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The Northern Chamber Orchestra – Mozart and Elgar and Beethoven – Oh my!

My late father was a musician and, at 16, the youngest at that time to be accepted into the Royal College of Music in London.

We were blessed with many stories and anecdotes from my Dad’s life as a professional musician, over the years, but I remember two life tips he gave me in particular:

Never learn to drive – you’ll never stop paying out on cars

Done.

And

At some point in your life, move to London.

I have, thus far, not adhered to this. He’d clearly not spent enough time in Manchester ☺️

Last Sunday I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Northern Chamber Orchestra’s 50th Anniversary Season Finale at the beautiful Stoller Hall.

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Set up in 1967, the Orchestra not only presents an annual series of 8 concerts a year at the Heritage Centre in Macclesfield, it is also the ‘orchestra in residence’ at Buxton Festival, and of course now plays too at Manchester’s Stoller Hall – the scene of the aforementioned Finale.

A word on the Stoller Hall, I hang my head in ignorant shame and admit that not only had I not attended any concerts at this venue previously, I didn’t even know of its existence and had only attended classical music concerts in Manchester at the Bridgewater.

I could be forgiven slightly (oh go on, forgive me massively), when research tells me that the Hall only opened its doors last year in April.

Part of the School of Music that requires little introduction, Chetham’s, the Concert Hall can be found opposite the steps to another great musical concert institution, the Manchester Arena, and across from Victoria Station.

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Audiences take their seats below ground level, in a hall which is architecturally breathtaking and, I understand,  acoustically astounding.

I’m no acoustician (yes, it’s a word), but every stroke of the violin bow, every note of the woodwind, every percussionist’s ‘beat’, indeed didn’t feel as though it stopped at the listener’s ears but resonated throughout the body, immersing you in the music played before you.

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And so to the music played before me and my plus 1 that afternoon.

The pieces played were:

Overture Zauberflote – Mozart

Cello Concerto – Elgar

Symphony No. 5 – Beethoven

The highlight, it must be said, was the Cello Concerto, the centre of such being internationally renowned cellist and, indeed, the Orchestra’s President, Raphael Wallfisch.

A beautifully toned instrument alone, we were taken through a captivating and deeply expressive performance by Mr Wallfisch, the mood of the piece clearly felt throughout this wonderful musician, his body language and facial expressions anticipating and matching each strain.

Speaking of wonderful musicians, whilst the Cellist took literal centre stage, the rest of the Orchestra more than shared the limelight and reasons for myself and fellow concert-goers’ captivation and awe.

Bookended by the overture to Mozart’s Magic Flute and the forceful, rousing Beethoven’s C minor Symphony, the concert and indeed 50th season came to a rapturous end, with the applause pushing the acoustics to their limits (I’m basically saying it was loud).

I’m sure my Father would agree that not all roads need lead to London, and that Manchester more than holds its own in all matters of culture, not least in the wealth of opportunities to hear such musicianship both in the City Centre and across the region.

Speaking of which, your next opportunity to experience the Northern Chamber Orchestra is on Friday 25 May, in West Didsbury – more details here.

And so, added to my list of why Manchester is Everything, is the Northern Chamber Orchestra and the Stoller Hall.

I’m still with my Dad on the not driving thing. I mean, where would I want to go?

www.ncorch.co.uk

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Theatre Review – DollyWould at HOME

And people say she’s just a big pair of tits.

(David Brent).

Yes, I’ve said tits in a blog post. But there’s no point being polite as the Theatre Company I had the good grace to see perform this evening are called Shit Theatre. Although for polite publications it’s written Sh!t Theatre.

I’ve already written tits and not t!ts. So I may as well write Shit and not Sh!t.

And it’s my blog so ner.

Childish comments and profanities done with, it’s time to speak of the wonder that is DollyWould at HOME theatre.

The themes of this performance are Dolly Parton, Dolly the sheep, Cloning, Originality, Sexuality and Death. With much crossover to boot.

Following their sell out run at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Louise Mothersole and the marvellously named Rebecca Biscuit (sorry, I’m going to be obvious and allude to it as it’s just too wonderful not to), take us on a journey both metaphorical and literal to Dolly Parton’s life and theme park (literal in that they went and showed us their holiday snaps, although I’m sold and planning my own literal, literal trip).

Dressed part Dolly Parton, part Dolly the Sheep, we learn through video, song, interview extracts, slide and performance art just what makes Dolly so unique and original. And Dolly the sheep so unique and original – the latter somewhat ironically due to being cloned.

But then we hear of the time Dolly Parton experienced cloning of her own. She entered a Dolly Parton Drag Competition, exaggerating all her famous features including making her

rhinestones rhinier

Predictably she didn’t win. Her uniqueness was done better by others.

There’s much to enjoy from DollyWould. I tittered (or t!ttered) much at the device where we hear the dulcet tones of American interviewer extraordinaire Barbara Walters asking Dolly (Parton) in a 1977 interview where she wanted to be, what she wanted to achieve, Mothersole and Biscuit (is the surname thing ok? I always feel a bit rude) replicating the answers through the medium of song.

Through an audio montage which bizarrely left me feeling quite emotional (granted I’ve not had much sleep this week) we hear a long list of questions and comments from interviewers past (including our own growly nation’s sweetheart Michael Parkinson) about her appearance and weight.

We don’t hear the retorts but we don’t need to.

Dolly’s got a theme park and a gift shop.

Dolly the Sheep will live on through her clones. Dolly the Parton will live on through her merch and her Drag army.

They are both the same as they are both unique.

There is also the giant mammary glands, descriptions of cadaver rotting and tattoo shop philosophy but even if you believed me, I still want you to see it for yourself.

I believe it’s sold out but there is still hope and a waiting list for cancellations.

DollyWould is at HOME until Saturday 5 May – click here for info and ticket queries.

I Would. Well I did.

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Theatre Review – Kindertransport, Opera House

This is a tale of mother/daughter relationships.

Of course it is set against a backdrop of one of the most important and harrowing world events in history.

However,  Diane Samuels’s play is,  I believe,  a story of human relationships, specifically between mothers and daughters; both biological and nurtured.

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2018 marks the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransport, (German for ‘children’s transport’) which saw thousands of Jewish children ferried from Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Free City of Danzig, in an organised rescue effort to safety, 9 months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War.

The United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 children.

2018 also marks 25 years since the play was first written and performed.

Showing at the Opera House, Manchester, until Saturday 5 May, the story is set almost simultaneously during a period between 1938 -1947, in addition to that of 1980.

Granted this sounds confusing (and this could well be down to my description), but it is testament to the direction, writing, sets and choreography that Kindertransport is creatively clear enough to keep its audience exactly where and when it needs to be, during the play’s narrative.

Beginning in 1938’s Hamburg, we’re introduced to nine-year old Eva (Leila Schaus) and her mother, Helga (Catherine Janke), as they prepare for the former to travel to family in Manchester, England, .

We’re then introduced to Manchester in 1980 as Evelyn (Suzan Sylvester) is going through boxes in the attic looking for items for her daughter Faye (Hannah Bristow), who is preparing to move out of home.

We’re immediately presented with two situations which are similar in nature yet opposing in dynamics.

Both situations present daughters preparing to leave home; their mothers with mixed feelings:

  • Helga is sending the 9 year old Eva away for her own safety, but not through absolute choice. Eva doesn’t want to leave Eva asks her mother for help in sewing a button onto her coat – this help is rejected.
  • Faye does want to leave; mother Evelyn wants to help by passing on her own household items to help her on her way. This help is rejected, Faye insisting that she wants to buy her own.

As Evelyn and Faye quarrel, we are introduced to a further character; Lil (Jenny Lee); mother to Evelyn and grandmother to Faye.

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It is when Lil is taken into 1938 to receive a young Eva into her home in Manchester, the audience realise that she is the connection between the two narratives playing out.

The play takes us through parallel relationships as we see the impact that the loss of her mother has on the young Eva and the difficulties of forging a new relationship with a mother figure.

We also see the struggles between Evelyn and Faye, as the former struggles to let go of her daughter.

The themes taken from this, almost, study of human feelings is almost certainly that of loss and (perceived) rejection.

How mothers and daughters can struggle to find a common ground as they deal with their feelings and personalities as individual women, whilst battling against those brought by their roles of nurturer and receiver.

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The audience is taken on a journey which examines these relationships and the love which undoubtedly drives all tensions and upset between the main players, and the circumstances which tie their stories together.

In addition, a mainstay throughout is the story and concept of The Rat Catcher (or Der Rattenganger), a mythical creature from a story told to Eva as a young child. The Rat Catcher is depicted as both a terrifying and evil character, both in the short passage we hear read out to a young Eva, and physically depicted throughout the play on stage, appearing as a dark figure, swathed in rags in the shadows (Matthew Brown), seemingly at points of high fear.

Symbolic meaning to the figure can be easily attributed; rejection, loss, Hitler, the Nazis, the Holocaust and ultimately death itself.

But as the story is told out, and secrets are revealed, Diane Samuels brings to  the audience a tale of both the fragility of human relationships and the strength that can ultimately be harnessed by understanding each other’s journey.

To book tickets, please visit ATG Tickets on the Opera House website.

Director – Anne Simon

Designer – Marie-Luce Theis

Lighting Designer – Nic Farman

Sound Designer – Adrienne Quartly

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Manchester Jazz Festival launches

I like to think of myself as a touch bohemian.

I’ve been to Matt and Phred’s more than 10 times, I’ll have you know. And not only when the free pizza offer is on.

To be fair, I’ve also gone international with my fondness for jazz and its clubs, for example paying a visit to New York’s famous Birdland club and last September seeing my birthday in, in a charming little jazz club in Paris, whilst sipping full bodied red and foot tapping and head shaking with the best of them. Get me.

Last night I attended the launch of this year’s Manchester Jazz Festival, and, whilst there, got talking to one of the lovely trustees about the common misconceptions of jazz and the sheer breadth of the genre.

I need no convincing, but understand that many perceive jazz in its most abstract extreme (I quite like that extreme), declaring, just like Johnny (once again betraying my age with an 80s popular culture reference), they…

hate jazz.

Although to be fair I hate heavy metal, but this declaration is based solely on my very narrow perception of it to be noisy and scary.

And so, should Manchester hold its own Heavy Metal festival, perhaps I should take my own advice and attend (please don’t, Manchester).

But for now be swayed by my own tastes and share my excitement for this year’s programme of events.

Gathering at Brasserie Abode last night, the said gathered were tantalised with tales of what is to come to our great city, 20 – 28 July 2018.

Manchester Jazz Festival, is indeed the city’s longest running music festival, bringing together contemporary jazz not only from the North West, but from across the UK and, indeed, abroad, including national premieres of original work and international debuts.

Typically more than 60,000 people in attendance, the festival is a mixture of both paid and free gigs, with the aim to be accessible to all, and funded and supported by Arts Council England, Manchester City Council, PRS for Music Foundation, Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Irwin Mitchell.

Some of the finest talent in jazz will be showcased at an eclectic range of Manchester venues , including Salon Perdu and Festival Square, Night and Day Café, RNCM, The Midland Hotel, Matt and Phred’s Jazz Club, Band on the Wall and St Ann’s Church.

Highlights of this year’s programme will include:

  • Cross Currents Trio featuring Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain, Chris Potter – three living legends of jazz, uniting in a rare UK performance fusing contemporary jazz and world music virtuosity.
  • The 2018 Irwin Mitchell mjforiginals commission – Esther Swift: Light Gatherer – Esther’s interest in poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s contribution to the arts, and especially the voice she gives to women, has inspired her to deconstruct Duffy’s works and create new texts using the same themes.

  • Hackney Colliery Band – inspired by New Orleans marching bands, Balkan beats, hip-hop, sizzling Latin brass and high-octane rock, with a few unexpected covers of the likes of Goldie, The Prodigy, Kanye West and even (my favourite) Toto, they bring the UK colliery brass band tradition bang up to date.

This is the tip of the jazzy iceberg (whatever that might be), and the full programme can be found on the Manchester Jazz Festival website here.

Kindly provided with a brochure of events by the festival organisers at last night’s launch, I have already set about it like any decent person would with their Christmas copy of the Radio Times, ringing and marking off multiple events coming this July.

With tickets going on sale today, 25 April 2018, at 9am, join me in securing my place at this summer’s hot event, the Manchester Jazz Festival.

It truly…

sounds fantastic.

For all the latest news, tickets and booking information, head to www.manchesterjazz.com

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Theatre review – Minefield

Walking into HOME theatre on Thursday night, my plus 1 and I discussed the subject matter of the production we were about to see; that of the Falklands War.

Both of a similar age (he 15 months older – devil is in the detail), we both agreed that the Falklands was one of the first significant ‘news’ events we were aware of at infant age. The second was the Miners’ Strike, some time later. The latter, mainly because I was scared of Arthur Scargill – the man who…

shouted on the television.

I am not pitting (sorry, that was truly not intentional) any one side against the other by having that particular fear. In fact, everyone from that era seemed to be ‘shouting on the television’ at one time  or another. It was very much the intonation du jour.

And so whilst the Falklands War was one of my earliest memories, it is admittedly a conflict that I know less of than the World Wars of earlier decades. Phrases such as ‘the sinking of the Belgrano’ and ‘Goose Green’ are familiar to me, but the details less so. In fact it is indeed pointed out on stage that it is not a conflict that is taught in schools.

And it should be.

And I now know a lot more.

And it is thanks to the incredible company who, as part of the Viva! Festival at HOME, brings those two months vividly to life in Lola Arias’ Minefield.

I need to be careful not to fall into a trap of looking like I’m (arrogantly) reviewing six men’s experiences of war, rather than a play. But here lies the fascination, if you like, because the six men who stood before us on stage last night are not only acting out and, yes, entertaining us with an account of the Falklands. It is their account. And their memories. And their lives which are being laid bare before audiences.

At this point, I should also strive to call the Falklands, the Malvinas too. Or at least reference this name as the six veterans were from both sides of the conflict:

Gabriel Sagastume – a soldier who never wanted to shoot a gun and who is now a criminal lawyer;

Marcelo Vallejo – a mortar direction controller who today is a triathlon champion;

Ruben Otero – who survived the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano, and who now plays in a Beatles tribute band;

David Jackson – who spent the war listening and transcribing radio codes and who now listens to other veterans in his role as a counsellor;

Sukrim Rai – a Gurkha and knife-expert who now works as a security guard; and

Lou Armour – who was on the front page of every UK newspaper when the Argentinians took him prisoner on 2 April 1982. Today he is a teacher for children with learning difficulties.

To give you a sense of the purpose of the production, Argentinian Director, Lola Arias, says

War isn’t what interests me, it’s what comes after that interests me. What matters to me is what happens to a person who went through that experience. What matters to me is what memory has done, what it has erased, what it has transformed.

Never has a vision been so realised than in Minefield. Not only in the accounts that as an audience member, you feel moved and privileged to be privy to, but in the imaginative, clever, informative and humorous ways in which the play does so.

I want everyone I’ve ever met to go and see this production (no mean feat, given that it’s only on for two more nights; 13 and 14 April 2018, and hence my review being a little shorter than I might like, given my desperation to get it out asap on my lunch hour), and so I won’t commit to any spoilers because I have true faith in all of you going straight online to book your tickets (see details at the end of this post).

However, I will throw in some phrases to give you something of what the production brings to the table in just one hour and 40 minutes of live theatre of which I have never experienced before and will stay with me for some time:

  • An account of a veteran who transported body parts in what was his own blanket (and remained so, sleeping under it for the duration of the conflict
  • Maggie Thatcher as you’ve never seen her before (nice legs David Jackson)
  • Diaries, letters, blankets, and stark, stark memories of a period shared with a captivated audience
  • A striptease
  • On stage therapy as one veteran shares his searingly honest and painful memories of the war to another, now trained as a Psychologist;
  • An Argentinian Beatles tribute band; and
  • so much, much more.

As my plus 1 and I left the theatre, largely in silence (we hadn’t had a spat), we broke that silence to marvel at what we’d just seen and how we’d describe it to someone who hadn’t seen it.

A better writer than me may come up with a strong tagline but all I can say is, if you can see it, please do. And if you can’t, read about these men, and all those who are not with us to share their own personal tales. Be it on a drum kit or in drag.

Picture credits: Tristam Kenton

To book your tickets (do it), please do so here.

For more information on the Viva! Festival and the full programme of events, please click here.

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Theatre review – The Winslow Boy

Coming home from The Lowry theatre last night, my designated plus 1 in theatre and basically life, told me the story of the snail and the ginger beer.

It’s a little like the owl and the pussycat. Well actually nothing like it.

The snail and the ginger beer was the court case Donoghue v Stevenson, which was heard in the House of Lords. In summary (more details can be found here), in 1928, Mrs Donoghue was quietly drinking her bottle of ginger beer in a café in Paisley. In a departure from the classic ‘waiter there’s a fly in my soup’, Mrs Donoghue fell upon a dead snail in the bottle.

Upon seeing the decomposed snail float out of the bottle into her glass, Mrs Donoghue duly felt ‘ill’ from the sight, complaining of stomach pains. A subsequent diagnosis was given by Glasgow Royal Infirmary of gastroenteritis and shock.

In short, the case went to the highest court in the land and became a legal first when Mrs Donoghue successfully sued the ginger beer manufacturer, Mr Stevenson, in that he owed a duty of care to her which was breached. To quote lovely old Wikipedia , ‘this was an evolutionary step in the common law for tort and delict, moving from strict liability based upon direct physical contact to a fault-based system which only required injury’.

And so from here a thousand hot apple pies did scald a thousand fast food consumers, resulting in a thousand court cases. You get the general idea.

My plus 1, whilst generally a font of all knowledge, did actually have a point to this molluscesque (the word is patent pending), account. It was the tale of a seemingly insignificant occurrence leading to a landmark case and legal judgement, which brings us to Terence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy.

Playing at The Lowry Theatre until this Saturday 14 April, the play tells the story of young Ronnie Winslow (Misha Butler), who has been expelled from the Royal Navy College, for stealing a five shilling postal order. Set in 1910, his parents Arthur (Aden Gillett) and Grace (Tessa Peake-Jones) are devastated by events.

His father is determined to clear his son’s name and, risking his family’s reputation – financially and socially – and with significant consequence to the lives of both his daughter Catherine (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) and eldest son Dickie (Theo Bamber), enters the realms of national scandal along the way.

Based on the real-life landmark case – Archer-Shee v the King (1910), the play is a snapshot of Edwardian London and the social and political landscape of the time.

Daughter, Catherine (Bennett)is a delightfully intelligent force to be reckoned with, references to her membership of the Suffragette movement displayed both explicitly through the dialogue and demonstratively through her steely determination, and progressive thinking and attitude to both the case and in her relationships.

Stylistically, the set is simple yet attractive, all acts playing out in the family’s drawing room, the subject matter and action punctuated with humour (special mention to Soo Drouet’s Violet the maid)…

and, what may not have been written as knowing nods to how society was to evolve, some humorous moments found from scenarios such as the novelty of a female journalist turning upto the house (Miss Barnes played by Sarah Lambie) – who, there to write about the case, becomes distracted by the finer details of the curtains hanging in the drawing room (it should be worth noting that this was the press night performance, one or two female journalists seated in the audience – the scandal!).

What was mostly an ensemble cast (although look out for the delightfully and seemingly dastardly Sir Robert (Timothy Watson), the play kept me captivated by its clever, rapid and witty dialogue and delivery, and I would recommend you book for what is an evening of historical and social insight (and, not least, top notch theatre).

For full cast details and how to book, please click here

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New Music Launch! Manc favourites Jess Kemp & David Gorman to hit The Deaf Institute

Fans of singer/songwriters Jess Kemp and David Gorman will be thrilled at this double bubble news that they will be co-headlining a gig at top city venue, The Deaf Institute, on 18 May 2018.

Each will be individually taking to that iconic stage with a full band, to launch some brand new music to treat the senses!

Jess Kemp

Readers of this blog will be familiar with Jess’s work, having recently sold out The Whiskey Jar.

From her debut single Stars, to her debut EP Camden, Jess went onto headline small spaces round the city such as Manchester Academy 3.

However it was the release of VondelPark last year, which catapulted Jess to stages such as Kendal Calling and Bluedot, as well as recently picking up ‘Best Songwriter’ at the Unsigned Music Awards.

Clint Boon said

I was knocked out the first time I saw Jess Kemp perform live.

She’s not just a world-class songwriter, she’s a fantastic performer.

Who are we to argue with Clint?! Head over to hear Jess’s new singles No Shouting and On the Ground on the 18th.

http://www.jesskemp.co.uk/

https://www.youtube.com/user/JessKemp94

https://spoti.fi/2I7ePvb

David Gorman

If you’re a fan of Mumford & Sons, Benjamin Francis Leftwich and Sunday mornings, David Gorman is most definitely for you.

David has already enjoyed a fantastic year so far, starting with a nomination from the Bolton FM Unsigned Show for the ‘Best Male Solo Act of 2017’ and having his latest release Another Midnight long-listed by The Unsigned Music Awards for ‘Best Produced Record of the Year’.

Having already played gigs around the country including London, York, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield, he’s back to Manchester and taking to The Deaf Institute stage on 18 May to launch brand new single Chicago is Calling, featuring the beautiful harmonies and finger-picking style style synonymous with his music.

https://davidgormanmusic.weebly.com

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaToPrKr1pz2E3fKYTwQmeQ

https://spoti.fi/2I5B3xC

All the deets

So what are you waiting for Manchester ?

To book to see both amazing talents on 18 May 2018 at The Deaf Institute, click on the link below:

https://www.seetickets.com/event/jess-kemp-dave-gorman/the-deaf-institute/1200292

Doors open at 7pm and tickets are on sale for £6 each.

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Madama Butterfly 🦋 Fatal Passions and Attraction

I last wrote about this topic (in more detail)in my dissertation in the year cough cough etc.

You understand my entire dissertation wasn’t based on Michael Douglas but a small portion of it. I don’t have a degree in Michael Douglas.

I focussed on the femme fatale on film and how feminist theory has been applied on celluloid.

Have that, eh?

It was the lovely Glenn Close in the fantastically, ferocious Fatal Attraction who my attention was focussed on in part of my fancy pants essay. And whilst there are both implicit and hugely explicit parallels to be drawn and homages to be noted between Fatal Attraction and Madama Butterfly, I think that a little of the huge sympathy audiences have for our female protagonist in the latter should also be reserved for her or the former.

I’ll get to it.

Madama Butterfly is my favourite opera. Hands up I haven’t seen ALL of the operas. I work full time and have two cats to deal with. But it is a story and a score I’ve returned to theatres to see multiple times – once through the medium of ballet (those on stage, I mean, I didn’t go pirouetting off to the Opera House).

Last Tuesday I was invited to the opening night of Madama Butterfly at The Lowry Theatre.

My heart leapt in anticipation of what I knew would be a roller coaster of emotions throughout the performance from drama queen over here.

Opera North did duly take me on that ride and tears did duly flow.

You can read more here but, to summarise, Madama Butterfly 🦋 is a tale of the romance between Cio-Cio-San, a young Japanese girl and geisha who falls for the promises made, by visiting American naval officer Pinkerton, and agrees to marry him. This is to the chagrin of her family who are horrified that she is prepared to sacrifice her ancestral religion and embrace Christianity.

Pinkerton is going into the marriage for what he can’t be sure is love or a whim ‘someday I will take a real American wife’, but worries not, given that he is returning to American for an undisclosed period of time.

Three years pass and Butterfly still waits for her husband, and it is revealed that her marriage brought her a son. Together they wait for Pinkerton to return. Return he does, but with the ‘real’ American wife he always intended, here for the child, not Butterfly.

Devastated, Butterfly agrees, with what would be her penultimate sacrifice, the final being her life, using the dagger which took her own father’s life.

With a rousing score by Puccini which devastates me as much as the story playing out, there isn’t a performance goes by of this wonderfully sad story that doesn’t leave me in tears and as said Opera North’s was no exception, with a wonderful orchestra conducted by Martin Pickard.

Sung in Italian with English subtitles, the production was set in the home of Cio-Cio San (Ann Sophie Duprels) which was simply designed with what you might describe as typically Japanese minimalism, allowing the eye to focus on the players and drama ensuing within – not that you would need encouragement to do so.

Along with Merunas Vitulskis (Pinkerton) and Ann Taylor (loyal maid Suzuki) and all the players, I was mesmerised by the passion and emotion displayed through the vocals, body language and even periods of abject silence (the devastating scene as Cio-Cio San waits at the harbour with her son, to no avail).

The audience’s heart strings are tugged to breaking point by Cio-Cio-San’s sorrow and so I return to Glenn Close’s Alex Forrest, in Fatal Attraction.

There are immense parallels, as said some obvious (Alex playing Madama Butterfly at her home as she cooks newly acquainted married lover Dan Gallagher (Douglas) dinner, later trying to make nice by buying them two tickets to said opera.

There is even a nod (bow?) to Japanese culture in early scenes where Dan and Alex’s paths first cross at the launch for a Japanese self-help book.

Everything in Alex’s home is white, crisp, clean simple lines. Her father is dead (there is a double bluff where she proclaims him to be dead from a heart attack when Dan feigns collapse, only to then reveal she is joking and he is very much alive – Dan later learns he is in fact dead). She is spurned by her lover who has an American wife and child (to be fair to Dan, Alex knew of this from the off). However it’s the role that Alex doesn’t have, hers being that of the other half of a two night stand whilst Dan’s wife is at her parents.

There is a child (unborn) that Dan rejects upon being given the news that Alex is pregnant (immediately offering her money to abort). The (unsuccessful) suicide attempt as Alex slashes her wrists when realising that Dan is going to immediately return to his family set-up, their ‘love’ affair lasting only a weekend.

Alex is spurned by her lover but he is not her husband. He belongs to another and was never hers to begin with. Cio-Cio-San was lead to believe Pinkerton was hers and whilst both women are spurned, the latter is wholly more naive to reality than the former.

However, who can fail to be moved by the scene in Fatal Attraction where on the night of the opera performance that Alex had tickets to, she sits on the floor at home turning the lamp on and off rhythmically to the desperate strains of Puccini’s score, face frozen in an expression that is both despair and rage.

It’s terrifying and we’re all cheering Alex’s downfall in the end (not in support of Dan, it has to be said, but his ever so lovely wife Beth (Anne Archer). But shouldn’t we reserve a little of our sympathy for Alex?

She may not have had the naivety of Cio-Cio-San and her reaction to rejection may have been somewhat more outwardly facing than self-destructive, but there are definite parallels to be drawn.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

Or as originally written…

Heav’n has no Rage, Like Love to Hatred turn’d, Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d…

We all focus on the fury but rarely the scorn. In both stories, both women scorned suffered fatal consequences, one more directly, one indirectly, by their one hands as a result of their reactions.

Madama Butterfly, a beautifully sad story that must be seen and also heard, not least by Opera North.

Part of the Fatal Passions season at The Lowry there’s that F word again), you can see further Opera North productions such as Saloma at the theatre through to April.

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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