There’s light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel, my friends.
We all know the worries and concerns for the theatre, and indeed arts and entertainment industry as a collective.
But as 4 July becomes some sort of D-day, a heralding of freedom, venues who have been left out of the loop have started to look ahead to their own release, so to speak.
What joy to see an email from HOME Mcr in my inbox with a cautious date for reopening.
Mark your calendars, digital and otherwise – HOME hope to thrown open their doors and welcome us back 4 September to their cinemas, bars and restaurants, with hope for their galleries and theatres to open later that month.
Can’t cinemas open in July?
I hear you cry?
Well yes, there’s your multiplexes, and that’s fine (and exciting), but as HOME Executive Director, Jon Gilchrist explains, it may not be quite time for the indies…
While we are aware that the Government has stated cinemas may reopen from 4 July, this is not the best option for many independent cinemas like ourselves, whose programmes do not focus on the Summer blockbusters.
Instead we want to take the time to ensure that we have time to make the necessary adjustments to the building, and to speak to our audiences about how they can be involved in our plans.
So there you have it.
The cultural sector has, and continues to, feel the huge financial impact that lockdown has had, but there is hope.
And that hope comes in the shape of a date on your calendars, at least for HOME – 4 September 2020.
In the meantime, HOME continues to work with colleagues from across the country to make the case to Government for more support to help the sector recover, and supporting initiatives including the GM Artists Hub and the National Freelance Task Force.
We’re sick of the C word. I know. And we’ve all got things and people we’re missing. Some are obviously more up the priority list but we mustn’t dismiss the little things in life that keep us going and, to put it bluntly, sane.
I miss my family.
That goes without saying, But we all miss our little pleasures in life too. The arts and culture enrich our lives and if we didn’t realise it before, we’re sure as hell realising it now.
Residing in Manchester, my blog of course is Manchester focussed – write what you know and, of course, what’s relevant to your life and those around you. But in the world of lockdown and isolation, we’re entering a virtual world, now more than ever before. And so our entertainment, ‘social’ lives and soul food now has a geographical irrelevance.
And it is with thanks to the Barn Theatre, Cirencester, for my first virtual press night and live streaming theatre experience. I know I’m probably lagging behind the times on this one, but being so lucky to have so many theatres, galleries, music venues and just places on my doorstep in Manchester, I’ve never tapped into the concept.
I wanted to review the production but also the experience itself.
The way it worked with the Barn Theatre is they used their social channels to host a link to the ‘live’. I should point out, at this point, that all the creatives are on lockdown too so this was a live stream of a performance filmed in May 2019. No flouting of the rules here.
Sat in my living room, I had my drink in hand (my theatre tipple of choice tends to be a glass of red, but this was a celebration – champagne was absolutely necessary) and sat through the countdown.
And you know? I was back in a theatre. I mean obviously not, but a play cannot be confused with a television programme, a film, because the very constructs are different, they’re in real time, they’re more ‘raw’ and whilst you yourself are not with the players in front of you, you’re still feeling the theatrical magic.
And so to the production itself…
Friday 27 March was World Theatre Day and so the perfect choice for the Barn Theatre to stream their past production of Henry V. And it is at this point that I want to emphasise that the stream is still available so if you like what you read, check it out yourself (links at the bottom).
Directed by Hal Chambers, the production stars Aaron Sidwell (Eastenders , Wicked, Ghost) and Lauren Samuels (Bend it Like Beckham, We Will Rock You, Grease) and is a modern take on Shakespeare’s Henry V in all but text (although I did note a couple of diversions, notably a chorus of ‘It’s coming home, it’s coming home…’
Henry V in a nutshell tells the story of Henry V who assumes the throne after the death of his father (yep you guessed it), Henry IV.
After he’s insulted by the heir to the throne of France, Henry invades France to claim the throne he believes should be his.
Whilst preventing an assassination plot, Henry’s rousing speeches to his troops rally them to victory, against all odds. Next stop marry the Princess of France and both nations brought together.
This highly stylised version keeps matters fairly simple on stage in terms of props and scenery allowing the acting to literally take centre stage, but it is the technology, the lighting, the music that elevates it to a new and interesting place.
Rolling news has pretty much got us by the proverbial (and literal, dependent on your dna) balls, during this time of lockdown and our old mate pops up early on when we see ETV projected at the back of the stage bringing news and reaction of the death of Henry IV (later we see FTV reporting on the battle – you get the idea).
The famous text tells of the early life of the soon to be crowned Henry V living his best life with friends at the local tavern. This production brings this screaming to our attention as it flashes to him engaged in a rave and all that comes with it (including flashing lights and some of the fantastic and original composition by Harry Smith.
In fact in an interview shown during the ‘interval’ of the live stream conducted by Barn Theatre Artistic Director, Iwan Lewis, Aaron Sidwell tells of the cast’s preparation by way of a method night out of drinking and general cavorting (all very PG and professional, mind) whilst all in character.
With on-screen graphics (I can’t be sure how this translated to the physical production in the theatre) and overheard voxpops commenting on events, the production really does give an established text an exciting injection of post-modernism and relevance.
And speaking of, Henry V’s rallying speeches really can be said to resonate as we tune into our daily briefings with the government and their aides during this time of difficulty and crisis.
Who can forget the infamous
Once more unto the breach…
As we’re urged by ‘our leaders’ to fight the war against Corona and stay in our houses.
And so, whilst I applaud this original production itself from all players and creatives involved from the Barn Theatre, I equally applaud the live stream itself put together so early on in our ‘new world’ bringing wonderful theatre and artistry into our homes.
During these tough times, the theatre is looking at a £250,000 loss and potential permanent closure and so any donations to the #saveourbarn can be made through their website.
And so as one of our oldest forms of culture is brought bang into the 21st century by both the approach to the production itself and the concept of live theatre, join me in supporting our arts and, indeed our own sanity, by continuing to feed our souls during this new (and hopefully temporary) normal.
Yes I was rather taken with the acoustics of the environment and hall, and I’m not going to pretend to go down the ‘but was it the location and the acoustics that provided such a pleasurable experience’ path, because that would be ludicrous and frankly condescending to the orchestra (even though the answer is a formidable
Although I should probably add…
AS LOVELY AS THEY WERE!
The Northern Chamber Orchestra is the Northern Chamber Orchestra, is the Northern Chamber Orchestra. And this time they brought their beautiful talent to the rather charming venue of the Focus Theatre in Romiley, Stockport.
Blink and you’ll miss it, it would be easy to overlook this venue by the precinct, but find, go in and enter the auditorium and it’s just, well, charming! And being fortunate enough to be a regular theatre-goer, I have sat in many a seat and that red velvet seat was one of the most comfortable I have ever relaxed in.
And relaxed was the word, that evening as the Orchestra and guest soloist, Matthew Sharp, took us on a musical journey which soothed, delighted and almost sent this writer into a glorious slumber (on my signed Uri Geller bent spoon, this is a compliment).
For what is music if not to take us out of ourselves, our busy lives, our worries and woes (blimey do forgive the drama – I write this amidst the litany of Coronavirus concerns, updates and world-wide stresses – you get the picture).
And so after a wonderfully rousing rendition of the Overture from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (full disclosure, I’ve seen The Marriage of Figaro but my heart belonged to the opening of the film Trading Places – forgive me Amadeus), we were introduced to cellist, Matthew Sharp.
Internationally recognised not only as a cellist, but also as an accomplished actor, Matthew definitely brought a presence and energy to the stage even before he picked up his instrument, engaging the audience in the tale of why he was sporting a t-shirt to perform in (backstage wardrobe malfunctions of the ripped shirt variety).
The audience instantly on his side before a note played, after which you could have heard a pin drop as those glorious sounds that can only eminate from a cello (granted you have to be able to play too) filled the theatre. Stoller, Schmoller (just kidding Stoller Hall – see you again in May…) The Forum Theatre held its own.
Performing Antonio Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor. This is one of the most performed cello concertos of all time with many of the world’s greatest cellists recording it, including Jacqueline du Pre (who Sharp performed for at the age of 12).
As the world’s ills evaporated around us, Matthew Sharp, along with the orchestra, had our full attention and awe, not least that of some of the students who he had been working with all week in the area, as part of education and outreach programmes.
With the audience in the palm of his hand, his modest attempts to quietly leave the hall after his performance were met with a crowd of people wishing to shake his hand, say hello and even capture a quick selfie with the talented musician.
And so we were then treated to an upbeat end to the concert from the orchestra with Hayden’s Symphony no.101 subtitled The Clock and finally the last two sections of Aaron Copeland’s Rodeo: Saturday Night Waltz and Hoedown which left us all feeling like we’d left Romiley for the deep Wild West of America.
And so, there are plenty of opportunities to see and hear this wonderful orchestra.
I can remember the first time I heard those ticking clocks.
It was a friend’s birthday party at her house and we all sat round as the video was put on.
The excitement was real as those clocks ticked and the camera panned across the Doc’s home and workshop in a garage in the fictional Hill Valley.
Some 30 odd years later and those tick-tocks were back as we took our seats in the circle of the Opera House, Manchester, a countdown taking place on stage, the atmosphere feeling as electric as the currents that crackled above our heads.
And so for years and years my brother and I have been quoting lines from the Back to the Future (BTTF) trilogy (mostly the first two actually – Soz cowboy BTTF.
Run for it Marty!
Good night Future boy!
Well you’re right, Biff, you’re right!
Not too early, I sleep in Sundays
Joey just looooves being in his playpen
You’re my m…you’re my m….
Ha a a a a a a a a a a a a he always says that…
And so it was with intrigue, fear and nerves that I approached the concept that is BTTF the musical.
Full disclosure – I’ve never been the biggest fan of musicals. I can cast an objective eye towards them and recognise talent and what is good about them (I hope), but as a genre of entertainment they’re not necessarily my favourite.
Would it be all…(a 5,6,7,8)
🎶 Gigawatts! 1.21 Gigawatts! They are Gigawatts! And there are 1.21 of them, that’s 1.21 of them…
No matter. If BTTF is involved and importantly the original creatives, co-creators and producers Bobs Gale and Zemekis are on board, you go, go, go.
And blimey – I am so glad I did (we did need roads).
Starring Olly Dobson as Marty McFly and Roger Bart as The Doc, the show takes us through the first film and story in a way that is fully faithful, and abridged where necessary.
The dialogue is there as the actors riff on the old favourites, with lines delivered to cheers, laughter and the pure joy of recognition.
This was never more the case than when loveable old George McFly (Hugh Coles) was on stage. The show didn’t necessarily demand carbon copy imitations of the characters, but boy did we all marvel with open-mouthed glee (picture what that looked like) as the loveable old and original ‘slacker’ manifested before our very eyes.
And it was a very similar story with Rosanna Hyland as Lorraine, from the moment she poured out that vodka, through to pointing out her hope chest, to parking with a boy.
Olly Dobson took on the incredibly difficult task of asking us to imagine a Marty McFly who isn’t Michael J Fox (yes, I know, Eric Stolz for about 5 mins, fellow hardcore BTTF tribe members), and he smashed it.
Darting, skateboarding, jamming his way round the stage in his life preserver, Dobson was a joy to watch down to the smallest of inflections – don’t get me wrong though, he made future boy his own.
We need to talk about the Doc, played by Roger Bart. I was never about to make like a tree and get outta there but for the opening strains of a song and dance routine as he shimmied round the DeLorean with his back up dancers, I was in a small state of shock.
But then, Great Scott, I got it. And it was everything.
Christopher Lloyd is the Doc, we all know this. But Roger Bart is musical Doc. A Doc that delivers the 1.21 gigawattsness with the same breathy, incredulity, but with a hammy quality and campness that is simply perfect.
If you’re gonna be musical Doc, go big, go extra, or go home (with the aid of a bolt of lightening, perhaps).
And so to our dear time machine, the DeLorean. There it was in all its glory. Forget Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, this car is its own star which brings me to the special effects which were out of this world.
How do you demonstrate time travel on a lovely old theatre in the middle of Manchester? I don’t know but thanks to the genius of the special effects, they did, and then some in a way that got the heart rate racing upto 88mph.
With a musical score that was the perfect balance of the original and the new (with a healthy dose of Huey and his veritable News thrown in (nice nod, naming a new character after his Lewisness), it even got Miss ‘musicals aren’t necessarily my thing’ on her feet.
If you put your mind to it, you can indeed achieve anything. And blimey o’reilly, has the world premier outing of this show achieved everything.
Go, introduce your kids and bask in the brilliance of this new show. Buttheads.
Showing at the Opera House, Manchester, until 17 May 2020.
It’s true to say that I didn’t always know what I was watching last night.
But I know that I liked it.
Like the camp space landing that it depicted (are there any other kind?), the show launched itself on stage through plumes of smoke and a cacophony of noise, and with the arrival of ‘cult cabaret duo’, Bourgeois & Maurice.
Directed by Phillip McMahon, the premise of the show (you’re best not to question, just accept) is two glam aliens arrive from a faraway galaxy to rescue present-day earth from impending political, environmental and social doom.
Now, of course this show was written, created, conceived of before we all entered the realms of (brace yourself for the c-word) Coronavirus. Yet, I can’t have been the only one in that audience more than aware of the …well not so much irony, more literal coincidence, of the statements delivered to the audience along the lines of ‘we’ve come to save you, you’re all doomed,’. They raised more than a little nervous laughter as we coughed into our elbows, having performed hand-washing duration top trumps with fellow theatre-goers in the toilets beforehand.
Being accidentally reminded of world-wide health crisis aside, the show was a riot, a pure joy.
The best thing with shows such as Insane Animals, is not to attempt to explain it (and with that, she was off the hook), but just to feel it, absorb it, embrace it and really, really enjoy it.
The satirical double-act were joined by 6 other actors and musicians (and self-described misfits) as they sang, played, danced, gyrated, wrestled, gurned and glitter-bombed their way through a story of time-travel and mortality (oh yes, they weren’t messing about).
The songs were catchy (I’m not the biggest embracer of musicals but i was all over this one) and the costumes as extra as the country’s current penchant for stockpiling loo-roll.
At the time of writing, there are four more chances to bear witness to this ‘queer unravelling of past and present, fact and fiction’. Just watch yourself on that front row…
I will be honest, and I don’t mean this to be offensive to any film that is based on a true story about real people, with real life events and feelings, but I generally, and admittedly cynically, run a mile from anything that has a whiff of ‘feel-good’.
But I’ll happily (yes i can do happy) admit upfront that this film actually made me feel good. Very good.
Starring the wonderful Sharon Horgan alongside the equally wonderful Kristin Scott Thomas, Military Wives is inspired by the true story of the world’s first military wives choir, and directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker, Peter Cattaneo.
I’ve only been to the basketball once in my life before (I know, shame.on.me.)
Started off low-key at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn, with the Brooklyn Nets. I had no clue what was going on. Not entirely helped by being in the nosebleed section. See, I know basketball words.
One minute there was seemingly some basketball being played, next we were being alerted to the presence of a beaming Bill Clinton smiling and waving to us on the big screens (I could just about make him out in the arena – a tiny dot, waving his tiny dot hand), the next t-shirts being fired out of a sort of t-shirt gun at what appeared to be a frightening rate and speed, the next some rapping.
I mean it was all very exhilarating and exciting but anything could have been going down in that court, I only knew it was basketball because it said so on my ticket.
Mind, I did accomplish one of my finest purchases that day. A foam finger in all its glory.
And so when I was kindly invited to a basketball game last Sunday on home turf; that of the mighty Manchester Giants!
Told the game against Plymouth Raiders was a sell-out, with tip-off at 5pm (yes, tip-off! Think kick-off but with fewer feet), we arrived at George H Carnall Leisure Centre, Urmston, about 40 minutes early, assuming plenty of time to have our pick of the bleachers and seats. I had my eye on court-side – if it’s good enough for Jack Nicholson, it’s good enough for me.
Oh how naive I was. As we approached the sports hall, we could hear balls bouncing and beats ringing out from the sideline DJ and as we entered, it was clear that there was to be no court side for me today, no siree!
The atmosphere was electric and the players were still only warming up! As we found our way to the end of a row – not courtside yet not quite ‘nosebleed section’, the beauty of going to see your local team is that you don’t need to be courtside to be engaged with what’s going on.
A brief rundown of the rules (that I will pretend I already knew…
Basketball is played by two teams who score points by throwing a ball into an opposing team’s basket. The team with the most points are the winners.
Each team has a squad of 12, with 5 players on the court at any one time.
You can move the ball round by passing, tapping, throwing, rolling or dribbling.
The game consists of four quarters of 10 minutes each with a 15-minute break at half time. There are also two-minutes interval between the first and second periods, and between the third and fourth periods.
If the game is tied after the fourth period, it continues with an extra period of five minutes, then as many five-minute periods as are necessary to break the tie.
Points are scored for shooting the ball through the hoop – 2 points for a goal within the 3 point semi-circle and 3 points for goals scored from outside.
Free throws, taken from the free-throw line and awarded after a foul, are worth one point.
BBC Sport website
An immersive and seemingly collaborative experience, the MC (?) is on it throughout, helping to whip the fans into a frenzy, encouraging cries of
DE-FENCE, DE-FENCE, DE-FENCE
And of course…
GI-ANTS, GI-ANTS, GI-ANTS
I started off chanting to fit in with the crowd, ending up chanting because, reader, I was willing defence to block that shot (is that the correct terminology?), passionately wanting the Giants to get the ball in the net.
It really does get you.
And then I espied the merch. Was there a Manchester Giants branded foam finger?
And it was pretty.
My Brooklyn Nets finger was all fine and dandy but the most miserable shade of grey you could imagine.
This finger was green, of course. Bright green. And it was mine.
I also pondered the many rubber ducks I could see on sale, but the finger was the thing, and I returned to my seat triumphant, noting the slightly tortured look on my face of my partner as he recalled the constant foam jabbing he endured on our last trip to the basketball.
Half-time came and did the action calm down? It did not and suddenly the abundance of rubber ducks became clear as what felt like hundreds starting whizzing past from every direction towards the centre of the court, launched by grinning children, teens, adults alike. What was this sudden onslaught? It was the ‘Chuck a Duck’ challenge, it transpired; closest duck to the centre got its thrower a signed ball!
At one point it seemed like there were as many people on the court as off, as local children and teens lined up to take part in a penalty shoot-out session.
As people returned to their seats and rubber ducks were swept away, it was time to return to the action proper.
Time flies when you’re having fun, as the whole adage goes and it really did feel like the second half flew just flew by as my eyes only momentarily left the court to check that my foam finger wasn’t intruding on someone’s personal space (only happened the once – my partner’s personal space does not count).
Excitingly, the fourth period ended on a draw and so time was played for one team to secure a win. On our feet, we cheered, whooped, chanted with all our might. Sadly it was not to be as Plymouth Raiders narrowly secured the win.
However, and forgive the cheese, we were all winners really (I know the Giants may argue that point), as we’d all enjoyed a brilliant Sunday afternoon.
It really is such an inclusive and immersive experience. And whilst some sporting events and fixtures can feel quite intimidating, I would recommend that parents especially considering getting your children into the game as it’s such a fun and exhilarating sport, and this is coming from a grown woman (yes, foam-finger withstanding – now I own two, I’m ready to set up as a Kenny Everett tribute act – google it..!).
A match report this was not in the sporting sense, but as a new experience and event, the Manchester Giants triumphed.
Ghost Stories finally hit The Lowry on Tuesday and oh how it did.
To whet the appetite, a couple of weeks ago a group of us were treated to a Ghost Walk round the Quays by Manchester writer and historian, Jonathan Schofield, all in anticipation of the arrival of acclaimed stage show, Ghost Stories, written and directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman.
Well now I’ve come out the other side. Of the show, that is. Not the interview, he was really nice. I mean I did come out of the other side of that too.
Basically, I’ve now seen the show for myself, It’s everything you want it to be.
Details of the show are and should remain shrouded in secrecy, in order to get maximum enjoyment. The show has been frightening audiences since its first London run, 10 years ago.
Since then, it has travelled all over the world and of course been made into a film.
Therefore, this review must remain spoiler-free but what I can do, is tell you that I haven’t jumped out of my skin as much since Metrolink put their prices up (it doesn’t matter how much I prepare myself, never fails to surprise…love you Metrolink 😉
Without giving anything away, even if there are elements of the narrative you remember from the film, attending the stage show brings the immersive experience, touching the senses in ways that are truly novel, surprising and ultimately gratifying (once the goosebumps have died down, you’ve stopped clinging to the stranger in the seat next to you, and your heart rate has returned to normal).
Never have I felt so at one with my fellow theatre-goers in a packed out theatre, an almost solidarity as we watched, held our collective breaths and tried to steel ourselves for the next jump-fright (impossible).
And so in the most non give-away review I think I’ve ever written, Ghost Stories gives every step of the way – the anticipation of what’s to come, the fright when it does, and the takeaway chills and, indeed laughter, of a bloody good night at the theatre.
As mentioned in last week’s blog post, Ghost walks and Stories and pig heads. Oh my Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s massively, hugely, other superlatives-ly acclaimed Ghost Stories comes to The Lowry this Tuesday 18 February and lurks until Saturday 22 February.
Details of the show are understandably shrouded in mystery, in order for audiences to get maximum enjoyment, a’la Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap (shh please don’t divulge, I’ve still not see it!).
And so it was a cryptic but lovely meeting with Jeremy Dyson ahead of the show – me careful not to ask too many of the details, him careful not to say.
As a punter hoovering up as much horror and dark comedy as I can, I’ve always thought that it must be incredibly difficult for some to get the genre right, without straying in to a diluted version of either, or coming out the other side with pure parody, such as the Scream anthology (no offence Scream anthology).
Therefore, as one quarter of The League of Gentlemen, four writers who lead the way in this genre (in addition to Andy Nyman, of course), I was keen to ask Jeremy Dyson a little about the writing process. What comes first, the horror or the comedy? He explained…
‘It’s not actually thought about in that way. The comedy emerges quite naturally; I’ve always thought that and horror go quite naturally together and something we bonded over as friends.
For myself and Andy, one of our absolute touchstones for Ghost Stories is the film, An American Werewolf in London, which came out during the year we first met each other. It’s a brilliant film, one loved by a lot of people of our age and generation, and a brilliant piece of writing too. As you say, it’s not a parody, it’s a proper story.
It’s in the way you can take sharp left turns between a scary moment and a funny moment, and vice versa. That can be very entertaining for an audience as you don’t know what to expect.’
Fresh off the back of our Ghost Walk around the Quays (fresh being the word, I still hadn’t thawed out), I was also interested in how much of a ‘horror tourist’ Jeremy was.
Under my own morbid belt includes the house and street where the original ‘Hallowe’en’ was filmed in LA, and, of course, Hadfield – the living, breathing location transformed into Royston Vasey, home to The League of Gentlemen. He had. And then some…
‘A few years ago, I went to Transylvania for a travel piece I was writing about the real route taken by the fictional Dracula.
We brilliantly met this guy who claimed to be the real Count Dracula. His family came from Transylvanian Royalty who had fled the area from the nazis. He’d come back to reclaim his birthright and due to his family having since made a lot of money, he was able to return and basically buy this village, ancestral castle and all!
But the best part was getting a carriage, just like Jonathan Harker, up the Carpathian Pass, where the castle sat on the top.
Halfway up we saw this shepherd sat on his own and he may as well have been from the Middle Ages! The whole thing was creepy but brilliant.’
But back to the matter in hand, having seen the film Ghost Stories, I was nervous (and not just because of the official warning of ‘extreme shock and tension). Had I already spoiled my own theatre-going experience? How similar to the film is the theatre production?
‘It’s a completely different experience and very different tonally, for a start. Whereas the film has a very melancholy air to it, the stage show is a lot more energetic.
The great thing about the theatre is that it’s happening before your very eyes which is a very magical thing.
Whereas in the film everything must be literal, you have to have everything pinned down and know what it looks like, part of the magic of theatre is the audience contributes to and becomes an important part of the atmosphere…’
I await my part in proceedings with both excitement and extreme trepidation.