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Review: First Time (Refract Festival 2019)

A funny and frank autobiographical solo-show, First Time (from Dibby Theatre) is written and performed by theatre-maker and HIV activist, Nathaniel Hall and returned to Sale Waterside Centre as part of Refract Festival.

Diagnosed just two weeks after his 17th birthday and only months after coming out as gay to his family, Nathaniel kept his HIV status from almost all for over 14 years.

In late 2017, Nathaniel ‘came out again’, as it were, and is now advocating for better contemporary representation of HIV in popular culture. The show is a vehicle to break down HIV stigma and contribute to the UNAIDS aim of ending HIV within a generation.

With humour, honesty, a great deal of both heart and heartbreak, Nathaniel Hall stood (and danced – nice Ketchup song moves) before us and told us his story.

Like all the best Fringe theatre, the set was simple, tube lighting in the form of a colour changing triangle (my favourite being blue to depict Stockport – that god forsaken pyramid!).

Accompanied by beats and bantz (yes I did that – I just needed a bit of alliteration) we were in his flat, on that bench where he met his first, at his prom, on his holiday when he first fell ill, in his doctor’s waiting room, in the clinic when he got his diagnosis…

The diagnosis that he wasn’t to share with his parents for another 14 years.

Like everyone else who was around at the time (I was very young though, ok?) the AIDS advert was terrifying in itself without me really understanding the substance behind it.

AIDS advert – 1986

We were asked not to die of ignorance – whilst things have improved medically and concerning awareness there is still ignorance surround HIV and AIDS to this day.

  • Whilst not in the realms of Dot Cotton in Eastenders circa 1987 not wanting to wash Colin’s smalls in the launderette because a) he’s gay b) he must have full blown AIDS c) she’ll ‘catch it’ through touching his pants – yes I’m currently OBSESSED with classic Eastenders on Gold – there’s still lots for us all to learn.
  • And so, thank god (or who/whatever) we have people like Nathaniel who having contracted HIV at 16 has dealt/is dealing with his diagnosis in such a selfless, giving (funny and entertaining – no really, First Time is a one-man show of two halves, as it were) way.

    An immersive experience, we took part in an HIV quiz – no we did!

    Speaking of first times, I had one shouting

    I love orgies

    in Sale.

    Like the candlelit vigil in Sackville Gardens at each Manchester Pride, we were shown images of those who had lost their fight whilst we held candles of our own.

    Getting to me good and hard was the picture Nathaniel showed to us of himself in his cream suit at his High School Prom. You see he was waiting to pick up that suit when he met his first time encounter ‘Sam’ on a bench in Stockport in 2003.

    It may be me applying the knowledge of what was to come when I saw that picture (and my failing eyesight) but I saw the little boy at the end of the film Big as he walks down the road in his too big Tom Hanks suit.

    I’m sure Nathaniel’s cream suit fitted perfectly and he looked amazing. You get where I’m coming from.

    I have a copy of the letter in my bag that Nathaniel wrote to his parents and eventually even gave them (not before it was anonymously read to crowds at one candlelit vigil by an actor).

    I’m not crying you’re crying.

    Yes Nathaniel is HIV+, contracting this from his first time (he doesn’t blame ‘Sam’ by the way). But do you know what? He’s a bloody good actor, writer and performer – funny, witty, creative and giving.

    Heading to Edinburgh Fringe, you can go see the show there (thanks to those who contributed to the Crowd-Funder to help take solo show First Time to Edinburgh Fringe).

    If First Time ever returns to Sale Waterside Centre for a third time – go see it there.

    Find out what else is on at the brilliant Refract Festival here…Back with a Bang! Refract festival returns to Sale this Summer and of course here…Refract 19

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    Food and Drink Manchester preview Preview/review Restaurants

    Restaurant Review: Sapporo Teppanyaki

    It is here where I would love to show off about my travels around Japan, the food I’ve eaten, the sights I’ve seen, the cherry blossom I’ve been beguiled by…

    But I have not been.

    But I have this, and it’s mine…

    My late father was a musician and musical director. Amongst those he musically directed were The Nolans.

    I’m getting to my tenuous link.

    As a youth I used to weep in butchers’ shops  dwell in West Yorkshire. And so we get to it. I was 3 the day that I went with my mum to little Batley train station to wave off my father.

    where’s Daddy going?

    asked that little girl, on that lowly platform, in that small, Yorkshire town…

    Daddy is going to Japan

    And so he was. To musically direct the Nolans in a music festival (of course). And this is all I have (I also have two child-size kimonos and a pair of wooden clogs).

    So that’s Japan.

    I was invited to Sapporo Teppanyaki which can be found on Liverpool Road, Manchester, and find it, I recommend.

    The experience is akin to theatre, and fear not, the food does not rest on a gimmick. In fact I can wait no longer. The egg fried rice is the finest I’ve ever tasted.

    Each communal table seated round two cooking stations, orders are taken and drinks delivered.

    Small aside on the drinks menu – there is  champagne on there for £7 a glass – and it is a lovely champagne. Fellow fizz fanatics, take note.

    The menu features sashimi, maki, omakase, soups and salads, yakisoba noodles, small plates and of course Teppanyaki. Whilst small plates emerge from a kitchen via a friendly server, the Teppanyaki is cooked right there in front of you.

    And guess what? It’s not awkward!

    Now it might just be me who loves/loathes a chef’s table. I love to watch the magic of cookery, but I’m beyond scared of whether I’m supposed to talk, not supposed to talk, is it rude to ask questions, is it rude to not ask questions? What do I do with my face? Do I make mmmm noises?

    No, it was all fine. It’s a form of theatre to go to Sapporo Teppanyaki.

    Now, I’m dying to get to the main event but I can’t overlook the starters enjoyed by myself and my plus 1.

    I had the smoked chicken rolls – oak smoked chicken, beansprouts and mixed vegetables wrapped in a light pastry.

    I do enjoy a vertical food. I can’t think of any other examples – oh does a hanging kebab count? But regardless of the attractive presentation, smoked chicken is a rare offered thing and it’s a shame. Because each roll was delicious.

    My plus 1 chose the Black Pepper Akami – seared tuna loin served with a chilli sauce.

    Another attractive dish, matched by the flavours. Now, I’m not a tuna fan. I pretty much abhor it. I tried this dish as I’m nothing if not dedicated to the cause of food-tasting in the name of Manchester and all those who sail in it. I liked it. This is high praise, given my tuna issues.My plus 1 loved it. The dish gave off heat but without masking the flavours.

    Now, to the teppanyaki theatre.

    When I describe this, know that I’m one of the most socially awkward beings on earth – I spent the entire evening at an event last year in Manchester ( Theatre Review – Now or Never by Circa Tsuica – aka what did I just see?) making myself as small as possible to avoid being picked to go up. The word ‘immersive’ sends chills to my very bones.

    Now listen how I found myself trying to catch a sauteed potato in my mouth like an over-zealous seal, at one Sapporo Teppanyaki.

    It’s that kind of place – happy diners laughing, eating, ‘ooohing’, ‘ahhing’ – and I don’t mean in a terrible way. As two chefs stood in front of us chopping, flipping, setting things on fire, it was truly an enjoyable experience to watch them work.

    I chose the lamb rump teppanyaki, my plus 1 choosing the beef fillet. Each comes with stir fry vegetables, egg fried rice, sauteed potato, a sauce of choice and a ring-side seat at their realisation. Yes, realisation.

    The chef will take the time to talk to you about how you would like your meat cooked so fear not, it’s not one for all and all for one. Your dish is still being prepared for you, to your specifications.

    That’s all very well, but what does it taste like?

    Well, imaginary voice/reader/subscriber, truly delicious. Remember the egg fried rice? Well everything was cooked to perfection. My lamb succulent and plentiful, the beef fillet pink where it should be (as requested), seared, seasoned and cooked with fresh garlic and chilli.

    I have a thing for my food being piping hot (my drinks, erm, piping cold?). Served straight to your plate in front of you, I was in temperature obsession heaven.

    It’s basically a really happy place. Everyone seated round the grills in a kind of horse shoe (but one with sharp edges – I literally can’t think how to describe the shape), you’re akin to each other’s evenings but without ever feeling like your evening is compromised by a lack of privacy. If someone’s having a birthday, you’ll, again, have a ring side seat without having to strain your neck (I do this), but it’s ok. I promise.

    And so I will be going once more to Sapporo Teppanyaki. And whilst sadly I won’t be hopping on a train to Japan as quickly as I’d like (I should point out an airport did get involved further down the line), this will do me for now.

    www.sapporo.co.uk

     

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    cinema Culture Manchester Popular culture Preview/review The Arts

    Review: Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story

    My mum told me this story of being at the cricket at Old Trafford.

    Frank Sidebottom had made a glorious appearance (actual Frank – there were many pretenders to the papier-mâché head aesthetic with ‘hilarious’ consequences…)

    In fact in Being Frank… John Thomson tells us of Chris Sievey getting out a scrap book he kept at home, of pictures of fan tribute Franks. Terrible, terrible, brilliant tribute Franks.

    Some with square heads.

    There was only one Frank and that was Chris Sievey (on this occasion, being ejected from Old Trafford for causing a distraction, prompting the ground to erupt in a chant to get him back).

    It’s not even my anecdote.

    Another is when a friend of a friend went to see Frank perform in a pub, leaving a bag of CDs out on the table (it was the 90s, we bought bags of CDs), only for Frank to casually swipe them on his way past. Said friend of friend never saw them again (it’s ok, it was a cold day in hell when HMV didn’t have a cheap offer on, on CDs).

    Again not my anecdote.

    They’re not even salacious, exciting, dramatic anecdotes. Just normal ones. But they’re mine (well, not mine).

    If you want some others, look to Director and Producer, Steve Sullivan, and the family, friends and acquaintances of one Chris Sievey – the man beneath (in?) the head.

    Chris Sievey passed away in 2010 and left behind not just memories of some brilliant, silly, smart, daft, wonderful performances as Frank, but an attic full of notebooks, records, tapes, art and home movies.

    I went to see Being Frank previewed at HOME Mcr a few weeks ago and spent 100 minutes that Thursday morning, catapulted into the world of Frank Sidebottom and, indeed, the somewhat lesser known but equally if not more ludicrously fascinating world of Chris Sievey.

    Punctuated by previously unseen footage of home videos, art, music and memorabilia, we hear people speak with love, warmth, raw honesty, sometimes sorrow but mostly with laughter, of the person who was a one-man band of creativity and energy.

    I sat there and laughed until I cried. Fancy crying on a Thursday morning in t’pictures. Pretty sure I wasn’t the only one.

    Frank Sidebottom was and is legendary in these here parts of the North West. And getting to know the brilliant Chris Sievey more only enriches your love for Frank.

    Find out:

    • What scuppered Chris getting on TOTP with band, The Freshies,
    • Why his ex-wife ended up having to take the home phone off the hook,
    • What Chris and Bob the Builder have in common; and
    • Just what happened to the head of Little Frank’s girlfriend…it’s dark (it’s not)

    By the time, the first time (and only time) we see Chris emerge from within ‘the head’ you won’t be shocked.

    Oh hi Chris

    (If you know, you know)

    You’ll have come to know them as one of the same (although I must be the only person on earth not to have figured out the method behind the voice…)..

    With contributions from Jon Ronson, John Cooper Clarke, John Thomson, Johnny Vegas and some other people not actually called John or variations thereof (Mark Radcliffe), it’s a poignant, brilliant, silly, moving, wonderful journey into the head of Frank, the mind of Chris and, well, Timperley.

    I do declare it to be the antithesis of bobbins.

    Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story is out this Friday 29 March, at HOME Mcr and in cinemas across the U.K. and Ireland.

    Categories
    Culture Events Manchester Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

    Review: JB Shorts Reloaded at 53two

    The ideal short – film, story, play should leave the audience wanting more without needing more.

    Celebrating 10 years of theatre production and story telling, 20 sell-out seasons and 120 world premieres, JB Shorts have brought something extra special to those glorious arches of 53two.

    On until 30th March, JB Shorts Reloaded brings six JB Shorts classics back to the stage, featuring both original and new actors to the productions.

    Six shorts, I could write a lengthy blog post about each. And wax lyrical about each. And other such clichés. Individually and as a collective, JB Shorts Reloaded brought 90 minutes of laughter, sorrow, shock, captivation and overall entertainment to the table. And indeed the arch.

    And come the interval, I was already wishing each short was a long.

    Each play so different to the last, as each cast took their bows, I was left wanting (not needing) more, yet within minutes I was already transfixed and enraptured by the next…(In the spirit of the subject, I’ll try keep this short – and no spoilers)

    • At the End of the Day – originally playing March 2009

    Featuring Alexandra Maxwell, Philip Shaun McGuinness, Callum Sim, Peter Slater and James Quinn (also writer and director) – please do forgive me Mr Quinn…

    to the regiment!

    with Aileen Quinn as assistant director, this took us into the familiar world of Premier League post-match coverage, as the action jumped from the studio to the post-match interviews with players and managers alike – each character strangely familiar to us all, each bringing their own brand of wrong.

    A joyous 15 minutes of knowing clichés from the footballing world, a laugh out loud start to proceedings. Bawdy, well-observed and, importantly, very, very funny.

    • Banal Encounter – originally playing October 2009

    Featuring Andrew Bentley and Laura Littlewood, written by Peter Kerry and directed by Chris Bridgman, in scenes reminiscent of, of course, Brief Encounter, two chippy commuters meet on the platform, time taking them further into each others confidences, swapping pithy stories about each others domestic lives.

    So far, so quaint. Until it isn’t.

    And as the mood takes a turn for the worst, this short and the talent on stage will leave you thoughtful, moved, shocked…transfixed.

    But then there was barely time for recovery as the first half was brought to a close by…

    • Blind Date – originally playing March 2013

    Talk about mood shift. Featuring Susan McArdle and Will Travis, written by Dave Simpson and directed by Alice Bartlett, we were catapulted into the heady world of online dating.

    Six years from its original debut, the principles of hidden identities on online profiles continues to apply through all social media – intended or not.

    Self-promotion is the name of the game but there’s no time for a deep analysis of society today. Because I need to tell you what a riot this short was. Physical, character comedy at its best, I screamed as the two misfits met and their disguises began to unravel.

    I didn’t actually scream – that would be mental and I’d probably be asked to leave the arches, forthwith. Anyway, bloody funny and a slight almost twist in the tale.

    Now I could, at this point, review my interval drinks but why make my review about shorts into an even longer post than it ironically already is (nice drop of red).

    • Snapshots – originally playing March 2011

    Now this was very special in the clever construction of the narrative. Featuring Glenn Cunningham, Julie Edwards, Beth Nolan and Sean Ward, written by Diane Whitley and directed by Rachel Brogan, this short takes us straight into a couple’s anniversary party, hosted by their granddaughter, Zoe. and her (somewhat reluctant) boyfriend.

    Laying on a surprise photographic slideshow of their marriage, the latter couple then take on dual roles as the grandparents during their younger years. The different chapters of their relationship are punctuated by each photo, as the elder ,present day, couple add an inner monologue narrative to each picture and its era.

    It’s insightful, sad, smart, funny and if my clumsy description of how the play was constructed has you confused, then that’s another reason why I urge you to get tickets. It’s on purpose, you see.

    • The  Outing – originally playing November 2015

    Featuring Richard Hawley, Jeni Howarth-Williams and Kerry Willison-Parry, written by Lindsay Williams and directed by Miranda Parker, this short sends us down a path of nostalgia, sentimentality, sweet and safe story-telling as two middle-aged people meet on a coach trip to Conway. Chips, seagulls, castles, paddling, it’s all very seaside postcard.

    One word, well ‘name’, wlll make you sit up and take notice as the short sends you down a more sinister path all together and start you thinking, ‘are the parents always to blame?’

    Thought-provoking, sensitively done and clever.

    But thoughts put on hold, it was time for the final short. What was left to pull out of the bag?

    • Can We Stop it There? – originally playing October 2009

    (deep breath) Featuring Arthur Bostrom (yes, it’s really him – I’ll spare you and him any predictable catchphrases – I’m still feeling bad about Mr Quinn), Lucienne Browne, Martelle Edinborough, Darren Jeffries, Emily Spowage and  Rob Stuart-Hudson, written by Trevor Suthers and directed by Brainne Edge (or was it…), this truly was an ensemble piece.

    Self-referential, meta, however you want to term it, this wonderful farce in the finest traditional sense, was a cacophony of red herrings, accents, wry looks, bum steers, theatrical nods and in-jokes. It was frantic, funny, riotous and the perfect way to end what was an epic evening of fringe theatre from JB Shorts.

    I truly love this form of theatre as I wrote in my post Review – Talk to Yourself at The Kings Arms only a couple of weeks ago.

    We’re truly spoiled in this neck of the woods by the accessibility to such talent and with six wonderful shorts each as rich in narrative, production, acting and entertainment as the one it follows, this is your opportunity to see a wealth of talent in a wonderful space, for a wonderful price.

    In short, go.

    For further details and tickets, see JBShorts.co.uk

    Categories
    Culture dance Manchester preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

    Theatre review: Romeo and Juliet – Moscow City Ballet

    I love Prokofiev’s score, Shakespeare’s story, and I love going to the ballet. So with all ingredients in place, it is natural that I have seen multiple ballet productions of Romeo and Juliet in the past and either because of or despite this, I happily wanted to see the latest brought to Manchester; this time by the Moscow City Ballet at the Palace Theatre.

    And so what would this production of the infamous star-crossed lovers bring to the stage?

    The Company were in town for two nights, bagging a brace of big production ballets, accompanied by a live orchestra, the  Hungarian Simfonieta Orchestra, conducted by Igor Shavruk.

    The second was Swan Lake, the first; this the most famous of love stories.

    The costumes were something to behold, the colours dazzling, the flowing fabrics of the female dancers as graceful as the steps performed in them, and the sets simple yet vibrant with curtain backdrops depicting Verona including the infamous balcony and the church where the short-lived marriage took place.

    I can’t speak of the aesthetics and costumes, designed by Natalia Povago, without mentioning the challenge posed to principle dancer, Kseniya Stankevich, who, as Juliet, not only stole the show with her heartfelt, honest and moving performance, but even did so for quite some time with a dress which hadn’t quite been zipped up during a scene with her nurse. The tension!

    Speaking of the nurse, special mention must be given to Ekaterina Lebedeva who gave a perfectly pitched comedic performance, an almost slapstick affair, as she stomach-juttingly stomped across the stage, gurning away providing a laugh out loud moment and the perfect light relief. And let’s face it, I shouldn’t think I’m giving much away when I point out that whilst Romeo and Juliet is a love story, it is one shrouded in sorrow and devastation.

    In fact the production provided perfect light and shade throughout. The shade, whilst most expected, had added dark dimensions by way of the dancers bedecked in swathes of black fabric, depicting pending and eventual death. None more so than in the final scene of the production when the four victims of death, two Capulets, two Montagues, are held aloft in formation – almost symbolic of crucifixion.

    But let’s get back to that light – the marriage scene where Juliet and Romeo (Dzimitry Lazovik) charmingly, naively and sweetly steal frantic kisses at the altar behind the Friar’s back, was again a welcome injection of humour to a story that even the least experienced in the texts of Shakespeare knows will end in heartbreak.

    In summary, the entire Russian company put on a spirited performance, bringing an oft-told tale of young love and family rivalry alive once again, adding artistry and a touch of beauty, to what would normally be another dark and dreary January night in our dear old city.

    For dates of future performances by Moscow City Ballet throughout the UK, see http://www.pmbpresentations.com/

    For all upcoming productions at the Palace Theatre, visit https://www.atgtickets.com/venues/palace-theatre-manchester/

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    Celebrity Culture Manchester Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

    Theatre review: Rebus at the Opera House

    The word ‘typecast’ must be as abhorrent to actors as the word ‘Macbeth’ is to…erm, well actors.

    Having worked with a few actors on soaps in a past life, I’m aware of the frustrations some may feel when interviewed about previous roles, future roles, that many can’t see past the character they portray in living rooms, sometimes as many as six times per week. This is, of course, can be testament to their acting and three dimensional portrayal of said role.

    To play a larger than life character – one whose accent and dialect is oft-quoted by even the most amateur of impressionists (yes, me) – surely the challenge is laid bare.

    In last night’s performance of Rebus: Long Shadows, that challenge of diverting theatre-goers from his infamous Coronation Street incarnation,was more than met by Charles Lawson.

    I hold my hands up and admit that I have never read the Rebus novels or seen the television series and so was coming at the character fresh. However, I don’t think that matters as that could only help me to come at the ‘actor Charles Lawson’ ‘fresh’.

    No matter how I like to think I wouldn’t come at a production with pre-conceived ideas of how the characters were to be played, in the run up all I could think of was ‘Big Jim, Big Jim, Big Jim – I love Big Jim!’. And I think that’s quite fair enough. It is an actor’s previous role(s) which puts them on an audience’s radar and (assuming they’re an admirer of their work, of course), brings them to the next production they appear in.

    All as long as you don’t attend a production/watch a programme/see a film expecting the actor and their infamous role to be one and the same thing.

    However, if there had have been a danger of this last night (no matter how unconscious), it was quickly put paid to by the end of the first half.

    The character John Rebus was created in the novels written by Ian Rankin, who, together with playwright Rona Munro, wrote Long Shadows especially for the stage.

    Now retired, Rebus (Lawson) the Scottish, former detective is back to right the wrongs of crimes not yet solved, in particular the ‘cold case’ of the murder of 17 year old Maggie (Eleanor House), with crossovers to the more recent murder of teenager Angela (Dani Heron) – both actresses giving captivating and impassioned performances.

    Nods to the past by way of the ethereal appearance of both victims on stage to represent the inner workings of Rebus’s mind, are moving, smartly executed and really quite chilling at times (apt given the time of year).

    Charles Lawson gives phenomenal detective. The traits of the character and their portrayal range between troubled, angry, caring, sarcastic, jaded, passionate and funny…all perfectly complimentary to each other and each engaging and believable. It’s like he’s been playing this character all this life.

    Along with the imposing yet charismatic portrayal of ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty by John Stahl and Cathy Tyson’s  Siobhan Clarke; a role performed with a clever balance of non-nonsense attitude along with a subtle but clear affection towards her former colleague, the entire ensemble work well together.

    This is a great example of a whodunnit which is perfectly crafted towards the stage, both in terms of plot and set design, and assisted by the captivating performances of the actors who create an immediate engagement between the audience and the crimes to be solved, which lasts right upto to final curtain.

    And just a thought – Charles Lawson, please reprise this role.

    Rebus: Long Shadows is showing at the Opera House, Manchester, until Saturday 3 November. Please click here for more details.

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    School for Scandal hits First Street

    It was back to school for me this week.

    I wish I was young enough for that to be true in the traditional sense but for every realisation that you’re not getting any younger, there is a silver lining.

    To be over the age of 18 is to have your name on a more important register – that which granted me access to new bar and bistro, School for Scandal on First Street.

    Whilst resisting the urge to lean on the obvious links to education and squeeze everything out of this analogy, I’ll introduce a direct link – that of it sharing its name with the Richard Brinsley Sheridan play, first performed in 1777. The play ‘satirised the behaviour and customs of the upper classes through witty dialogue and an intricate plot, with comic situations that expose characters’ shortcomings’.

    And just like the play, this dining spot satirises the behaviour and customs of the…

    Just kidding.

    To the crux of matters.

    I attended the launch of this bar last night and was educated (soz) in fine cocktails, sharp edgy décor and fine samples of its gastronomic fare.

    Previews of their food included the tasty pulled pork tacos, the frankly fantastic margherita pizza (I always say there’s nowhere to hide with this classic and this went straight to the top of the class), tempura prawns and mini burgers in brioche.

    To achieve the full experience, I shall return, but for now, my assignment is to share the news that this latest addition to First Street, and indeed Manchester, is smart and sassy, and I predict that the future is bright…

    Click here for more details and to enrol…

    School for Scandal, 13 Jack Rosenthal Street, First St, M15 4FN

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    Culture Events Manchester Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

    Greater Manchester Fringe – Into The Deep

    There is a lot being done to raise awareness of male mental health at the time of writing, which is both joyous and tragic.

    Joyous that those afflicted or potentially afflicted are being offered support, reassurance, an outlet, and above all else, a message that they are not alone.

    Tragic that the above is all required.*

    I was unfortunately only able to attend the last performance on Inside The Deep’s three night run, as part of the Greater Manchester Fringe, and so unable to point towards the next performance in Manchester.

    However Camden Fringe is the next lucky host of this play and indeed Bristol-based outfit, Popcorn Productions.

    Showing at Leaf in Portland Street…

    (fantastic space downstairs – check it out for future events)

    …the four hander written by and starring Ed Lees along with actors Chris Alldridge, Ned Costello and Polly Wain, tells the story of Fisherman Thomas Lewin (Lees), his teenage son Marlon (Costello) daughter Carla (Wain) and father William (Alldridge), in rural Cornwall.

    During the play, scenes may be geographically static, set around a kitchen table throughout, but the movement is provided by its ever changing timeline, shooting seamlessly back and forth from the present day, to scenes from Thomas’s youth to eventually a little time in the future.

    Fear not…

    True that when I first watched Pulp Fiction at the tender age of … in my teens, I was confused. I knew I loved it. But I was confused. 10+ watches down the line I eventually had the linear timeline down in my head.

    Into the Deep used a more subtle device which was arguably more clever (soz Tarantino).

    To take us from one time period to another, the constant sounds of the radio in the scenes, acted as an effective device in telling the audience just where we were all at.

    However, soon into the 60 minute play, I stopped taking conscious notice of the radio and instead took my lead from the actors and characters themselves who appear in both timelines.

    The difficult relationship between Thomas and his father William, Ed Lees and Chris Alldridge, was often the focus and both were captivating in their performances.

    In fact, at times, the scripted words were a mere support to the body language, facial expressions and movement displayed in their performances as they portrayed a tale of mental anguish, familial tensions, and abuse – both physical and emotional.

    Throughout 60 minutes you bear witness to crushing disappointment, pressure, fear, worry, heartbreak, confusion, pride, devastation, as the narrative takes us through how as humans, our relationships in our youth can continue to affect us, even when thought ‘buried’ and that chapter closed.

    As we see Thomas’s children Marlon and Carla both go from sparky, outgoing, cocky characters in the opening scene to ones which start to unravel as a reaction to their circumstances (powerful performances by both actors), it is difficult as witness not to fast forward and fear that history may repeat.

    It is mention of the opening scene that reminds me to stress that whilst I have extolled the production values and physical performances of all involved, the written words should by no means be relegated to supporting artist.

    Whilst indeed powerful, the dialogue is also subtle, witty and yes even funny. Who’d a thought Jeremy Paxman could be a punchline!

    Back to the point,

    Loss is a theme threaded throughout; a partner, a mother, work, money, a home, an opportunity…

    And it is through a combination of such that the audience sees Thomas unravel before our eyes in his memories of, and cutaways to, the past – for the most part, his pain is internalised.

    It is hard to believe that in a relatively small space, and within a modest set and timeframe, the production can take an audience through such an intense emotional journey in the storytelling, acting and smart production devices (the sounds signifying Thomas being taken to a place of mental anguish are chilling and effective).

    It soon filled up – I panic and get places early

    In short, all players made you believe in them and the story they were telling, and the overall performance was the perfect example of how bearing witness to a fringe production can feel such a privilege.

    With such intimacy that is lost in the larger venues and shows, the actors and indeed whole outfit involved in Popcorn Productions had nowhere to hide and how fortunate for us that they didn’t.

    Manchester – check out what else is showing as part of Greater Manchester Fringe..

    Camden and surrounding areas – you’re in for a treat in August – check out the details

    Rest of the world – take note of Popcorn Productions – quick sharp: Get clicking

    *…and for anyone who may wish to, please visit my friend’s page. She is raising money for Mind and thus all those with mental health difficulties: Sponsored Sky Dive

    Look after each other x

    Categories
    Culture Manchester Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

    Theatre Review – DollyWould at HOME

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

    (David Brent).

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

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

    And it’s my blog so ner.

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

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

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

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

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

    rhinestones rhinier

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

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

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

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

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

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

    They are both the same as they are both unique.

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

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

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

    I Would. Well I did.

    Categories
    Culture Events Manchester Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

    Theatre review – The Winslow Boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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