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Preview: Dracula – The Blood Count of Heaton

Last summer I spent a very happy evening wandering round Heaton Park, not lost (although I’ve done that too), but at Romeo and Juliet – a production that took its audience to different locations round the park giving depth and reality to the oft told tale.

So this year I’m thrilled that I’ll get to do this again, swapping the Bard for Bram Stoker as Feelgood Theatre presents Dracula – The Blood Count of Heaton.

Celebrating their 25th anniversary, this is the show Feelgood’s audiences voted they’d most like to see again – so it already comes complete with a glowing recommendation.

A contemporary reimagining of the classic tale, we’re promised hypnotic music, vibrant dance, magic and illusion created by Peter Clifford who has worked with Derren Brown and David Blaine – impressive!

Not only that but Clifford takes on the title role so we’re in for a treat!

Audiences are encouraged to dress the part, with a prize given each night for the best costume – so polish those fangs and dust off your capes.

On until 11 August, tickets can be purchased from http://www.jumblebee.co.uk/Dracula or in person from the Farm Centre Cafe in Heaton Park.

For more information, head to http://www.feelgoodtheatre.co.uk/

Now where’s that wooden stake.

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Review: Frozen Peas in an Old Tin Can (Greater Manchester Fringe)

I won’t repeat my love for fringe theatre all over again (I’ll just casually leave this here – Review – Talk to Yourself at The Kings Arms and actually probably will repeat it in this review anyway).

One reason for my love of fringe theatre which I’m not going on about again (am) is the creative use of space – the departure from the traditional curtains/stage/theatre experience.

Last Sunday I found myself watching a play in a church which was slightly meta – Review: Studio ORKA’s Tuesday (Manchester International Festival). This Sunday I found myself watching a play in a pub cellar.

Now Frozen Peas in an Old Tin Can was intended to be performed in the beer garden of the Kings Arms, Salford. But our delicious British Summer had other plans…

This was a slight disappointment as it was to be my first play in a beer garden (although not my first in the great outdoors). Disappointment quickly turned to happiness as we were directed down the stone steps into the bowels of the pub into the cellar – my first play in a cellar and I do love a good cellar (it is not for us to question why).

I really do like the title of the play but for lazy reasons I shall, going forward, refer to it simply as ‘Can. Although I could have written the full title several times over for the time it’s taken me to write this explanatory paragraph.

Anyway, ‘Can, written and directed by Joe Walsh and performed by Paul Tomblin (Barney), Leah Gray (Sarah), Craig Hodgkinson (Derek), Owen Murphy and Ella Fraser.

We meet the trio as they fantasise about where they’d take a holiday (in case you’re wondering, Southport – I get it, fun times had at Pleasureland in the 80s…). To do so, means to put on a street gig armed only with a guitar, a, yes, tin can of frozen peas (freaky dancing a plenty) and a pan and wooden spoon.

It made me ‘chuckle’ (great gag) and genuinely ‘laugh out loud’. Not like when you acknowledge that something is funny and you want to outwardly indicate that you appreciate ‘what they’ve done there’ by making a noise and smiling. There was actual involuntary laughter.

But of course there was a serious message being delivered here.

By the old school friend of Sarah’s we had the voice of ignorance, the homeless should be helping themselves, they’re lazy etc and so on. And we also had the back stories as to why these three people were out on the street living in the ‘fort’.

Sarah had lost a sister to cancer, Barney had unravelled when his grandad had died, smashing up his place of employment, Curry’s’ as a final act with debts and fines sending him straight to the streets, and Derek…

Now this was a bold device and if my deduction is knee-jerk and massively wrong, I apologise but Derek is a paedophile. Caught by his wife, he tells us, looking at images on the computer, who immediately called the police sending me to prison.

Derek is an affable chap, caring for the other two with an honesty and affection. But as an audience, what do we do with this information? Squirm, feel uneasy, shocked but also slightly impressed by that the writing took this brave leap which perhaps took away what could have gone down a fairytale, whimsical tale of twee togetherness on the streets.

So, bravo.

Culminating in a singalong as we, the play’s audience became audience to Derek and The No Homes to Go (thank you for the rustic karaoke lyrics scrawled on cardboard – I’m shocking with a lyric), the production was immersive, heartfelt and even fun.

So as ‘Can made us laugh, sing, give money to the cause both in the play and in reality afterwards (details below), that hour in the pub on Sunday was brilliantly well spent (most fun I’ve had sober in a pub since I was granted that hallowed second packet of Quavers when I was 8).

Loved it.

Ps Barney’s crying over Barry Chuckle here

Epilogue

Now for a touch of reality, any of us who live, work, visit Manchester will be no strangers to the growing issue of homelessness.

Doorways, pavements, canalside, underneath the arches, the problem cannot be avoided both conceptually and in actuality.

As the programme notes shocking point out, sleeping rough has increased by 102% in the U.K. since 2010.

To learn more about Shelter and to donate, please head to Shelter.org.uk

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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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    Back with a Bang! Refract festival returns to Sale this Summer

    Those who have already discovered this award-winning arts festival will be thrilled to hear that Refract is back for its third edition in and around Sale, this July.

    Those who haven’t yet discovered Refract – you’re in for a treat.

    Running from Thursday 18 July to Saturday 27 July, this unconventional 10 day festival, curated by Waterside Arts, promises the best in live comedy, music, dance, experiential performance and theatre, with something for everyone.

    Highlights at Refract:19 include:

    • Japanese rope art from Lumo Theatre in Wiredo

    • A preview of one-man show First Time, as Nathaniel Hall drops in on the way to Edinburgh Fringe (ironically, the second time Nathaniel has brought his show to Sale – read my preview here)

     And, of course, so so much more…

    Competition!

    To celebrate the return of this wonderfully different and exciting festival to our very own Greater Manchester, I’m running a competition to win a pair of tickets to see Frisky and Mannish in their Poplab – bringing their wildly popular brand of musical infotainment right from BBC Radio 1, BBC2, BBC3 and ITV3, straight to the streets of Sale (well not strictly the streets – just one – Waterside Plaza.

    With two pairs up for grabs, for your chance to to see the Pop PhDs themselves on Saturday 20 July, click the link below and follow the instructions (oh it’s nothing sinister, I promise):

    The great Refract:19 giveaway!

    Entries close Sunday 7 July and winners will be selected at random.

    For the full rundown,dates, tickets and to essentially plan your cultural journey into all that is right in the wonderful world of artistic endeavour, visit the Waterside Arts Refract:19 website now.

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    Crowd-Funder to help take solo show First Time to Edinburgh Fringe

    Manchester theatre company, Dibby Theatre, is raising funds to help take their hit show First Time to Edinburgh Fringe.

    A funny and frank autobiographical solo-show, First Time is written and performed by theatre-maker and HIV activist, Nathaniel Hall.

    Credit: Lee Baxter

    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.

    Nathaniel says,

    HIV healthcare and prevention has changed, but people’s attitudes to the disease often lag behind fear and stigma are very much alive and well. We now know people with HIV who are on effective medication CANNOT transmit the virus to their sexual partners.

    And you can even take medication after you think you’ve been put at risk, or even pre-emptively to protect yourself and partners. This news, along with the condom and ‘get tested’ messages are the tools we can all now use to help stop HIV for good.

    First Time premiered to critical acclaim last World AIDS Day at Waterside Arts in Sale and will preview there again at Refract Festival on 25 July before heading to Edinburgh Fringe.

    Now Nathaniel wants to take his message even further, and all the way to Edinburgh Fringe.

    Therefore, Dibby Theatre have launched their crowd funding campaign, and need to raise £6000, to help their hit-show become an even greater success in Scotland.

    The crowd-funder is supported by former Ceremonial Lord Mayor, Carl Austin-Behan, who was the first openly gay Mayor to hold office in the U.K. urging Mancunians to support the show by donating,

    Manchester has a proud history of HIV activism. One of the country’s largest and oldest HIV support charities, George House Trust, was started as Manchester AIDS Line by Mancunians in 1985, and we’re now a ‘HIV Fast Track City’ and have committed to work in partnership across the city region with the goal of ending all new transmissions by 2030.

    Chris Hoyle, Artistic Director of Dibby Theatre, adds:

    Ending HIV is everyone’s responsibility and we’re proud to be spreadheading the fight against the disease with First Time, and proud to be showcasing to the world that Manchester is a city that works together to get things done.

    The crowd funding campaign is live until 24 June 2019 and you can donate by visiting:

    https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/first-time-at-the-edinburgh-fringe-festival-2019

    For more information on U=U, PrEP and how to get tested for HIV visit: www.gmpash.org.uk

    First Time at Refract Festival, Waterside Arts, Sale – 25 July – https://www.creativetourist.com/event/first-time-at-waterside/

    First Time at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Cairns Lecture Theatre – from 31 July – https://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/event/1297899-first-time/

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    Review: All I See is You

    Bank Holiday Monday and I was whisked back to the 1960s last night.

    A time when Woolies was still a thing, Donovan was number 3 in the charts and who you loved or even just fancied could consign you to a prison cell and a place of deep shame and castigation in society.

    All I See is You is first and foremost a love story.

    It’s also a two hander, starring Ciaran Griffiths as Bobby and Christian Edwards as Ralph, both gay, both living different lives.

    Bobby, gregarious yet inexperienced, soon embraces his sexuality, albeit in a society where homosexuality was a criminal act and measures must be taken. This is largely aided by acceptance in his family (Dad dealing it with through denial) and guidance from his also gay boss on the record counter at Woolies.

    Ralph, however, while more experienced, is retreating further into society ‘norms’; his chosen career as a teacher and his more strait-laced family, leading to common measures of that cruel era, from typically taking a girlfriend to the more extreme of aversion therapy.

    Written by Kathrine Smith, this two hander about concealing love and sexuality ironically leaves nowhere to hide.

    In the 70 minute performance, all eyes and literal spotlight is on the actors. Aided only by brief insertions of musical memories from the era and simple yet effective lighting, the acting is the thing.

    No props, just a stage and its actors.

    There is a mix of inner thought monologue to the audience and performance between the two actors. In short, it is a privilege to bear witness to such talent in the intimate setting that fabulous fringe theatre allows.

    The silences saying as much as the dialogue, the actors connect with the audience to the degree that you’re with them down ‘The Trafford’ as they enjoy a drink together in the shadows, in Ralph’s bedroom as his father appears at the door, on the hospital ward as…I’ll leave it there.

    The contrast between the two characters’ lives is akin to their demeanours and personalities on stage.

    Bobby (Griffiths) brings the passion, the comedic, the unabashed enthusiasm, the physical…Ralph (Edwards) brings the maturity, the considered, the pathos, the…passion.

    Together the characters and indeed the actors bring smiles and tears, joy and heartache and a reminder of how far the lgbt community has had to come and what they’ve had to battle – all just to be in love.

    Written in response to the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, I urge you to go and be entertained, moved, and reminded that while the U.K. has come this far, many countries (and indeed individuals) still have not.

    Visit https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/all-i-see-is-you/ for more information and to book.

    On until Saturday 1 June, don’t miss out.

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    Review: Hamlet at Hope Mill Theatre

    Forgive me, Manchester theatre world and community, for I have sinned.

    Despite being a fairly frequent theatre-goer and the space being in operation since 2015, this week was the first time I entered the wonderful world that is Hope Mill Theatre.

    Forgive me further, Girl Gang Manchester and Unseemly Women, if I take a moment to talk about the venue as well as the show which drew me there in the first place, Hamlet.

    Like most fringe venues, Hope Mill is delightfully tucked away, leaving the visitor with a sense of discovery when rounding that corner to see the fairy light lit entrance, inviting you in to experience an evening (or indeed afternoon), of wonderful theatre.

    The candle-lit bar with its glorious (yes, glorious) pizzas, acts as the perfect warm-up for the performances on offer as you step through the curtains and take your seat.

    And so, my seat was taken for the all female Shakespeare production of Hamlet.

    A quick summary of the long-told tale of tragedy as gifted to us by the Bard himself, Hamlet returns from University to Denmark, only to discover that not only is his father dead, but that his mother has now married his Uncle and is the new King.

    I wondered how an all female cast would manifest itself – whether it would form a distraction, a detraction (either positively or negatively) from the performance – was it a novelty? Of course it wasn’t. It was a cast of actors who happen to be women…who also happen to be hugely talented and engaging.

    In fact, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s not about male vs female actors. It’s about removing ‘tradition’ and barriers. In this case, female characters written to accommodate male domination. Indeed, as the programme to the play lays bare – ‘themes of fragility and weakness run rampant’ (in Hamlet).

    It’s a leveling up.

    As often the case with fringe theatre, the set is simple, allowing the performances to play out in the spotlight, allowing no distractions or indeed back-ups to the acting.

    Indeed, none needed.

    In the title role, Eve Shotton, commands attention not only when the performance demands overt physicality, declaration and swagger, but in the sensitive moments and aspects of the play.

    Hamlet would never have struck me as one of Shakespeare’s most comedic of texts, yet the humorous lines and situations were grasped firmly by the scruff of the neck by all involved.

    With great timing and delivery, not to mention facial expressions (nothing can beat the intimacy of fringe theatre between cast and audience), this aspect of proceedings landed perfectly, providing much mirth and, dare I say it, laugh out loud moments.

    As matters moved from the comedy to the more tragic, the cast join the shift in mood, providing the shade to the injections of light, and deliver a resounding production, which in the round, is all about balance.

    Balancing the comedy and tragedy in the performances.

    Balancing the aesthetic between historic and modernity in the costume.

    But more importantly, a rebalancing of gender contribution to one of the most famous texts in the world of literature and theatre. Not only in its performing cast, but in its entire cast of creatives.

    The late, great Richard Griffiths, as Uncle Monty in Withnail and I, proclaimed,

    It is the most shattering experience of a young man’s life when one morning he awakes and quite reasonably says to himself, ‘I will never play the Dane’…

    This wonderful all female outfit shows that while not every young woman can play the Dane as well as Eve Shotton, it needn’t carry the extra layer of this being for reasons of gender.

    For all details, visit Hamlet at the Hope Mill Theatre

    The play runs until Saturday 11 May.

    Photography credit: Lucy Ridge Photography

     

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    Review: Kingdom – part of Viva festival at HOME

    Tensions were reaching fever pitch last night.

    Two words, two cities – on everyone’s minds, on everyone’s lips, up and down Deansgate, in squares…

    Albert, Exchange, Peter’s,  Anne’s – all the squares.

    Manchester

    Barcelona

    And as we headed to the theatre of dreams, we knew that this date would be imprinted on our memories for the rest of our lives.

    That theatre is HOME Mcr. Where one Barcelona based theatre company, Senor Serrano, came face to face with some Manchester based audience members.

    Basically I’m making a point that Kingdom, headlining Viva Festival, had a few parallels with the Champions League football game going on in Manchester between United and Barcelona, ok?

    Where I go next is…actually I have no idea.

    There is no way I can describe what I witnessed within Theatre 1 last night that will make any sort of sense. But I think I can praise the creativity, the talent (musical, poetic, artistic, vocal, dance…) of the five men that took us all on a journey, nay a trip

    and it really did feel like a ‘trip’

    as in the midst of a cloud of marijuana smoke, they made us realise what we’d known all along but never dared to say out loud

    Bananas are the lynchpin of society and where we will find all our answers.

    Do you know what? I’m going to leave this one here.

    And say get yourselves down to HOME Mcr until Saturday 13 April.

    Hear rap, hear music, see strobe lighting, inhale weed (through your ever open mouth) and learn why the book of Genesis has been leading us astray all this time.

    It’s performance theatre on acid.

    King Kong.

    Sexy bananas.

    (It’s bloody brilliant).

    Kingdom at HOME

     

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    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

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    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/