The Chosen Haram – Pride in Trafford

It’s been a while since I visited Waterside Arts in Sale and my first time inside the Robert Bolt Theatre.

What prompted my return trip down the Altrincham tram line? Why, Wednesday saw the opening night of Pride in Trafford, in its 5th year, with two shows, the first being Turtle Key Arts’ The Chosen Haram, written and performed by lead artist Sadiq Ali, with Hauk Pattison.

The Chosen Haram, is a two-hander, movement-based show, with a unique take on circus. Performed almost entirely on two Chinese poles, this emotionally candid, heart-warming and high octane show fuses dance, movement and extraordinary physical strength all set to a banging soundtrack to tell the story of two gay men, their chance meeting through a dating app, the highs and lows of their subsequent relationship and the social, cultural and personal barriers they must overcome.

Based on Ali’s experiences of a queer Muslim in Edinburgh, the heady, hard-hitting yet beautiful acrobatic performance struck both a pose and a punch to the guts, from the opening moments where we saw Ali fight his way through his personal prison of repression and secrecy, as brought to life by the head to toe black plastic that bound him to the pole, to the closing moments of raw emotion and devastation by Pattison’s character as the lights faded to black.

Credit: Jason Lock

Ali’s double-life as a mosque-attending young man with his head turned by the circus, is reflected in the visual and artistic storytelling of this show.

The imagery is powerful and clear but never without imagination and innovation, making clever and, well, startling use of the two Chinese poles as the two artists moved around them with such finesse, grace and light touch, I found myself looking for hidden wires.

Credit: Jason Lock

Love, drugs and Islam are the overarching themes brought to the table, in 65 minutes of energetic and mesmerising movement, we were taken on a journey from repression to hedonism, taking in freedom, expression, love, authenticity and pride along the way.

The production is unashamedly bold and out there, from the simulated sex, to the glorious (yes it felt glorious – until of course, it didn’t…) literal snowstorm (wink) depiction of drug-taking, which couldn’t fail to amuse. Until it did.

The Chosen Haram was a show that wasn’t afraid to its message right to the brink …and an eventual push over the edge, as it refused to compromise on delivering what it needed to deliver.

Indeed the raw honesty and openness of Ali continued after the applause died down, as he thanked the audience and shared his loss and grief over a gay friend lost to drug use just the day before. I sincerely hope that Sadiq Ali doesn’t find my reiteration of this here intrusive, but his generosity of honesty and passion in alerting audiences to the very real and continuing struggles faced by many people, through both his art and subsequent words on stage last night, feels as important and relevant to pass on as anything else said in this blog post about the show.

And just as the promos promised, I can speak to the ‘banging soundtrack’, including the delicious inclusion of one Marilyn Monroe’s, I Wanna Be Loved By You.’ Superb.

To read more about the events taking place as part of Pride In Trafford, 17-20 May, you can visit

Check on what else is on at Waterside Arts, Sale here: including Bi-topia, running until Saturday 20 May.

You can also read more about Sadiq Ali at

If You Fall – at HOME Mcr

I’ve said before, love me a bit of Theatre 2 at HOME Mcr. The smaller the stage, the greater the magic for me.

Wednesday night offered another hey presto moment with Ad Infinitum’s If You Fall.

Margaret is a pillar of her local community. Norson is a brilliant cook. He loves cricket and fishing. She loves singing and her lavender plants. They’re both surrounded by loving families. Their lives are full… So what happens when you lose your independence, your voice, your mind – the essence of what makes you, you?

Not an easy watch, as it’s a topic that touches us all, be that in a caring capacity, or as one day, the ‘caree’.

Based on extensive interviews, If You Fall takes us on a journey of what happens when our lives turn upside down and we start to lose a little or a lot of who we are.

Credit: Camilla Adams

From a narrative, tone and messaging point of view, there was balance. There was no finger-wagging. It was the hard fact of life that it gets difficult when you get older for both those going through it and those around them.

The decision to bring a care home into play isn’t good, bad, right or wrong, but for some may simply be a necessity for their health and well-being. And again, for some it may not.

We all have a story and for me, it’s seeing someone reach the end of their life from old age and the physical trauma and restrictions that come from this. And how that inevitably paves way for the mental trauma, as their pride is chipped away at. Step forward ‘Margaret.

And it’s additionally seeing someone afflicted before their ‘natural time’ and the equally difficult but different effect this can have on both themselves and those around us. Step forward Norson.

And the real tragedy (and beauty) of the play was seeing who each person was before a part of themselves was lost forever.

Credit: Camilla Adams

In Margaret we’re taken straight to the end of life at aged 81, as she reviews her funeral and bemoans the lack of focus on who she’d been earlier in life. Such spirit (no pun intended).

I remember my mum making sure as to put a framed photograph of my Grandma in her 20s on her hospital bedside cabinet. A reminder to all of not who my Grandma, 90, used to be, but who she still was (actually she was always 16 at heart, she often shared with me).

Credit: Camilla Adams

In Norson we meet him on the tip of early onset dementia, his passion and love for life bursting through every pore. He sings, he dances, he makes you smile. Such passion.

Credit: Camilla Adams

In the carers, be they professionals or loved ones, the challenges in preserving the dignity, needs and wishes of the patient/parent/friend can be difficult, distressing and exhausting. And as love, duty, expertise all have valuable parts to play, we must remember that it is a person at the heart of the matter.

But a message is only as effective as its delivery and creativity is delivered in spades.

As focus shifts in turn to individual characters in the play, the talented cast taken on various supporting roles in each scene and setting quite often delivered by way of a beautiful and often comedic display of a Capella song.

There is energy and movement in the scenes, even before, metaphorically speaking, ‘curtain up, as instead of just entering good old Theatre 2, we found ourselves entering, and privy to, life in a care home, as characters came and went, all whilst we were taking our seats and turning off our phones.

It was a moving and thought-provoking 70 minutes but for me, the moment that most touched me was the depiction of the carer speaking gently to Margaret, shortly after she’d passed; explaining the actions he needed to take (I’m just going to put this pillow under your chin, press on your bladder to empty it, remove your jewellery and pass to your daughter as you’d asked…).

Credit: Camilla Adams

And I won’t have been alone in that theatre in hoping that this same respect and compassion will be available to not only our loved ones as they reach the end of their journey (from us included), but to ourselves as well.

If you too want to be both entertained whilst taking some time from the hustle and bustle to have a little think about the fragility of life and what’s important, go and see If You Fall.

There is still chance to catch performances on Friday 12 and Saturday 13 May before the show continues its tour.

Click here on the HOME website for more details and to buy tickets.

Directed by Helena Middleton Conceived and Original Direction by Nir Paldi

Cast: Clive Duncan, Elisabeth Gunawan, Jabari Ngozi, Kirris Riviere, Heather Williams and Robin Paley Yorke

To learn more about Ad Infinitum, and all the talented individuals behind this production, visit the Ad Infinitum website.

Frozen Peas in an Old Tin Can (at The Way Theatre)…

is a great name for a play. And I thought this the first time I saw this production back in a pub cellar, back in 2019, as part of Greater Manchester Fringe.

But we’ll get to that.

I’ve been an honorary Manc for just turned 23 years now, but try as I might, I haven’t been everywhere in Greater Manchester yet.

Well now I’ve been to Leigh, so I’m getting there. And what a brilliant introduction to the town with a visit to The Way Theatre, which resides in Spinners Mill, a creative space which. from observations as I climbed and climbed (and climbed) the stairs to the 4th floor (honestly, more stairs that it sounds) plays host to a number of indie businesses and artistic platforms.

Love me a new venue, and as mentioned, I first saw this production in a pub cellar in Salford, after the original intention of the pub beer garden was scuppered by rain.

Written and directed by Joseph Walsh, I understood that this revival brought to the table a brand new cast, sound and set designer, and would I like to see it?

Yes, yes I would. For I really enjoyed the production the first time. In fact, drumroll for a meta moment when on my way out, I espied a flyer with previous review quotes from me, and then me again.

So let’s get some more going.

The setting to the story is three homeless people, bound and bonded by their shared circumstances, each with a different journey to this, their current destination.

Frozen Peas in an Old Tin Can tells the story of Sarah (Lula Marsh), Derek (Will Travis) and Barney (Kyle Rowe), who all live on the streets of Manchester together, sharing one thing in common – they are homeless. They pass their days collecting McDonald’s vouchers on the back of bus tickets, when one day it all changes.

Along with Hope Yolanda, who seamlessly and rapidly (impressive hair and costume changes) takes on multiple parts as old school friend, GTV news reporter, sister…this is a cast who each brings spark, energy, emotion and delicious timing to the writer’s lines and back and forth dialogue, which is gloriously steeped in mancunian wit, references and repartee.

With one common goal – a trip to Southport (and why not, happy times spent in that little jewel of the North West), the three decide to put on a benefit gig (well, benefitting themselves – fair dos), as each brings their own ‘unique’ talent to proceedings. When word spreads, they each unexpectedly find themselves in the spotlight and with their 15 minutes beckoning, we gain insight into the source of their individual ‘sadnesses’ and situations.

The themes are wide-ranging and uncompromising, taking in death and loss, suicide, poverty and homelessness. And it’s a difficult balance to cover such subjects with dark humour, as you walk a tightrope between keeping the audience entertained and prompting laugh out loud moments (yes, I ‘lolled’ again) whilst at the same time adding on layers to your characters, and insight into their stories, as you build empathy.

It’s a play with heart. And incredible talent. Some years ago, I attended a live-streamed production of Macbeth, at Manchester International Festival. And as I sat eating my sausage roll, cross-legged in a car park near Piccadilly (look, it’s MiF, don’t ask, just accept), I was left open-mouthed as I saw Sir Kenneth Branagh deliver a hauntingly moving soliloquy, and marvelled as his eyes filled with tears, and watched as a single tear cascaded down the knight of the realm’s cheek, on cue and almost in slow motion. I’m actually not kidding.

It is a moment that lives rent free in my head, and as glib as my recounting may sound, last night I genuinely went back to that moment as actor Will Travis took us on a similar journey in a tear stained monologue which gave Kenny a run for his money.

So before, I get even more carried away, let’s get down to brass tacks as to why you should go and see this production:

  • the comic timing and one-liners
  • the messaging
  • the ‘kitchen-sink’ undertones (almost ironic given the setting)
  • the clever use of sound and space to create a very real and three-dimensional world in a small theatre in an old mill in Leigh
  • the Manchester and Salford of it all
  • the sheer heart and talent

I’ve avoided the temptation to revisit my original review so at this time, I’m not sure whether the same premise and writer has brought similar reflections from me, or brand new insights. I would hope both because for those who have seen the production before, there are updates and adaptations to the original story, and there is as much to enjoy as there was the first time round.

So whether this is your first rodeo or not, go and support the glory, talent and wonder of fringe theatre, and all that makes it special, and head over to Leigh to grab a chance to see Frozen Peas in an Old Tin Can at The Way Theatre – on until this Sunday 7 May. More details can be found here on their Facebook page

And lest we forget one of the main themes and stories behind this production, you can donate to Homeless Aid UK and find out more about the wonderful work they do, by visiting .

Cast and Crew:

  • Will Travis – Derek
  • Lula Marsh – Sarah
  • Kyle Rowe – Barney
  • Hope Yolanda -Multi-role
  • Joseph Walsh – Writer and Director
  • Eleanor Ferguson – Set Designer
  • Ella Fraser – Producer
  • Ellie Holt – Lighting Designer
  • Erin Lee-Smith – Sound Designer
  • Laila Khan – Stage Manager

Original musings: Review: Frozen Peas in an Old Tin Can (Greater Manchester Fringe)

Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead – The Lowry

I live oppositeish The Lowry Theatre and from my apartment I have been able to see the big red foreboding (not sure why foreboding – I guess it’s the redness of it all, the slightly off way the words are configured, the specific word bones itself?) billboard poster from my apartment for some weeks now.

Perhaps this messaging had been slowly creeping into my consciousness as I sat eating breakfast (actually I don’t eat breakfast), as I sat scrolling Tik Tok (I do do that), loafed on the sofa whilst watching pigeons build a nest on my balcony (I do this, they do this), but off I did trot across the bridge to see Complicite’s Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead last night.

The play is based on the Nobel literary prize winning novel of the same name, by Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk.

In the depths of winter, in a small community on a remote mountainside near the Czech-Polish border, men from the local hunting club are dying in mysterious circumstances. Local resident Janina Duszejko – ex-engineer, environmentalist, devoted astrologer and translator of William Blake – has her suspicions…

And speaking of William Blake who is much quoted throughout the play, it is he who is responsible, well in part, for those paraphrased 9 words which have been permeating my very being, every waking moment spent in my apartment, for all these weeks, set against that blood red background for all to see.

Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead

…is it what poet Blake actually wrote in Proverbs From Hell. Which is all very dark all round, isn’t it?

And so this neatly leads onto this production which, at 3 hours long, is no walk in park, even for the seasoned theatre-goer, although actually is a literal walk in the woods.

For this is the backdrop to a series of deaths; humans and wildlife (and some not so ‘wild’), punctuated by cacophonous sounds, blinding flashes of light (whilst much to enjoy last night – these not so much), and a cast whose beautifully choreographed movements and acting allowed us to see them morph and shape-shift before our very eyes.

But it was our narrator of the piece, character Janina Duszejko, actor Kathryn Hunter, who commanded most attention (not least by use of a microphone centre stage as she told her story). A spirited, beguiling energetic yet understated performance, the stage was owned.

Ms Hunter’s performance is one of two sides. There’s the gleefully dour and rhythmically pleasing delivery of her words, the timing deliciously on point, as she stands front on to the audience.

But then there is the physical performance, one depicting passion which only falters in the character when the ailments beset by age throw her into a desperate writhing, like an injured animal, begging to be put out of its misery. Indeed.

It’s a play where one moment we’re plunged into the world of fantasy, the next a world of murder, of satire, of societal dangers and political hot-potatoes and overriding all of this, the overwhelming plight of the animal world.

It’s at times, most times, the tale of the incidental detective – a protagonist to rival Jessica Fletcher (rest in peace).

And it’s funny. It sometimes has the air of an Annie Hall, a bitingly witty farce set about a strange surreal community – but less Manhattan brownstone and more Polish hillside.

And there we have the lynchpin of the production, the messaging. The mistreatment of the natural world and the imbalance between hierarchy between man and animal. Are the animals indeed getting their revenge and will I ever move to Team Human (unlikely – fellow softy animal-lovers – trigger warning whenever Mrs Duszejko refers to ‘her daughters’…).

Pic credit: Mark Brenner

The message is strong, the production values of the highest quality. The cast and crew exude talent. It’s one of those memorable productions which tinkers with, and at times pushes, the boundaries of theatre.

Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead is on at the Lowry Theatre (a co-commissioner of the production), until Saturday 29 April. To find out more and book tickets, please visit the Lowry Theatre/Drive your Plow

Thurs-Sat evenings’ performances are also being livestreamed – info and tickets (from £12.99) here:

Credit: Complicite Theatre – click image for full details

Shhhh!!!the science bit

I have to share this detail from one human being attending the theatre on a working week night, to another – it is long.

It’s brilliant but I didn’t feel good about myself as I struggled to get comfortable in that last 30 minutes.

I love to wax lyrical about a production but I also like to share practical advice.

The first half is 90 mins – achieve the right balance of hydration. And layer up so you can layer down throughout the second half – it gets warm in those there stalls.

A Manchester Girlhood – at Manchester Jewish Museum

It’s taken me a few days to write this – mostly because I wanted to give it the due attention it deserves.

So much was lovely and joyous and poignant and funny and sad and lovely again about this play, which I saw last Sunday night.

And there was much to be moved by.

For writer and director, Julia Pascal, this very much was her story. And one that I’m glad she shared with us…

A Manchester Girlhood is dedicated to the memory of my grandmother, Esther Jacobs, who taught me that education is never too heavy to carry around.

Julia Pascal

In Bucharest 1910, Esther Goldenberg has been forced to marry Emanuel Jacobs. He is her parents’ choice. The two young Romanian Jews go to Manchester and have three daughters, Isabel, Edith and Pearl. Isabel’s only ambition is to be a doctor’s wife. Edith becomes a soldier. Pearl marries a GI. These three sisters are at the heart of the drama.

This dream-like text explores the idea that each person relives intense moments from a whole life in the moment before death.

I’ll start by saying what a wonderful and beautiful setting for this gem of a production.

Manchester Jewish Museum sits on Cheetham Hill Road, and since receiving a £6 million redevelopment, is stunning, not least due to the beautiful Spanish and Portuguese synagogue.

And lucky us that this was the setting for the production, the space used imaginatively and respectfully.

I recall the first time I saw Pulp Fiction (stay with me), in 1995 on video. VI.DE.O.

I knew I loved it, each scene was something special, exciting. But it took until the third watch until I was able to fully piece the narrative together.

This non-linear concept in text, theatre, film demands investment from the audience and commitment to follow the thread of what’s happening.

A Manchester Girlhood ‘moves in time and space’ between Bucharest in 1910 and 1939, Manchester 1910 and 1972 and New Orleans 1945-2013. The characters depicted as ‘children, young, mature and elderly women’. And whilst a construct which had potential to lose its audience if not done well, here, my reader, it was a masterclass in done well.

The narrative set domestic tensions, social aspiration, gender-rebelling ambition and good old love and loss against a backdrop of World War II and racism in the US.

Each woman’s story and strand of the narrative brought individual delight, each actor giving due diligence and charisma to the text and human behind the character.

We had song, stand-up, dance, drama and adultery, and what felt like a special glimpse into the fragmented lives of a Jewish family on a journey from Bucharest to Manchester, claiming New Orleans and Blackpool amongst its conquests.

Now not to sound glib but Blackpool to Manchester has been a big part of my own life journey, with added strands of Batley and Paignton thrown in for good measure. Different strokes but, you know, the heart relates how the heart relates… 🙂

My tongue in cheek glibness aside, the women in this generational tale fought oppression on a wide number of fronts, that I cannot pretend to come close to relating to on such a level. We’ve a long way to go but getting to where we are is thanks to those who have fought before us.

After enjoying 60 minutes of frenetic and energetic theatre, and drinks in the charming cafe bar in the museum, we were treated to a Q&A back in the synagogue, with Julia Pascal and the actors – in fact, let’s take an moment for an overdue introduction:


Esther – Rosie Yadidl

Emanuel – Eoin O’Dubhghaill

Sabel – Lesley Lightfoot

Edith – Giselle Wolf

Pearl – Amanda Maud

We learned from Julia the sad story of how her grandmother, Esther, not being afforded access to education either by society or her husband, actually lost her ability to speak the English she knew, as she lived her years out in Manchester, being only able to speak Yiddish.

But you got the very real sense that she won the battle on many other fronts, her daughters taking on her pluck and determination in forging their own paths and crossing divides, whether that be a determination to join the British Army, to fall in love and marry a GI and move to America, or to reach the upper echelons of all that is sacred in the world of the well-heeled – marriage to a GP!!

And as Julia generously shared with us, as she headed from her hotel, through Manchester to the museum on Cheetham Hill Road on Sunday night, she said to herself,

Edith, I brought you home…

You can catch this beautiful piece of theatre on 17 May at Burgh House, London NW3, and between 21-23 May at JW3, London NW3. Read more at

For more details on the work of Pascal Theatre Company, visit

For more details on visiting the Manchester Jewish Museum, visit


Stage management – Steve Bryan, Gareth Burns

Costume design and realisation by Lesley Lightfoot

Sound design by Joe Jackson

Musical direction by Rosie Yadid

Northern Music Awards launched in style!

If last night’s party was anything to go by, the Nordoff & Robbins Northern Music Awards in November is going to be top. drawer.

But what is this Northern Music Awards? I hear you say. Who are Nordoff & Robbins? And speak more of this launch party!

Well, my imaginary friends…

Two words, Music Therapy.

Nordoff & Robbins are Britain’s leading music charity and in their words…

…we’re going to raise a lot of money for music therapy, so that Northern communities can have access to its transformative power. We want to reduce social isolation and enhance connection for local people, through music.

And so, 30 November 2023 will see Factory International host some of the biggest names in northern music, with an awards show celebrating the best talent in the area (and p.s. Mel C is already confirmed).

All eyes are on the goal of raising enough money to open a permanent, multi-disciplinary music making and therapy space in Salford. Featuring a specialist music studio and sensory room, the space will provide free access to music for individuals and communities who have the least access to arts and culture.

Just magical.

BBC Radio 6 Music’s Chris Hawkins (who gamely hosted us all at last night’s lively kick-off event at Band on the Wall) will chair an awards panel of industry experts, saying…

The North provides such a rich source of incredible music. The diversity and international acclaim of this huge asset needs to be showcased, and that’s just what the Northern Music Awards will do.

Music and celebration go hand in hand, and the Awards will shine a light on extraordinary talent and inspire a next generation of artists. It’s about giving the music community in the North a chance to celebrate them too.

And with so much talent on our patch, it was only right to showcase some of this last night.

Us lucky beggars enjoyed live performances from the brilliant spoken word and indie hip-hop artist, Antony Szmierek, and all uniquely and individually talented bands JOASH, The Mysterines and The K’s.

But not before we got to see just a little of what Nordoff & Robbins do, with footage of our very own Greater Manchester Mayor, and Northern Music Awards Ambassador, Andy Burnham, visit Pioneer House school to see music therapy in action…(check it here on the Nordoff & Robbins website).

Was Andy Burnham at the event last night. Sadly he was tied up with a little known fella called ‘The Pope’.

I mean. Fair dos.

So what next? Well for me it’s plenty of water to deal with the Daiquiris I had last night. But you can also head to the dedicated page at and sign up for early bird ticket access.

You can also help to contribute to this wonderful goal by clicking here to donate.

In the meantime, watch this space, and hopefully see you at Factory International in November!

Of All the Beautiful Things in the World – HOME Mcr

We are never one thing, we are human.
This play is dedicated to the immigrant women who have been here for decades, who are pushed into the shadows…I see your grace.

Yusra Warsama- writer and director

Of All The Beautiful Things In The World takes the Lorca classic The House of Bernarda Alba as inspiration, exporting the drama from the sunshine of Spain to the rain-soaked streets of Moss Side, South Manchester.

It’s a story of a group of women in a terraced house and the tensions that unfold; of what happens when one person feels pushed to make choices upon their children because they feel certain pressures of the world. Of All The Beautiful Things In The World is a marrying of cultures, spaces and different identities and a telling of what happens when all these things converge.

Theatre 2. It’s always a good start for me. Some wonderful things take place in Theatre 1 but it is in Theatre 2 that I often feel is where the true magic happens.

Intimate, almost immersive by design, it’s a small space where big themes are explored, important stories are told and talent discovered.

This occasion was no exception, in a play by Manchester writer and director, Yusra Warsama, which is multi-faceted in terms of narrative and presentation.

Tom Leah (aka Werkha), stage left, provides the soaring soundtrack to a high-octane 100 minutes of performance which takes us on a journey which, at times, is uncomfortable, at times, laugh out loud funny, and at times fist-clenchingly frustrating, as your sympathies switch from one character’s point of view, to the next and their individual plights are felt.

And I mean this most positively, folks.

Stripped down to brass tacks, there is a core theme of familial tension and relations. The bereaved mother with a stranglehold on her adult daughters. With one protective eye on the world outside their door and the judgement, discrimination and oppression that can come with it, and the other eye on her own values and cultural discipline as she battles a deep-set yearning from her daughters to break free.

Credit: Tom Quaye

This all culminates in the perfect representation of that old saying that I actually just paraphrased and essentially made up…

One person’s sanctuary is another person’s prison.


Straddling the worlds of theatrical drama and performance art (indeed there is an argument that they are of course one and the same thing), the play is cleverly punctuated throughout, with 4th wall breaking devices, which serve to jolt us out of the traditional narrative.

Most notably as we see characters freeze, transfixed by an empty spot-lit chair in the corner.

I genuinely enjoy being caught out.

No honestly, I do. I have this deeply irritating habit where I’m constantly trying to second guess a plot twist, a conclusion, a perpetrator…all so I can be crowned the winner of everything.

So I was gratified by the final scenes. The sudden and stark aforementioned focus on ‘the chair’ , was less what I thought was a nod to someone lost, but instead a foreshadowing of what’s to come.

Credit – Tom Quaye

Of All the Beautiful Things in the World delivers the abstract, a dose of very real kitchen sink and sweary realism, and an ending that will hit you right between the eyes.

Much to think about, much to enjoy. And those performances from the all female cast were just pitch perfect.

You can catch Of All the Beautiful Things in the World in Theatre 2 (hooray!) at HOME Mcr until 6 April 2023.

Visit for details and tickets.

Cast and Crew

Cora Kirk as Aalyah

Flo Wilson as Mrs. F.A.

Marcia Mantack as Mama/Ugdoon

Sara Abanur as Mariam

Xsara-Sheneille as Suhela

Writer/Director: Yusra Warsama

Designer: Ellie Light

Composer: Tom Leah AKA Werkha

Lighting & Sound Designer: Mark Distin-Webster

¡Viva! at HOME – Llenos de Gracia

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the spirited, annual Spanish and Latin American festival that is ¡Viva! at HOME Mcr

Festival season hits Manchester!

Not on brand, I recently left the streets paved with gold that is Manchester, for a short period to Rome. But before I flounced off, I attended the opening night and feature that is Llenos de Gracia (Full of Grace), directed by Roberto Bueso.

Based on a true story, a delightful comedy about second chances and the inspirational power of purpose, belief and belonging. A rebellious nun arrives at a boarding school to take charge of an unruly bunch of orphan boys, and changes lives with a make-shift football team.
In the summer of 1994, 11 boys on the cusp of adolescence are descending into delinquency without the structure and love of caring families to go home to. Until Marina, a nun who has never quite found her place, shakes things up when she sets up a school football team to keep her young charges on the straight and narrow.

Hands up, I inwardly groan when I get a sense of a ‘feel-good’ film on my hands. I know, what a kill-joy I am.

But I need to stop viewing such description through chintzy, sickly sweet tinted glasses. Feeling good comes in many forms and some of those forms are brilliantly funny, sweary in parts, Spanish films set in an orphanage run by nuns.

So far, so Sister Act, right?


It was better (and with a whole lot less breaking into song – hurray!).

I love a brat pack ensemble and the kids in this film were brilliant. Sparky, endearing, plucky, cheeky, rampaging renegades that they are, as a collective they stole the show.

Close behind being actor, Carmen Machi, who plays nun (and football coach),Marina.

Wedded to her cigarettes and Walkman, there are enough hints that she’s may have more in common with her charges than you’d think.

With some devilishly funny scenes both on the pitch and off (the hall of mirrors being a highlight) the film reaches conclusions that remain faithful to the ‘more sass less schmaltz’ tone that runs throughout.

And with a nice ‘based on a true story’ revelation at the end (loosely on that of ex Real Madrid footballer, Valdo Lopes), there is much to enjoy here.

For me, and call me old-fashioned, but the cinema remains the best place to watch a film. It isn’t just about the best setting to tickle your senses, but in this day and age there are few situations or places where you can be fully immersed and focused on being entertained and the activity in hand.

And for those who may fear the foreign-language world of the subtitled film (any hint of condescension purely unintentional), just give it a go. I promise that you soon won’t even notice the difference. Plus, by design, you will not miss a thing laid out on screen before you.

There are some brilliant films on the bill and ¡Viva! still has a week to run, so check on the events calendar and treat yourself to something different…

Llenos de Gracia shows at HOME again on 29 March – full details of cast and production and tickets can be found here.

Manchester Film Festival – North West Shorts: For Heidi

As my previous post will speak to, I love short shorts – and I love the North West.

Heck, when I heard there was the chance to see the two concepts brought together as one at Manchester Film Festival, I was up those horrendous (but very pretty) stairs to The Mews as quick as my little legs could carry me.

Well, technically I was already in the cinema having attended the Shorts 1 showcase earlier that afternoon, but you get the idea.

The first of a short series of short blogs on North West shorts…

For Heidi

Sticking it to the man is often about defiance, but for Heidi this act of rebellion is a deeply personal act of remembrance.


  • Year:2022
  • Runtime:10 minutes
  • Director: Lucy Campbell
  • Screenwriter: Lucy Campbell
  • Producer: Barrington Paul Robinson, Radha Bhandari
  • Cast: Chloe Lea, Aliyah Soyinka, Delroy Brown, Charlotte Comer

Based on the poem, For Heidi With Blue Hair, by Fleur Adcock, this beautiful short film tells of the school-girl who gets sent home from school for having dyed her hair blue…

or at least ultramarine for the clipped sides, with a crest of jet-black spikes on top)…

For Heidi with Blue Hair – Fleur Adcock

And not least for it not adhering to school colours.

As we follow Heidi and her friend (missing maths in solidarity) over the motorway bridge and, true to the directive, home, we soon discover that this is no ordinary teenage trope.

For Heidi isn’t heading home to unsuspecting parents, ready to serve their own sentence on a disruptive daughter. Neither is she heading home to parents who are ready to enter into battle, all guns blazing, blinded by parental loyalty and defiance.

But a father, just her father, who, as he sits amongst sympathy cards, is clearly but calmly in Heidi’s camp, both parties navigating a loss and feeling their way through, as they mourn a wife and mother.

Delroy Brown

With gentle reasoning, it is the father who picks up the phone to the school, explains that they’d checked the rules: ‘coloured hair permitted’.

She’s not a punk in her behaviour, it’s just a style

No threats, no raised voices, just reasoning (as the poem states, it would have been unfair to mention your mother’s death,

Compromise reached, the colour could stay, the spikes had to go.

There are no tantrums in that glorious close-up shot as Heidi stands at the sink, head tilted under the running tap, with soon, spikes no more.

All parties satisfied, little school time is lost as they dutifully return. The delicious almost epilogue is one more sweeping shot and visit to the local hardware store on the high street, as the aforementioned supportive friend doubles down on her solidarity, seeks out a spray-paint can and, right there amongst the shelving, takes it to her own hair. Reader? In the school colours.

When a poem is as lovely and layered as this, recreating it in a different form carries risk. But so too does never allowing the text the chance to live on as the inspiration for another creative and equally lovely piece of artistry.

Aliyah Soyinka and Chloe Lea

I discovered both forms on Saturday and adored them equally.

Three fantastic actors, four long shots in total, it’s ten minutes of simple, glorious story-telling, faithful to the source, and bringing it to life before our eyes.

Long live shorts.

For more details of the line-up at this year’s Manchester Film Festival, visit

Manchester Film Festival – Day 2 – ‘Shorts 1’

I love short shorts, we love short shorts.

What’s Manchester Film Festival?!

I hear a lone voice in my head cry. Well it’s this.

So Saturday morning comes, there are works on the tram line, because of course, but the inconvenience is admittedly minimal.

Those pesky steps up to The Mews negotiated, again the actual inconvenience minimal (I just love the drama), and it was off to screen 5.

And speaking of loving the drama, I settled into my anti-social but cosy back row, two seats in, crushed velvet chair, still cold from my fridge (phew), my Diet Coke nestled into the drink holder (never sure if bringing your own refreshments remains taboo – at one low point in the 90s I distinctly recall bag searches), and got ready to be enthralled.

What I enjoy about shorts, and when presented in a ‘package’ is the contrast of genres, themes, cinematic styles, tones, all the things, in the one sitting.

You just start to digest what you’ve seen and how you feel about it, before it’s straight onto the next.

And so here was the line-up from yesterday’s session.

And the irony that this is possibly one of my longest blog posts to date is not lost on me.

I Am Here

An experimental short film that tells the story of two people deeply in love. Both of them, totally fond and showing a lot of devotion towards each other, living in an isolated, blurry reflection of the world, where nothing else matters except them existing together.

  • Year:2022
  • Runtime:4 minutes
  • Director:Niklas Hugo Schwärzler
  • Screenwriter:Niklas Hugo Schwärzler
  • Producer:Sabine Tatzgern
  • Cast:Edith Simone Morales Sen, Lukas Ruziczka

Interestingly (to me) what was to be the first of two stylistically similar shorts seen that day (glad I don’t have to say that out loud) in as far as movement and dance was at the forefront of the narrative.

Intimate to the point of feeling very much like the voyeur, the viewer is intruding on two people focused on each other with an intensity which verges on the point of discomfort. You’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. And in fact it does but not in their relationship but in the anxiety which suddenly encompasses the male as he writhes and fights the struggle of an emotion that is certainly no stranger to this writer.

Beautifully shot and message delivered.

The Blue Drum

A woman mourning her father’s passing is tormented by memories of a mother she never knew. A presence reveals secrets hidden within her family home.

  • Year:2022
  • Runtime:16 minutes
  • Director:Angelita Mendoza
  • Screenwriter:Angelita Mendoza
  • Producer:Alicia Herder, Benjamin Lopez
  • Cast:Crystal Hernandez, Jonathan Medina, Judith Scarpone

POV – at the funeral and the daughter is finishing her eulogy. There’s a tension which seems to extend beyond the sadness and melancholy of such proceedings and here it comes.

The Aunt is taking a no-nonsense, practical approach to the passing, shooting her shot that the man of the moment may be missed as a father but certainly not as a brother or husband to the girl’s mother who left many years ago.

The switch flips and melodrama turns to horror as the daughter seeks to find the source of the ominous sounds coming from the basement. Specifically the blue oil drum. It’s a horrifying conclusion in that ‘the mother never left’. But the discovery of the *spoiler* corpse, was indeed spoiled a little for me in that the moody low-light levels required on one part, actually meant that I couldn’t really make out the money shot.

This could of course say more about my appetite for the morbid so perhaps what we could see would be enough for a normal human being…But I enjoyed the metaphorical darkness all the same.

They Will Know

While Jackson meets his girlfriend Sophia’s parents for the first time, a mysterious stranger observes from outside..

  • Year:2022
  • Runtime:10 minutes
  • Director:Alex Thomson
  • Screenwriter:Alex Thomson
  • Producer:Alex Thomson
  • Cast:Paul Dawber, Diana Stathis, Luna Vasquez, Alex Thomson

God what a riot. Thank you Australia for bringing physical, sexually suggestive, socially awkward comedy to the literal table. And I mean that most sincerely folks.

Straight out of the stable of Meet the Fockers, we had the deliciously tension filled trope of a man meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time.

So far, so familiar, so toe-curlingly, mouth agape cringingly awkward. But, that said, we’re pretty much given a heads up that this isn’t a routine, riotous comedy right out of the stable of all that has gone before.

There’s a stranger. A stranger in the shop where the boyfriend is buying the wine, a stranger stood outside the parental home watching the horror unfold and a stranger operating, via a games console controller, every movement the boyfriend makes.

And this stranger isn’t a stranger after all, but a face from the past ready for revenge and retribution. And as the horrifying realisation sweeps through the boyfriend that his literal actions from the past are coming back to haunt him and destroy his present, our sympathies jack-knife away from him immediately. Loved it.


When a very real mid-life crisis hits, John goes out in search of the one thing to make things better.

  • Year:2022
  • Runtime:10 minutes
  • Director:Louis Chan
  • Screenwriter:MF Wong
  • Producer:MF Wong, Antonella Lembo, Marie Osman, Elaine Ivy Harris, Louis Chan
  • Cast:Michael Phong Le, Elanor Wood, Kate Malyon, Kevin McMonagle

Ok hands up who had it in for our poor old protagonist the moment he took his wedding ring off?

Oh how quick we are to judge. To be fair, you wily filmmakers knew what you were doing and I fell hook, line and sinker.

Oh he’s got a wife and kids at home. Yet off he goes to try and hook up with the woman in the sandwich shop. Oh, ok, well then ‘oh he’s got a wife and kids at home and off he goes clumsily trying to score some drugs.’ Selfish.

Then he’s home, and his wife’s in garden and we’re seeing the photos on the fridge and we’re slowly getting it. And she has on a headscarf, the weed is for her and her pain and we assume her cancer, and he’s immediately exonerated. And it’s sad.

I love a bum steer in a story and this one is done well. In the space of 10 minutes, from starting off at one viewpoint we take on a 180 degree shift to another. But without being hit over the head with it or feeling manipulated. The narrative gently takes us on this journey as reality unfolds and reaches its sad conclusion of this snapshot into a life.

The Rev

Once, Neil Marlow’s life was a spontaneous festival of frivolity, friends and funk music. Now, it’s one of OAPs, weekly bingo and ready-meals. Neil Marlow (aka The Rev), has chosen a life of the cloth above a life of liberalism and like so many before him he is convinced that his sexuality and extroverted personality is incompatible with his religious beliefs.

This is the story of that struggle. The struggle of repression and rejection, of the vain attempt to leave a part of himself behind in the belief that he will somehow be happier if he inhibits his true self.

  • Year:2022
  • Runtime:15 minutes
  • Director:Fabia Martin
  • Screenwriter:Fabia Martin
  • Producer:Sara Archer, Emma Wellbelove, Alastair Mavor, Jack Holden
  • Cast:Jack Holden

What can I say? I love a religious protagonist! Yes I may well get that printed on a t-shirt. From Rev, to Father Ted, to everyone’s favourite ‘hot priest’ in Fleabag, we love to see a personality behind the robes which challenges our preconceptions of what it means to be a man or woman of the church (I didn’t include The Vicar of Dibley in my line-up only because I’ve never really watched it but understand it to be very good).

I loved the construct of this short as we’re taken through the seasons and religious holidays and the monotony of our reverend’s life. The same faces in the pews, the elderly lady slowly but surely (and loudly) unwrapping the cellophane of her sweets whilst, in the depth of her concentration, not missing a beat to respond ‘thanks be to god’ at the appropriate moments.

The functional farewell line-up at the end of mass, followed by the loneliest sound sequence of our times – the fork stab of the packaging, the whirring of the rotating plate followed by the ping of misplaced optimism.

A simple (but FABULOUS) gift from a friend of a music track from their past takes the Rev from his present to his past and we hope to his future, as (albeit in mind) he unleashes his true self and takes a carnival approach to a funeral service.

The choreography and dance moves, the glittering ticker tape, the sweetie-unleashing elderly lady dancing in the aisles. It was an unapologetically camp celebration of life and inner self. A short of two halves, and the juxtaposition of the earlier scenes and this, it perfectly depicted the two contrasting sides to the Rev.

That singular, shimmering silver ticker tape of hope and acceptance at the end though. 👌🏻

The Cunning

A teenager with Down’s syndrome helps herself, and others, to escape from accusations of witchcraft.

  • Year:2022
  • Runtime:13 minutes
  • Director:Alexandra Maher
  • Screenwriter:Alexandra Maher
  • Producer:Emory Ruegg
  • Cast:Gemma Arterton, Bethany Asher

Well this was one of the big guns as we had Gemma Arterton. But let’s not make that the only thing going on here.

The moment that rat scurried into shot I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy ride either for the rat or the audience.

Yes I covered my ears alongside actor Bethany Asher as Arterton’s character broke its neck, but my confidence in that I could now relax and continue to listen openly and with confidence to the rest of the film, was nothing more than foolish and misplaced.

The horror of the squelch and crunch as that poor rat was bitten into shall never leave me. Never.

Shot initially in claustrophobic shadow, the genre of witchcraft and persecution was in the grand spirit of The Crucible, American Horror Story: Roanoke, indeed ‘The Witch’.

Gemma Arterton gave a masterclass in understated acting with few words and with facial expression, as the close-ups duly testify, and Bethany Usher’s ‘resurrection’ and uncompromising stand-off with their captors was powerful and breath-holding.

Coupled with the sweeping shots of forestry as they made their escape, this gave feature film qualities somehow condensed down into an enthralling 13 minutes.


A lonely young woman struggles to deal with her melancholy despite the efforts of friends and family.

  • Year: 2022
  • Runtime:7 minutes
  • Director:Kieran Bourne
  • Screenwriter:Kieran Bourne
  • Producer:Anais Ferrato 
  • Cast:Oriane Pick, Jennifer Leong, Sally Faulkner

Yes, a difficult 7 minutes. A torturous existence punctuated only by the sounds of the toaster and the kettle.

Depression and anxiety leads you to becoming a prisoner in your own mind. There’s no escape, your physical surroundings take on a heaviness and unequivocal tight hold that both acts as captor as you can’t leave, saviour as it’s your hiding place from the rest of the world.

When depressed and anxious, it’s like developing Stockholm Syndrome with your thoughts and environment. They’re causing you harm but at the same time, it’s all you know and there’s a perverse comfort. At least for a time.

The powerful scene for me was when on the phone to her mum, the girl is encouraged to just cry. And so she does and it’s heartbreaking and the sun eventually comes out. Psychologically and in actuality in how the filmmakers set up that final, important scene.

The house takes on a lighter, happier, comforting aesthetic and is perfectly reflective of this hateful illness and how quickly things can and will change again for the better.

I took this short home in my back pocket.

My Father’s Son

A traditional gamekeeper’s expectations for his son are challenged when his son explores his sexuality.

  • Year:2022
  • Runtime:8 minutes
  • Director:Charles Whiteley
  • Screenwriter:Charles Whiteley
  • Cast:Forrest Bothwell, Alastair Coughlan

I discredited the filmmakers greatly by being unable to shake the feeling that someone was going to get shot here.

A basic assumption when presented with guns and multiple tensions arising in differing relationships.

The tension between the rich landowner farmer and his son clearly repressed in his sexuality and confidence, the tension between the two young men as they josh and wrestle and become increasingly close to breaking down the walls of what is an unexplored relationship that steps beyond laddish teasing and competition. And finally a tension between the father and the lad who he sees as dangerous and about to corrupt his son, leading him down a path which he views as abhorrent.

See how much can be explored in 8 minutes? And all this is without a single shot wound beyond that of poor discovered bird and all those clay pigeons.

I think the best shorts give you everything you need from its short form, but also pique your interest enough to want to know what came before and what might happen next. This is true of My Father’s Son.

I don’t think I’ve kept this post about shorts short, have I. But there was too much good stuff.

For more details about all the shorts featured, visit here – Shorts 1

To read more about the full line-up at Manchester Film Festival click here.

Next stop…North West shorts!

Festival season hits Manchester!

Well I was going to start off with saying leave your wellies in the wardrobe, but given the weather this week, maybe give that directive a moment’s pause.

But no matter the weather; wind, sleet or shine, today sees two fantastic festivals kick off in Manchester, namely Manchester Film Festival (MANIFF)and ¡Viva! Spanish & Latin American Festival at HOME Mcr.

And I’m going to give it my best stab to attend as much of both as I can.

Manchester Film Festival 2023 (MANIFF)

Tonight sees the return of one of the jewels in the Mancunian culture calendar. MANIFF takes place at Odeon Great Northern, and can you believe it’s the 9th edition of this popular event?

On until 19 March, MFF sees 6 feature film world premieres and 17 feature film UK Premieres, with all films screening in Manchester for the first time.

Opening the festival will be British film Rye Lane – a romantic comedy about two twenty-somethings both reeling from bad break-ups, who connect over the course of an eventful day.

Stockport actress Kelly Wenham stars in Dan Clarke’s A Kind of Kidnapping, about a young, broke couple who kidnap a sleazy politician who decides he can spin the story to his own advantage.

Manchester based production company Old Hall Films present Wait For Me, about a young woman dragged into a life of crime after arriving in England from Ireland.

Bolan’s Shoes, starring MANIFF alumni Timothy Spall and the directorial debut of Ian Puleston-Davies (Coronation Street, Tin Star), captures glam rock mania through the experiences of a group of kids before a road accident changes their lives.

Over 140 short films will screen at the festival including 32 world premieres. Local talent will be on show with three sessions of North West Shorts (most ever screened at the festival.) Also included is short, A Moral Man, which stars Toby Young, and centres on a right-to-die evangelist who wrestles with his faith and morality when a routine visit goes off course.

In the documentary section there will be the world premiere of The Road of Excess, which follows the stars of early noughties cult TV show DIRTY SANCHEZ and examines the consequences the show had on their lives.

Also screening is the ‘found footage’ documentary, A Life On The Farm, which revives a unique, inspiring, sometimes morbid (sounds like my cup of vimto) portrait of rural English life that is in danger of being forgotten.

Manchester premieres include the Nicolas Cage starring western Butcher’s Crossing, about a young Harvard dropout seeks his destiny out West by tying his fate to a team of buffalo hunters.

A great many films are fresh from Sundance, Cannes, and Toronto, but I’m sure you’ll agree that they’re finally hitting their pinnacle as they arrive on the hallowed turf of Manchester.

The full truly fabulous line-up can be found here , the schedule here and film passes can be purchased here.

¡Viva! Spanish & Latin American Festival

Incredibly in its 29th year, ¡Viva! Spanish & Latin American Festival at HOME Mcr, is an annual celebration of Spanish and Latin American culture, bringing a programme of the most exciting cinema from across the Spanish-speaking world.

From tonight until 30 March, 22 new feature films will be screened, including multiple UK cinema premieres, along with filmmaker Q&As, film introductions and other opportunities to get involved.

This evening’s opening hosts the UK premiere of a joyous coming-of-age comedy from Spain, Llenos de gracia (Full of Grace), followed by three weeks of engaging drama, fascinating documentary and thrilling tension, as ¡Viva! 2023 serves up slices of life and flights of fancy from all corners of Spain and Latin America.

Also included are cinematic treats from the archives – a classic from Juan Antonio Bardem, the UK premiere of 1970s hidden gems by fellow Spaniard Cecilia Bartolomé, and a programme of shorts from a Mexican feminist film collective.

In addition, there are three post-screening Q&As with Spanish film makers, all taking place in the first week of the festival – returning guest Nely Reguera with La Voluntaria (The Volunteer) on Sat 11 Mar, Carlota González-Adrio with the UK Premiere of La Casa entre los cactus (The House Among the Cactuses) on Wed 15 Mar, and Luc Knowles with the UK Premiere of Libélulas (Dragonflies) on Thu 16 Mar.

You can find the eclectic and fantastic full line-up of events here and tickets can be purchased here.

See you there!

Too Much World At Once at HOME

“We should’ve seen this coming. We did. We did see this coming. The world will not be kind to us because we haven’t given it a reason to be.”

On his fifteenth birthday, Noble transforms into a bird. Thousands of miles away, his sister Cleo is stationed on a remote island with the British Antarctic Survey. The birds have disappeared. Noble needs to reach her. Lying low until it’s time to take flight, he finds solace in misfit Ellis while his mum Fiona desperately tries to stop their home from falling apart.

Ok, I’m going straight in. Every actor in the ensemble I would seek out to see perform again. Individually they were captivating. Collectively…well they were captivating.

With a script that walks a balanced line (perfectly so) between poetry, pathos and pop cultural references (it matters not of the year – that Deirdre Barlow throw-out was spot on), it was a meeting of talent where you couldn’t imagine one element without the others.

Too Much World At Once, a new play by Billie Collins which made its debut at HOME this week, is brought to us by Box of Tricks Theatre.

It’s one of those productions where you believed in the characters and in the snapshot of their lives you’d entered for those 105 minutes. Not one where you’re simply thinking how good the acting is. Your disbelief is duly suspended. And that’s no mean feat when one of your protagonists turns into a bird.

Or does he. I don’t know. I think I know. And in the end does it matter? It’s all just details. For the themes of the play all beautifully feed into each other, each providing an, at first sight, starkly different layer, which actually began to feel more nuanced as each sub-theme found its feet and made sense alongside the others.

We had coming of age, sexuality, love, mental health, fractured families, fractured houses, fractured environments, towns, islands, planets…and birds.

There was a strength to the characters as they fought against a world which was both physically and metaphorically falling apart around them. We witnessed a tipping point, impending doom – all achieved in the smaller Theatre 2 at HOME with nothing more than a couple of chairs and occasional table for props.

The energy that built in this performance from the understated beginnings to the frenetic finale was such that there was a takeaway that extended beyond polite conversation and positive noises as the audience made their way through the foyer.

As I never tire of saying, good theatre makes you feel something. Too Much World at Once made me feel a sense of urgency, sadness, resolve and immense gratitude that I live somewhere where access to great theatre is never more than a tram ride away.

Too Much World At Once is at HOME Mcr until 11 March 2023 – Click link for details and tickets:


Paddy Stafford

Alexandra Mathie

Evie Hargreaves

Ewan Grant

Creative team:

Director: Adam Quayle | Designer: Katie Scott |
Sound Designer & Composer: Lee Affen | Lighting Designer: Richard Owen |
Movement Director: Aiden Crawford | PM: Jack Opie |
TSM: Rob Athorn | CSM: Phoebe Delafaye |
Design Associate: Lucy Sneddon | Sustainability: Robin Lyons |
Associate Producer: Justina Aina | Marketing: Marcy Rick |
Assistant Producer: Arisha Marsh | AD Consultancy: Ben Wilson
Audio Description: Hear the Picture

Photo credits: Chris Payne

A Place Called Utopia – Aboriginal art from Australia at Saul Hay gallery

Quite often it is easy to feel that Manchester is the centre of the universe and why the heck not? But what is most exciting is when a whole other world comes to Manchester and allows us to step out of what we know and get a glimpse into another culture we don’t. In Castlefield, no less.

Now, you may be thinking, speak for yourself. I am well versed not only in aboriginal history, culture and teachings, but in its art too.

Well my knowledge of this area was patchy and didn’t extend beyond some of the animation contained within the Australian children’s feature, Dot and the Kangaroo. But thanks to artist curator and collector, Dr Victoria King and Saul Hay Gallery Director, Ian Hay, I now know a little more. And all it took was a tram ride from zone 2 into zone 1 and a jaunt down Castle Street.

A Place Called Utopia, at Saul Hay Gallery, is an exhibition of artwork by noted contemporary Australian Aboriginal artists, including Emily Kngwarreye and Minnie Pwerle. Kngwarreye’s painting Earth’s Creation sold for over $2 million in 2017, setting a record for a painting by an indigenous Australian artist.

The collection celebrates art from the remote Aboriginal outstation of Utopia, 270 kilometres northeast of Alice Springs in Australia’s semi-arid, red centre. It is home to the Anmatyerre and Alyawarre people, and in 1981, was the first outstation in Australia to achieve Land Rights, when the original indigenous owners’ land was finally returned to them.

barbara weir

What I find fascinating is that it was only in 1988 that the artists received acrylic paints. Emily Kngwarreye, for instance, was in her 80s by this point, but embracing this new medium, was prolific in producing what I can only describe as mesmerising paintings in acrylic, right up until her final days. Indeed her painting Earth’s Creation sold for over $2 million in 2017, which set a record for an indigenous Australian artist.

What you will see in the collection, are pieces which are the result of (predominantly but not limited to) women who began painting their Dreamings (creation stories about how the land and natural world came to be) and awelye (women’s ceremonial body painting designs).

The artwork on display is from the collection of Saul Hay Gallery painter, sculptor and photographer, Dr Victoria King who volunteered at Utopia between 1998 and 2004.

She says:

The remote Aboriginal outstation of Utopia is a place of sublime, harsh beauty and infinite complexities. Over the five years I volunteered there, I transcribed the women’s Dreaming stories and watched as they created remarkable hybrid works of art that reflected their ancient culture. Their profound experiential wisdom and ecological knowledge astounded me and living with them was a privilege that forever changed how I see the world.

I spoke with Dr King when I attended the preview, and the passion and respect with which she talks about her time at Utopia and feels for the artists she met, is all too apparent and actually moving. Indeed, Dr King will be giving a talk at the gallery as part of the exhibition on Thursday 16 February at 7.30pm.

And as Ian Hay, Director of Saul Hay Gallery says:

This exhibition represents a significant and important collection of Australian Aboriginal paintings collected by Dr Victoria King, an esteemed painter herself, who developed a close and lasting bond with many of the artists represented.

We are pleased to be able to bring to Manchester works of such quality from some of the most renowned Aboriginal artists and to help to tell their story.”

We really are lucky to either live, work in or just have access to this wonderful city of Manchester, where whilst enjoying such a creative and vibrant identity of its and our own, we have access to some fantastic hubs and hosts of culture outside of this. And this is one of those opportunities to do so.

A Place Called Utopia, is free to attend, and runs until 26 February 2023. All works will be for sale.

Saul Hay Gallery hosts a vibrant collection of artists and sculptors from the Manchester art scene and beyond and is a charming space to visit, nestled amongst the Castlefield canalways, arches and cobbles.

As I told Ian Hay following my earlier embarrassment on learning that the gallery had been around for six years and I hadn’t visited once, I’ll be back.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – The Lowry

I have a few stock phrases I’m only too conscious that I find myself rolling out time and time again.

You see, I’m a bit funny with texture (context:food)
I don’t like how it tastes of wet
(context:also food)
I’m not really into fantasy
(context books, film, tv, theatre…)

Just me.

But I’ve realised I was when I was younger. Looking back and triggered by last night’s proceedings, I really was.

Enid Blyton was my gateway and unlocked my imagination. And I believed in Magic Faraway Trees, Wishing Chairs, Enchanted Woods and midnight feasts (the ultimate fantasy! Just hold the mayo and potted shrimp).

Roald Dahl was delivering oversized fruit, death by confectionary and wizened old witches galore.

Stephen King dealt me killer clowns, telekinetic teens and crazed caretakers.

Neil Gaiman. Well for some reason I hit my twenties and I didn’t do fantasy tomes, TV, films or theatre. The latter has picked up in recent years, I’ve even read a Neil Gaiman novel (Book Clubs – pushing us out of our comfort zones since forever).

I did my research like a good little blogger and discovered that Gaiman wrote Ocean at the End of the Lane for his now ex-wife and musician, Amanda Palmer. And if I’m further to believe the internet, she didn’t “really like fantasy”.

Adapted for stage by writer Joel Horwood, and directed by Katy Rudd, I’m not close enough to the text to know how this fact influenced the original story and how close to the text the adaptation was…but it doesn’t matter and maybe I’ve always liked fantasy after all. I’ve just been too busy entrenched in kitchen-sink dramatics and gritty dialogue for too long.

I really enjoyed this play.

Photography: (c) Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

Returning to his childhood home, a man finds himself standing beside the pond of the old Sussex farmhouse where he used to play. He’s transported to his 12th birthday when his remarkable friend Lettie claimed it wasn’t a pond, but an ocean – a place where everything is possible…
Plunged into a magical world, their survival depends on their ability to reckon with ancient forces that threaten to destroy everything around them

A story of time-travel, repressed memories, life, death and even suicide, the plot isn’t messing about. And neither are the production values.

As the set transformed from scene to scene (as they tend to, granted) a door often taking centre-stage framed by a magical glow (giving me strong Dana’s fridge vibes – if you know you know), we were taken on an adventure from present time back to 1983 to…I want to say beyond but I think it goes even beyond this.

We had the kitchen sink (well the table and cooker) and we had woodland and ocean (take cover those seated in the stalls), family quarrels and forest dwelling fleas (you’ll see).

The story and accompanying scenes delivered the jarring (yet reassuringly classical) juxtaposition of the seemingly routine, mundane and domestic alongside the other-worldly, the ‘what-ifs’ and the temptation to imagine what if everything you thought you knew was somehow…other. And you’d just forgotten.

Photography: (c) Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

The lighting and choreography were hypnotic. The score was synthesiser and electro-heavy, if we were in any doubt that we were entering classic 80s fantasy and sci-fi.

The effects were special (there were audible gasps, my friends) and the puppetry sequence charming. This is a device I’m seeing introduced to more and more productions and really lends another layer to dream-like sequences which call upon the audience to suspend particular disbelief, helping them along the way.

It’s difficult to separate out the cast other than simply by the roles that they played. Brilliant chemistry between all and instrumental in making the unbelievable believable.

Although (spoiler) Millie Hikasa (Lettie) practically had me in mourning, so taken by her performance was I.

Photography: (c) Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

You have the opportunity to see The Ocean at the End of the Lane at The Lowry until 8 January 2023. Take it if you can.

Especially if, like me, you’re a lover of fantasy (but had simply just forgotten).

Click here for tickets and more information.


And if you’re wondering, Charlie Brooks as Ursula was deliciously devilish, just as you would imagine.

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Poet Harry Baker at The Edge, Chorlton

I’ve lived in or near most places in Greater Manchester during my 22 year career of being an honorary Manc.

My 8 month tenure as a Whalley Range resident led me like a magnet to enjoying the bright lights of Chorlton. And for me, the brightest light of them all was the Chinese takeaway, ‘The Treasure Pot.’

I have just googled The Treasure Pot and to my incredible delight, it’s still going on Manchester Road and, in fact, throws open its steamy doors at 5.30pm tonight.

Reader, they say you should never go back. But I might throw caution to the wind and

Go back!

This has fanny adams to do with the poet Harry Baker’s gig last Thursday night, other than it too was in Chorlton and proof that I was right to go back. For not only does Chorlton preserve its past (Treasure Pot), but clearly embraces new ventures as in the fantastic venue, The Edge Theatre.

Ok, new to me, it’s 10 years old and part of the Greater Manchester Small Venues Network (the other members of which I have long loved). Shame on my for this insane oversight.

But whilst I was immediately seduced by the juxtaposition of the neon signage aloft the old church hall as accessed through a graveyard, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

And Harry Baker supremely counted. In many ways, actually, given his delicious predilection for the world of mathematics which peppers a section of this work, most notably, 59 (a love poem for lonely prime numbers).

The World Poetry Slam Champion is touring the UK and for me is the perfect performer in that his poetry balances humour with word-play (bi-lingually, for goodness sake), with passions and personal insights and quick-witted observation and song. Yes song. German song.

On a freezing Thursday night, Harry took us on a journey through the workings of his mind (the sheer auditory frenzy of a dino love poem, Dinosaur Love), a history of his childhood Christmases, 24 Christmases on Earth, the generously shared and honesty of how lockdown stole away his creativity and hope (it’s back, fear not – not least triggered by the pandemical purchase of a new loo seat) and how he turned his well-justified rage towards a red-headed (well silver now – miaow) DJ into a well-versed, in every way, retaliatory rap and rebuke. I won’t spoil it but the story involves the holy trinity of Palestine, Falafel and Marathons.

A fan of punk poet and Bard of Salford, John Cooper-Clarke and Messrs Mike Garry and Luke Wright, this was my first experience of seeing, hearing, watching Harry Baker and he had me smiling, laughing, lamenting and also actually rapping in German more than I knew I needed on what had been a somewhat challenging day.

My short-form poetry inspired review is summed up as thus:


Top drawer.

Harry Baker continues his UK world tour – see for more details: Harry Baker live shows

His latest book of poetry, Unashamed, is available at all good bookshops and websites including his own: Harry Baker – Unashamed

Visit The Edge, it’s so good…The Edge Theatre, Chorlton