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”).