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.

Follow me on TikTok…

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

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty at The Lowry

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..

Enter a wondrous world of magical fairies and vampires, where the timeless tale of good vs evil is turned upside-down, creating a supernatural love story that even the passage of time itself cannot hinder. Will Princess Aurora ever find her true love again?

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!

Credit: Johan Persson

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.

Click here for details and tickets.

Sweet dreams.

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).

Opera North’s La Traviata at The Lowry

As Opera North say,

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…

If you haven’t been to an opera before, this was my first opera and I fell in love with it all – the emotion, the phenomenal singing, sumptuous costumes and sets. If you’re a regular opera-goer, come for the catharsis of La Traviata. Just the chords are enough to have me welling up.

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

The Cherry Orchard at HOME Mcr

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)…

Vinay Patel’s sci fi adaptation of The Cherry Orchard sees an old starship travel through space, in search of a planet to call home. Like their ancestors before them, the crew were born on this ship, and this voyage is all they’ve ever known.

And then…a planet is spotted. In a place they could actually live. The crew are restless. The desire to find a home is strong. But Captain Ramesh is adamant that they can’t leave the ship.

Something has to change…

Will they leap into a new future, or stay stuck on this journey forever?

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.

Credit: Johan Persson

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.

Credit: Johan Persson

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.

Job done, I’d say.

For cast and crew serials and to book tickets, visit HOME website – The Cherry Orchard.

The show runs at HOME, Manchester, until 19 November.

A Yard Theatre, ETT and HOME co-production, co-commissioned by The Yard Theatre and ETT.

The Shawshank Redemption at The Lowry

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…

Despite protests of his innocence, Andy Dufresne is handed a double life sentence for the brutal murder of his wife and her lover. Incarcerated at the notorious Shawshank facility, he quickly learns that no-one can survive alone. Andy strikes up an unlikely friendship with the prison fixer Red, and things take a slight turn for the better. However, when Warden Stammas decides to bully Andy into subservience and exploits his talents for accountancy, a desperate plan is quietly hatched…The play examines desperation, injustice, and hope…

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.

Credit:The Lowry

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.

To book tickets and read more, visit The Lowry website

Groove at Contact Theatre, Manchester

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,

The dance floor is a place that queer people can feel liberatory potential. For us, it can be our community centre, our church, our school and our family…

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.

Groove is on tonight for one last showing. Go immediately to Contact Theatre, Manchester for more info and to snap up your tickets.

Go, immerse and embrace.

Also cracking soundtrack…

Read more about these fabulous creatives at

Girl From the North Country at The Lowry

It’s 1934 in the heartland of America and we meet a group of wayward souls who cross paths in a time-weathered guesthouse. Standing at a turning point in their lives, they realize nothing is what it seems. But as they search for a future, and hide from the past, they find themselves facing unspoken truths about the present.

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.

For more details and to buy tickets, visit

Stage photo credits: Johan Persson

Cast and Creatives

  • Mrs Neilson: Nichola MacEvilly
  • Elias Burke: Ross Carswell
  • Nick Laine: Colin Connor
  • Joe Scott: Joshua C Jackson
  • Reverend Marlowe: Owen Lloyd
  • Marianne Laine: Justina Kehinde
  • Mr Perry: Teddy Kempner
  • Dr Walker: Chris McHallem
  • Elizabeth Laine: Frances McNamee
  • Gene Laine: Gregor Milne
  • Katherine Draper: Frankie Hart
  • Mr Burke: Neil Stuart
  • Mrs Burke: Rebecca Thornhill
  • Ensemble: Graham Kent, Daniel Reid-Walters
  • Writer & Director: Conor McPherson
  • Music & Lyrics: Bob Dylan
  • Scenic & Costume Design: Rae Smith
  • Orchestrations, Arrangements & Musical Supervision: Simon Hale
  • Additional Arrangements: Simon Hale & Conor McPherson
  • Lighting Design: Mark Henderson
  • Sound Design: Simon Baker
  • Movement Director: Lucy Hind
  • Casting: Jessica Ronane CDG
  • Band: The Howlin’ Winds with Musical Director/Piano: Andrew Corcoran, Violin and Mandolin: Ruth Elder, Guitars: Felix Stickland and Double Base: Ed McFarlane.

And Here I Find Myself at The Lowry (no kidding)

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.

I wake up. And I’m aware of being present again, amongst the same walls, and floors, and people. It’s as if my whole past has been condensed into a single moment that feels as though it has only just happened. Solid, impenetrable, unchangeable.

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.

The Rules.




No that’s wrong.

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!

Read more about the artist at:

For more upcoming shows at The Lowry, head to

Written and performed by Wayne Steven Jackson

Videographer: Studio 91 Media

Score: Jack Fleming

Original Music: Katherine Myles

Digital Dramaturgy: Anna West

Movement Consultancy: Simon Jones

Makeup: Elise Gilbert

BuzzBallz cocktails – game, set and match to Bunny Jackson’s Manchester, as host of first UK pour

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…

Ready to drink 😉

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).

A mess of a human being

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

BuzzBallz Cocktails have landed in the UK in a big way so for us to be the first bar to serve them is a big deal. We know Mancunians are going to love them – there are six great flavours, they look great, taste amazing and add to the fun of a night out in town…But come quick, we book up fast and the good weather will encourage Mancunians to do what they do best – having fun in the sun!”

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:

With thanks to Francesca and Rachel at Crate Communicatioms.

Words, opinions and hangover very much my own.