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All aboard for Brief Encounter – destination West End, first stop Salford…

I’ve been commuting since I was 12 years old, getting the bus to school, 2.9miles away (that 0.1 is very important given that it disqualified me from the free bus pass that the elusive and illustrious 3 mile commute brought you).

Buses gave way to trains once starting uni and then work, and I seriously think after daily commutes including Leeds, Liverpool and Wigan from the Manchester ‘burbs, I should be decorated with some sort of honour – bravery through adversity or something…

These days I’m back working in Manchester city centre, delivered there through the medium of tram.Don’t get me wrong, as much as I love them, they are not without their issues and, as with most commutes, the issues are the other people Recognise the Tram Tribes?

And so, we come to Brief Encounter, one of my favourite stories and films.Noël Coward’s story and 1945 film directed by David Lean, tells the story of two commuters who meet by chance in a station waiting/tea room.

In roles made famous by Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson, He a doctor, removes something from her eye. She, a housewife, lets him.

And so, a love affair begins, made ever more powerful that…(Spoiler Alert – scroll below the train if you haven’t seen the film)


***…it remains unconsummated before both parties go their separate ways, back to their spouses, children and lives; she in 1930s surburbia, he in a hastily yet convenient decision and opportunity to work out in South Africa.***


Now don’t get me wrong, very happily paired up with my plus 1, I’m not seeking out my own station tea room tryst (aka Starbucks), but there is something romantic about the train station (stop picturing Piccadilly Station, naysayers). People being reunited, saying goodbye…and, in this case, meeting for the first time.

If you haven’t already, go forth and watch the film.

But enough of the original source and basic premise, this week (20-24 February 2018), the North West is being treated to an original take on Brief Encounter as brought to the Lowry Theatre, Salford by company Kneehigh Theatre.

Like nothing I’ve seen before, the award-winning production, is adapted and directed by Emma Rice, and produced by David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers, Jenny and Steve Wiener and The Old Vic.

It brings together a stellar cast who deliver energetic performances non-stop, from their interactive relationship with the audience from before curtain up (keep your ears open and your eyes peeled) to curtain down.

(Jim Sturgeon as Alec and the full cast, credit: Steve Tanner)
(Dean Nolan as Fred and Isabel Pollen as Laura, credit: Steve Tanner)

Between them they bring the music, the singing, the acting, the props, the almost tongue in cheek special effects, and the laughter.

(Jos Slovick as Stanley & Beverly Rudd as Beryl, credit: Steve Tanner)

You may be surprised about the laughs. Admittedly there are more than in the more emotive film version of the story, but it’s important to remember the light relief brought by characters Albert Godby, Myrtle Bagot and Beryl Walters on the big screen.

It is perhaps in all of the supporting characters (but by no means supporting cast) that this production excels – the story of Laura and Alec almost providing the bridges to the next scene involving the other characters. At the very least, the footing feels equal.

(Lucy Thackeray as Myrtle, credit: Steve Tanner)

This is absolutely no slight on the scenes involving the central players, more a compliment to the production that the limelight was shared so well between all characters in a story where this would be thought impossible.

(Isabel Pollen as Laura, Jim Sturgeon as Alec, credit: Steve Tanner)

The final station tea room scene (no spoilers, fear not) is no less powerful and moving than that of the film (anyone seated next to me – I just had some grit in my eye, is all).

Lucy Thackeray as Myrtle, credit Steve Tanner

The original music by Stu Barker, and performance of said music, is jaunty and humorous, moving and sometimes melancholy- all as appropriate.

(Katrina Kleve, Lucy Thackeray & Beverly Rudd, credit: Steve Tanner)

Cue outcry from those, who like me, insist that in Brief Encounter there are three in that affair; Laura, Alec and Rachmaninov.Fear not, the stage production brings those powerful strains to the table as well.

At 90 minutes, without an interval, the audience is kept captivated by constant switches between music and word, live action and projected images, costume changes and the aforementioned ingenious props (look out for the toy train).

(Isabel Pollen as Laura, credit: Steve Tanner)

With three more performances at The Lowry before the show moves to a run in the West End, jump on board and don’t miss your chance to see this original take on a classic story.

Failing that, there’s always the Pendolino, but watch out for those lurking in Starbucks whilst you wait…

All the Deets.

ps thank you for retaining my two favourite lines…Funny

Oh mummmyyyy

And heartbreaking

Thank you for coming back to me

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eXchange Food and Drink Lounge – call me ☎️

It’s a rare day I pick up when my phone rings. It’s a hell freezes over day I call someone else.

I’m not a monster, a social pariah, arrogance personified. I guess you could call me the ultimate screener. But it’s not through a sense of selecting who I want to talk to. It’s more blanket than that – I don’t want to talk to anyone. On the telephone that is.

What is this sorcery? You can hear them, you can speak to them, but you can’t see their facial expressions.

I’m a face reader, ready to add all sorts of dramatic interpretation to your expression in response to my ‘hello, it’s (insert real name here)’. How can I apply a wild assumption without a face to go on?

The telephone ☎️📞. Not my best friend.

But why the random, slightly odd confession? Why it’s my not totally tenuous link to the location of my latest Manchester dining experience: eXchange Food and Drink Lounge. Built on the location of what was a telephone exchange back in the 1890s, I love a nod to the past and eXchange Food and Drink Lounge on Portland Street does this well – not only in its name but in its interior decor.

Whilst I may have a deep neurotic suspicion of the telephone, I do enjoy a tasteful telephone aesthetic.

And so, with no danger of having to use any of pictured receivers, it was a relaxed honorary manc who settled down for an early Friday evening dinner.

There were lots of different groups in – families, couples, friends, dads and their lads (my Manchester United supporting plus 1 (other good clubs available) using his powers of deduction to dramatically declare…

United are at home tomorrow).

And at a glance, the menu caters for all and is what you might categorise as ‘good grub’, offering staple sections of salads, burgers, pizzas and mains including dishes such as rib eye steak, Pieminister pie, mash and gravy, and sweet potato and spinach curry.

And whilst there is absolutely nothing wrong with good honest grub, as it were, I actually think to call it only this would be doing eXchange a disservice because our experience there was that it was much more.

The thing that caught my eye immediately on the starters menu was ‘croquette of the week’.

The ‘of the week’ concept rarely stretching beyond sausages and pies, (and the croquette being a rare sight on any menu), it was a no brainer. I was having croquette of the week, no matter what filled its breadcrumby exterior (mixed seafood).

It was everything I hoped for and more. Or, to be more accurate, they were. Three (count them) beautifully golden crunchy croquettes filled with a fluffy, warm potato seafood mix, accompanied by a lovely tartare sauce dip.

Comfort on a plate.

My ‘actual manc plus 1’ diner dived into the fish tacos and declared them delicious.

I ‘dove’ in too and concurred.

Again this isn’t something you’d often see on a menu and, as with all dishes at eXchange, whilst at first sight they are the staples you’d expect, there’s originality and a level of freshness injected to some of its offerings, whilst keeping it simple enough to cater to a wide dining demographic.

Without particular intention (although I did declare I’d start the year vegetarian until I ate a sausage roll by mistake), I kept to a meat-free theme and chose the haddock and chips for my main.

You (I) want to see golden batter, soft white flaky fish and big, bold, ‘crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside’ chips, when I order such a dish. I got it.

The batter was light and the flavours ran through to the chips underneath. A self-declare connoisseur, I really need to write a Top 10 Manchester chips blog at some point, if only to give myself an excuse to indulge. Anyway, I’d put these thick cut chips in that list.

‘Actual manc plus 1’ chose the ‘Good Vibes’ burger and good vibes indeed were experienced from the cajun chicken breast with slaw, jerk mayo and mango salsa.

He also had the good fortune to choose the thick cut chips which also worked for me, as I didn’t have to share a single one of mine.

Before our puddings, our lovely server, recommended a delicious drink. In fact I’m going to halt here just to say what great service we had from our server from start to finish and whose name I wish I’d asked (not in a creepy way) – he was friendly, lovely, polite, infectiously smiley and his recommendations were spot on – thank you.

Anyway, speaking of which we both enjoyed (we being my fellow diner and I, not our server although I would have happily bought him a drink had he not been working – again not in a creepy way) a beautifully presented Original Manchester Gin with elderflower tonic, which was like summer (remember that?) in a glass.

You might be bold enough to question the timing of my gin, given that I had wine with my starter and main. Well, to quote Tony Wilson,

This is Manchester. We do things differently.

And so it was into pudding and what a treat. Admittedly there was something of a wait between these two courses but I didn’t mind this – time to enjoy your drinks, you don’t feel rushed and some waiting time removes the danger of feeling too full and unable to enjoy your next course. Which we absolutely did.

We chose the trio of creme brulee, the trio being chocolate, coffee and vanilla…

and ‘Chef Chris’s’ chocolate brownie, served with chocolate sauce and amazing salted caramel ice cream – Chef Chris? Our compliments…

Throwing myself head first back into the telephone analogy (and putting aside my own personal aversion to telephone calls – it’s important we ignore that for a moment), allow me to liken our experience to such –

eXchange Food and Drink Lounge, we’ve added you to our friends and family.

Sorry that was terrible, wasn’t it?

Let’s keep it simple,

eXchange Food and Drink Lounge, if you called, we’d always pick up.

Not much better.

Just basically go and try their great food in relaxed surroundings – you won’t be disappointed.

Telephones etc.

All the deets