn of events).
On the early shift, 6-10.30pm (the hardcore attendees scheduled for 11pm – 2am) I rocked up about 6.30pm, obviously in broad daylight. A curious concept, and I wondered how this would translate into an evening which was designed to celebrate the wonderfully hedonistic era of Hacienda.
With an amuse bouche of a vodka and energy drink mixer in me (wild) courtesy of another Manc city centre gaffe with legendary status, (The Britons Protection), I entered the fray.
My blog is named Honorary Manc, a self bestowed title, having taken up residency here in 2000. Whilst I’ve lived and breathed the Factory Records era (granted mostly retrospectively), age and geography meant I was never to be an OG.
I did however earn some entry level stripes, having worked at Granada TV in the first half of the 2000s, which granted me first hand ‘access’ to working with hero Mr Wilson on occasion. Following him round the news room one afternoon, notebook in hand as he multi-tasked, printing and photocopying whilst regaling me with tales of wearing sarongs on holiday, I was in my element.
My element only got better as I took quotes from him as he sat in the back of studio during a commercial break on Granada Reports in 2002, having his hair quickly quiffed into a Hoxton Fin, to emulate Beckham’s famous World Cup look, all in time to leg it back behind the news desk ready for part 2.
Using this as a metaphorical passport into such hallowed turf, alongside my ‘Actual Manc plus 1’ who had regularly frequented the Hacienda in the 90s, I entered Mecca on Saturday.
Dancing to music I grew up with and loved (whilst still at an age where I didn’t have a hope in hell of getting into a licensed venue) was a dream and the fact that it was still daylight outside mattered not.
Actual Manc would go to the Hacienda every Wednesday. Looking around he was feeling the old days. Everyone was there to dance, everyone was happy. No pretension, not a single upward inflection was to be heard.
What may or may not have helped stimulate that happiness back in the 80s and 90s (“every drink was £1 including the huge displays of water”), Actual Manc theorised (theorised) that whilst the nature of a drug can contribute to or create a culture, whatever was going on back in the day, people were remembering that night exactly how they used to feel when they entered that club and heard that music.
Like a form of muscle memory, everyone around us was happy to be back, like they’d never been away (even if they’d never been before), and that feeling was infectious.
Saturday was a mood and like one I’d not experienced out in town in a long, long time.
Everyone around was interesting, full of life, nice, joyous, charismatic, dressed diversely and gloriously. Like yesterday, it was the Hacienda and to completely misquote one of Tony’s past programmes, anything goes.
Indeed we made some friends for life (at least in that moment), but I either didn’t get their names or can’t remember them and so all are ‘assumed’.
*Mabel* and friend sat with us, asking if we’d been back in the day. She shared her memories and and excitement to be back.
“It’s scary, surreal being back amongst the stripes. The concrete, the ceilings; all creating that same acoustic that I remember.”
She didn’t look old enough to remember the acoustics to that degree but I didn’t say so. I couldn’t work out whether it would come out the compliment I intended. And we were all getting on so well.
Meanwhile over in the portaloo queue some time on, Actual Manc found himself privy to chat about the fast approaching cut-off time for part 1 of the party and pending requirement to depart to make way for those attending part 2.
“I’m not leaving, no way,” postured erm *Kev*. “Nah mate me neither! “ agreed *Rob* in solidarity.
Needless to say, portaloo pact aside, everyone left obediently when the lights came up and it took only 15 minutes to clear the space ready for the next shift. Most of us back to the Britons Protection beer garden. Like I say, a nice bunch.
A repeat guest star in our evening was *Daz*. Daz on occasion couldn’t find his mates and Daz was appreciative of the 90s club classics blasted out so far, but was hankering after the “mental acid house shit” you used to get. Still Daz was having a top time regardless and the three of us had a lovely bonding moment as we embraced, and sang along that it was gonna be alright. Daz? It really was.
No more so for me than when K-Klass came on and Let Me Show You kicked in and it was 1993 and that piano and that beat and I could pretend that I was here at the time rather than 14 and having to make do with tapes, CDs and my bedroom. I realised my insane grin matched those around me.
And oh here’s Actual Manc back from anther trip to the bar, the portaloo, probably both.
“Mike Sweeney’s over there.”
He was. And eh up, here comes Terry Christian. Having rubbed shoulders with him at Mcr-based festivals and events before, we took it as a positive that he didn’t recognise us as obsessive groupies and once again gifted us a pic. Which he happily exclaimed was “a good one!”
It is isn’t it?
And with a projector streaming original black and white CCTV footage from the club, a wall hosting a tapestry of pictures, flyers and posters, the place was a living, breathing, pulsating shrine to an era where a club could pull no profits yet still become part of the fabric, if not the fabric, of our wonderful wonderful city of Manchester.
In its UK debut at HOME, Claudia Rankine’s first published play, The White Card poses the question: can society progress when whiteness remains invisible?
Written against a backdrop of an increasingly racially divided American and shortly before the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests, The White Card is as tense and uncomfortable as you might imagine.
Allow me to set the literal scene.
We have the wealthy american epitome of white privilege in Charles (Matthew Pidgeon) and Virginia (Kate Copeland). He’s a property developer (including private prisons…) he’s liberal (check out the juxtaposition of his loose fitting suit and white trainers) he and his wife collect ‘black trauma’ art and they have a pitch perfect smug art dealer friend Eric (Nick Blakeley) who has invited black artist Charlotte (Estella Daniels) to dinner at their apartment.
They are courting her, hoping to buy and add a piece of her art to their collection.
Should she allow them to.
Charles and Virginia may as well have unfurled a banner saying, ‘we hate racism, we do’, such were their efforts to identify, sympathise, prove themselves as allies.
And so we have a classic dinner party set-up, invoking thoughts of Woody Allen films (sorry), The Last Supper, the seminal Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner…it’s a well-trodden trope for a reason and one I personally relish in.
Both in theatre set-ups and in life, it’s the perfect host for polite chat, followed by passionate debate followed by all out war, truth-telling and tears in the kitchen.
There’s often a direct correlation here between how much wine is poured to how much tea is spilled, and this was no exception.
The dialogue kept the controversial and inappropriate moments coming, all of varying degrees of subtlety. Some comments blink and you almost miss them, but perhaps one person’s blink is another person’s eyes wide open stare, is another person’s eyes firmly closed.
And so the examination for the extent of my own ignorance begins…
Very early on in the dinner we had the mistaken identification of one black woman for another black woman, ‘that wasn’t me’, we had ‘no the other black author’, we had a raised eyebrow at Charlotte knowing fluent French when here was Virginia explaining the meaning to her of just one French word.
Indeed we went from Virginia black celebrity name-dropping (Serena Williams- tick, Michelle Obama – tick) to exclamations directed to Charlotte of
Oh yes. That was a ‘sharp inward take of breath’ moment in Theatre 1.
We have the son Alex (CJ Coleman) who has joined Black Lives Matter and attends Trump rallies protests…
The couple’s pursuit in collecting ‘black trauma art’ is their privileged act of alliance. And Charlotte was here to hold a mirror upto this, refusing to allow her art of recreated moments of racism to become part of this collection of canvas misfires; misfire not in the art itself, but in the intention behind the purchase and the nature of the buyers’ posturing.
The play’s conclusion, almost epilogue, turned the table and perhaps gave Charles his most important life lesson yet. He became the subject, his whiteness became the subject, his whiteness as a black trauma tourist became the subject.
And he didn’t like it. But with that he was a step closer to getting ‘it’. As were we all.
Let’s keep talking and get this sliding scale ultimately going further and further in the right direction. Because when there is an inherent comprehension of an issue, we’re less likely to ‘trip ourselves up’ and get rightly called out on what might seemingly be just a word or platitude in the wrong direction.
And I’m sure my own well-meaning rhetoric is unintentionally littered with missteps, which is why plays such as The White Card must continue to be written and seen. So we can know what we thought we did but actually didn’t after all.
I love Theatre, I do.
The White Card is showing at HOME until 21 May 2022.
Natalie Ibu Director Claudia Rankine Writer Debbie Duru Set & Costume Design Roma Yagnik Sound Designer Rajiv Pattani Lighting Design Rachael Nanyonjo Movement Director Wabriya King Production Dramatherapist Eleanor Manners Dialect Coach Rachid Sabitri Fight Director Naomi Daley Wardrobe Supervisor Wambui Hardcastle Assistant Director (RTYDS) Lauren Lister BSL Interpreter
A Northern Stage, Leeds Playhouse, Birmingham Rep and Soho Theatre co-production in association with HOME Manchester.
Me: fancy coming to see beatboxers perform Frankenstein?
Him: (without missing a …beat)
And this reader is why I married him.
On Tuesday I found myself part of a beatbox symphony. This is the same week that I got my first pair of prescription reading glasses.
Contact theatre played host (and continues to all week) to Battersea Arts Centre’s BAC Beatbox Academy and their highly, HIGHLY entertaining production, Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster.
A reworking of Mary Shelley’s famous tale, the underpinning message of this portrayal is how society creates its own monsters. To an incredible soundtrack.
Well not ‘to’ exactly as the six talented artists are the soundtrack, as every sound, every note, every beat is provided by their own incredible voices straight into the mic.
The 2022 touring cast features emerging artists and co-creators ABH (Alexander Belgarion Hackett), Aminita (Aminita Francis),Aziza (Aziza Amari Brown), Glitch (Nadine Rose Johnson), Native The Cr8ive (Nathaniel Forder-Staple) and Wiz-RD (Tyler Worthington).
The evening was energetically …hosted? MC’d? woven together? …by beatboxer Kate Donnachie.
So what was it exactly? Was it theatre? Was it a musical? Was it a gig, opera? It was all of these with a dose of provoked thought and some really fantastic, original music.
It felt Gorillaz, it felt Morcheeba, Massive Attack…
And it was funny! At one point turning the ‘beatbox battle’ on its head as ‘Frankenstein’ took on ‘The Monster’ in the boxing ring.
And it was educational. I’ll be honest, I was in my first year of uni when we were getting our first mobile phones. No cameras and you were lucky if you had text.
But pieces such as Click Clack (containing the mantra you really shouldn’t post that) and some uncomfortable audience interaction…
(no not the part where we all beatboxed or even when we were encouraged to stand up and rave – yes I did, oh ye of little faith)
…where a spotlight was shone onto audience members to a track about tearing each other’s aesthetic apart, really drove home the challenges of the digital, life-sharing, selfie saturated age. Point truly (and rhythmically) made.
But before we even got to that, got to all that, we were thrillingly introduced to young performers from in and around Manchester, who blew us away with their first time public performances, all a product of workshops attended that week and run by BAC Beatbox Academy. Bra-vo everyone.
Another of those nights where you pinch yourself at how lucky you are to have so much on your Manchester doorstep to open your eyes and minds to.
And how a routine weekday night can lead to cheering on a beatbox battle and a whole new playlist on your Spotify…
The production is co-created by the wider BAC Beatbox Academy, co-directors Conrad Murray (‘High Rise eState of Mind’) and David Cumming (‘Operation Mincemeat’), and BAC. OThis means it has been co-authored by cast members at every stage, who also shape all aspects of presenting the show in its different incarnations.
The company continue to work with young talent everywhere they go. Each live show of ‘Frankenstein: How To Make a Monster’ opens with a curtain-raiser – a short performance created through workshops with local young people – and ends with a beatboxing battle. At Contact, the company will work with young people from Greater Manchester to deliver these workshops across the city.
‘Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster’ is the first professional production from the BAC Beatbox Academy, whose members have developed and adapted the production over the years.
Starting with a small-scale Scratch performance at BAC where they encouraged feedback from the audience, the company continued to build on their success. They returned with sold-out runs at BAC, winning Off West End and Total Theatre Awards, embarked on their first national tour, presented the highest-rated show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019, received rave reviews at the Adelaide Fringe Festival and released their first film which they co-created and shot during the lockdown in 2020.
BAC Beatbox Academy is BAC’s home-grown young performance collective for local artists aged 11-29 years. Since BAC created the Academy in 2008, it has pro-actively engaged harder to reach groups in areas of significant deprivation; locally, throughout the UK and internationally. Through the Academy programme of nurturing rising talent and pushing the boundaries of sound and music, the casts of ‘Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster’ have developed; from a collective of local participants into highly-accomplished performers and music leaders.
‘Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster’ is supported by Arts Council England and Youth Music.