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Theatre Review – Now or Never by Circa Tsuica – aka what did I just see?

I haven’t been to the circus since 1985. Well that was true until a couple of weeks ago.

Circuses (circii?) are like buses etc etc.

People with a passion for reading about circus-based shows showing in Manchester in August by a local blogger, will be familiar with the anecdote told in my post Theatre review: Switch and Tipping Point, when my mum unwittingly became part of a circus show – a clown/basically thief stole her purse in the foyer, throwing her into a pre-show frenzy – only to have it presented to her from the ring in the opening minutes of the performance. Oh how she laughed.

Audience participation in circii (I’m going with it) and indeed most show genres reached whole new levels last night, at the Lowry Theatre with the show Now or Never by contemporary French outfit, Circa Tsuica.

I say at the Lowry, an enormous big top has been erected on the plaza in front until Saturday 1 September, showcasing this fusion of acrobatics and brass rhythms along with 20 young musicians from the MAPAS Jazz Band, Salford.

Well what does that mean? It’s difficult to describe.


…I hear you say, one reader.

Ok. Now when you read what I’m about to write, understand that this is what happened, this is what I saw, and is not the result of any fevered temperature or illegal substances.

Entering the big top to a cacophony of brass and woodwind, myself and my plus 1 of the husband nature, were greeted by…at this point I need to make a decision as to whether I call them clowns, musicians, acrobats, performers…I’m going to go with performer as the safe option. We were greeted by a performer who immediately embraced each of us with a European double cheeked kiss and a plastic tumbler.

In a kind of trance, we took our tumblers into the ring to have them filled with lemonade by a performer on a unicycle, before heading off to be served crepes at a stall. However, our journey to said stall was briefly interrupted by my husband getting a back massage from a performer with two drumsticks.

Still with me?

As the audience took their seats, crepes and lemonade in hand in a deeper trance, we were then taken through 90 minutes of music and circus, acrobatics and trick-cycling all to a soundtrack that felt like a New Orleans-esque, minor key funeral march.

I spent half the performance in open-mouthed wonderment at what can only be described as a spectacle, the other half terrified I was going to be extending my audience participation remit beyond being fed crepes or massaged with sticks, to slow dancing with a performer playing a trumpet or balancing on the back of a bike.

The last time I felt such tension was as a child at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, when worried I was going to be called on stage to make the animal noises in a raucous performance of Old McDonald Had a Farm (I couldn’t do pig noises).

I have to say this tense state was all on me as plenty of audience members, young and old, were less physically and socially contorted than myself and eager and happy to join in the goings-on before us. And I enjoyed these goings-on immensely.

The only concern I was left with is

‘how on earth do I describe what I’ve just witnessed?

Short of drawing on comparisons to Cirque de Clunes in Alan Partridge’s Knowing Me, Knowing You, I settled on the trippy, clumsy descriptions above, the photographs interspersed and this public information message:

If you want to bear witness to something unique, exciting, bizarre, unprecedented, exhilarating, funny, odd, bonkers and jaw-dropping – go and see Now or Never at the Lowry Theatre – on until Saturday 1 September.

Click here for times, details, tickets and a brave attempt to describe what you’re in for.


Penguin Pride – less a review, more a tribute

I will write about anything.  Wax lyrical, opine, muse, reminisce, waffle, bore – whatever you want to call it. It’s my comfort zone.

In this, my blog, all is in the context of Manchester – this wonderful city and my home for the last 18 years. Be it food, music, art, theatre, people, trams, bees, bars…anything.

And the term ‘review’ is not one that sits comfortably with me as I worry it suggests an arrogance, an opinion from a more informed position, a critique. With this, I never star or rate anything – I prefer to talk about it, relate my own experience, draw back to perhaps a related (tenuous) experience from my past or just celebrate basically brilliant stuff happening in Manchester – be it a beautiful bowl of pasta, a euphoria inducing glass of fizz, a dynamic and exciting theatre production put on anywhere from the biggest stage to the smallest bar or the wonderfully entertaining, annoying, comforting, infuriating experience of the daily tram commute.

This occurred yet again to me last night, whilst considering my ‘review’ of Penguin Pride.


How does one ‘review’ an event, a show, a line-up of wonderful LGBTQ+ artists, writers, and their experiences, work, words and opinions? You don’t, you just write about what you took away from it.

Having said that (to quote Larry David), a quick word about the venue. I’ve never been to anything at the grand building that is the Z-arts centre and so didn’t know what to expect (I mean I’d googled it so did slightly). Located in Hulme near the Arch Bridge, the first takeaway from Penguin Pride is the existence of this creative hub, with a focus on young people.

Getting to it, my post, *Preview* Penguin Pride comes to Manchester, provides the line-up and brief back-stories, back catalogues etc. of all the wonderful and talented authors, writers, poets…, and so I’m going to largely limit my post to the inspiration I took from each.

In fact our esteemed, warm, funny, commanding, enigmatic host,  Toby Campion, asked us at the top of the night to pledge to celebrate the talent of those to come from buying their book or even just looking them up, learning more about them and just generally acknowledging their work.

And so I (hope) to fulfil my pledge with my take-homes below (as well as purchase a couple of the books but I wouldn’t be so gauche as to play favourites and say which).

Paul Flynn – acclaimed arts journalist and columnist for Attitude. Paul read a couple of excerpts from his book, Good As You: From Prejudice to Pride.

  • He inspired me with his tale of determination from the get-go to write, the journey he took to fulfil this despite his careers teacher ‘managing expectations’. Note to careers teachers or indeed anyone – stop managing expectations. Let us expect, dream, hope, plan.
  • He made me proud as he talked about the fabric of Manchester, the location and cultural backdrop to his story, the story of the Section 28 protest march.
  • He made me cry when he told of a friend who died from AIDS and as he wished us Happy Pride, his voice-cracking in the wake of taking us through this story. He made me note down the title of his book.

Ella Otomewo – performance poet and member of Young Identity and M(.)IST Collective – a group of queer female artists working across various art-forms.

  • Ella made me smile, first and foremost. Her presence, energy and delivery is warm, lovely, open and passionate.
  • She made me realise that the introduction to each poem indeed formed part of the poem to the point where I didn’t know where one ended and the other began.  And I liked this as the context and the content were indeed one.
  • I also took a wonderful analogy, term and realisation and reassurance for a situation from my past where I often wondered how I had left matters drift for so long. Cooking in the Dark – you’re cooking, chopping, making, creating for so long, so into your activity that you don’t realise that darkness has fallen  It’s happened so gradually that you’re in it and you’ve become accustomed to it and it’s not like you’ve ‘cut or burnt’ yourself so, it’s…fine.

Kirsty Logan – a Glasgow-based writer and whose short story collection, The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales, was awarded the Polari First Book Prize.

  • Kirsty made me laugh with stories of literal ‘heartbreak’ – to continue her analogy of each relationship equating to a rented heart which become damaged and affected – or did the condition of the heart at the point of rental dictate the relationship? And can I call the heartbreak literal if the heartbreak is indeed still an analogy. And so all these questions prove two things; either I am being incredibly dense or Kirsty’s writing, themes and musings are layered with such sophistication and thought-provoking imagery that it is testament to this that I am still  pondering now.
  • I took an admiration as to how she took a bad experience from her life, ran with it and four books later is here making us laugh on stage in a frankly fabulous shimmery dress.
  • I took stock of Kirsty’s incredible imagination and talent for fantasy and the blurred lines between this and reality – from mermaids to, yes, period sex
  • Lastly I took the phrase ‘circus boat’ home with me, and a wish to sail on one.

Andrew McMillan – an award-winning Yorkshire poet and commanding presence on stage. Andrew read to us from his new collection, Playtime, which ‘explores the different ways we grow into our sexual selves and our adult identifies’.

  • I took from Andrew, and forgive me, visually, at first. I took in his pleasing slogan t-shirt ‘Bibliosexual’. The good old urban dictionary gives the definition as,

a person, who is so deeply enthralled with books they discuss it with a level of passion that most people reserve for sex

Now I can’t/won’t comment on whether levels reached that dizzy height in the theatre last night. But I will comment that I became uncharacteristically captivated by the phallic shadow cast onto the otherwise plain t-shirt by the mic. Apt, and probably incredibly annoying of me, given how Andrew shared one person’s description of his work ‘penis poems’.

  • I took not only words but music from Andrew’s rhythmic, captivating and lilting delivery of the text he’d written, the feelings he’d felt, the observations he’d made…
  • I also took notice of the nagging voice forever inside me telling me to finally apply for that post-grad writing course, learning that Andrew is an example of  the calibre of tutors at MMU, guiding, inspiring and evoking others to lay bare their talents and indeed soul.
  • I took down the name of his book.

Kate O’Donnell – an award-winning transgender activist and artistic director brought a touch of the theatrical to proceedings. In a total homage to 1930s song and dance, she crossed the stage in sartorial style, with a musical interlude to pay both passionate and comical tribute to her transgender story.

  • I took from Kate the stark reminder that it’s still only a very short time ago that the transgender community weren’t recognised/’tolerated’/understand/represented/accurately termed. Indeed, Eddie Izzard in his recent autobiography only recently publicly termed himself transgender (although having identified years ago ), as the only ‘leveller’ term he felt able to use was transvestite (albeit, an action one).
  • I then took heart at how after so long, the terms transgender is recognised if not yet fully understood by more and more of our population. I, as a ‘straight woman’, understand that I will always be slightly lagging in my knowledge of issues facing the LGBTQ+ community. Because, of course, whilst identification will lead, the rest of us can but catch up with education, awareness, compassion and recognition.
  • Leading into my final lesson from Kate – I realised where I was with my own understanding and education. I listened as it was flagged that Eddie Redmayne cast as a transgender character is still inherently wrong. But aren’t we achieving something that this film is even being made, I wondered. And how wide is the pool of transgender actors anyway, from which this role could be filled? And then the penny dropped that the very fact that I was wondering this, highlighted just how far we’ve got to go. Thank you Kate.

And finally, I return to our very wonderful host for the evening and act in his own right.

Toby Campion – the award-winning poet, performer, playwright and bringer togetherer of the audience.

His togethering included urging us all to spend 35 seconds getting to know one person sat near us. My predictable social-anxiety induced horror at this prospect was soon replaced by the horror of rejection when I realised that those to the front side and back of me had already coupled up and were in mid-convo. Christ I was like someone on Love Island, if I watched that and knew what it was (of course I did/I do).

Toby also made the event a safe-space, urging us to recognise any feelings of discomfort induced by ‘triggers’ which may lie in the subject matter.

  • He made me laugh ‘out loud’ whilst reading aloud words scribbled down in a drunken haze, with the intention that they would later serve to assist with the writing of a piece of prose, describing a significant meeting in McDonalds with ‘Marcus’, a brief object of  lust and fixation.
  • He made me cry with his words in a piece called Haircut. His parents; his Dad’s hair, his mother’s act, an incredibly moving and real reading of an act and indeed a meaning of what love is and can be.
  • He also brought us back to a state of calm and still, together as an audience, encouraging us to take in a quick in and out deep breath, to centre us back to a state of relaxation when having been taken to a place of heightened emotion by a passage of writing or prose.

And it is testament to all on stage last night that this brief exercise in calm was a very required and welcome addition to the show.

With apologies for the lengthy erm length of this post (again testament to the experience), and in the words of Paul Flynn,

Happy Pride!

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Theatre review: Switch and Tipping Point

I last went to the circus in Great Yarmouth circa 1985.

Obviously this was a remarkable feat considering I hadn’t yet been born.

Ok, I’d been born a bit and enough to remember the thrills, spills, gasps and heart-stopping happenings that went on – and that was before we’d set foot in the ‘big-top’.

My lovely mum is a meticulous checker. She likes to check she has everything before moving onto the next location, situation, other things ending in ‘ation.

I’m the same – I’m constantly declaring after a frantic rummage in my bag that I’ve

lost my phone!

Such is the frequency of these desperate and frankly inaccurate declarations, that I’ve been told that I’m now only allowed to exclaim

I don’t have an immediate visual on my phone but I’m sure if I calmed down and stopped over-dramatizing everything, it would reveal itself in my bag during the next second.

or something.

And so, just as we were to leave the foyer and enter the theatre, our excitement was brought to a halt by a frantic mother,

I’ve lost my purse!

purse AND chequebook, no less (the 80s ahhh).

My poor mother retraced her steps with a tension only known to a parent torn between finding the source of all financial security and life itself – and two sulking children who were but steps away from a world of wonderment and delight.

The two sulking children won out and oh how we laughed when early into the performance, a clown revealed that he had pickpocketed my mum in the foyer, gleefully bounding upto our seats with her purse.

I say we laughed – my mum was torn between an unequivocal sense of relief and the innate need to inflict violence and provoke some tears of a clown.

And so we finally come onto the point of this post and the rather wonderful and dramatic (for very different reasons) spectacle that was last night’s show at Upper Campfield Market – Switch and Tipping Point.

But why the overly indulgent and long anecdote about a thief clown? you ask.

Well I guess this is the closest thing to the circus spectacle I have come to since, with a heavy emphasis on ‘closest’ – for this was contemporary and a million miles away from clowns and strongmen.

In a double bill between Ockham’s Razor and Contact , myself and fellow audience members were treated to a wonderful evening of dance, meets acrobatics, meets aerial performance  with a stunning soundtrack to match.

Contact’s home on Oxford Road is currently undergoing building transformation and so its 2018 season is on a Manchester-centric tour of surprising and amazing venues. I was both surprised and amazed at last night’s location of Upper Campfield Market Hall, Deansgate, as previous to this, it was known to me as ‘that bit near Dimitris – there’s a gate’.

To the point where you could even see daylight through its…well not thatched but ‘something’ roof, it was a brilliant urban setting and one which made me declare (quietly)…

All things should be set in market halls forever

I live in Altrincham. It’s ingrained.

Beginning with Switch, this performance from Contact, was indeed developed with Ockham’s Razor, and featured young people from North Manchester. Both visually and symphonically, the performance with movement drawn from circus, dance and object manipulation, was hypnotic – not least the rhythmic sounds produced by the sticks held, twisted, turned, swung, brandished, swivelled, balanced, carried and…well, mastered.

Credit – Lee Baxter

It’s unbelievably difficult to try and describe, sum up, review artistic performance such as this as visuals, opinion, interpretation and indeed subjectivity are key. Indeed we’re told in the accompanying notes that the performance – sometimes as a unit, sometimes in battle, sometimes in unison, sometimes picking out its victim amongst the group, was to symbolise and reflect community, inclusion and integration.

Credit – Lee Baxter

And so I will say that the performance was intense, powerful, seamless and strong and indeed any implied parallels to life’s struggles, strains and joys came through with just the right amount of subtlety and clarity.

After 5 minutes to reset the stage, we were straight into the next performance – Ockham’s Razor’s aerial extravaganza.

Credit – Mark Dawson Photography

Sticks gave way to poles and the five performers added a visual to the concept of the circus ring, immediately creating a circle within which all movement took place.

Movement and manipulation of the poles was daring, graceful, elegant, masterful, comedic and beautiful.

Credit – Mark Dawson Photography

You would swear that the five performers weighed next to nothing, as they seemingly defied gravity, their lack of wings and all which we know of the laws of physics (I got a B, I know some), as they leapt, swung, balanced, teetered and flew through the air before us.

Credit – Mark Dawson Photography

I wasn’t the only audience member open-mouthed (I hope, anyway – I did have an element of ‘gawp’ about me last night) as we were treated to an hour of graceful performance and emotive music.

With a festival atmosphere in the hall – street food stalls and drinks surround the inner sanctum ‘stage’, audiences young and old will be transfixed by this show – go and see something different and if we all leave with the same look of wonderment I saw on a little girl’s face on the front row, then Contact and Ockham’s Razor are doing something very right.

And nobody stole my purse so, you know, winning!

Only on until Sunday 19 August,  don’t waste anymore time and head to

Switch and Tipping Point take place at Upper Campfield Market Hall, Wed 15 – Sat 18 Aug, 7pm, with 2pm performances Sat 18 and Sun 19. Tickets are on sale now priced £15/£10 concessions available securely online at or by phone on  0161 274 0600.

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*Preview* Penguin Pride comes to Manchester

Penguin Pride is winging its way to Manchester next week, with a wonderful line-up of LGBTQ+ writers, poets and performers to celebrate the city’s incredible diversity.

Taking place at Z-Arts on Thursday 23 August, poet and playwright Toby Campion hosts this special event which will showcase some of the UK’s most exciting queer talent.


Presented in partnership with GAY TIMES and Manchester Literature Festival, the line-up includes:

  • Kate O’Donnell, an award-winning, transgender theatre maker, activist and artistic director. She’s currently touring the autobiographical show You’ve Changed.
  • Paul Flynn, an acclaimed arts journalist and columnist for Attitude. His book, Good As You: From Prejudice to Pride, has been praised as ‘one of the most important books about gay culture in recent times.’
  • Kirsty Logan, a Glasgow based writer whose books include The Gloaming, The Gracekeepers and A Portable Shelter. Her short story collection, The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales, was awarded the Polari First Book Prize and featured twenty tales of lust and loss, lascivious queens, paper men and island circuses.
  • Andrew McMillan, an award-winning Yorkshire poet. His new collection, Playtime, explores the different ways we grow into our sexual selves and our adult identities.
  • Manchester-based performance poet Ella Otomewo, who is a member of Young Identity and M(.)IST Collective, a collective of queer female artists working across various art-forms. Her work is feminist, personal, powerful and candid.

Each ticket sold will include a £1 donation towards the great work done by The Albert Kennedy Trust, a national LGBTQ+ youth homelessness charity.

So what are you waiting for? For further info and to p-p-p-pick up a ticket (I’m really sorry Penguin Pride), visit

Doors open 6.30pm. The event will run 7.30-10pm including intervals.

If I haven’t been banned for that appalling pun, I’ll see you there!

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New menu, same high quality from Malmaison – gastro gallery

To get an invitation to try the new menu at Malmaison Manchester is to be filled with trepidation and anticipation.

Trepidation because how could it match up to previous experiences:

Fall fork first into autumn at Malmaison

Malmaison brings the Millennial touch to Afternoon Tea 

It did and it was fabulous.

Tried and tested for organic mancs, honorary mancs, visitors to manc, new additions to this summer menu at Malmaison include the rather wonderful…

Pan fried sea scallops, red pepper puree, tapenade, samphire and sauce vierge…

Seared soy glazed salmon, crunchy hot and sour salad, toasted cashew nuts, red chilli, pousse and crisp gem lettuce (shhh my favourite and I’m not even a big salmon eater)…

Summer stew of grilled Merguez sausages, cannellini beans tomatoes, parsley, garlic and grilled Altamura bread (those sausages pack a punch – spicy, hot but nothing heavy about that dish)…

Burgers on offer are –

  • Ayrshire bacon and gruyere cheese
  • Chez Mal breaded buttermilk chicken, tangy tomato chutney, melted Reblochon cheese and pomme frites
  • Mushroom chestnut and field mushroom, grilled Romano pepper, pommes frites and mushroom jalapeno marmalade.
  • Selection, slider-style below:
  • Steaks from the josper grill:

    Chez Mal’s exclusive UK 28 day aged beef, all served with whole baked vine tomato, onion rings and green salad:

    450g T bone

    450g Bone in sirloin

    450g prime rib (tried, tested and pictured below)…

    Chez Mal still brings afternoon tea to the table, the sweet side bringing seasonal cheesecake, salted caramel chocolate brownie, Bakewell tart, double chocolate cupcake & seasonal fruit shake, along with fruit or plain scones, clotted cream & strawberry jam

    For all details including menus and reservations, please visit the Malmaison Manchester website.