It’s Thursday and I’m doing a deep dive into my ignorance levels – The White Card at HOME Mcr

In its UK debut at HOME, Claudia Rankine’s first published play, The White Card poses the question: can society progress when whiteness remains invisible?

I’m always early…

Written against a backdrop of an increasingly racially divided American and shortly before the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests, The White Card is as tense and uncomfortable as you might imagine.

Allow me to set the literal scene.

We have the wealthy american epitome of white privilege in Charles (Matthew Pidgeon) and Virginia (Kate Copeland). He’s a property developer (including private prisons…) he’s liberal (check out the juxtaposition of his loose fitting suit and white trainers) he and his wife collect ‘black trauma’ art and they have a pitch perfect smug art dealer friend Eric (Nick Blakeley) who has invited black artist Charlotte (Estella Daniels) to dinner at their apartment.

They are courting her, hoping to buy and add a piece of her art to their collection.

Should she allow them to.

Charles and Virginia may as well have unfurled a banner saying, ‘we hate racism, we do’, such were their efforts to identify, sympathise, prove themselves as allies.

And so we have a classic dinner party set-up, invoking thoughts of Woody Allen films (sorry), The Last Supper, the seminal Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner…it’s a well-trodden trope for a reason and one I personally relish in.

Both in theatre set-ups and in life, it’s the perfect host for polite chat, followed by passionate debate followed by all out war, truth-telling and tears in the kitchen.

There’s often a direct correlation here between how much wine is poured to how much tea is spilled, and this was no exception.

The dialogue kept the controversial and inappropriate moments coming, all of varying degrees of subtlety. Some comments blink and you almost miss them, but perhaps one person’s blink is another person’s eyes wide open stare, is another person’s eyes firmly closed.

And so the examination for the extent of my own ignorance begins…

Very early on in the dinner we had the mistaken identification of one black woman for another black woman, ‘that wasn’t me’, we had ‘no the other black author’, we had a raised eyebrow at Charlotte knowing fluent French when here was Virginia explaining the meaning to her of just one French word.

Indeed we went from Virginia black celebrity name-dropping (Serena Williams- tick, Michelle Obama – tick) to exclamations directed to Charlotte of

Put down those plates, you’re not the maid!

Oh yes. That was a ‘sharp inward take of breath’ moment in Theatre 1.

We have the son Alex (CJ Coleman) who has joined Black Lives Matter and attends Trump rallies protests…

Isn’t that a terrorist organisation?

But darling your life matters…

(The White Card – please excuse any paraphrasing)

The couple’s pursuit in collecting ‘black trauma art’ is their privileged act of alliance. And Charlotte was here to hold a mirror upto this, refusing to allow her art of recreated moments of racism to become part of this collection of canvas misfires; misfire not in the art itself, but in the intention behind the purchase and the nature of the buyers’ posturing.

The play’s conclusion, almost epilogue, turned the table and perhaps gave Charles his most important life lesson yet. He became the subject, his whiteness became the subject, his whiteness as a black trauma tourist became the subject.

And he didn’t like it. But with that he was a step closer to getting ‘it’. As were we all.

Let’s keep talking and get this sliding scale ultimately going further and further in the right direction. Because when there is an inherent comprehension of an issue, we’re less likely to ‘trip ourselves up’ and get rightly called out on what might seemingly be just a word or platitude in the wrong direction.

And I’m sure my own well-meaning rhetoric is unintentionally littered with missteps, which is why plays such as The White Card must continue to be written and seen. So we can know what we thought we did but actually didn’t after all.

I love Theatre, I do.

The White Card is showing at HOME until 21 May 2022.

https://homemcr.org/production/the-white-card/

Photo credits: Wasi Daniju

More details:

Written by Claudia Rankine and directed by Natalie Ibu.

Cast:

Nick Blakeley Eric
C J Coleman
Alex
Kate Copeland
Virginia
Estella Daniels Charlotte
Christine Gomes Charlotte
Matthew Pidgeon Charles

Ensemble

Essence Aikman
Ellouise Bridge
Kasur Chaudhry
Sholabomi Tinubu

Creatives:

Natalie Ibu Director
Claudia Rankine Writer
Debbie Duru Set & Costume Design
Roma Yagnik Sound Designer
Rajiv Pattani Lighting Design
Rachael Nanyonjo Movement Director
Wabriya King Production Dramatherapist
Eleanor Manners Dialect Coach
Rachid Sabitri Fight Director
Naomi Daley Wardrobe Supervisor
Wambui Hardcastle Assistant Director (RTYDS)
Lauren Lister BSL Interpreter

A Northern Stage, Leeds Playhouse, Birmingham Rep and Soho Theatre co-production in association with HOME Manchester.

I’m beatboxing so it must be Tuesday…Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster, Contact

Me: fancy coming to see beatboxers perform Frankenstein?

Him: (without missing a …beat)

yeah

And this reader is why I married him.

On Tuesday I found myself part of a beatbox symphony. This is the same week that I got my first pair of prescription reading glasses.

Balance redressed..

Contact theatre played host (and continues to all week) to Battersea Arts Centre’s BAC Beatbox Academy and their highly, HIGHLY entertaining production, Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster.

A reworking of Mary Shelley’s famous tale, the underpinning message of this portrayal is how society creates its own monsters. To an incredible soundtrack.

Well not ‘to’ exactly as the six talented artists are the soundtrack, as every sound, every note, every beat is provided by their own incredible voices straight into the mic.

The 2022 touring cast features emerging artists and co-creators ABH (Alexander Belgarion Hackett), Aminita (Aminita Francis),Aziza (Aziza Amari Brown), Glitch (Nadine Rose Johnson), Native The Cr8ive (Nathaniel Forder-Staple) and Wiz-RD (Tyler Worthington).

The evening was energetically …hosted? MC’d? woven together? …by beatboxer Kate Donnachie.

So what was it exactly? Was it theatre? Was it a musical? Was it a gig, opera? It was all of these with a dose of provoked thought and some really fantastic, original music.

It felt Gorillaz, it felt Morcheeba, Massive Attack…

And it was funny! At one point turning the ‘beatbox battle’ on its head as ‘Frankenstein’ took on ‘The Monster’ in the boxing ring.

And it was educational. I’ll be honest, I was in my first year of uni when we were getting our first mobile phones. No cameras and you were lucky if you had text.

And all this were fields…

But pieces such as Click Clack (containing the mantra you really shouldn’t post that) and some uncomfortable audience interaction…

(no not the part where we all beatboxed or even when we were encouraged to stand up and rave – yes I did, oh ye of little faith)

…where a spotlight was shone onto audience members to a track about tearing each other’s aesthetic apart, really drove home the challenges of the digital, life-sharing, selfie saturated age. Point truly (and rhythmically) made.

But before we even got to that, got to all that, we were thrillingly introduced to young performers from in and around Manchester, who blew us away with their first time public performances, all a product of workshops attended that week and run by BAC Beatbox Academy. Bra-vo everyone.

Another of those nights where you pinch yourself at how lucky you are to have so much on your Manchester doorstep to open your eyes and minds to.

And how a routine weekday night can lead to cheering on a beatbox battle and a whole new playlist on your Spotify…

Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster is on at Contact until Saturday 14 May. Tickets available via: https://contactmcr.com/shows/bac-beatbox-academy-frankenstein-2/

Want to know more?

The production is co-created by the wider BAC Beatbox Academy, co-directors Conrad Murray (‘High Rise eState of Mind’) and David Cumming (‘Operation Mincemeat’), and BAC. OThis means it has been co-authored by cast members at every stage, who also shape all aspects of presenting the show in its different incarnations.

The company continue to work with young talent everywhere they go. Each live show of ‘Frankenstein: How To Make a Monster’ opens with a curtain-raiser – a short performance created through workshops with local young people – and ends with a beatboxing battle. At Contact, the company will work with young people from Greater Manchester to deliver these workshops across the city.

‘Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster’ is the first professional production from the BAC Beatbox Academy, whose members have developed and adapted the production over the years.

Starting with a small-scale Scratch performance at BAC where they encouraged feedback from the audience, the company continued to build on their success. They returned with sold-out runs at BAC, winning Off West End and Total Theatre Awards, embarked on their first national tour, presented the highest-rated show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019, received rave reviews at the Adelaide Fringe Festival and released their first film which they co-created and shot during the lockdown in 2020.

BAC Beatbox Academy is BAC’s home-grown young performance collective for local artists aged 11-29 years. Since BAC created the Academy in 2008, it has pro-actively engaged harder to reach groups in areas of significant deprivation; locally, throughout the UK and internationally. Through the Academy programme of nurturing rising talent and pushing the boundaries of sound and music, the casts of ‘Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster’ have developed; from a collective of local participants into highly-accomplished performers and music leaders.

‘Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster’ is supported by Arts Council England and Youth Music.

Wuthering Heights at The Lowry

I didn’t know what to do expect from this production.

I mean I was aware of the story – it’s all love and hate and death and windy moors. But the description of this production told me it was…

Shot through with music, dance, passion and hope…

and I was admittedly reticent. This could be very good, this could be very bad. What did this mean, what level of interpretive dance could this be, will passion and hope serve us well and translate into an entertaining evening out at the theatre?

I was still pondering these questions as I arrived at the Lowry and settled into my seat. It had been a long day, this was a relatively long production (160 mins total plus interval) and I was fighting an internal voice telling me that under no circumstances should I reference Kate Bush or any Alan Partridge scenes in my coverage (and with that, I guess I win, internal voice).

To sum up…

Rescued from the Liverpool docks as a child, Heathcliff is adopted by the Earnshaws and taken to live at Wuthering Heights. He finds a kindred spirit in Catherine Earnshaw and a fierce love ignites. When forced apart, a brutal chain of events is unleashed.

The production brought by Wise Children theatre company had me at the first scene. It’s funny and it’s charismatic and it’s powerful. It’s a whole lot of things. The funny offsets the death, a whole lot of death to be honest and I feed off the macabre, but that’s on Emily Brontë.

The Yorkshire moors was/were the narrator. The dancing, singing narrator passionately led by Nandi Bhebhe. Stay with me, it really worked.

There was puppetry, a feature of a few productions I’ve seen, most recently The House with Chicken Legs, song, dance and a smart and efficient use of props, most notably the good old fashioned door which served as an entry (I know, shocking) and introduction to many a compelling scenario requiring little else other than perhaps a chair or two and a cast of incredibly talented performers, many taking on multiple roles.

Lucy McCormick as Cathy was quite simply spellbinding. Even when (spoiler) dead and a silent, spooky presence on stage, bearing tortured witness to life continuing to play out in the wake of her passing, you couldn’t take your eyes off her.

I found myself wishing that young Cathy had grown up much earlier in the depiction, such was Stephanie Hockley’s performance. As bouncy, childlike, energetic, devastating and heart-tugging as McCormick’s Cathy senior; a delight.

There were strong, steely and uncomfortably dark performances (and I only mean this positively) from Liam Tamne (Heathcliff) and Tama Phethean (Hindley Earnshaw/Hareton Earnshaw).

Offsetting all the dark and the death and the downright depressing was the comedy.

Craig Johnson in his guise as Dr Kenneth had my attention with his wonderfully biting and camp asides and bridging monologue, provided a much needed side of mirth to the bodies racking up.

Sam Archer gave a typically brilliant performance as Lockwood (and Edgar Linton) with perfect comic timing both verbally and physically.

However left, centre and right stage (all over the show in fact – I wish I had that energy) was Katy Owen (Isabella Linton/Linton Heathcliff). I have never wanted a (spoiler) character to hurry up and die as much as one Linton Heathcliff. Serving Frank Spencer realness, that snivelling, whining wretch bedecked in green ribbons about his neck and shoes (I need closure don’t I) was delivered on point and we hated him, oh how we hated him. And also laughed.

And bravo to those musicians, those talented musicians in the back right corner of the stage, those unsung heroes bringing everything to life with their celtic, folky strokes and strains (composed by Ian Ross). I see and hear you Sid Goldsmith, Nadine Lee and Renell Shaw.

And so Emma Rice as writer, director and all-round hero has gifted us this production, not least rousing me from my Wednesday night slump to boot.

That’s a huge compliment (I need to work on my praise, I know).

It was Wuthering Heights but not as we know it. But also as we know it. Just when we thought it was descending into full spoof, it smacked us round the chops with a dose of revenge and redemption as Ms Brontë intended.

But don’t take my humble word for it. You have until Saturday 7 May to see for yourselves. Visit the Lowry for tickets and details by clicking here without delay.

Photo credits: Steve Tanner

Last night of the Sea Power tour, Manchester’s own Albert Hall

Saturday 23 April was Sea Power appearing at Albert Hall, Manchester day. It was also St George’s Day.

The two things are somewhat very tenuously related. They really are, stay with me.

Last August, Sea Power announced that they were dropping the ‘British’ from their name. The reasons I completely understand, the fact that the reasons even exist are tragic.

As posted on the band’s website last August,

In recent times there’s been a rise in a certain kind of nationalism in this world – an isolationist, antagonistic nationalism that we don’t want to run any risk of being confused with. It’s become apparent that it’s possible to misapprehend the name British Sea Power, particularly if someone isn’t familiar with the band or their recordings.

We’ve always been internationalist in our mindset, something made clear in songs like Waving Flags, an anthem to pan-European idealism. We always wanted to be an internationalist band but maybe having a specific nation state in our name wasn’t the cleverest way to demonstrate that.

We very much hope the band’s audience won’t be affronted by this adjustment to the name. We’d like to make it clear that removing the word “British” does NOT indicate any aversion to the British Isles whatsoever.

https://seapowerband.com/news

You see, it is for similar reasons that the Union Jack or, indeed the English flag, immediately bring up negative connotations. Ones that I try to fight against but the terms, the flags, any sense of nationalistic ideology or iconography have been hijacked by people and organisations that are, put simply, and colloquially, the worst.

Last Saturday, I disappointingly yet automatically winced and then, in turn, winced at my wincing when seeing mention of St George’s Day and the flag in my timeline that day. I wish that knee-jerk reaction would leave me as there’s an inferred victory for the far right.

But for now, sadly, those negative connotations just aren’t going anywhere.

Let’s talk about going out in Manchester to a gig! Yeah!

The venue, a firm favourite. That vantage point, those stain-glassed windows, those fairylit pews – too good. Plus there’s always the chance Godfrey Parkes will rock up (Derek Acorah, RIP).

For those who have never been to the Albert Hall, I strongly recommend you see something, someone, anything there. If you don’t mind taking several hours to get to and from the basement loos, and eventually get the hang of the layout of the building and those staircases, it’s an absolute gem of a venue.

From the Charlatans, to John Cooper Clarke, to a screening of Psycho with live orchestra, to Jarvis Cocker, whatever I’ve seen here, it gives great backdrop.

Picking up my tickets, I was offered a giant chocolate button. Yes I was. They had me at giant chocolate button.

The drinks prices aren’t foolish either and if you find the secret bar (hiding in plain sight), you’ll have one person at most ahead of you.

And so, playing host to two great bands on Saturday, one established since 2000, one some 20 years later.

Pale Blue Eyes took command of the stage from their opening gambit, From Devon (me too, Pale Blue Eyes, me too!), I’ll throw some classic comparisons to Radiohead, early Smiths, at you.

Definitely ones to watch and listen to, perhaps starting with their single, the superbly named Dr Pong – Listen here.

For the main event, a whole lot of foliage started to build up on the stage. So far, so Sea Power.

From a band who have had a past reputation for surreal visuals, frenetic stage antics, Saturday was, I’d say, by contrast, still waters. By that I mean full of energy but no trips to A&E by band members or giant bears. Still making a splash, the band had the gig-goers in raptures, there was a fine dose of crowd-surfing, causing a magical manifestation of twitchy but responsible stewarding.

In case you missed it, that was my paragraph of sea and water puns.

But it was, as they say,

a good crowd.

they

With representation from the earliest album to the latest, Everything Was Forever (Feb 2022), there was much to enjoy and appreciate for those hardened Sea Power fans to those who simply appreciate great music at a venue that just won’t quit.

The band opened with It Ended on an Oily Stage, lead single from 2005 album, Open Season, right through to big hitter Carrion from debut album, The Decline of British Sea Power, back in 2003, and taking in new single Two Fingers along the way. The set finished with a hat-trick encore of Remember Me, Waving Flags and The Great Skua.

Setlist.fm

Britannia may annually rule the waves at the Royal Albert Hall, but at its commoner counterpart in Manchester, Sea Power were riding them high.

https://seapowerband.com/

https://www.facebook.com/paleblueeyesmusic/

https://www.alberthallmanchester.com/

Preview: Head HOME for film this spring…

So we’re all about 50 stone heavier having thrown ourselves while-heartedly into the apparent food festival that is Easter.

A blur of hot cross buns, simnel cake and chocolate, we’re tired and all need something a little more…stationary.

A little less feeding frenzy, a little more ‘feet up (oi metaphorically, not on the seats), lights down, eyes forward.

Both classic and contemporary, HOME Mcr has been bringing a whole raft of film seasons and screenings to audiences over the last month, and there’s still so much to come…

Apr/May film seasons to come include:

  • Resistance and Protest (Sat 30 Apr – Mon 2 May): In celebration of International Workers’ Day HOME presents a season of films focused on the theme ‘Resistance and Protest’.
  • Hollywood Blacklistees in Europe (Sat 14 – Tue 31 May): A season of films from directors and writers who were blaacklisted in Hollywood (and beyond), but who managed to continue making fantastic film against the odds. Season includes one of the greatest war films of all time The Bridge on the River Kwai (Sun 29 May) and classic British film Zulu (Sun 22 May), as well as a special One Hour Introduction (Sat 14 May) to the season 
  • Cult Films (Ongoing): Our Cult Films strand continues with screenings of taut plastic surgery thriller Eyes Without a Face (29 Apr) and Horror Express (Fri 27 May)starring genre icons Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

One-off events and screenings:

  • THIS MUCH I KNOW TO BE TRUE (Wed 11 May): Andrew Dominik’s new feature documentary captures Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ exceptional creative relationship as they bring to life the songs from their last two studio albums, Ghosteen and Carnage
  • Firebird Q&A (Fri 22 Apr): Based on a true story, Sergey and Roman first meet in basic training for the Soviet Air Force, where homosexuality is illegal. The films screens on general release from Fri 22 Apr, with a Q&A on the opening evening with director-producer Peeter Rebane and lead actor Tom Prior
  • Sexuality Summer School: Rebel Dykes + Q&A (Mon 23 May): University of Manchester’s annual Sexuality Summer School public events programme returns to HOME with a screening of Rebel Dykes, followed by a Q&A with producer Siobhan Fahey and directors Harri Shanahan and Siân A. Williams.

New release highlights:

Other highlights:

To find the whole programme and to book tickets, visit https://homemcr.org/cinema/

Also, fine there’s snacks. They still have snacks.

Review: Me & Thee at The Empty Space, Salford

Friendship is a funny thing.

I think the Covid panny-d has caused a lot of reflection on this matter.

Who did we miss, who did we not miss, who did we keep in contact with, who did we not. Who did we keep in contact with but then not once we re-entered the world again. Who did we not, but then picked up with as though nothing had happened.

Friendship and relationships are complex and a lot of the time unfathomable. I’m not who I was at 5, 12, 16, 18, 21. Although at my core I don’t think a lot has changed. I’m still mortified by the same things, highly amused by the same things, attracted to the kind and also to the offbeat…

My motivations for friendship probably have changed. There can be a natural cull on both sides of the fence for reasons of geography, life choices, priorities, values, stresses and strains and sometimes an unholy and massive row (although, I think we can all hold our hands up to the passive, drifted approach to friendship break-ups)…

Manchester based Farewell Theatre Company made their comeback performance with Me & Thee this weekend, marking their first live show in front of audiences will since the pandemic.

Written by James Ward, Me & Thee throws us straight into a night in the life of two old friends (played by Ross Thompson and Reece Hallam), who, separated by geography, lifestyle choices etc and so forth, are reunited, ‘enjoying’ a night out seemingly consisting of drinking and dancing followed by more than a touch of the disorderly.

The visual signifiers are immediately there: both in the uniform of the man in his 20s (I’m guessing), trackie tops, jeans and Adidas footwear are all present and correct, but one wears it smarter somehow, the other more street (god I sound old). We’ll call them Smart (Thompson) and Street (Hallam).

Both return to Smart’s apartment in a mess. A drunken, bloody post-brawly mess. Street is energised by the encounter with strangers, Smart less so and somewhat shaken.

But no time for a post-fight post-mortem. Smart has a mini-fridge and Street is all over it.

As we gain clues into their current lives and their past, it is clear that what once brought them together no longer binds them. Shared experiences and memories can be a tonic for the soul, enough to keep friends together. But when one has ‘changed’, the other less so, the once compatible can be no more.


Commenting on the play, writer, James Ward says,

“We all have that one friend who, if you met today, as the person you are now, would not be someone you’d even associate with, let alone call your closest friend, and I think it’s important to explore that, to figure out what a healthy relationship really looks like in hindsight.This story raises this question in ourselves and will leave audiences looking at the person next to them, their best friend, their partner, and asking do they know them or like them at all?”

The production employs clever devices; lighting, recorded sounds and voices unseen, to give the audience a glimpse into the past. Those milestone moments in Street’s life which have led him to the chaos that he finds himself in. No job, just schemes, no partner or part in his son’s life, soon-to-have no home…all so different to Smart’s seemingly living the good-life set-up.

He’s written a book, he’s got an audition for Corrie, for goodness sake.

So far, their lives so polarised. But are they. The initial set up of hero and villain, angel and devil, starts to unravel. We’re shown a vulnerability to Street, a life not what it seems. Not the aggressor in the tortured relationship with his ex-partner, but the victim. For all the embarrassment caused to his friend with his approach to life which doesn’t seem to have changed since they both sat smoking out the back of the bakery where they both worked, there is a kindness and respect shown to Smart that doesn’t appear returned. Whereas Street’s foibles might be all out there on the table, Smart’s are hidden away until an uncomfortable explosion of bitterness, recriminations and home-truths come screaming out.

When push comes to literal shove, these two might be incompatible, but are they so different and is it clear-cut just who is ‘winning’ and who is not?

A sweeping statement but one I make often and will continue to. Fringe theatre is everything. The themes are wide-ranging and unapologetic and often so real. In just over 60 minutes, Me and Thee explored suicide, domestic violence, alcoholism, separation, child custody…it was all there. Without restraint and unencumbered by requirements of mass appeal or lofty production values, there is nowhere to hide.

Photo credit: Shay Rowan

Two actors, dialogue laid bare, no prop or scenery design thrills and spills to distract (Connect 4 aside), the writing and the acting takes (literal) centre stage in the spotlight.

Theatre and indeed art should make you think, feel something. Me & Thee achieves this in spades. Uncomfortable, relatable, debatable, it was the holy trinity of what gives me a thrill from fringe theatre. And as me and my very own ‘thee’ headed to off to our Dockyard debrief, we left feeling entertained and inspired to examine what makes a friendship, what breaks one, and how us humans can be complicated little buggers at times.

In summary, the University of Salford gives good illumni. And by good, I mean brilliant. And a shout-out to The Empty Seats theatre (formerly Footlights House). I love heading to a new space and look forward to returning in future.

So welcome back Farewell – and don’t leave it so long next time (I know, I say that like you had a choice – but I basically wanted to get in the So long, farewell…thing).

Read more…

https://www.facebook.com/FarewellTheatreCompany/

https://www.facebook.com/footlightshouse/


Farewell Theatre Company previously brought ‘Boots ‘n’ Braces’, to the stage,which was performed as part of the 2019 Greater Manchester Fringe Festival to two sold out audiences; earning the company a nomination for Best Newcomer at the 2019 Fringe Awards.

Review: The House with Chicken Legs at HOME Mcr

I’m a misery when it comes to children’s literature, films, television (although my wonderful young whirlwind of a niece is changing that – Hey Duggie is my ride or die.

I’m ageing myself but I’ve never read or watched a Harry Potter. I’ve not watched a Disney film that wasn’t made post 80s and I am firmly in the camp of just not getting watching or reading anything made for children for my own entertainment since I ceased to be one myself. I don’t get it.

Ok, Thursday a sitting duck and doing it for blog, I got it. And I may even have shed a few carefully crafted years of cynicism.

The House with Chicken Legs is brilliant. End of.

Well I’d actually better write a bit more lest I be labelled a lazy little blogger.

But it is. Thursday night at HOME, I managed to put a very long working day/week/month behind me, got out of my own head and straight into a fantasy world that by the end made perfect sense to me.

Credit: author’s own

The House with Chicken Legs (I know, marvellous isn’t it?) is adapted from the book written by Sophie Anderson, and (shock) although I’ve never read the book, it didn’t take me long for my buy-in to take place.

Marinka dreams of a normal life, where she can stay somewhere long enough to make friends; but there is one problem – her house has chicken legs and moves on without warning. For her grandmother is Baba Yaga who guides spirits from this world to the next. Marinka longs to change her destiny and break free from her grandmother’s footsteps, but her house has other ideas…

Is it me or does this not sound like the perfect premise for anything. It’s Monty Python on steroids with a delicious dose of the macabre.

And then the cast came out.

Rarely have I seen a cast work so hard.

Led by Eve De Leon Allen as ‘Marinka’. They are joined by Lisa Howard as ‘Baba’, David Fallon as ‘Ben’; Matthew Burns as ‘Jackdaw’; Keshini Misha as ‘Nina’ and Pérola Congo as ‘Yaga’.

And then some. For this wonderful ensemble act, mime, sing, dance and play their way through a whole host of characters, songs and instruments as the story takes us through a world that at the start shouldn’t feel logical but by the end you’re sad to leave behind.

The book is aimed at 9-12 year olds and deals with themes of death, grief, family, loneliness and love.

Now I’m here for the morbid, always here for the morbid. But despite fences made from skulls, a party in the kitchen with the dead and the living making mere cameos in proceedings, it was fun.

It was fun and it was happy and it was colourful and it was hilarious.

It didn’t feel patronising or condescending to its audience (who shouldn’t be limited to the under 12s – like I say, I’m starting to get it) but uncompromising. Uncompromising but appropriate and above all else, highly, highly, HIGHLY entertaining.

We haven’t even touched on the puppetry. A sucker for a puppet animal (My original ride or die being The Muppets) and when done right, can provoke as much emotion and wailing in me as those creatures they emulate – see War Horse.

Credit: Andrew AB Photography

Jack the Jackdaw has taken his place in my puppet animals who tug at my heartstrings hall of fame.

With houses emerging from the sky, video, music and projection literally taking us on a literal journey across land, sea, earth and beyond, everything was thrown at this production and it all landed perfectly. And those legs, those legs.

The story with its origins in Slavic folklore, the wonderful costumes and music played faithful homage.

Yes on Thursday, I happily left my cynicism behind and entered the world of the Yagas. And Monday morning when I re-enter the world of adult, work and my weary and wry take on ever-changing events, I’ll bring with me a little bit of a world where a house has chicken legs and nobody bats an eyelid.

I implore you to check out this show, which runs until 23 April.

Bravo cast, bravo Les Enfants Terrible, bravo HOME.

Full details of the performance and tickets can be found online at https://homemcr.org/production/the-house-with-chicken-legs/

All the info:

The House with Chicken Legs. has been adapted for the stage by Oliver Lansley from the novel of the same name by Sophie Anderson. The production is Directed by Oliver Lansley & James Seager with Set Design by Jasmine Swan; Music & Sound Design by Alexander Wolfe; Songs Co-written by Alexander Wolfe and Oliver Lansley; Costume & Puppetry Design by Samuel Wyer; Video Design by Nina Dunn; Lighting Design by Jane Lalljee and Original Illustrations by Melissa Castrillón and Elisa Paganelli © Usborne Publishing Ltd, 2018.

 

 

Review: The Bread We Break at Contact

I in no mean belittle this advice, I’m here to report the facts. And by facts I mean points of interest that capture my attention…

Allergen warning: there will be loose wheat as part of the set

This was in the programme notes and outside the door to the studio. The warning went onto explain that there was evidence that ‘the presence of wheat can cause allergens/illness with coeliacs, I believed them. I couldn’t quite imagine what I was walking into, but I believed them.

Once the wheat started flying I applauded this sentiment and warning even more. The title of this play was part analogy part literal – never more so than when the grains were poured and faux flour flew into the air creating a sort of culinary cloud.

The effect was hypnotic, much like the rest of the performance, visually, audibly, linguistically…

Egyptian-born feminist theatre-maker, Miray Sidhom’s show, commissioned by Contact, traces the history of political uprising from present day back to the Pharaonic era, just over a decade on from the 2011 Arab Spring (a series of anti-government protests which led the resignation of Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak).

Throughout the performance, Miray provides these historical accounts of protest against poverty and repression, and intersperses them with childhood memories, looking at matters through a personal lens and lending insight to a universal theme. The audience (forgive me for speaking for you, fellow theatre-goers, but I’m taking a punt based on the reaction I witnessed) was educated and enthralled, inspired and entertained throughout what felt like a fast-paced 60 minutes.

Generous with her audience, Miray shared audio of her mother, anecdotes from the breakfast table and…a playful confession towards the end that she’d never actually baked bread (not even over lockdown). As with everything in the piece, there was more meaning to this aside than to provoke a laugh.

She had never made bread, she had never protested on the ‘front line’ or been there in 2011. But that was ok. This piece was her form of protest, her tool to raise awareness in a world, well Britain specifically, where the right to protest is becoming threatened.

We were taught the importance of bread to the ancient and not so ancient Egyptians, the continuous loop it plays a part in.

The grain is required to make the bread to make the money to pay the workers who require the money to buy the bread. The bread (almost exclusively at one time) is required to live. For Egyptians, bread has been a staple of diet, of industry, of financial stability.

Bread also plays its own part in cultural symbolism. Miray demonstrates one such example with the simple starter dough. The moment water is added, everything in that mix takes on a new form forever. There is a reaction, and intervention; a change. This is protest.

Once the biggest exporter, Egypt now relies on the import process for its wheat. In fact it is the biggest importer of wheat in the world. Miray earlier flagged the importance of political stability in the import process.

By the way, Egypt imports its wheat from Ukraine and Russia.

And a dramatic rise in prices, for reasons that don’t require explanation, has pushed Egypt’s inflation into double figures.

And just like that, real life sadly added weight and a live case study to The Bread We Break.

Back to the performance itself, right at the top, the rhythmic tone was set with the beautiful drumming and tambourine sounds brought to the piece by Medhat Elmasry.

As Miray danced, shimmied, swayed and poured wheat (yes, I told you), she used every inch of the stage and every movement was deliberate, meaningful and hypnotic.

I was further enthralled by the technique of the live record, playback, repeat and loop of vocals, words and even pouring water, which created a wall of sound and poetry as the crescendo reached its climax.

Miray’s work and indeed talent isn’t restricted to just one or even two disciplines. Writer, actor, musician, dancer, poet, performer… I guess artist covers all?

The hour spent in that intimate space at Contact was a pleasure and I look forward to seeing, hearing, listening and generally immersing myself in Miray’s work again in future.

And I learnt a thing or two as well.

To find out what’s coming up at Contact Theatre visit: www.contactmcr.com

More details:

The Bread We Break – trailer

The Bread We Break was commissioned by Contact and supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Creative Team

Director – Alix Harris

Designer – Sascha Gilmour
Producer – Roxanne Moores
Composer – Shaun Fairweather
Projection Design – Tracey Gibbs
Musician – Medhat Elmasry

Review: Balloon Animal at Manchester Film Festival

As a child I used to marvel at the concept and sheer artistry of those who could transform balloon into beast (ridiculous but alliteration, I can’t not).

Even more so when I tried to do it myself not realising that a special type of balloon can only be used, and concluding that only those touched by magic can perform such activity.

Showing as part of this year’s Manchester Film Festival, Balloon Animal is a brilliant name for a film. It suggests a metaphor, a hidden meaning, a deep dive into the psyche of a named character.

I mean I’m sure we can make that happen but what I love is that producer and lead actor, Katherine Waddell, had this artistic vision of a blue haired girl making a balloon animal. Literally just that. And it all came from there. As someone who always used to draw people with blue hair when she was little, I’m all for that.

Katherine is a co-founder of First Bloom Films along with award-winning writer and director Em Johnson.

The two friends came together to make what I thought was a charmingly brilliant film, in only 12 days.

The tagline of the film is “A young circus performer (Poppy played Katherine Waddell), stuck under the harsh rules of her father (Dark played by Ilia Volok)and community expectations, finds herself captivated by small-town America, forcing her to question everything.”

I prepared myself for an abusive father, dark themes, trouble abound in the big tent but it was more…gentle. Calm, even. I think I watch too much American Horror Story (fun fact, a lot of the circus scenery and props was provided by the same company who supplied them for AHS Freak Show).

The breakfast scene as they both navigate the bitter grapefruit served up by Dark is funny and touching and, revealed by Em, Katherine and Ilia at the post-screening Q&A, largely ad-libbed.

We join the pair as another circus season draws to a close, and discussions ensue as to where the next stop should be. Meanwhile Poppy persuades fellow circus performers and friends, Lala (Danielle Baez) and Sadie (Erin Rae Li), to head out one night to see what the small town has to offer in terms of nightlife. The answer is not a great deal but they find fun (and alcohol) in a local bar and fast food in the diner afterwards. It is there that Poppy runs into local, Drew ( Michael David Wilson) who she previously encountered on a petrol forecourt.

Meeting Drew has clearly awakened something in her and she is keen to go when he invites the three to a gathering at his home later that week.

I have to say, the scenes with the three girls were some of my favourite. Funny, sharp dialogue portraying a genuine friendship and shared understanding of the trials and tribulations of circus life, the group’s dialogue and interactions lit up the screen.

Similarly, there is a tenderness in the two-hander scenes between Poppy and Drew and not to give the game away, any tension that she is walking into a trap is quickly tempered.

Treated to thoughts from Katherine and Em after the screening, they talked about what I thought was a wonderful and charming cinematographic approach where the traditional (and expected) aesthetic is turned on its head. Opening scenes aside, the circus is often shot with muted colours and lighting, whereas Poppy’s interactions in the ‘outside world’ are colourful and bold. Her circus life coming with a constant backdrop of music, bright lights and magic, Poppy sees this more in the seemingly ordinary and to some, mundane. The film’s strength lies in that empathy with the character is strong and the film-goer starts to quickly see life through their lens.

And it would be easy for there to be this big, bad situation in the protagonist’s life to bring the viewer right on board, triggering us all into rooting for our ‘hero’. This story is more subtle, layered. We don’t require big, brash themes and dramatic story arcs to understand this character’s wants and needs.

Freedom is a subjective concept, happiness can be induced by many and varied external factors. For some it’s bright lights and make-up. For others it’s a motel room with a working television and a side of independence and adventure.

In summary, if the lead actress of a film has a balloon-animal making hand double, you make a point of watching that film. It’s only right.

But also because it’s captivating and deserves to be seen.

For details of future screenings, follow the film on Instagram.

And here’s a little amuse bouche of a trailer for you Balloon Animal.

You can read more about the film here on the official website for Manchester Film Festival.

Katherine Waddell was also named Best Actress in the end of festival’s awards. Huge congrats to Katherine!


Review: Spaghetti Junction at Manchester Film Festival

There’s a rich history of films centred around the ‘stranger visits town’ trope. Sometimes that trope is literal; a mainstay for many a Western. Sometimes, that stranger is coming from somewhat further afield, swapping out a small town for Earth itself.

Starman, Superman, E.T. Close Encounters of the Third Kind – the list is pretty much endless. I hope you forgive that my particular list is a little (ok, a lot) steeped in 70/80s film culture.

As an adult, having told myself for some time now that ‘I’m not really a fan of sci-fi’ or ‘fantasy’, I have realised that not only am I doing myself a disservice, but absolutely the genres too, pigeon-holing them to the extreme. Actually conflating them too.

Sat on the sofa scrolling through a subsciption service we’ll call Fletnix, I perhaps would have dismissed such a film as fantasy/sci-fi and so not one for me. What a silly fool. A good film-maker rarely follows a formula, and will always take the viewer on a journey layering genre upon genre, the narrative, no matter the ‘theme’, steeped in aspects that one will always find a relevance in if the mind is open.

And that is why film festivals are flipping fantastic. Such is the fight for our attention given the easy, instant and wide scope of entertainment at our finger tips, it’s no wonder that the more choice there is, the more we stick to what we tell ourselves we like. With events such as Manchester Film Festival, we have carefully curated programmes which aim to bring new talent, new stories and new challenges to our often long-held blinkered beliefs of what we will and what we won’t enjoy.

Sometimes it’s time to step away from the usual, and take a trip into the fantastical.

And so to Spaghetti Junction (US), the feature film debut of filmmaker Kirby McClure, and making its UK premiere as part of the Manchester Film Festival (https://honorarymancblog.com/2022/03/12/manchester-film-festival-2022/).

The film tells the story of 16 year old August (Cate Hughes) , adjusting to life after a car crash took her leg, killed her mother, and left herself, sister Shiny (Eleanore Miechkowski) and their father (Cameron McHarg) to navigate through their new normal.

And at this point I want to say kudos for the portrayal of a dad who has been left alone to raise his children, not going down what is often the lazy, two-dimensional route of a (circle as appropriate) strict/violent/lazy/neglectful/unloving/abusive father figure.

Pause for applause.

When one night August sees a flash in the sky. she begins having strange dreams where a glowing figure beckons her towards a cave. Upon awakening, she goes to investigate a cave near her house— and inside she finds a strange and injured boy, ‘The Traveller’ (Tyler Rainey), who claims to have supernatural origins (meanwhile, whose likeness is concurrently being reported in the local paper as a missing teen).

As older sister Shiny is shown forging her way through a rebellious teenage life, making plans with her stoner boyfriend (Jesse Gallegos) to leave their sleepy hometown outside Georgia, Atlanta, August unexpectedly becomes the one who embarks on a journey of her own, both physically and spiritually; helping to find a map back to the Traveller’s own world in the universe, whilst finding an inner peace in her own.

The cinematography provides a tale of two halves. There is a jarring yet pleasing juxtaposition of loud, noisy, angry scenes of the concrete maze that is Spaghetti Junction; a real life ‘crisscrossing where freeways interweave’ (think Mancunian Way, but more exotic), and the ethereal, dreamlike sequences of nature, universe, countryside and fauna against an atmospheric musical score.

The contrast between dark and light and long held shots of the night-sky are successful in providing something of an immersive experience, ramping up the tension and empathy as August struggles to work out what is real, what is not and what it all means for her.

The film left me with some questions of my own unanswered but perhaps that’s the point. You can sit back and be told what to think (if only for the duration of the film), or you can bring your own theories and imagination to the party. Only then will you allow yourself to be taken to another world through the magic of cinema.

I’ll leave you hanging there, but for more details including a trailer and when/where you can view future screenings of Spaghetti Junction, visit https://spaghettijunctionfilm.com/

For the full programme of films being screened and having been screened in this year’s Manchester Film Festival, visit https://www.maniff.com/

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Cast and crew

About the Director: Kirby McClure is a filmmaker living in Atlanta, Georgia. His experimental short film “SWEAT” premiered at TIFF in 2014. His music video work for artists like Skrillex, Britney Spears and Yeasayer have been nominated for the MTV VMA as well as the UK MVA. He was featured in Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” and NY Mag’s “10 Directors to Watch”.

“Spaghetti Junction” is written & directed by Kirby McClure, executive produced by Georges Bermann (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Science of Sleep”), with an ominous and atmospheric score by HEALTH (“Max Payne,” “Grand Theft Auto”), and cinematography by Kristian Zuniga (Depeche Mode’s “Spirits In The Forest” and Sundance Film Festival premiere “Beast Beast”).

“Spaghetti Junction” stars Cate Hughes in her feature film debut, Tyler Rainey (“Mind, will and emotions,” “Flipped”), Cameron McHarg (“Pearl Harbor,” “Deer Season”), Jesse Gallegos (“Greyhound,” “The World Beyond”), Tiffany Larkin (“Lillian,” “Frost”), and Eleanore Miechkowski (“Arcana Six,” “More Than You Know”).

Manchester Film Festival 2022

This week was monumental. After what felt like a long, long dark winter, the sun set AFTER 6pm.

Today is also monumental as Manchester Film Festival 2022 throws open its literal and metaphorical doors to us Mancs, honorary and actual, and all those visiting our fine city. From 12 – 20 March, over 130 films will screen at Odeon Great Northern.

All films are making their mancunian screening debut, 74 will be making their UK premiere, with 27 making their world premiere.

Pretty exciting stuff, eh?

My heart continues to leap every time a Manchester event moves back offline and into the real world, and this is a real humdinger.

Festival Director, Neil Jeram-Croft, concurs…

After being forced online last year we’re really excited to be back 100% in person and in cinema at the fantastic Odeon Great Northern. We have our most expansive and diverse line-up of films ever, with award winners, world premieres and loads of local talent on display. Manchester Film Festival is back with its biggest edition ever!

Over the week, highlights include:

  • Winner of the Cannes Grand Prix award, Compartment Number 6 playing on Sunday 13 March, with psychological drama Nitram , winner of the Best Actor at Cannes, showing the day after on Monday 14 March
  • Winner of Best Film at the BFI London Film Festival, Hit the Road screens on Tuesday 15 March
  • Documentary Bisping: The Michael Bisping Story, about the Clitheroe born former UFC champion, has its UK premiere on Monday 14 March
  • The world premieres of UK films God’s Petting You a dark comedy about Brighton’s underworld, and documentary Spitfire: The Longest Flight, about a British pilot and his team attempting a world-first circumnavigation of Earth in an 80 year old vintage WII fighter.

North West filmmakers will also have their place in the spotlight with two sessions of shorts on Tuesday 15 March and Sunday 20 March.

Actual Manc, Natalie Kennedy, makes her feature directorial debut with Black Mirror-esque Blank, about a writer who enlists an A.I. to help with her writer’s block (Natalie, you have my attention…).

For full details of the line-up, visit https://www.maniff.com/maniff2022-official-selection

Check the trailer here…

Watch this wordpress space for muses and ‘reviewses’ from some of the features later in the week.

In the meantime, get to the front of the line and purchase your tickets HERE for £5 individually, £20 for a five-ticket bundle, £35 for a ten-ticket bundle of a full festival pass is £65. Incredible value.

So grab your popcorn, and don’t miss your opportunity to see some of the fine talent on offer, all on your doorstep.

HOME announces award winning artists from the 2022 Manchester Open Exhibition

Having visited this year’s Manchester Open Exhibition and seen for myself the breadth of artistic talent on display, I can only imagine what a difficult job it would have been. But someone had to do it!

The judging has taken place and last night, HOME announced the 5 winners of the Manchester Open Awards 2022!

Read more about the exhibition here: Preview: Mcr Open Exhibition 2022

HOME shared the tricky task of selecting this year’s award winners with Castlefield Gallery, choosing from a shortlist of 20 artists.

10,000 pounds of prize funding is being distributed to local creative talent with prizes including tailored artist development packages managed by Castlefield Gallery and HOME to help guide and invest in their practice, a solo show at HOME’s Granada Foundation Gallery and The People’s Choice Award

The nominated artists were broken down into five award categories.

But enough of this intro , build-up and tension!

The awards and winners are as follows:

• Granada Foundation Gallery Award – Gwen Evans, Portrait of a Woman, Oil, acrylic and airbrush on board (Gallery No.435)

• Castlefield Gallery: Artist Professional Development Award 1 -Gherdai Hassell, Solar, Mixed media collage archival print(Gallery no.409)

• Castlefield Gallery: Artist Professional Development Award 2 – Annabelle Richmond-Wright, Alexa, deconstructed computer chair, hand-stitched foam, latex and found object high heels.(Gallery No. 469)

• Castlefield Gallery: Artist Professional Development Award – 50+ – Nan Collantine, Oceans Apart no.22 (I think it’s going to rain today), Oil paint and oil bar on canvas (Gallery No.62)

And the final award, The People’s Choice Award was voted by the public and will receive £250 Cass art voucher and a bespoke development opportunity to be agreed with artist: Winner Luke Armstrong, Paper Samurai, paper sculpture (Gallery No. 458)

Runners up for The People’s Choice Award are: 2nd place – Michelle Topping, Evade, graphite and colouring pencil on paper, 3rd place – Carlos Feng, Isolation, acrylic on canvas, 4th place – Jen Orpin, Stand Your Ground, oil painting on canvas and 5th place – Arnold Pollock, Kam, film.

Congratulations to all!

Helen Wewiora, Director and Artistic Director, Castlefield Gallery, says:

It’s an honour to have been asked to be part of the Manchester Open judging panel again. Submissions for the 2022 exhibition evidence the wealth of artistic and creative talent in the city and city region. The finalists shortlisted for the Manchester Open Awards this year further demonstrate a high level of creative skills and artistic promise.

In the first five weeks, HOME’s award-winning exhibition has generated over £23,000 in art sales with 93 artworks sold, exceeding the inaugural exhibition’s target of £22,000 in 2020.

Kate Royle, Marketing and Sales Officer – Visual Art and Theatre, says:

It proves that there is demand to support Manchester’s diverse local artists. The Manchester Open also serves as an accessible entry point if you are starting your art collecting journey or you just want to snap up a great work of art. It’s fantastic to see so many artists supporting other artists in these purchases and art lovers supporting local artists!

Your last chance to deflect fomo and visit the Manchester Open Exhibition to see not only the award-winning works but all those other fantastic pieces, is swift approaching.

Closing Sunday 27 March, what are you waiting for? Of you go!

For full details, including tickets, visit https://homemcr.org/exhibition/manchester-open-exhibition-2022/

Film review: Caravaggio, part of the Derek Jarman retrospective, Jarman at HOME

Before we start, HOME is one of my favourite spaces in Manchester. I just wanted to say that. I haven’t professed any feelings for the place itself in quite a while, given the frequency I visit. I don’t take it for granted, especially given the recent enforced absence (I’m over using the C word).

So no, I don’t take it for granted but heading into the building yesterday just before 6pm, leaving again just after 8pm, it was a hive, a sheer hive, people, of activity.

People heading in and out of the Manchester Open Exhibition, heading upto the theatres and cinemas, eating, drinking and laptopping in the ground bar/ the upstairs restaurant, some browsing in the shops (they’ve got Ian Curtis greeting cards in there at the moment), chatting to greeters at the welcome desk, standing in line at the box office.

It’s just…life, people enjoying it and squeezing every last cultural drop out of it, courtesy of HOME. So a little late according to the February love calendar, but I heart you HOME.

And so as part of a collaboration with Manchester Art Gallery and their Protest! exhibition, HOME is currently in the midst of a Derek Jarman retrospective. The set designer, author, filmmaker and actual gardener…all in addition to being a pivotal figure in gay rights activism; a leading campaigner against Clause 28.

The screening movingly introduced by celebrated filmmaker, Francis Lee (God’s Own Country, Ammonite), Caravaggio was made in 1986 and stars a young Dexter Fletcher (a young Caravaggio), Nigel Terry (Caravaggio), Tilda Swinton (Lena) and I’m going to call him a national treasure because he JUST IS – Sean Bean (Ranuccio).

Born in 1942, 80 years ago, we lost Jarman in 1994 to an AIDS related illness. But as with every great artist, he lives on through his work.

The film follows takes us through the…fictional life (although there are, of course, factual details scattered throughout) of the 17th century Italian painter Michaelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio.

As perhaps dark and somewhat tormented as his paintings, the artist was a convicted criminal and, as depicted amidst a different narrative, indeed a murderer, having killed ‘friend’ Ranuccio in a sword fight.

The film itself is a painting with a pulse. Shot beautifully in faithful tribute to Caravaggio’s art in rich reds, dark shadows and a clever use of light to bring into focus, a serious of close-ups on faces, the expressions of which can tell a thousand words in a 5 second shot. Additionally we enjoy the steady, measured narrative of the older Caravaggio from his deathbed as he examines his life.

Indeed the almost ominously haunting timbre of Nigel Kelly’s voice along with the dark depictions on screen are reminiscent of those absolutely terrifying public information films of the 70s, in particular this little gem, Lonely Water, from 1973 (voiced by Donald Pleasance as the Grim Reaper):

https://youtu.be/xZWD2sDRESk

The film shows Caravaggio using friends, prostitutes, friendly prostitutes, to pose and create a vision which the artist committed to canvas. In fact our only source of his work being those paintings, the film reverses this process as we’re seeing them come to life.

As the young Caravaggio, Dexter Fletcher (giving me strong Jagger vibes), portrays a cocksure and literal street-wise attitude as a teenager both painting and prostituting himself to men for money. But in the close-ups a vulnerability comes screaming through.

Nigel Kelly gives a steady, thoughtful, brooding performance, the ferocious passion left to his paintings and occasional angry outburst to weary models who might dare to break position during long, weary, heavy, meticulous painting sessions long into the night.

His gentle, caring and paternal side is reserved for a deaf and mute companion, introduced as a young boy sold to the artist to assist him in his work. Indeed their relationship is touching, non-moreso as the young, but now grown man clings to him as Caravaggio’s literally takes his own rapidly dwindling life into his own hands.

The somewhat mutually beneficial relationship between Caravaggio and Michael Gough’s Cardinal Del Monte is, to use modern parlance, problematic. One on hand, supportive, perhaps again mutually exploitative, but given the relationship’s origins of young, vulnerable artist/adult high-standing church leader, the film isn’t shy to shine a light on the age old theme of religious hypocrisy and abuse (wherever on the scale this may come).

OK, we’ve waited long enough. Sean Bean (Shaun Baun) makes his film debut and as we don’t hear him speak for a fair few scenes, I wondered whether this is one performance where his glorious yorkshire accent is left unheard (side note, I don’t actually wish to reduce Sean Bean to a caricature – I have much admiration).

It is not.

Indeed as Dexter Fletcher before him delivers his lines in a captivating cockney accent, and various english accents and dialects are allowed to flourish, we are treated to Ranuccio/Bean delivering his lines in the way nature intended and what I enjoyed as a wonderful juxtaposition to his italian baroque aesthetic.

Speaking of which, the anachronistic elements of the cinematography slowly but surely start to creep in as the film progresses. To the point where the viewer (shh, me) is almost second-guessing everything they thought they knew. Did the tuxedo, the motorbike, electric lighting, trains, the calculator exist in 17th century Italy (or, of course, anywhere)? It’s clever and it’s symbolic of how biblical figures in Caravaggio’s paintings would collide with the aesthetics of the dress of modern day (then, of course) Italy.

Importantly, an overarching theme of the film is sexuality, and the erotic depictions of the male form. The suggested bisexuality of the artist is explored in highly charged and homoerotic scenes, as his gaze falls on bare-chested Ranuccio engaged in an organised bare-knuckle fight. But not exclusively.

His attention turns to Ranuccio’s girlfriend Lena (portrayed in an almost ethereal sense by the wonderful Tilda Swinton). What were the motivations?

The artist’s averted attention and passion in the film for Lena; a means to an end to capture her engagement as his model for his art? To provoke a jealousy in a more genuine love and lust for Ranuccio? A diversion to himself, others of the true sense of his feelings? There is a definite question mark over the latter, given the eventual fate of the three main players in the triangle.

The film is layered but the unapologetic depictions of homosexuality are strong.

There are many parallels to be drawn in this depiction between one artist, and another. Derek Jarman’s passion for taking on the establishment, pushing (others’) boundaries in his art in his films, paintings, poetry, the way he lived his life and advocated for others sharing a suppression by society.

And so, the programme, Jarman at HOME, which opened on 30 January 2022, comprises all of the director’s 11 feature films in addition to 11 short films, presented chronologically over six weeks with special guests and speakers due to attend several screenings.

Co-Curator Rachel Hayward, Head of Film at HOME, comments:

Filmmaker. Artist. Set designer. Author. Gardener. Activist. Jarman was a true polymath and we are delighted to be hosting this extensive retrospective of one of the most influential figures in contemporary British culture. We look forward to screening all of Jarman’s 11 feature films to our audiences, alongside some lesser-known short films, and we encourage people to also check out the brilliant Protest! exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery to be fully immersed in the world of Derek Jarman.

Please click here for details of the full programme of events and to book tickets: https://homemcr.org/event/jarman-at-home/.

As mentioned, the retrospective runs alongside Manchester Art Gallery’s Protest! exhibition which marks the first time the diverse strands of Jarman’s practice – as painter, writer, filmmaker, set-designer, gardener, political activist – have been brought together in over 20 years, since the significant exhibition of his work at the Barbican, London, in 1996.

Derek Jarman? You have my attention. Next stop, Manchester Art Gallery…

Review: Private Lives at The Lowry

There was a certain excitement stroke cockiness as I strode, yes strode into the Lowry last night.

I’ve been to the Lowry before. I’ve seen Nigel Havers on stage before. I’ve seen Nigel Havers in a play at the Lowry before. I’ve seen a production of Private Lives in Manchester before.

But never had all parts come together for me in what already felt like a perfect storm.

Noel Coward’s Private Lives had been forever etched on my radar thanks to my ‘fascination-bordering-obsession’ for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, the already twice-divorced couple who famously took on the lead roles on Broadway in 1983.

And it is all too apparent why.

Private Lives tells the story of Elyot and Amanda, who were once married, find themselves on honeymoon with their new partners, in the same hotel on the French Riviera, admiring the view from adjoining balconies. Their initial horror quickly evaporates and soon they are sharing cocktails. Who knows what the future holds for them now…

In this production, The Olivier Award winning and glorious Patricia Hodge, plays Amanda, Nigel Havers, charm personified, plays Elyot, the role taken by Noël Coward himself in the original production in 1930.

Both actors bringing the class demanded of the roles and words, the clipped delivery of the ferocious back and forth of the once married couple was captivating.

Havers and Hodge were deliciously devilish, as they quarrelled, kissed, sang, duelled and danced, delivering Coward’s bitingly witty repartee surely as nature indeed intended.

We laughed, gasped (and coughed – who knew 15 years ago two solitary cigarettes smoked briefly aloft a theatre stage could cause such reaction) as the play reached its dizzy heights.

Worthy sparring partners, we would assume their respective spouses, Sybil (Natalie Walter) and Victor (Dugald Bruce-Lockhart) are meek, mild, accommodating; the perfect antidote to their previous fractious marriage. Indeed at the top of the play, aloft their French Riviera hotel balconies, this appears so.

Hold their cocktails.

Hysterically and screamingly funny, in all definitions of the word, by the end, it was difficult to choose which ‘couple’ was the most wonderfully abhorrent.

There was also a brief but spirited appearance by Aïcha Kossoko as French maid Louise (my GCSE in French only letting me down slightly), bringing the calm (and brioche) into the field of battle.

With sets, songs and sollocks (not a typo) we were transported straight to the 20s (no the other less pandemicky 20s) in what was a glorious and riotous farce.

Plus Havers in tuxedos and smoking jackets – a match made in heaven.

Such fun.

On until 19 Feb, for all details and to book tickets, head to The Lowry website – Private Lives

Preview: Manchester Open Exhibition returns HOME this week

Can it be two years since the inaugural exhibition? And what a two years it’s been.

Well let’s not go into that, but the first Manchester Open Exhibition was so super, I even walked away with a purchased piece. A piece that soon began to take on layered and multiple meetings in the 12 months following…

So what are we talking about here?

From tomorrow, Monday 24 January, the exhibition will fill the gallery at HOME with contemporary artwork by over 400 Greater Manchester artists.

Selected by a curator panel made up of art experts and community representatives, this year’s exhibition saw 2271 entries from Manchester residents of all different backgrounds and experience.

2020’s exhibition saw over 33,000 visitors through the door and was a huge success.

So what can we expect from this year’s exhibition?

  • A multi-disciplinary range of paintings, prints, photography, sculpture, digital, mixed media, video, audio, spoken word, performance and much more
  • Kinetic sculpture, performance, pet photography, a mother-daughter collaboration dealing with grief and loss, contemporary dance and a variety of portrait art representing people’s views of being isolated during lockdown
  • Artists ranging from as young as 3 years old to artists in their 70s
  • Submissions from all over Greater Manchester including Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, and Wigan.

There is also £10,000 worth of bespoke prizes will be awarded, with prize packages to be designed in partnership with each winner

The exhibition is free, and numbers will be managed in timed slots to ensure social distancing, therefore advance booking is advised.

Visitors can book their slot here: https://homemcr.org/exhibition/manchester-open-exhibition-2022/

The exhibition runs from Monday 24 January – Sunday 27 March 2022.

Slot booked for 1 February, I’ll see you there!