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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/

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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

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Theatre Review – Long Day’s Journey Into Night – HOME Mcr

Families, who’d ‘ave ’em?

I think all of us, in on sense or another.

The play is a co-production between HOME and Glasgow Citizens. Their last, Endgame,  I was also fortunate to see, and too was directed by Citz Artistic Director, Dominic Hill:

HOME is where the Art is – Endgame

Back to Long Day’s Journey into Night, classic of American theatres, the 3 hour production introduces the audience to the Tyrone family, taking them from breakfast through until evening, in some of the most highly charged scenes I’ve ever seen on stage.

An autobiographical account, Eugene O’Neill had so much personal investment in the story, that he didn’t intend for it to be performed in his own lifetime.

Give the scenes I bore witness to at  HOME, what was a powerful but difficult watch for a bystander, so to speak, to see what must have been an explosive childhood played out again on stage, must be too much to bear.

Despite this, performed it was in 1956, going on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for Best Play. And from the story and words alone, I can see why.

All players I watched on stage more than matched the material and gave a masterclass in how to move an audience to the point of breaking point where at one stage, I wanted to rush up on stage. I’m dramatic, but not that dramatic during the normal course of business, you understand.

Set in 1912 Connecticut, the Tyrone Family, headed up by father James (George Costigan), provide the impression for probably a good five minutes that all is well – they are just a normal family, living a normal life.

To paraphrase Prince Charles,

whatever that means

(Incidentally I write this hours after a certain Harry married Meghan – another family who bring the drama – perhaps rivalling that of the Tyrones? Apologies – I promise not to let this event have any further influence on this piece of writing, either consciously or hopefully subconsciously).

I Di gress.

However, it is soon apparent that matters are playing out in the wake of a recently resolved upset concerning the mother, Mary (Brid Ni Neachtain). She’s eating again, and her husband joyously and sincerely happily declares that she’s getting fat, caused titters throughout the audience (as the millenials might say…

husband goals

Seeds are soon sown that the youngest son, based on O’Neill himself, Edmund (Lorn Macdonald) may be gravely unwell,

and the scene is soon set and the questions posed for the audience:

  • What happened to Mary?
  • What is wrong with Edmund?
  • What dynamic does eldest son, James jr, (Sam Phillips), bring to the table – tensions with both his brother and father already showing their colours.

The company is completed by the brilliantly sharp Irish housemaid Cathleen (Dani Heron), who brings moments of mirth much welcome at times, but not out of place.

Secrets unravel, truths are told and faced and the story becomes the ultimate case study in how thin the line between love and hate can be.

The performances both emotionally and physically were astounding. Just when you think all players have given all they can give, their stories told, they again enter the arena to go one more round (in some scenes, quite literally).

This production of Long Day’s Journey into Night left this theatre-goer and plus 1 feeling exhausted, tense, emotional, anxious and indeed feeling like one of the family.

There’s one more adjective; privileged.

One final note.

George Costigan?

I thought ‘e were great

(Forgive me, I couldn’t have gone the whole review without a reference to Rita, Sue and Bob Too, try as I might).

On at HOME until Saturday 26 May, you have a week’s opportunity to experience for yourself this classic play and wonderful production.

https://homemcr.org/production/long-days-journey-night

Watch the trailer

Production photography credit: Tim Morozzo

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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.

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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

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Madama Butterfly 🦋 Fatal Passions and Attraction

I last wrote about this topic (in more detail)in my dissertation in the year cough cough etc.

You understand my entire dissertation wasn’t based on Michael Douglas but a small portion of it. I don’t have a degree in Michael Douglas.

I focussed on the femme fatale on film and how feminist theory has been applied on celluloid.

Have that, eh?

It was the lovely Glenn Close in the fantastically, ferocious Fatal Attraction who my attention was focussed on in part of my fancy pants essay. And whilst there are both implicit and hugely explicit parallels to be drawn and homages to be noted between Fatal Attraction and Madama Butterfly, I think that a little of the huge sympathy audiences have for our female protagonist in the latter should also be reserved for her or the former.

I’ll get to it.

Madama Butterfly is my favourite opera. Hands up I haven’t seen ALL of the operas. I work full time and have two cats to deal with. But it is a story and a score I’ve returned to theatres to see multiple times – once through the medium of ballet (those on stage, I mean, I didn’t go pirouetting off to the Opera House).

Last Tuesday I was invited to the opening night of Madama Butterfly at The Lowry Theatre.

My heart leapt in anticipation of what I knew would be a roller coaster of emotions throughout the performance from drama queen over here.

Opera North did duly take me on that ride and tears did duly flow.

You can read more here but, to summarise, Madama Butterfly 🦋 is a tale of the romance between Cio-Cio-San, a young Japanese girl and geisha who falls for the promises made, by visiting American naval officer Pinkerton, and agrees to marry him. This is to the chagrin of her family who are horrified that she is prepared to sacrifice her ancestral religion and embrace Christianity.

Pinkerton is going into the marriage for what he can’t be sure is love or a whim ‘someday I will take a real American wife’, but worries not, given that he is returning to American for an undisclosed period of time.

Three years pass and Butterfly still waits for her husband, and it is revealed that her marriage brought her a son. Together they wait for Pinkerton to return. Return he does, but with the ‘real’ American wife he always intended, here for the child, not Butterfly.

Devastated, Butterfly agrees, with what would be her penultimate sacrifice, the final being her life, using the dagger which took her own father’s life.

With a rousing score by Puccini which devastates me as much as the story playing out, there isn’t a performance goes by of this wonderfully sad story that doesn’t leave me in tears and as said Opera North’s was no exception, with a wonderful orchestra conducted by Martin Pickard.

Sung in Italian with English subtitles, the production was set in the home of Cio-Cio San (Ann Sophie Duprels) which was simply designed with what you might describe as typically Japanese minimalism, allowing the eye to focus on the players and drama ensuing within – not that you would need encouragement to do so.

Along with Merunas Vitulskis (Pinkerton) and Ann Taylor (loyal maid Suzuki) and all the players, I was mesmerised by the passion and emotion displayed through the vocals, body language and even periods of abject silence (the devastating scene as Cio-Cio San waits at the harbour with her son, to no avail).

The audience’s heart strings are tugged to breaking point by Cio-Cio-San’s sorrow and so I return to Glenn Close’s Alex Forrest, in Fatal Attraction.

There are immense parallels, as said some obvious (Alex playing Madama Butterfly at her home as she cooks newly acquainted married lover Dan Gallagher (Douglas) dinner, later trying to make nice by buying them two tickets to said opera.

There is even a nod (bow?) to Japanese culture in early scenes where Dan and Alex’s paths first cross at the launch for a Japanese self-help book.

Everything in Alex’s home is white, crisp, clean simple lines. Her father is dead (there is a double bluff where she proclaims him to be dead from a heart attack when Dan feigns collapse, only to then reveal she is joking and he is very much alive – Dan later learns he is in fact dead). She is spurned by her lover who has an American wife and child (to be fair to Dan, Alex knew of this from the off). However it’s the role that Alex doesn’t have, hers being that of the other half of a two night stand whilst Dan’s wife is at her parents.

There is a child (unborn) that Dan rejects upon being given the news that Alex is pregnant (immediately offering her money to abort). The (unsuccessful) suicide attempt as Alex slashes her wrists when realising that Dan is going to immediately return to his family set-up, their ‘love’ affair lasting only a weekend.

Alex is spurned by her lover but he is not her husband. He belongs to another and was never hers to begin with. Cio-Cio-San was lead to believe Pinkerton was hers and whilst both women are spurned, the latter is wholly more naive to reality than the former.

However, who can fail to be moved by the scene in Fatal Attraction where on the night of the opera performance that Alex had tickets to, she sits on the floor at home turning the lamp on and off rhythmically to the desperate strains of Puccini’s score, face frozen in an expression that is both despair and rage.

It’s terrifying and we’re all cheering Alex’s downfall in the end (not in support of Dan, it has to be said, but his ever so lovely wife Beth (Anne Archer). But shouldn’t we reserve a little of our sympathy for Alex?

She may not have had the naivety of Cio-Cio-San and her reaction to rejection may have been somewhat more outwardly facing than self-destructive, but there are definite parallels to be drawn.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

Or as originally written…

Heav’n has no Rage, Like Love to Hatred turn’d, Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d…

We all focus on the fury but rarely the scorn. In both stories, both women scorned suffered fatal consequences, one more directly, one indirectly, by their one hands as a result of their reactions.

Madama Butterfly, a beautifully sad story that must be seen and also heard, not least by Opera North.

Part of the Fatal Passions season at The Lowry there’s that F word again), you can see further Opera North productions such as Saloma at the theatre through to April.

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All aboard for Brief Encounter – destination West End, first stop Salford…

I’ve been commuting since I was 12 years old, getting the bus to school, 2.9miles away (that 0.1 is very important given that it disqualified me from the free bus pass that the elusive and illustrious 3 mile commute brought you).

Buses gave way to trains once starting uni and then work, and I seriously think after daily commutes including Leeds, Liverpool and Wigan from the Manchester ‘burbs, I should be decorated with some sort of honour – bravery through adversity or something…

These days I’m back working in Manchester city centre, delivered there through the medium of tram.Don’t get me wrong, as much as I love them, they are not without their issues and, as with most commutes, the issues are the other people Recognise the Tram Tribes?

And so, we come to Brief Encounter, one of my favourite stories and films.Noël Coward’s story and 1945 film directed by David Lean, tells the story of two commuters who meet by chance in a station waiting/tea room.

In roles made famous by Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson, He a doctor, removes something from her eye. She, a housewife, lets him.

And so, a love affair begins, made ever more powerful that…(Spoiler Alert – scroll below the train if you haven’t seen the film)


***…it remains unconsummated before both parties go their separate ways, back to their spouses, children and lives; she in 1930s surburbia, he in a hastily yet convenient decision and opportunity to work out in South Africa.***


Now don’t get me wrong, very happily paired up with my plus 1, I’m not seeking out my own station tea room tryst (aka Starbucks), but there is something romantic about the train station (stop picturing Piccadilly Station, naysayers). People being reunited, saying goodbye…and, in this case, meeting for the first time.

If you haven’t already, go forth and watch the film.

But enough of the original source and basic premise, this week (20-24 February 2018), the North West is being treated to an original take on Brief Encounter as brought to the Lowry Theatre, Salford by company Kneehigh Theatre.

Like nothing I’ve seen before, the award-winning production, is adapted and directed by Emma Rice, and produced by David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers, Jenny and Steve Wiener and The Old Vic.

It brings together a stellar cast who deliver energetic performances non-stop, from their interactive relationship with the audience from before curtain up (keep your ears open and your eyes peeled) to curtain down.

(Jim Sturgeon as Alec and the full cast, credit: Steve Tanner)
(Dean Nolan as Fred and Isabel Pollen as Laura, credit: Steve Tanner)

Between them they bring the music, the singing, the acting, the props, the almost tongue in cheek special effects, and the laughter.

(Jos Slovick as Stanley & Beverly Rudd as Beryl, credit: Steve Tanner)

You may be surprised about the laughs. Admittedly there are more than in the more emotive film version of the story, but it’s important to remember the light relief brought by characters Albert Godby, Myrtle Bagot and Beryl Walters on the big screen.

It is perhaps in all of the supporting characters (but by no means supporting cast) that this production excels – the story of Laura and Alec almost providing the bridges to the next scene involving the other characters. At the very least, the footing feels equal.

(Lucy Thackeray as Myrtle, credit: Steve Tanner)

This is absolutely no slight on the scenes involving the central players, more a compliment to the production that the limelight was shared so well between all characters in a story where this would be thought impossible.

(Isabel Pollen as Laura, Jim Sturgeon as Alec, credit: Steve Tanner)

The final station tea room scene (no spoilers, fear not) is no less powerful and moving than that of the film (anyone seated next to me – I just had some grit in my eye, is all).

Lucy Thackeray as Myrtle, credit Steve Tanner

The original music by Stu Barker, and performance of said music, is jaunty and humorous, moving and sometimes melancholy- all as appropriate.

(Katrina Kleve, Lucy Thackeray & Beverly Rudd, credit: Steve Tanner)

Cue outcry from those, who like me, insist that in Brief Encounter there are three in that affair; Laura, Alec and Rachmaninov.Fear not, the stage production brings those powerful strains to the table as well.

At 90 minutes, without an interval, the audience is kept captivated by constant switches between music and word, live action and projected images, costume changes and the aforementioned ingenious props (look out for the toy train).

(Isabel Pollen as Laura, credit: Steve Tanner)

With three more performances at The Lowry before the show moves to a run in the West End, jump on board and don’t miss your chance to see this original take on a classic story.

Failing that, there’s always the Pendolino, but watch out for those lurking in Starbucks whilst you wait…

All the Deets.

ps thank you for retaining my two favourite lines…Funny

Oh mummmyyyy

And heartbreaking

Thank you for coming back to me

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eXchange Food and Drink Lounge – call me ☎️

It’s a rare day I pick up when my phone rings. It’s a hell freezes over day I call someone else.

I’m not a monster, a social pariah, arrogance personified. I guess you could call me the ultimate screener. But it’s not through a sense of selecting who I want to talk to. It’s more blanket than that – I don’t want to talk to anyone. On the telephone that is.

What is this sorcery? You can hear them, you can speak to them, but you can’t see their facial expressions.

I’m a face reader, ready to add all sorts of dramatic interpretation to your expression in response to my ‘hello, it’s (insert real name here)’. How can I apply a wild assumption without a face to go on?

The telephone ☎️📞. Not my best friend.

But why the random, slightly odd confession? Why it’s my not totally tenuous link to the location of my latest Manchester dining experience: eXchange Food and Drink Lounge. Built on the location of what was a telephone exchange back in the 1890s, I love a nod to the past and eXchange Food and Drink Lounge on Portland Street does this well – not only in its name but in its interior decor.

Whilst I may have a deep neurotic suspicion of the telephone, I do enjoy a tasteful telephone aesthetic.

And so, with no danger of having to use any of pictured receivers, it was a relaxed honorary manc who settled down for an early Friday evening dinner.

There were lots of different groups in – families, couples, friends, dads and their lads (my Manchester United supporting plus 1 (other good clubs available) using his powers of deduction to dramatically declare…

United are at home tomorrow).

And at a glance, the menu caters for all and is what you might categorise as ‘good grub’, offering staple sections of salads, burgers, pizzas and mains including dishes such as rib eye steak, Pieminister pie, mash and gravy, and sweet potato and spinach curry.

And whilst there is absolutely nothing wrong with good honest grub, as it were, I actually think to call it only this would be doing eXchange a disservice because our experience there was that it was much more.

The thing that caught my eye immediately on the starters menu was ‘croquette of the week’.

The ‘of the week’ concept rarely stretching beyond sausages and pies, (and the croquette being a rare sight on any menu), it was a no brainer. I was having croquette of the week, no matter what filled its breadcrumby exterior (mixed seafood).

It was everything I hoped for and more. Or, to be more accurate, they were. Three (count them) beautifully golden crunchy croquettes filled with a fluffy, warm potato seafood mix, accompanied by a lovely tartare sauce dip.

Comfort on a plate.

My ‘actual manc plus 1’ diner dived into the fish tacos and declared them delicious.

I ‘dove’ in too and concurred.

Again this isn’t something you’d often see on a menu and, as with all dishes at eXchange, whilst at first sight they are the staples you’d expect, there’s originality and a level of freshness injected to some of its offerings, whilst keeping it simple enough to cater to a wide dining demographic.

Without particular intention (although I did declare I’d start the year vegetarian until I ate a sausage roll by mistake), I kept to a meat-free theme and chose the haddock and chips for my main.

You (I) want to see golden batter, soft white flaky fish and big, bold, ‘crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside’ chips, when I order such a dish. I got it.

The batter was light and the flavours ran through to the chips underneath. A self-declare connoisseur, I really need to write a Top 10 Manchester chips blog at some point, if only to give myself an excuse to indulge. Anyway, I’d put these thick cut chips in that list.

‘Actual manc plus 1’ chose the ‘Good Vibes’ burger and good vibes indeed were experienced from the cajun chicken breast with slaw, jerk mayo and mango salsa.

He also had the good fortune to choose the thick cut chips which also worked for me, as I didn’t have to share a single one of mine.

Before our puddings, our lovely server, recommended a delicious drink. In fact I’m going to halt here just to say what great service we had from our server from start to finish and whose name I wish I’d asked (not in a creepy way) – he was friendly, lovely, polite, infectiously smiley and his recommendations were spot on – thank you.

Anyway, speaking of which we both enjoyed (we being my fellow diner and I, not our server although I would have happily bought him a drink had he not been working – again not in a creepy way) a beautifully presented Original Manchester Gin with elderflower tonic, which was like summer (remember that?) in a glass.

You might be bold enough to question the timing of my gin, given that I had wine with my starter and main. Well, to quote Tony Wilson,

This is Manchester. We do things differently.

And so it was into pudding and what a treat. Admittedly there was something of a wait between these two courses but I didn’t mind this – time to enjoy your drinks, you don’t feel rushed and some waiting time removes the danger of feeling too full and unable to enjoy your next course. Which we absolutely did.

We chose the trio of creme brulee, the trio being chocolate, coffee and vanilla…

and ‘Chef Chris’s’ chocolate brownie, served with chocolate sauce and amazing salted caramel ice cream – Chef Chris? Our compliments…

Throwing myself head first back into the telephone analogy (and putting aside my own personal aversion to telephone calls – it’s important we ignore that for a moment), allow me to liken our experience to such –

eXchange Food and Drink Lounge, we’ve added you to our friends and family.

Sorry that was terrible, wasn’t it?

Let’s keep it simple,

eXchange Food and Drink Lounge, if you called, we’d always pick up.

Not much better.

Just basically go and try their great food in relaxed surroundings – you won’t be disappointed.

Telephones etc.

All the deets

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Culture Food and Drink Manchester Marathon People Photography Popular culture The Arts Travel Uncategorized

My Manchester in 2017 – in pictures

The highs, the lows and the love that stemmed. Beautiful Manchester.

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Hotels Manchester Photography Popular culture Preview/review Travel Uncategorized

Bowled over by the Hilton

Brought up by cricket-loving parents. I can boast that I was there at the infamous Headingley Test in 1981. I was barely stringing a sentence together given my young years

what’s new?

(Good one, me. Who just wrote that too. About me)

… but I was there.

img_1756

And so with that grounding, I had no choice but to have a fondness for the game. I have to admit that my love lies more in the memories that it brings for me than the stats and quality of that day’s fielding…

My Dad in the garden, listening to test match special with its permanently crackly, radio interference against the dulcet tones of RP voices, detailing that day’s play.

I might not be able to tell you all the intricacies of the game, but I’ve seen Warne bowl and I’ve seen Beefy bat. And I like Boycott’s bonkers bantz.

And for those who have no interest in the game whatsoever I’ll get to the point which involves one of the newest hotels to hit Greater Manchester;  Hilton Garden Inn, at Old Trafford Cricket Ground (aka the Emirates Stadium).

Just celebrating its 3 month birthday, I recently checked both myself and husband in to celebrate our 9 year anniversary.

We do that thing where we try and come up with some sort of genius yet tenuous link of a gift, according to what anniversary it is that year; i.e. paper, pottery, copper, ketchup, Pot Noodle, titanium and so on and so forth.

To help our quest, we open up the options to both the modern list and the traditional list (we cheat, essentially, as it can be a ball-ache).

This year I went with ‘willow’. We’d both wanted to check out the new hotel on the block at some point and so I forced a link with cricket – (willow being the bat, those who aren’t au fait with the romantic cricketing description…

the sound of leather on willow

Unfortunately our wedding anniversary inconveniently lies outside of the cricket season (or, more accurately, those games played at Old Trafford Cricket Ground this year.

No matter, this could be a recce for next summer.

Booking a room that faced the pitch (imagining dropping the ball on that one), the view was fantastic enough to please any cricket fan (again, play or no play) and impressive enough for those who don’t know their googly from their search engine).

Throwing open the curtains and french doors alike (it admittedly took a number of goes – reassuringly stiff), your balcony is there waiting for you, the pitch opening up from your privileged vantage point.

On this occasion it was the perfect position to watch the sun go down over Greater Manchester.

One can only imagine the thrill of sitting there watching play on a summer’s day, from your room.

With your little fridge available in the room for cold beverages at will, and a bathroom that doesn’t involve queuing with your fellow fans, you could be forgiven for feeling positively like an MCC member (basically fancy-pants cricket-goer decked out in mustard and maroon).

Away from the view, for a second, The hotel itself is modern and stylish. The rooms comfortable, and the members of staff warm and welcoming.

There was brief hilarity in the hotel bar and restaurant when my request for a margarita cocktail was misunderstood for a margherita pizza (to be fair, it’d be a cold day in hell when I rejected either), but a good night was had by all (both).

Throw those curtains wide (making sure you’re decent first)
So your trip to Trafford be for cricket, football, music or just for the sunsets, I recommend the Hilton Garden Inn at the Emirates Stadium.

Howzat!

Well very good, since you asked. And we’ll be back next summer.

And he’s out
And he’s out!
All the deets.