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Review: Paul Mason’s Clear Bright Future – Penguin Live

I’ve been to a few book readings/launches/talks now.

Two of those have been under the Penguin Live moniker (the first being the rather marvellous Penguin Pride – less a review, more a tribute.

As someone who has earned their stripes as a regular book club member to boot, talking about a book retrospectively can have its merits – it can also have its arguments too…(the Snowman was terrible and I stand firm on that – oh Nesbo’s, not Briggs’ – I’m not a monster).

But what is life if not for differing perspectives, opinions and a good old literary ruck.

What’s even more rewarding is bringing a book to life, and certainly a book of non-fiction, by having the author either read their words or discuss their premise/theories/beliefs/hyphotheses.

An amuse bouche to the book, if you like. In some cases, the book’s content and reputation proceeds even this early stage and the literary tour consequently goes away (mentioning no names. Well, I mean, it’s Moby, isn’t it).

Penguin Live events serve as a living, breathing preview to a piece of work that you can immediately own, take home, devour, reflect back on discussions.

You might say it’s a try before you buy. I mean I wouldn’t say that as it sounds a bit basic. Ok, I just have, but it’s so much more.

Writer, film-maker and leading thinker, Paul Mason, gave us ‘so much more’ at the Dancehouse Theatre in Manchester, last month: Penguin Live: Paul Mason’s Clear Bright Future

Interviewed by fellow Wigan-er (Leigh-er?) Stuart Maconie, Paul shared a taster of his new book ‘Clear Bright Future – a radical defence of the human being.

To paraphrase dear old Macca, in this ever-changing world in which we live in, we can give in and cry or we can try and see a future where we have…well a future and still have some say in proceedings.

Just in case you’ve managed to avoid all media outlets and live in a blissful bubble of ignorance and, well probably general happiness as a consequence, the three main threats outlined by the book are:

  • the rise of authoritarian politicians,
  • the possibility of intelligent machines; and
  • a spreading fatalism and irrationality, which has made millions susceptible to the mythologies of the new right.

Yes, I know, but remember that the title of the book is Clear Bright Future and I don’t think it’s weighed down in sarcasm.

Take for instance the prospect of intelligent machines. Man vs Machine.

Now our thoughts can go all 2001’s Hal at this, but that’s not to say the technology will. I mean it might, but we still get a day in this too.

Indeed, Paul (sorry, I always feel awkward with the last name thing, as though I were his headmaster so forgive the perhaps overly familiar use of the first), points out that if driver-less cars take ‘our jobs’, perhaps it frees up those who drive for a living a more ‘interesting’ option.

One main thrust of Clear Bright Future is that humans would all receive a universal income, and the machines would provide a freedom.

Consumerism is placed on the road to extinction and humanity is…reborn?

Understand that I am simplifying this to an incredible extreme. Incredible.

Drawing on early, humanist Marxism, sticking it to Nietzsche along the way, and with more than a soupcon of neoliberalism, Clear Bright Future: a radical defence of the human being, published by Penguin is out in all good bookshops and online outlets (ooh Man vs Machine again…) – visit Penguin for more information.

However of equal note and the point of this post (no, I’m not side-stepping having to discuss neo-liberalism any further) is that Penguin Live is a wonderful way to meet, question, even challenge an author’s view points and text, bear witness to a live preview of your next book, and, indeed, even open your eyes to the book that wasn’t necessarily next on your reading list but soon would be.

Just maybe don’t hold out for Moby.

For more events, visit


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Review: All I See is You

Bank Holiday Monday and I was whisked back to the 1960s last night.

A time when Woolies was still a thing, Donovan was number 3 in the charts and who you loved or even just fancied could consign you to a prison cell and a place of deep shame and castigation in society.

All I See is You is first and foremost a love story.

It’s also a two hander, starring Ciaran Griffiths as Bobby and Christian Edwards as Ralph, both gay, both living different lives.

Bobby, gregarious yet inexperienced, soon embraces his sexuality, albeit in a society where homosexuality was a criminal act and measures must be taken. This is largely aided by acceptance in his family (Dad dealing it with through denial) and guidance from his also gay boss on the record counter at Woolies.

Ralph, however, while more experienced, is retreating further into society ‘norms’; his chosen career as a teacher and his more strait-laced family, leading to common measures of that cruel era, from typically taking a girlfriend to the more extreme of aversion therapy.

Written by Kathrine Smith, this two hander about concealing love and sexuality ironically leaves nowhere to hide.

In the 70 minute performance, all eyes and literal spotlight is on the actors. Aided only by brief insertions of musical memories from the era and simple yet effective lighting, the acting is the thing.

No props, just a stage and its actors.

There is a mix of inner thought monologue to the audience and performance between the two actors. In short, it is a privilege to bear witness to such talent in the intimate setting that fabulous fringe theatre allows.

The silences saying as much as the dialogue, the actors connect with the audience to the degree that you’re with them down ‘The Trafford’ as they enjoy a drink together in the shadows, in Ralph’s bedroom as his father appears at the door, on the hospital ward as…I’ll leave it there.

The contrast between the two characters’ lives is akin to their demeanours and personalities on stage.

Bobby (Griffiths) brings the passion, the comedic, the unabashed enthusiasm, the physical…Ralph (Edwards) brings the maturity, the considered, the pathos, the…passion.

Together the characters and indeed the actors bring smiles and tears, joy and heartache and a reminder of how far the lgbt community has had to come and what they’ve had to battle – all just to be in love.

Written in response to the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, I urge you to go and be entertained, moved, and reminded that while the U.K. has come this far, many countries (and indeed individuals) still have not.

Visit for more information and to book.

On until Saturday 1 June, don’t miss out.

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Review: Hamlet at Hope Mill Theatre

Forgive me, Manchester theatre world and community, for I have sinned.

Despite being a fairly frequent theatre-goer and the space being in operation since 2015, this week was the first time I entered the wonderful world that is Hope Mill Theatre.

Forgive me further, Girl Gang Manchester and Unseemly Women, if I take a moment to talk about the venue as well as the show which drew me there in the first place, Hamlet.

Like most fringe venues, Hope Mill is delightfully tucked away, leaving the visitor with a sense of discovery when rounding that corner to see the fairy light lit entrance, inviting you in to experience an evening (or indeed afternoon), of wonderful theatre.

The candle-lit bar with its glorious (yes, glorious) pizzas, acts as the perfect warm-up for the performances on offer as you step through the curtains and take your seat.

And so, my seat was taken for the all female Shakespeare production of Hamlet.

A quick summary of the long-told tale of tragedy as gifted to us by the Bard himself, Hamlet returns from University to Denmark, only to discover that not only is his father dead, but that his mother has now married his Uncle and is the new King.

I wondered how an all female cast would manifest itself – whether it would form a distraction, a detraction (either positively or negatively) from the performance – was it a novelty? Of course it wasn’t. It was a cast of actors who happen to be women…who also happen to be hugely talented and engaging.

In fact, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s not about male vs female actors. It’s about removing ‘tradition’ and barriers. In this case, female characters written to accommodate male domination. Indeed, as the programme to the play lays bare – ‘themes of fragility and weakness run rampant’ (in Hamlet).

It’s a leveling up.

As often the case with fringe theatre, the set is simple, allowing the performances to play out in the spotlight, allowing no distractions or indeed back-ups to the acting.

Indeed, none needed.

In the title role, Eve Shotton, commands attention not only when the performance demands overt physicality, declaration and swagger, but in the sensitive moments and aspects of the play.

Hamlet would never have struck me as one of Shakespeare’s most comedic of texts, yet the humorous lines and situations were grasped firmly by the scruff of the neck by all involved.

With great timing and delivery, not to mention facial expressions (nothing can beat the intimacy of fringe theatre between cast and audience), this aspect of proceedings landed perfectly, providing much mirth and, dare I say it, laugh out loud moments.

As matters moved from the comedy to the more tragic, the cast join the shift in mood, providing the shade to the injections of light, and deliver a resounding production, which in the round, is all about balance.

Balancing the comedy and tragedy in the performances.

Balancing the aesthetic between historic and modernity in the costume.

But more importantly, a rebalancing of gender contribution to one of the most famous texts in the world of literature and theatre. Not only in its performing cast, but in its entire cast of creatives.

The late, great Richard Griffiths, as Uncle Monty in Withnail and I, proclaimed,

It is the most shattering experience of a young man’s life when one morning he awakes and quite reasonably says to himself, ‘I will never play the Dane’…

This wonderful all female outfit shows that while not every young woman can play the Dane as well as Eve Shotton, it needn’t carry the extra layer of this being for reasons of gender.

For all details, visit Hamlet at the Hope Mill Theatre

The play runs until Saturday 11 May.

Photography credit: Lucy Ridge Photography


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Review: Richard III at HOME

It was the late, great, Mr Manchester himself, Tony Wilson, who said if it’s between the truth and the legend, print the legend (someone else said it first but all should defer to Tony).

I’m a sucker for legend. It’s always more fun.

The Bard must have listened to Tony Wilson (I know, but like I say, Tony Wilson transcends all, including the linear concept of time), when writing the dark, blood-thirsty account of, let’s say, Richard III’s ‘driven’ ascent to the throne (and subsequent exit via a bloody end on the battlefield).

Indeed history tells us he wasn’t responsible for all those in his path who fell by the wayside.

The death wayside.

But Shakespeare tells it different.

I recall watching the unbelievable account of the discovery (and verification of such) of Richard’s skeletal remains underneath a car park in Leicester.

One such expert involved (no names – that is, I can’t remember it), was distraught and almost defensive of Richard as a long lost love, when it was suggested that he was anything but righteous and, indeed, up-right. I don’t think suggesting that he was suffering from scoliosis of the spine is somewhat scurrilous in nature, but perhaps she’d taken Shakespeare’s depiction of the King somewhat quite to heart.


Hopefully she swerved Headlong’s production of Richard III at HOME Mcr last night, as it pulled no punches in staying true to this dark tale, directed by John Haidar.

Whilst the words are Shakespeare’s, their delivery belonged completely to Tom Mothersdale in the lead role who owned both those and the character.

Tom Mothersdale as Richard III, pic credit Marc Brenner

We were truly in the presence of extraordinarily talented actors all round, there was only one person in Theatre 1 last night and that was he and his wonderfully, dark, deliciously humorous, physically contorted creation (a wonderful actor ‘creates’ his character – and he did), of one Richard III.

Indeed, and I don’t mean this anything other than complimentary, shut your eyes or even squint your eyes and you could be watching, hearing, being captivated by another legend (and kind of first namesake) Rik Mayall – the mannerisms wild, but appropriate, the asides and occasional breaking of the 4th wall biting and ‘laugh out loud’ funny, but these elements were contained to those moments where warranted, suddenly reminding the audience of the evil behind the character (none moreso when he proceeded to bite off an ear – oh.yes).

Highly stylised, the use of two way mirrors which would light up to reveal the ghosts of those slain, the smoke, the scissor-sharp strings of the music which punctuated the scenes and the crackling and flashing of the lighting to depict death and destruction, all contributed to an electric atmosphere in Theatre One, when at times you could hear a pin drop (those times were usually followed by a ‘jump out of your skin’ moment.

I’m still recovering.

Tom Mothersdale as Richard III,  John Sackville as Henry, pic credit Marc Brenner

Indeed, when towards the end, Richard uttered those immortal words,

A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse…

I was ready to dash out onto Whitworth Street and track one down, such was my desperation to prolong his life and, in turn, the play.

Tom Mothersdale as Richard III, Heledd Gwynn as Ratcliffe, Stefan Adegbola as Buckingham, Derbhle Crotty as Elizabeth – pic credit: Marc Brenner

Whatever the truth of this contorted monarch, in both character and body (or not), the entire outfit delivered a legendary performance.

Catch this extraordinary production at HOME until this Saturday 4 May.

For times, tickets and all other details, visit Home Mcr website