Review: Looking Good Dead at The Lowry

I’ve been tussling with this. I’ve been going back and forth. The grown up writer in me (it’s there somewhere) tells me to not be so obvious, cliched and obvious again. The forever child in me behind the blog reminds me that I’m here to document my experiences, thoughts, feelings, passions, obsessions and delectations. Yes delectations.

Please give me a pass for the first blog post of 2022 and let me do away with even a scrap of imagination when it comes to introducing this review. The heart wants what the heart wants.

And so without further ado, Adam Woodyatt, Ian Beale, Eastenders.

I’ve grown up with them (well the latter two), I continue to grow up with them and I also revisit past incarnations weekly on Drama channel in the form of Classic Eastenders. I’m grieving for Ian Beale since he disappeared from ‘the Square’ (present day) following carbonara-gate. Thankfully Sharon’s plot to poison him with my favourite dish was foiled and Ian Beale lived to see another doof doof.

He’s gone, but not forgotten and not without option to return. But until then, I decided that enough was quite enough and if I had to go seek him out, seek him out I would.

And so to opening night and from now on (well probably until the wrap-up paragraph of this post as I do love a bit of book-ending), I shall speak only of Adam Woodyatt as Tom Bryce, the lead character in Looking Good Dead, the play of the book by Peter James, adapted for stage by Shaun McKenna.

Fans of the popular books will be familiar with Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, a much loved character committed to solving crime, and Looking Good Dead follows the stage success of other adaptations of The Perfect Murder and Dead Simple.

Back to Looking Good Dead, Tom Bryce (Woodyatt) family man, business man, every man returns home brandishing a USB stick left behind by a stranger on a train (not that one…). Said stranger has been irritating him all journey with his loud conversations and protestations (hi daily tram commute) and Tom can’t resist grabbing the discarded stick to check out at home, just in case ‘it’s important’.

It’s certainly…well, not sure important’s strictly the word.

In fact metaphorical curtain up, and the opening scene of the play gives us a glimpse of the coming attraction, a preview of what’s to come as we’re met with a woman about to get more than she bargained for when she suddenly finds herself in chains with a knife to her throat and a camera (and ring light, naturally) in her face.

As with all the best bondage and murder mysteries, we’re then immediately plunged into a scene of domestic bliss at the Bryce home. Well no, not bliss. As wife and mother Kellie (Gaynor Faye) merrily vacuums around the designer sofa sipping from her water bottle, we soon learn that she’s not hydrating with H2O. And that show-home isn’t all it seems and could soon be history, as the family flounder in debt to the tune of £150k.

And as Tom and teenage son Max (Luke Ward-Wilkinson) later settle on the sofa, son cracking the password to the UBS stick with only the casual panache that a techy teen can carry off, they find themselves watching the full feature film. And reader? We’re plunged straight into snuff-film territory. Yes, snuff in Salford on a Tuesday night.

With barely time to strap ourselves in for a bumpy night, we’re taken on a twisted tale of family ties, sordid streaming and, well, light-hearted murder and s&m bestiality bantz (flogging a dead horse got a titter from me) from the guys ‘back at the station’, including our hero of the piece, Roy Grace (Harry Long).

This is no sleepy, cookie-cutter whodunnit. But it has enough of an injection of farce, a fair balance of the tongue in cheek, with a healthy dose of darkness and dastardly deeds to keep you engaged right up until the end.

And with sleek transitioning between sets and scenes, all it really missed was the doof doofs.

Looking Good Dead is on at the Lowry until 22 January 2022.

For full details and to book tickets, visit https://thelowry.com/whats-on/peter-james-looking-good-dead/

Pic credits – the author (1-3) and Alastair Muir

Review: The Northern Chamber Orchestra delivers Christmas cheer to Tatton Park

Last Friday 10 December saw the first of two Christmas concerts that day, given by the Northern Chamber Orchestra in Knutsford, And I was excited.

But it won’t be the first time I’ve misjudged an entrance and it surely won’t be the last.

It actually wasn’t even the first time I misjudged the entrance to Tatton Park but I shall never learn.

I’ll keep it brief but my best laid plan of getting the train to Knutsford, prancing down the high street with a skip in my step and a face full of cheer, and then swanning into the Christmas concert with a complimentary mulled wine in my hand and a mince pie in my belly, with half an hour’s grace to pick out the crumbs from my jumper and the red wine smile from my lips, as I calmly awaited a wonderful afternoon of music, went somewhat…

differently.

Never go on foot to Tennants Hall in Tatton Park from the Knutsford entrance unless you realise that said hall is further away than you think or you’ve read the directions correctly or you have plenty of time to reach your destination. Special thanks to the gentleman on the entrance gate who adopted a kind and sympathetic expression as he revealed my immediate fate.

Top tip – gates closer to the Hall are readily available. ditto driving lessons.

So the reality was arriving two minutes before the orchestra took their seats, mulled wine swapped for a refreshing glass of orange to counteract the wheezing from rushing 2.5 miles steadily uphill in 20 minutes, and an embarrassing display climbing over my fellow audience members as I tried to locate my mid-row seat in a massive panic.

But it was all worth it.

The Northern Chamber Orchestra, who are the oldest professional chamber orchestra in the North West, and joined by the choir of St Nicholas Catholic High School, Northwich, were on top form and quickly banished my own performance to the consigns of my collection of memories of dread and tension, ready to revisit at 3am during the next bout of insomnia.

In a room bedecked with Christmas trees (and wall-mounted stags which were actually quite beguiling), the elegant Kate Millward warmly introduced us to what promised to be (and duly did deliver) an afternoon of classic and contemporary Christmas music, including Sleigh Ride and the Overture from Hansel and Gretel, and film music such as the themes from Harry Potter and E.T., and audience carols for all to sing.

And yes, with apologies to those seated around me (for the second time that afternoon), I sang my little heart out. I don’t extend my apologies to my plus 1 as the vows taken lock him firmly into listening to me at any given point, without complaint or get-out clause.

More beautiful a sound was the St Nicholas Catholic High School choir, conducted by the School’s Director of Music, Helen McKenna, who together filled the room with their beautiful voices and melodies and complimented the orchestra wonderfully, forming a marvellous, musical partnership.

The concert took me back to school and Brownies and all those wonderful carols that did indeed herald the start of the ‘most magical time of the year’. a feeling which can often be diluted the older you get, especially given recent times. But the orchestra and choir left me feeling tingly, warm and indeed emotional, as I was taken back to Christmases past. I actually cried during John Williams’s theme from E.T. (after having successfully managed to avoid a repeat watch of the film since the age of 6 because I’m a big,baby – his little face though…).

There’s nothing in the world that provokes such emotion and memories more than music. Especially when performed as beautifully.

And so back to Christmas present, Kate Millward regaled us with readings both witty and wise and the concert drew to a close with a hand-clapping, Santa hat-wearing rendition of We Wish you a Merry Christmas as the choir returned to the stage.

Getting back out of the park after dark was a whole different story but let’s leave that one for another time. And make clear that any lunacy and confusion surrounding entering and leaving the park is solely on the shoulders of this writer. And I’d do it all again in Christmas future.

Happy holidays!

For details or more upcoming concerts by the wonderful Northern Chamber Orchestra visit www.ncorch.co.uk.

Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at The Lowry

Last night was just what I needed.

Never have I seen such a happy, smiley post-show foyer. Ok everyone was masked up (well done everyone) but the eyes and laughter had it.

In a world where we’ve entered plan B, plan A was to head to press night of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at The Lowry.

Note this was before the official start of the show – those seats soon filled up!

And in a world where we feel we’re through the looking glass and beyond most days, heading through the wardrobe to a magical land feels most appetising and possibly less scary, witch or no witch.

But enough with the dark, tenuous analogies! Last night was just lovely, lovely, lovely.

Direct from London, the smash hit production of C.S. Lewis’ classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, voted the nation’s favourite book in 2019 (and one of mine in, cough, the 80s).

This is the story of Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter as they wave goodbye to wartime Britain and embark on the most magical of adventures in a frozen, faraway land where they meet a Faun, talking Beavers, the noble king of Narnia, Aslan, and the coldest, most evil of all, The White Witch.

I’ve seen that stage on Salford Quays transformed into multiple scenarios and situations, but last night that space had me captivated. The choreography of actors, musicians, puppetry, props had me mesmerised from the opening strains of We’ll Meet Again.

Each character was a delight and brought you into their world in their own individual way. Mr Tumnus made me laugh, broke my heart, the beavers made me want them to adopt me and take me in as one of them (ditto the Professor), Samantha Womack sent a chill as cold as an eternal winter with her icy White Witch, her costumes made me want to step into her wardrobe never mind any other.

The children, daughters of Eve, sons of Adam were perfectly pitched as our eyes, ears and guide through a world of fear and fantasy.

But let’s talk about the felines, the mighty Aslan and, for me, the equally mighty Schroedinger (how I wish I’d named my cat after a paradox – I went with Bryan). I fall in love with every animal I come in contact with and thanks to the mechanics and puppetry on show, this was no exception.

With falling snow and (spoiler) leaves, flying witches, steam trains crossing the stage, and backdrops that come alive before your very eyes, this is definitely one for adults and children, lovers of the book and newbies to Narnia.

And the even better news? The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is on at The Lowry until 15 January 2022.

Visit The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for tickets and more information.

Production details:

The cast includes Samantha Womack (White Witch),  Ammar Duffus (Peter Pevensie), Shaka Kalokoh (Edmund Pevensie), Robyn Sinclair (Susan Pevensie) and Karise Yansen (Lucy Pevensie).   Aslan is played by Chris Jared, Mr Tumnus by Jez Unwin, Mr Beaver by Sam Buttery and Maugrim by Michael Ahomka-Lindsay. The tour will be directed by Michael Fentiman, based on the original production by Sally Cookson with original Set and Costume design by Rae Smith.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is produced on tour by Elliott & Harper Productions and Catherine Schreiber and based on the original Leeds Playhouse production.

Preview: The Northern Chamber Orchestra to bring in Christmas at Tatton Park this December

I have never been so ready for Christmas. Note when I say ready, I don’t mean the practicalities. No matter what I promise myself every year, I will never be that person who’s done, dusted and has Christmas wrapped up (figuratively and literally) by November.

No, after Christmas was almost cancelled last year, any jadedness and apathy that comes with getting older is gone this year.

And so I’m seeking out anything that will help me on my way.

So The Northern Chamber Orchestra playing two Christmas concerts on 10 December at Tatton Park, Knutsford, is certain to float my festive boat.

Joined by the choir of St Nicholas Catholic High School, Northwich, The Northern Chamber Orchestra, who are the oldest professional chamber orchestra in the North West, will perform a concert filled with festive music including Sleigh Ride and the Overture from Hansel and Gretel, film music such as the themes from Harry Potter and E.T., and audience carols for all to sing.

The orchestra will be joined by the Choir of St Nicholas Catholic High School, Northwich, conducted by the School’s Director of Music, Helen McKenna, for a collection of beautiful carols and choral works.

Actor, writer and director Kate Millward (whose talents include creating and performing her own material, specialising in bespoke, festive narratives) will present the concert and bring a touch of literary drama with a few specially-selected readings and poems.

If that isn’t enough to get your Christmas bells jingling, the concert ticket price includes a warming, winter drink or fruit juice, and a festive sweet tit-bit!

The concerts take place at 3.30pm and 7.00pm on Friday 10 December at Tatton Park.

Tickets are priced at £26.00, with discounts for students, under 18s and groups of 10+, and are on sale from www.ncorch.co.uk or 0161 247 2220.

See you in Knutsford on the 10th!

Review: Forgotten Voices at Hope Mill Theatre

Forgotten Voices is something special.

To listen to the story of somebody’s life experiences is already a privilege. For that story to be written by that person’s grandson, moreso. But when that story is important, powerful, heartfelt, beautifully written and acted, it’s a whole other level.

Written by David Moorhouse, directed by Margaret Connell, and brought to Hope Mill Theatre as part of October’s Black History month, Forgotten Voices is a one woman show inspired by the life of Eva Moorhead Kadalie, the widow of South Africa’s first national black trade union leader, Clements Kadalie – known as the father of black trade unionism and the man who shook South Africa.

The play covers the turbulent years from 1919 to 1956 in South Africa including the 1919 Cape Town Harbour strike, the creation and of the Industrial and Commercial Union and its swift rise to prominence, the 1927 passing of the Native Administration Act (making it illegal to criticise the whites) and the subsequent court case and the role of the media in silencing the black voice.

It’s 1956 and Eva is on board the boat ready to take her away from South Africa, and over to England for a new life.

The next 70 minutes are a self-reflection of the last three decades as Eva contemplates her lives already lived, and where the next chapter should take her.

The voices are the people who have come and gone, those who remain, the memories and the moments (those buried a little deeper than others) which have made Eva the woman stood before us on deck.

credit: Hope Mill Theatre

Passionately played by Manchester actress, Shareesa Valentine, Eva takes us through three decades; her childhood as a mixed race girl growing up in South Africa, the challenges this brought to her and her brother, the abandoment by her white Father, the deep love and and even deeper losses shared with husband Clements Kadalie, along with the deep pride and passion they had in their fight for freedom.

Not to mention Barbara…

credit: author’s own

Sharing a stage with only a pile of suitcases, lifebelt and bench, Shareesa commanded the space as she delivered an impassioned and energetic monologue with a spirited and charismatic performance which left us laughing, smiling, sorrowful and at times deathly silent as she took us through the life of a woman who was more than the sum of her parts (as moving as each part individually was).

And as Shareesa lived out those parts and a final hidden voice revealed Eva’s fate (lost 1974) and final journey back to South Africa in 2010 as her ashes were taken to the grave of her late husband Clements (lost 1951), I felt in that short space of time, in that wonderful little theatre, that I had just witnessed an incredible life flashing before my eyes and a consequential sense of loss. The standing ovation (no mean feat in our huddled sell-out seated space), told me I wasn’t alone.

To read more about Forgotten Voices, visit https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/forgotten-voices

More details can be found about Black History Month here.

I’ll leave with the speech that Eva she gave to workers when a factory went out on strike in 1947…

From the very beginning women have played an important part in the long struggle for freedom, right from the days of slavery where Negro women helped their men folk to break their chains of bondage. I would like to mention that most of these women were not of the intellectual class, but ordinary slaves.

I feel certain, that if I had space to do so, I would name hundreds of women doing  similar work which we are doing in different parts of the world. The names of the those women are scarcely known outside of the communities in which they live and labour, but the value of their services they have rendered is greater than can ever be fully measured or known. We had hard problems, it is true, but instead of despairing in the face of difficulties we should, as a race, thank God that we have a problem.

Eva Moorhead Kadalie

Review: Hold Me Close at Salford Arts Theatre

I LOVE going somewhere new and nothing takes me more places than fringe theatre.

Last Friday night it was the turn of Salford Arts Theatre and Two in a Bed Theatre Company’s Hold Me Close.

The theatre company, isn’t new to me having seen their work before at The Kings Arms a couple of years back: Review: Frozen Peas in an Old Tin Can (Greater Manchester Fringe)

Wow, isn’t it weird how thanks to COVID any past event is pretty much a couple of years ago+.

And so to Hold Me Close.

“Back in his childhood home in Bolton after several years, David (named after Mr Essex himself) finds himself realising he’s a lot more like his mum than he ever thought he was. While drinking whiskey, peeling potatoes and playing dominos, can they both rekindle the mother and son love they once had back when he was just a little kid?”


Written and directed by Joe Walsh, produced by Owen Murphy and performed by Deborah Sekibo (Coronation Street) and Jake Talbot (Drowning), the two-hander is 60 minutes of real-time tussling between mother and son at the kitchen table with occasional departures to make a ham butty or dance to Brotherhood of Man.

You’re already getting kitchen sink drama aren’t you (don’t tell the other genres will you, but that’s my favourite).

And it was.

Reading the premise, I braced myself for accusation, counter-accusation, bitterness, barracking, regret, counter-regret, and whilst ready to lap it all up, wondered if a Friday night out was about to feel a whole lot more…I don’t know, Tuesday (which to be fair are fine too, just a bit dark).

But thanks to the authenticity of the writing and performances, Hold Me Close was more than your average parent vs offspring back and forth . Ding ding, round 1…

I love you

I hate you

You did this

Because you did that

No, it was a tapestry of the light and dark. And it was funny with touch-points of the contemporary too.

You see, David’s not just been away from home, he’s been living his best reality show TV life in Ibiza, bagging himself the holy trinity of cash prize/shortlived showmance and rehab stint to boot.

David’s vices lived out on TV, mum’s drinking lived out behind close doors.

She doesn’t drink anymore (of course she drinks anymore), but together mother and son drink, dance and domino together as they fondly recall scenes from a childhood and less fondly scenes from a drug overdose.

And we laughed until we suddenly didn’t. And you could have heard a pin drop in Salford Arts Theatre.

Because just as I was thinking, this has been 50 minutes of fantastically acted dialogue between mother and son which has resisted hysteria and over the top melodrama whilst retaining depth and doses of darkness, all the while heading to a quiet resolution (yes I think in overly long descriptive summaries) …things were taken to another level.

And I’m tussling over whether I go over all spoiler.

Results are in. I won’t (message me and I’ll tell you if you like) because when performed again I want you to see it for yourself and feel the sucker punch I did.

Standing ovation deserved.

To read more about Two in a Bed and all projects past, present and future , head to their Facebook page.

More information on Salford Arts Theatre can be found on their website.

Production/rehearsal photo credits – Shay Rowan

(Others – author’s own)

Review: Death Drop at the Lowry

Who knew murder could be so fabulous?

It’s 1991, it’s Tuck Island (because of course), it’s Charlie and Di’s 10th wedding anniversary, a storm’s brewing (oh how apt) and the scene is set for a murder mystery so dramatic, so devastating, so…drag.

Starring Ru-Paul US drag legends Willam and Ra’Jah O’Hara, Drag Race UK Star Vinegar Strokes, Drag Race Down Under star Karen from Finance and a full cast of leading drag performers including writer Holly Stars, Death Drop is the Smash-Hit, Five Star, Drag Murder Mystery direct from the West End and straight to our Salford Quay’s Lowry Theatre.

With death by Findus crispy pancake, dismembered hands and exploding automobiles, this was no Mrs Peacock in the billiard room with the lead piping.

With running jokes reading the royals with a viciousness like there’s no tomorrow, the library was well and truly open in the Lowry on Wednesday night.

With familiar and a little less familiar faces on stage, each performer brought their own special brand of drag and delight.

And as our guests came (and indeed some, prematurely went) to Lady von Fistenburg’s (Vinegar Strokes) commemorative anniversary evening, they death-dropped like flies.

We had devilish hack Morgan Pierce (Karen From Finance), tory toff Rich Whiteman (Richard Energy), TV wideboy Phil Maker (Georgia Frost), past-it popstar Shazza and the mesmirising meterologist, Summer Raines (top of the bill Willam and Ra’Jah O’Hara). All fabulous, all wickedly funny.

However, the stand-out star for me was Holly Stars both on stage and off, given that it was a drag murder mystery wot she wrote (based on an original idea by Christopher D Clegg). Due to a terrible bout of diarrhea, the original actors/supermodels were unable to meet their theatrical obligations so Holly had to play all three Bottomley sisters, Brie, Blue and Spread (names after my own turophile’s heart – yes I had to google it…).

Holly embraced the parts like she’d written the lines herself…

Never had pathos and grief been summed up so succinctly by one such special sob.

But who got to shantay you stay, and who got sashayed away off this mortal coil? Well I won’t spoil the fun, but let’s say that I did find it particularly inkeeping when our darling drummer of a weatherman, Owain Wyn Evans, took his seat behind me for the performance.

If you want feathers, thrills, sequins and spills (and a downright campfest of drag daftness and innuendo), catch Death Drop at The Lowry until Saturday 16 October.

Directed by Jesse Jones and with original songs for Flo & Joan, find all the deets and book your tickets here at https://tickets.thelowry.com/en-GB/shows/death%20drop/events

Photo credits-: Nathan Chandler

Review: The Same Rain that Falls on Me (Greater Mcr Fringe)

I’ve written my love letter to fringe theatre before and my opinion never changes. I love you all, theatre concepts, venues, genres…but fringe is definitely a head turner for me…

Apart from the opportunity for writers to write and actors to act with a no holds barred emotional, brave and raw approach to the subject matter, it also takes you to venues in your city you’ve never been to before.

In this case it was The Peer Hat on Faraday Street. I grow tired of articles listing the ‘hidden bars’ in Manchester that basically are not hidden. They just aren’t the moment you tell us they are. And the moment they become part of said list, their mystique is broken. I get the irony of me writing about one. But I consider my blog to be ‘hidden’ enough to get away with it…

Back to the play (but with a meer soupcon of still signposting to a great venue), The Same Rain that Falls on Me is part of this year’s Greater Manchester Fringe.

Written by Logan Jones, performed Maria Cook (alternate performances from Ella McKeown) and from fledgling company, Autumn Theatre, the press release asked us to ‘witness a powerful and witty monologue about family and grief’.

Well it delivered on every element. I’m slipping into ‘all about me’ territory, but how a piece of art makes you feel is the point. Yes you can appreciate good craftmanship, entertainment, hard work, even, but when it resonates with you and provokes an emotional reaction, it speaks to you on a whole other level.

Here comes the me me me bit but I promise to keep it brief.

When I moved out from my family home to Manchester (the start of my honorary Mcr citizenship, if you like), it coincided with my dad becoming ill. I started work in Manchester in the April, moved officially in the December, lost my dad in the February.

There were journeys home, then journeys to the hospital and finally a journey to the funeral home. I missed my goodbye, something that I’m still coming to terms with, and experienced how we as a family (my mum and siblings) came to terms with our own grief, both collectively and individually.

(Back to the play), Alice receives ‘two calls and a text’ calling her home, where her terminally ill father is ending his battle with cancer.

We go with Alice on the train journey home, the reunion with her mum, brother, sister-in-law and cherished niece, Autumn.

Photo credit: Autumn Theatre, Maria Cook as Alice

Actress, Maria, delivered the wonderfully, witty words on stage with such a natural and heartfelt delivery that I almost forgot to think about myself and the parallels I was witnessing. In fact, I’ll take that back and say that it was because of the natural performance that it took me back 20 years so starkly. Transfixed, I found myself wanting to ask questions, ‘how old is Autumn’, ‘how do you feel about missing the ‘official goodbye’, ‘why did you pick geography over history in your humanities options, I could never get on board…’? and so on and so forth.

With the most simple of sets, a wooden chair serving as an eyeline/substitute for another character and, well, as a chair, there was nowhere to hide in this performance.

In this intimate space, we watched as a young woman struggled with family dynamics, her life choices to date, her regrets, her feelings about being loved and loving others and most of all her pending and actual loss, and we laughed and fell silent in equal measure.

But we left that brilliant little venue tucked away in the Northern Quarter (it may be ‘hidden’ but Google maps will have you there in a jiffy), with much to ponder and appreciate both about the piece and our own lives.

The ultimate gift from the arts to ourselves.

To read more about Autumn Theatre, visit https://www.facebook.com/AutumnSameRain/?ref=py_c

Not falling for telling you exactly where The Peer Hat is…

The full Greater Manchester Fringe programme can be found at https://greatermanchesterfringe.co.uk//

Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – The Lowry

Everybody’s talking about Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

It’s being recommended to me, I’ve been asked if I’ve seen it, asked if I recommend it…

Yes

In short.

In long, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, is an award-winning ‘feel good musical sensation,’ which debuted in the West End and has opened its UK tour at The Lowry.

I write ‘feel good musical sensation’ in quotes purely because I didn’t say it first, but completely agree.

It’s a feel good musical sensation.

me

The show tells the story of an extraordinary lad with what should be accepted as ordinary dreams. Jamie New (a stage-stealing performance from Layton Williams) is sixteen, from a Sheffield council estate and doesn’t fit in.

His careers class dictates that his destiny is to be a fork lift truck driver. His dream is to be a drag queen. And a sensational one at that.

But first, Jamie has to overcome bullies (George Sampson putting in a mean – in every sense of the word – performance as Dean), prejudice and judgement, not least from his own Dad (Cameron Johnson).

Helped along by a solid foundation of love from single mum Margaret (Amy Ellen Richardson) and mad mate Ray (Shobna Gulati), the best mate a boy or girl could have in Pritti (Sharan Phull) and an encouraging word and song or two from Sheffield dress shop owner/drag queen (Shane Richie putting in something of a guilty pleasure performance as Hugo/Loco Chanelle), Jamie is able to ‘step out of the darkness, into the spotlight’.

I could do with some tips from Jamie myself, having side-stepped the red carpet and photographer laid out for guests at The Lowry on Saturday night, shyly shimmying sideways like a cowardly crab straight to the bar. What an odd image I conjure.

Anyway.

With an original score of catchy pop tunes by lead singer-songwriter of The Feeling, Dan Gillespie Sells, writer Tom MacRae (Doctor Who) and the cast have brought to the stage a high-octane, bouncy, bitingly funny and at times emotionally charged tale of bravery, determination and finding your inner fabulousness.

And by the end, you’ll feel so good and energised, you’ll practically be pirouetting your way out of those theatre doors and onto your tram (if only the red carpet had been available at the end – I would have posed up a storm).

So don’t miss out and join in the conversation.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is on at The Lowry until this Sunday 12 September.

For further details and to book your tickets, visit https://thelowry.com/whats-on/everybodys-talking-about-jamie/

Pic credits: Matt Crockett.

Review: Manchester Rum Festival

Rum and Rummer.

A rum do

Comfortably numb. From rum.

Dare I say young, dumb and full of rum? Seems I do.

Ok the puns are out of my system now. Which is hopefully also the case for the sheer amount of rum I consumed last Saturday at the Mercure Hotel, Piccadilly Gardens.

The Manchester Rum Festival was established five years ago by Dave Marsland, a Manchester-based event curator, spirits expert and bar owner, to put Manchester on the map as a rum destination and to showcase the contribution the north west is making within the rum renaissance.

You can read more about the line-up here in my preview blog: It’s a Rum Do in Manchester as Festival returns this August bank holiday

I will say this, you certainly get a lot of bang for your buck, in terms of the number of different producers in the room and their passion for pouring you a great drop (or two).

Whilst I’ve been known to frequent a champagne festival or two in my time, it was my first spirits festival and I was excited/apprehensive. I know how these things usually go.

I’m just there for the tasting, and the tasting only.

90 minutes later…

I like the taste of literally everything and given how ‘merry’ I am, I shall proceed to buy literally everything.

Not me. Not this time.

I mean of course this time, and I regret nothing.

With some fine beats from the DJ on stage and measures both great and small, the rum festival gave great atmosphere.

The ‘popular’ percentage amongst the rums seemed to be 40% but reader? I went large (before I miraculously made it home). The 50% from The City of Manchester Distillery, I tried most innocently. The 67.5% from (confession, I can’t remember but are you surprised?) I knew what I was doing…

All fine pours, all reps lovely and enthusiastic, I had to make sure that I tried most of the rums on offer. I’d love to say I made it to all stalls but I’d guess I did 80% before I decided it was best to retain some dignity.

And soon our tote bags were brimming with our wares, having happily put our money where our mouths literally were with three of our favourites (with 2/3 loyally local but genuinely loved):

  • The Salford Rum Company – honey rum. My word, this is lovely. A wonderful warmer of a drink, and a perfect match with ginger beer.
  • The City of Manchester Distillery – limited edition. Yes, it’s the 50%, ok? It’s great! And a little bit special too.

Festival owner Dave Marsland and The City of Manchester Distillery created this entirely unique, never-tasted-before rum solely for ticket holders.

This extra special, limited-edition bottling is a blend of Barbadian rum aged in the Caribbean for 12 years, before spending a further 5 years in the barrel in the north of England with Batch No 1. of Manchester’s first ever legally produced rum, from the City of Manchester Distillery

  • Plantation Rum XO – a little further afield, this Barbadian rum is smooth, soothing and special.

So there we have it.

I shall pray that I’m not on some sort of local lush list that prevents me from attending what I hope will return next year; that is, a fantastically vibrant drinks festival which not only took us round the world but showcased what excellent tipples we have on our own Mancunian (and Salfordian) doorstep.

https://manchesterrumfestival.com/

Exclusive Manchester rum for lucky festival-goers this weekend

If you’re heading to Manchester Rum Festival this weekend [Saturday 28th August] you’re in for a very exclusive treat. Festival owner Dave Marsland and The City of Manchester Distillery have created an entirely unique, never-tasted-before rum solely for ticket holders.

Just 100 bottles of The Double Distillery Pot Limited Edition Column Still Rum will be available on the day.

This extra special, limited-edition bottling is a blend of Barbadian rum aged in the Caribbean for 12 years, before spending a further 5 years in the barrel in the north of England with Batch No 1. of Manchester’s first ever legally produced rum, from the City of Manchester Distillery.  

If you’re not heading to the Rum Festival, what are you thinking?

Bringing with it over 30 rum brands from around the world, this year’s festival takes place in the 4-star Mercure Hotel on Saturday 28 August, at the heart of the city in Piccadilly Gardens.

The event has been a sell-out for the previous four years so waste no more time. Tickets are priced at £30 plus booking fee, including all samples. 

https://manchesterrumfestival.com/tickets/

Read all about it at https://honorarymancblog.com/2021/08/06/its-a-rum-do-in-manchester-as-festival-returns-this-august-bank-holiday/

Review: The Play That Goes Wrong at The Lowry

I like to think that I have a fairly good grip on the entertainment zeitgeist.

‘Think’ and ‘fairly’ being the key words.

As although I am aware of the theatre production The Play That Goes Wrong, I wasn’t aware of the television show ‘The Goes Wrong Show’, until asked by a friend whether it translated well from screen to stage.

Ill-informed little old me couldn’t answer that question, but could offer up, without any preconception or bias, that the stage show had the Lowry theatre audience laughing from start to finish. Well technically ‘pre-start’ when, with the house lights still up, we were asked by a ‘sound engineer’ for help in locating the production’s dog who had escaped his leash

.

I was proud of myself for immediately embracing the spirit of the occasion, and checking under my seat in search of said dog (spoiler – a set up for a later gag), all the while privy to the sight of the ‘crew’ and ‘stagehands’ busily preparing the stage and trying to right the wrongs already being encountered such as dodgy fixtures and fittings which refused to play ball.

The scene for the evening’s entertainment was quite literally set.

A fortunate, frequent visitor to the theatres (and indeed all performance spaces) of Manchester (yes, ok this is Salford), a tinge of tension still accompanies me to every production as I tend to over-emote towards the cast and crew involved. I provide the empathy that nobody asked for. The nerves, the worry that some poor soul will fluff their line, miss their cue, take a tumble.

Here I could relax. The clue’s in the title, I could just sit back and let it all go wrong without a tear in my eye or a lump in my throat for the parties involved. For on this occasion to be wrong was to be all right on the night.

The Play That Goes Wrong is in effect a play within a play.

Brought to us by Mischief Theatre, the ‘Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’ presents ‘Murder at Haversham Manor’.

And really quite badly.

Still with me?

If I was blogging about Murder at Haversham Manor, I’d have had to dig deep to provide anything positive to say, and dig even deeper not to book myself and the entire production into a course of therapy afterwards.

Sound, set, props, prompts – nothing was left unfettered.

Wardrobe malfunctions, mispronunciations…and one character knocked out cold on more than one occasion, played by more than one ‘actor’…

Farce can go very wrong (if you’ll forgive the paradox of this statement). Like all comedy, planning and timing is key. Fawlty Towers gives the masterclass in this, ‘the kipper episode’ springing to mind immediately. It requires a balance and rhythm and The Play That Goes Wrong kept to the beat throughout.

I enjoyed the audience reactions as much as the action on stage to be honest.

I’ve missed being in a full auditorium, not least one filled with continual laughter. I’m talking proper belly laughs. The type you used to hear on old variety shows and sitcoms before canned laughter took hold.

On until this Sunday 22 August, don’t miss your chance to see the multi-award winning The Play That Goes Wrong.

For full details and to book, visit https://thelowry.com/whats-on/the-play-that-goes-wrong/

Gigs, digs and mental health – ‘The Roadie Cookbook: Toured There, Ate That‘ launches in Manchester

My Dad was a professional museum, which led to him being away on tour a fair bit when I was growing up.

‘Gigs and digs’ were oft heard words in our house. And it’s all very rock and roll and glamorous, isn’t it?

Well like everything, dig (not always deep) below the surface and there are significant stresses and strains and elements to touring (and indeed when not, during periods of downtime) that can cause musicians and crew issues with mental health.

Well some clever so and so’s have come up with a wonderful idea. Well two wonderful ideas really.

Launched at Oxford Road’s Hatch, The Roadie Cookbook: Toured There, Ate That is a new charity publication created by live music crew members with the mission of funding Mental Health First Aid training for every tour bus in the UK.


Borne out of an idea by Production Manager Nick Gosling (Nile Rodgers & Chic) in April 2020 and curated with friends Production Coordinator Julie Cotton (Massive Attack), Production Assistant Athena Caramitsos, Backline TechRich House (Elbow) and Kel Murray (Stagehand, Music Support), the team set out to help their peers re-engage in the much-missed mealtime connection of crew catering by sharing recipes over social media and Zoom.

Julie Cotton and Nick Gosling by Jody Hartley

The team met through the Manchester music scene and recognised first-hand how food can bring people together when touring the world.


When the devastation of Covid-19 hit, live music stopped overnight, and tour buses stood still. While almost every venue in the world closed, home kitchens became the new catering hub for unemployed music workers.

As stories of memorable meals and secret ingredients in roadie comfort food took hold, so did the stark reality that isolation and mental ill-health was becoming commonplace within the forgotten touring business.

The idea of an industry cookbook was formed and soon turned into a fundraising initiative tasked with generating enough sales to secure crisis prevention training for those travelling on the road.

Julie Cotton by Jody Hartley

Julie Cotton says

Although Covid-19 was devastating beyond anything we could have imagined, a positive to have come out of the situation was for the industry to have an unexpected opportunity to reset.
During the last 18 months, we’ve all had a chance to reflect and work together to create positive change by working towards a healthier and more sustainable future in touring. With thousands of people being used to a different routine now, the transition back to working on the road will bring about its own challenges, yet delivering concerts and the experiences they bring to people is a vital part of good mental health.
By undertaking the Mental Health First Aid course, many of us have been able to learn how to better support those around us, and we want to extend that knowledge free of charge to our touring colleagues, funded through book sales.


Carefully crafted by backstage professionals, the book showcases a collection of 50 recipes, anecdotes and advice for staying healthy on tour. Recipes include The Killer Sandwich (you’ll have to buy it to find out more), Stage Left Satay Bowls, Tour Bus Nachos, and an anonymous ‘Loose Cocktail.’


Priced at £25, for each copy sold, 100% of profits will go towards charities Music Support and Stagehand to help continue funding and delivering Mental Health First Aid training and, importantly, normalise taking the Mental Health First Aid course.

What are you waiting for? Order your copy of the book at https://the-roadie-cookbook.myshopify.com/

More about the charities involved

Music Support is the ‘for the industry by the industry charity’ that helps the professional music sector when affected by mental ill-health and/or addiction.


The primary services comprise:
HELPLINE is run by trained staff with personal and/or lived experiences working in the industryMENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID TRAINING to give people vital skills to support the wellbeing of their colleagues (and themselves) CONFIDENTIALSAFE HUBS – backstage at major festivals where artists & crew can escape the mayhem and speak to mental health professionals Free access to NHS-approved wellbeing app THRIVEhttps://musicsupport.org/


Stagehand has been operating for over 20 years and is the working name of the Production Services Association’s welfare and benevolent fund, a charity established to raise and distribute funds for the technical touring crew who have hit hard times.

With the instant decimation of the concert touring industry since the pandemic began, Stagehand has faced its most significant fundraising effort since its inception and, to date, has raised over 1.8M in funds.https://stagehand.mailchimpsites.com/

Review: Anna X at The Lowry

I love Manchester 

I love The Crown

I love New York

I love that the New York scenes with Emma Corrin as Diana from the last series were shot in the Northern Quarter. I love the Northern Quarter.

And so all was aligned for me to see the new play Anna X at The Lowry (yes I know this is Salford, throw me a bone) this week.

Allow me to explain. 

ANNA X by Joseph Charlton ; Production ; Starring Emma Corrin & Nabhaan Rizwan ; Directed by Daniel Raggett ; Set and Video Design by Mikaela Liakata and Tal Yarden ; Lighting Design by Jessica Hung Han Yun ; Costume Design by Natalie Pryce ; Sound Design by Mike Winship ; Production Photographer: Helen Murray ; Sonia Friedman Productions ; Harold Pinter Theatre ; London, UK ; 11th July 2021 ; Credit and copyright: Helen Murray

Starring Golden Globe winner, Emma Corrin (best known for her portrayal of Princess Diana in Netflix series, The Crown) and Nabhaan Rizwan (Informer, The Accident, Industry), Anna X is based on the true story of Russian fraudster, Anna Sorokin/Anna Delvey, who spent her mid-twenties duping New York’s art world into believing that she was a German heiress.

ANNA X by Joseph Charlton ; Production ; Starring Emma Corrin & Nabhaan Rizwan ; Directed by Daniel Raggett ; Set and Video Design by Mikaela Liakata and Tal Yarden ; Lighting Design by Jessica Hung Han Yun ; Costume Design by Natalie Pryce ; Sound Design by Mike Winship ; Production Photographer: Helen Murray ; Sonia Friedman Productions ; Harold Pinter Theatre ; London, UK ; 11th July 2021 ; Credit and copyright: Helen Murray

In this brilliant two-hander written by Joseph Charlton and directed by Daniel Raggett, Anna X sets out to con the newly loaded Manhattan tech entrepreneur, Ariel, who has made a splash in the world of ‘start-ups’ with his new dating app, Genesis. Step 1 is to make him fall for her, step 2 – fund her non-existent art foundation.

The show was a 90 minute, fast-paced live art installation in its own right, which I guess all shows and plays are, of course. The set was in physical terms simple; a series of boxes. But add in the strobe lighting, projections, the LED wall which took in New York apartments, Governor’s Island, Brooklyn Cemeteries, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge…prison…

Thrilling.

(Dusts off Manhattan Meatpacking District modern art anecdote…) it was reminiscent of a visit to The Whitney (Museum of Modern Art) in New York where I was particularly captivated by an installation by who is said to be video art’s inventor, Nam June Paik. 1989’s Fin de Siecle II…

207 television monitors of varying sizes arranged in adjoining grids…emitting a disorientating, enrapturing flood of images and music taken from broadcast television and video art and programmed to repeat relentlessly, mutate wildly and change abruptly, although a driving, danceable beat is constant.

Roberta Smith, The New York Times

A piece and, indeed, artist that Anna herself would claim great knowledge of. I myself don’t claim great knowledge, but be assured that my interest and sketchy knowledge of modern art is used only for good, not for fraud…

The witty, fast-paced dialogue and exchanges between the actors be they as the two main characters, Anna and Ariel, or side roles such as sleazy magazine editors, high-powered investors (all the which taking in an impressive array of accents), keep you mesmerised, amused and captivated as though you were stood staring goggle-eyed and hypnotised at 207 flashing television sets at a gallery in lower Manhattan (archives anecdote until the next time…).

Meta.

And so whilst it was indeed thrilling in its own right to be in an almost full theatre again for the first time since the C word took over our lives, I couldn’t have asked for a more thrilling and vibrant, heady and edgy production to kick-start what is hopefully a journey back into the wonderful world of theatre and indeed art that Manchester (and Salford) can offer us all.

Anna X continues at The Lowry theatre until Saturday 14 August.

All the details and tickets can be accessed at https://thelowry.com/whats-on/anna-x/

It’s a Rum Do in Manchester as Festival returns this August bank holiday

2020…events…pandemic…cancellations and so on and so forth.

Stick a pin in that. It’s 2021, it’s the August bank holiday weekend and the Manchester Rum Festival is on!

Bringing with it over 30 rum brands from around the world, this year’s festival takes place in the 4-star Mercure Hotel on Saturday 28 August, at the heart of the city in Piccadilly Gardens.

Rum’uns in the Gardens, sounds familiar?

Oh…’you’.

It is Manchester’s first and only dedicated official rum festival and is sponsored by Coca-Cola Signature Mixers.

Featuring expressions from single and multi-distillery producers, to flavour-enhanced bottlings, as well as drinks, food by Mecure and live music, this is a drinks festival like no other, bringing together rum producers and brands, mixologists, spirits enthusiasts, and rum fans.

The Manchester Rum Festival was established five years ago by Dave Marsland, a Manchester-based event curator, spirits expert and bar owner, to put Manchester on the map as a rum destination and to showcase the contribution the north west is making within the rum renaissance.

He says,

The event has grown in size, attendance and importance every year and I’m so excited we have such fantastic brands exhibiting this year.

Hailing from Jamaica and Venezuela to Manchester and Lancashire, contemporary brands such as Saint Benevolence, AB Gold, Ninefold and Montanya will be showcased for the first time at the event, while local brands Diablesse, Salford Rum, Witch Kings and City of Manchester Distillery are also confirmed as exhibitors.

New Cuban rum brand Black Tears, from the Island Rum Company, will also be available on taste – the world’s first dry spiced Cuban rum.

Altogether, over 1,000 litres of rum will be poured in Manchester!

A normal Tuesday night in Manchester then?

You again? Cheeky beggar.

Enough of this imaginary bantz, let’s get down to business.

The event has been a sell-out for the previous four years so waste no more time. Tickets are priced at £30 plus booking fee, including all samples.

https://manchesterrumfestival.com/tickets/

A selection of rums will be able to purchase by the bottle to take away. Over 21s only. Last pour strictly at 6.45pm

See you there rum-lovers of Manchester and beyond!