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cinema Culture Manchester Popular culture Preview/review The Arts

Review: Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story

My mum told me this story of being at the cricket at Old Trafford.

Frank Sidebottom had made a glorious appearance (actual Frank – there were many pretenders to the papier-mâché head aesthetic with ‘hilarious’ consequences…)

In fact in Being Frank… John Thomson tells us of Chris Sievey getting out a scrap book he kept at home, of pictures of fan tribute Franks. Terrible, terrible, brilliant tribute Franks.

Some with square heads.

There was only one Frank and that was Chris Sievey (on this occasion, being ejected from Old Trafford for causing a distraction, prompting the ground to erupt in a chant to get him back).

It’s not even my anecdote.

Another is when a friend of a friend went to see Frank perform in a pub, leaving a bag of CDs out on the table (it was the 90s, we bought bags of CDs), only for Frank to casually swipe them on his way past. Said friend of friend never saw them again (it’s ok, it was a cold day in hell when HMV didn’t have a cheap offer on, on CDs).

Again not my anecdote.

They’re not even salacious, exciting, dramatic anecdotes. Just normal ones. But they’re mine (well, not mine).

If you want some others, look to Director and Producer, Steve Sullivan, and the family, friends and acquaintances of one Chris Sievey – the man beneath (in?) the head.

Chris Sievey passed away in 2010 and left behind not just memories of some brilliant, silly, smart, daft, wonderful performances as Frank, but an attic full of notebooks, records, tapes, art and home movies.

I went to see Being Frank previewed at HOME Mcr a few weeks ago and spent 100 minutes that Thursday morning, catapulted into the world of Frank Sidebottom and, indeed, the somewhat lesser known but equally if not more ludicrously fascinating world of Chris Sievey.

Punctuated by previously unseen footage of home videos, art, music and memorabilia, we hear people speak with love, warmth, raw honesty, sometimes sorrow but mostly with laughter, of the person who was a one-man band of creativity and energy.

I sat there and laughed until I cried. Fancy crying on a Thursday morning in t’pictures. Pretty sure I wasn’t the only one.

Frank Sidebottom was and is legendary in these here parts of the North West. And getting to know the brilliant Chris Sievey more only enriches your love for Frank.

Find out:

  • What scuppered Chris getting on TOTP with band, The Freshies,
  • Why his ex-wife ended up having to take the home phone off the hook,
  • What Chris and Bob the Builder have in common; and
  • Just what happened to the head of Little Frank’s girlfriend…it’s dark (it’s not)

By the time, the first time (and only time) we see Chris emerge from within ‘the head’ you won’t be shocked.

Oh hi Chris

(If you know, you know)

You’ll have come to know them as one of the same (although I must be the only person on earth not to have figured out the method behind the voice…)..

With contributions from Jon Ronson, John Cooper Clarke, John Thomson, Johnny Vegas and some other people not actually called John or variations thereof (Mark Radcliffe), it’s a poignant, brilliant, silly, moving, wonderful journey into the head of Frank, the mind of Chris and, well, Timperley.

I do declare it to be the antithesis of bobbins.

Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story is out this Friday 29 March, at HOME Mcr and in cinemas across the U.K. and Ireland.

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Culture Events Manchester Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Review: JB Shorts Reloaded at 53two

The ideal short – film, story, play should leave the audience wanting more without needing more.

Celebrating 10 years of theatre production and story telling, 20 sell-out seasons and 120 world premieres, JB Shorts have brought something extra special to those glorious arches of 53two.

On until 30th March, JB Shorts Reloaded brings six JB Shorts classics back to the stage, featuring both original and new actors to the productions.

Six shorts, I could write a lengthy blog post about each. And wax lyrical about each. And other such clichés. Individually and as a collective, JB Shorts Reloaded brought 90 minutes of laughter, sorrow, shock, captivation and overall entertainment to the table. And indeed the arch.

And come the interval, I was already wishing each short was a long.

Each play so different to the last, as each cast took their bows, I was left wanting (not needing) more, yet within minutes I was already transfixed and enraptured by the next…(In the spirit of the subject, I’ll try keep this short – and no spoilers)

  • At the End of the Day – originally playing March 2009

Featuring Alexandra Maxwell, Philip Shaun McGuinness, Callum Sim, Peter Slater and James Quinn (also writer and director) – please do forgive me Mr Quinn…

to the regiment!

with Aileen Quinn as assistant director, this took us into the familiar world of Premier League post-match coverage, as the action jumped from the studio to the post-match interviews with players and managers alike – each character strangely familiar to us all, each bringing their own brand of wrong.

A joyous 15 minutes of knowing clichés from the footballing world, a laugh out loud start to proceedings. Bawdy, well-observed and, importantly, very, very funny.

  • Banal Encounter – originally playing October 2009

Featuring Andrew Bentley and Laura Littlewood, written by Peter Kerry and directed by Chris Bridgman, in scenes reminiscent of, of course, Brief Encounter, two chippy commuters meet on the platform, time taking them further into each others confidences, swapping pithy stories about each others domestic lives.

So far, so quaint. Until it isn’t.

And as the mood takes a turn for the worst, this short and the talent on stage will leave you thoughtful, moved, shocked…transfixed.

But then there was barely time for recovery as the first half was brought to a close by…

  • Blind Date – originally playing March 2013

Talk about mood shift. Featuring Susan McArdle and Will Travis, written by Dave Simpson and directed by Alice Bartlett, we were catapulted into the heady world of online dating.

Six years from its original debut, the principles of hidden identities on online profiles continues to apply through all social media – intended or not.

Self-promotion is the name of the game but there’s no time for a deep analysis of society today. Because I need to tell you what a riot this short was. Physical, character comedy at its best, I screamed as the two misfits met and their disguises began to unravel.

I didn’t actually scream – that would be mental and I’d probably be asked to leave the arches, forthwith. Anyway, bloody funny and a slight almost twist in the tale.

Now I could, at this point, review my interval drinks but why make my review about shorts into an even longer post than it ironically already is (nice drop of red).

  • Snapshots – originally playing March 2011

Now this was very special in the clever construction of the narrative. Featuring Glenn Cunningham, Julie Edwards, Beth Nolan and Sean Ward, written by Diane Whitley and directed by Rachel Brogan, this short takes us straight into a couple’s anniversary party, hosted by their granddaughter, Zoe. and her (somewhat reluctant) boyfriend.

Laying on a surprise photographic slideshow of their marriage, the latter couple then take on dual roles as the grandparents during their younger years. The different chapters of their relationship are punctuated by each photo, as the elder ,present day, couple add an inner monologue narrative to each picture and its era.

It’s insightful, sad, smart, funny and if my clumsy description of how the play was constructed has you confused, then that’s another reason why I urge you to get tickets. It’s on purpose, you see.

  • The  Outing – originally playing November 2015

Featuring Richard Hawley, Jeni Howarth-Williams and Kerry Willison-Parry, written by Lindsay Williams and directed by Miranda Parker, this short sends us down a path of nostalgia, sentimentality, sweet and safe story-telling as two middle-aged people meet on a coach trip to Conway. Chips, seagulls, castles, paddling, it’s all very seaside postcard.

One word, well ‘name’, wlll make you sit up and take notice as the short sends you down a more sinister path all together and start you thinking, ‘are the parents always to blame?’

Thought-provoking, sensitively done and clever.

But thoughts put on hold, it was time for the final short. What was left to pull out of the bag?

  • Can We Stop it There? – originally playing October 2009

(deep breath) Featuring Arthur Bostrom (yes, it’s really him – I’ll spare you and him any predictable catchphrases – I’m still feeling bad about Mr Quinn), Lucienne Browne, Martelle Edinborough, Darren Jeffries, Emily Spowage and  Rob Stuart-Hudson, written by Trevor Suthers and directed by Brainne Edge (or was it…), this truly was an ensemble piece.

Self-referential, meta, however you want to term it, this wonderful farce in the finest traditional sense, was a cacophony of red herrings, accents, wry looks, bum steers, theatrical nods and in-jokes. It was frantic, funny, riotous and the perfect way to end what was an epic evening of fringe theatre from JB Shorts.

I truly love this form of theatre as I wrote in my post Review – Talk to Yourself at The Kings Arms only a couple of weeks ago.

We’re truly spoiled in this neck of the woods by the accessibility to such talent and with six wonderful shorts each as rich in narrative, production, acting and entertainment as the one it follows, this is your opportunity to see a wealth of talent in a wonderful space, for a wonderful price.

In short, go.

For further details and tickets, see JBShorts.co.uk

Categories
Culture Manchester Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Preview: Renaissance Men at 53two

The marvellously titled Bag of Beard Theatre had me at…

…it’s a Millennial Withnail and I…

when telling me about their show Renaissance Men, coming to 53two on 19 and 20 April.

Fresh from sell out shows at the Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington, this is Manchester’s (and surrounding areas of course – in fact who am I to forbid long-distance travel to this?) chance to see this dark comedy about life, art and friendship.

With desperately sad stories on this issue emerging all too frequently, regarding those we both do and don’t know, this exploration of masculinity and mental health promises to be timely and profound.

Written by James Patrick and Alexander Knott, the play is set in a squalid London flat (sounding familiar?!), and tells the story of Quentin and Irvine, a vow to give up drinking alongside a plan to open an art supply shop to fund their boozing (sounds like a better plan than a simple demand, no?).

The show has already garnered some of the finest reviews available to humanity…

…An utter delight to watch (North West End)

A riotous comedy – topical, original and very funny (Theatre Things)

For tickets and more details visit http://53two.com/renaissance-men/4593772681

Tickets are £10 with £2 unwaged available.

If you need any more convincing, read my love letter to fringe here

Categories
Culture Events Manchester Popular culture Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Review – The Stretch at 53Two

An hour of theatre last night felt like ten years. I don’t mean how that sounds.

Manchester Actors’ Platform (MAP) has brought The Stretch back to the 53two stage from 6 to 15 March, following rave reviews at the JB Shorts Festival.

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Written by Joe Ainsworth and directed by Simon Naylor, the piece follows Lee (James Lewis) who, after making one terrible mistake, faces a 10 year prison sentence.

Photo credit: Sean Mason

The production is largely a monologue by James Lewis who delivers an hour’s prose with passion, wit, rhythm and energy. As Lee bounds into our psyche with protestations of innocence and appeals and incredulity, we are taken into a world of sentences, cells and screws.

Photo credit: Sean Mason

Lee’s anger is tempered by his hopes of an appeal and taking solace from his mother and girlfriend Kelly. Instantly likeable, Lee (and indeed the play itself) quickly wins you round with his bad-lad humour and asides, no more so than when he describes meeting Kelly when she was on a hen night, when she emerged on a wave of inflatable penises (it was either a wave or a sea – I forget. However the inflatable penises firmly lodged themselves in my memory. So to speak).

A screen stage left provides periodic updates on the timeline, each milestone bringing a different Lee. Euphoric, angry, spiced-up, devastated, the audience bears witness to the highs and lows of the character as he is exposed to the dark realities of prison – suicide, pain and drugs, and learns about the lives (and deaths) of loved ones on the outside.

Photo credit: Sean Mason

Supported by a small cast taking on multiple characters including prisoners and officers on the inside and figures from the outside, the entire outfit was strong, their dialogue snappy, one particular actor’s dancing devastating (again, in a good way) and together contributing brilliantly to what was a seamless 60 minute rollercoaster ride of emotions.

And as we eventually learn of the crime that landed the lead in prison, it provokes a question in us (I’m arrogantly speaking for all the audience but I bet I’m not far wrong), as to whether we can find room (and whether we should) to sympathise with the perpetrator as well as the victim, as they reap the consequences of one terrible ‘mistake’.

As outlined in my preview post, The Stretch was written in conjunction with the Pastoral Team at HMP Forest Bank, and based on true experiences, 

The production promised to show the highs and lows of being ‘inside’, and sought to shine a light on the support given to those incarcerated and seeking rehabilitation and an entry back into society and civilisation.

It did and impressively so. The Stretch is another example of why I love fringe theatre, as outlined in my post/love letter earlier this week.

Not content to confine their light-shining to the stage, MAP are collaborating with Manchester poet Argh Kid and holding a fundraiser on Sunday 10 March –  with all proceeds going towards charities that support the rehabilitation of those convicted.

Showing at 53two (LOVE this under the arches atmospheric venue), The Stretch is playing until 15 March. Don’t miss out.

For tickets and more details, visit http://53two.com/the-stretch/4593849274

To learn more about Manchester Actors’ Platform, visit http://www.maplatform.co.uk/

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Culture Manchester Music Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Theatre review: The Magic Flute at The Lowry

Mozart can do no wrong.

It’s not even up for debate.

When I was knee-high to an etc., I went with my parents to Austria, visiting Salzburg along the way and so to the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The actual birthplace – the house.

My Dad, a professional pianist, was keen to fulfill an important pilgrimage, and so off our family did troop to the threshold of what had become a museum.

My diminutive stature gave me away as being of the child variety and my parents were told I was too young to go in.

I mean I’ve seen Amadeus and know some of Wolfie’s antics were a touch saucy, but surely nothing could be behind those doors  which could cause untold anguish and trauma to a 5 year old (I know really it was more likely that I’d touch a manuscript here, a glockenspiel there, or something).

Anyway my Dad went it alone and some 20 odd years later on a repeat visit, I was finally granted access to the place where one of our greatest composers and musicians made his debut onto the world’s stage

Now the main reason for this preamble is that when I was to visit the house all those years later, as enraptured as I was to be in such an important place, my overriding memory will always be the hugely sinister mannequins in the doorway whose faces were superimposed with the holographic faces of Opera singers treating us to some of Mozart’s finest work – on this occasion, The Magic Flute.

The audio and of course the music was wonderful. The spectacle was nothing short of terrifying.

And so what a contrast to the beautiful production of said opera, brought to the Lowry Theatre by the wonderful Opera North.

The Magic Flute follows the adventures of Prince Tamino (Kang Wang) as he sets off on a quest to rescue Pamina (Vuvu Mpofu) from the clutches of Sarastro – the Priest of the Sun.

The score, of course, will set any rendition off on the right foot but you need the vocals, the musicians, the aesthetic, the acting and the heart of the production to live upto the music – no mean feat.

Just before curtain up, we were informed that male lead, Kang Wang, was suffering a cold and hoped that it didn’t affect our enjoyment. It did not. It really did not. My ear did not detect anything that wasn’t moving, rousing, tuneful and respectful to the piece – goodness knows how he sounds when at full health!

I do not know of the health of female lead, Vuvu Mpofu, but going off her performance, I would say ‘a clean bill’. Spirited, passionate and spectacular.

The orchestra, conducted by Robert Howarth, were both a sight and sound to behold – my elevated position in the circle treated me to the privilege of being to watch the musicians as they performed and felt the score in front of them.

Whilst one could sit back, shut one’s eyes and be taken to a place of joy by the sounds alone, one should really see this production with eyes open (and one should really stop with the ‘one’ thing now).

The visual beauty of the colours, the floral projections and the striking costumes complimented the audio beauty perfectly.

It wasn’t all flowers and birdsong – and speaking of which – there was humour too, brought to us by the wonderful bird-catcher himself, Papageno, with a witty performance from Gavan Ring, bringing the light relief (and a touch of the Irish) to the production.

There was also the early appearance of two huge…tentacles(?)…akin to something out of Beetlejuice and in danger of competing with the unearthly Salzburg mannequins for the ‘Most likely to give me a Mozart-themed nightmare’ award.

Putting my inner-psyche aside, for one moment, this new production, directed by James Brining and designed by Colin Richmond, brought a treat to the senses to all in Salford that evening.

Special mention to the theatre staff who let me in.

For details of future performances, please visit:

https://thelowry.com/whats-on/the-magic-flute/

https://www.operanorth.co.uk/whats-on/the-magic-flute/

 

 

 

 

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Culture Events Manchester Popular culture Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Review – Talk to Yourself at The Kings Arms

I was going to start this post off with the sentiment,

I love Manchester.

It’s true, I’ve got a t-shirt with it on and everything.

But to do so, I would have committed the cardinal sin of referring to a ‘happening’, an ‘event, an ‘occurrence’ as being in Manchester rather than Salford. I do this an incredible amount of times when referring to anything at the Lowry or Salford Quays (the clue’s in the name, for goodness sake) or indeed MediaCity.

So technically

I love Salford

For Salford is the scene and setting for The Kings Arms, that glorious old pub which pumps the finest ales known to humanity downstairs, and hosts talent and creativity upstairs.

And it is in Salford (and Manchester too) where, on a Monday evening, you can bear witness to bold, experimental, unabridged, unapologetic theatre and even contribute to the development of said performance.

Hosted by Mike Heath and Salford Development Week, Talk To Yourself is a production from YEAP , a theatre company based in Manchester. Salford Development Week is a fantastic opportunity for both writers and performers to try out their work and for audiences to provide feedback and contribute to the development process.

And this is what I mean by I love Salford – for having such a brilliant place as the characteristic Kings Arms where you can spend a wet Monday evening exposed to such opportunity and, well, entertainment.

And I love Manchester because I just do. And because it’s such a hive of creativity,  producing such set ups as YEAP.

We’re lucky us Mancunians, Salfordians, North Westians – original and honorary.

Talk to Yourself was a script in hand performance, written by Lea Fante and directed by Adriana Buonfantino, and was a monologue based on true stories and experiences of pregnancy, focusing on the subject of abortion.

The experimental part of the piece, for me, was the dialogue between the woman reflecting on previous experience, and debating her current situation (Lucy Temby), with interjections from a nameless…computer? robot? being? side stage (Diana Atkins) who provides stone cold objective statistics on abortion – a contrast to the emotive and strong musings and indeed performance on stage.

Theatre and indeed all facets of the arts are subjective. A piece is only realised/finalised/completed when it has provoked an emotion, reaction, a response from another person.

To judge a performance is akin to judging a reaction – there’s no right or wrong. I prefer not to critique theatre itself, only reflect on how it made me feel.

For the record though, the evening including the performance, venue and a forum for feedback, gave good epitome of fringe theatre; raw, brave, thought-provoking, intimate, uncomfortable, real.

And, to be honest and simple, thoroughly enjoyable. I was left longing to learn more.

Whilst my own feedback is neither technical nor specific , I hope what is clearly a love letter to fringe theatre tells you what you need to know (I might get that printed on a t-shirt).

Curtain call please for the YEAP , The Kings Arms and Salford Development Week

Click on the links for more details.

 

 

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Culture Manchester News Popular culture preview The Arts Theatre

Preview: The Stretch at 53two

Fringe theatre excites me the most – it has the creative freedom to tackle the nitty, the gritty, and the downright…well, yes, dirty.

MAP Productions are bringing The Stretch back to the 53two stage from 6 to 15 March, following rave reviews at the JB Shorts Festival.

Photo credit: Sean Mason

Written by Joe Ainsworth and directed by Simon Naylor, the piece follows Lee (James Lewis) who, after making one terrible mistake, faces a 10 year prison sentence.

Promising to be powerful, The Stretch will show the highs and lows of being ‘inside’ and is seeking to shine a light on the support given to those incarcerated and seeking rehabilitation and an entry back into society and civilisation.

Photo credit: Sean Mason

Written in conjunction with the Pastoral Team at HMP Forest Bank, and based on true experiences, the play will take Manchester audiences on a poignant journey behind bars when life takes a terrible turn after one horrible decision.

Head to the 53two website for tickets and more information. Unwaged tickets are available for each performance.

Review to follow. See you there…

53two, Albion Street, Manchester

MAP Productions