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Review – Cellist Matthew Sharp and the Northern Chamber Orchestra

I last wrote about the wonderful Northern Chamber Orchestra when I visited the rather lovely Stoller Hall for the first time, back in May 2018 – https://honorarymancblog.com/2018/05/18/the-northern-chamber-orchestra-mozart-and-elgar-and-beethoven-oh-my/

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

NO!

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.

And you simply must. Find them here at https://www.ncorch.co.uk/concerts/

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Culture dance film Manchester Music Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Review: Back to the Future – The Musical

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.

Robert Zemekis in rehearsals (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

And blimey – I am so glad I did (we did need roads).

Bob Gale in rehearsals (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

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.

Olly Dobson and Roger Bart (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

The dialogue is there as the actors riff on the old favourites, with lines delivered to cheers, laughter and the pure joy of recognition.

Olly Dobson and Hugh Coles (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

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.

Olly Dobson and Rosanna Hyland (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

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.

(Pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

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.

Roger Bart (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

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).

Glor.i.ous.

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.

Believe me, this pic does not do the sfx justice (credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

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.

Hugh Coles and Aidan Cutler (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)
What a voice – Cedric Neal (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

Go, introduce your kids and bask in the brilliance of this new show. Buttheads.

Showing at the Opera House, Manchester, until 17 May 2020.

For further details and tickets, head to https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/back-to-the-future-the-musical/opera-house-manchester/

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Culture LGBT LGBTQ+ Manchester Music Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Review: Insane Animals

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…

For more details and to book tickets, visit https://homemcr.org/production/bourgeois-maurices-insane-animals/.

Pic credits: Drew Forsyth.

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cinema film Manchester preview Preview/review The Arts

Film Preview: Military Wives

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.

Credit: Lionsgate UK

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.

Credit: Lionsgate UK

Read my review of Military Wives on my sister blog What the Projectionist Saw https://whattheprojectionistsaw.wordpress.com/2020/02/29/review-military-wives/

Now in cinemas across Greater Manchester, including:

Everyman Manchester

Vue Cinemas

Odeon Manchester

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Manchester Popular culture Preview/review Sport

Court by the Buzz*: an afternoon with the Manchester Giants

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?

Oh yes.

There was.

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.

For details of fixtures and tickets, please visit https://www.manchestergiants.com/

* yes I’ve just been to see Supergrass at Victoria Warehouse