Categories
Culture LGBT LGBTQ+ Manchester Music Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Review: Insane Animals

It’s true to say that I didn’t always know what I was watching last night.

But I know that I liked it.

Like the camp space landing that it depicted (are there any other kind?), the show launched itself on stage through plumes of smoke and a cacophony of noise, and with the arrival of ‘cult cabaret duo’, Bourgeois & Maurice.

Directed by Phillip McMahon, the premise of the show (you’re best not to question, just accept) is two glam aliens arrive from a faraway galaxy to rescue present-day earth from impending political, environmental and social doom.

Now, of course this show was written, created, conceived of before we all entered the realms of (brace yourself for the c-word) Coronavirus. Yet, I can’t have been the only one in that audience more than aware of the …well not so much irony, more literal coincidence, of the statements delivered to the audience along the lines of ‘we’ve come to save you, you’re all doomed,’. They raised more than a little nervous laughter as we coughed into our elbows, having performed hand-washing duration top trumps with fellow theatre-goers in the toilets beforehand.

Being accidentally reminded of world-wide health crisis aside, the show was a riot, a pure joy.

The best thing with shows such as Insane Animals, is not to attempt to explain it (and with that, she was off the hook), but just to feel it, absorb it, embrace it and really, really enjoy it.

The satirical double-act were joined by 6 other actors and musicians (and self-described misfits) as they sang, played, danced, gyrated, wrestled, gurned and glitter-bombed their way through a story of time-travel and mortality (oh yes, they weren’t messing about).

The songs were catchy (I’m not the biggest embracer of musicals but i was all over this one) and the costumes as extra as the country’s current penchant for stockpiling loo-roll.

At the time of writing, there are four more chances to bear witness to this ‘queer unravelling of past and present, fact and fiction’. Just watch yourself on that front row…

For more details and to book tickets, visit https://homemcr.org/production/bourgeois-maurices-insane-animals/.

Pic credits: Drew Forsyth.

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

Review: Shangri-la at Hope Mill Theatre

The press release promised a run-down B&B which doubled as a swinger’s club, a gambling man, a fortune teller and an elderly deviant.

My immediate thoughts turned to Benidorm. It’ll be leopard print, ‘bosoms’, nudge nudge wink winks, Carry On Abroad (at home), that glorious feature length film that took the cast of Are You Being Served abroad (but again, at home) and so on and so forth.

Full disclosure – I actually love all those things when all’s said and done.

So I’d definitely get something from this play but perhaps it would be as a kind of tribute? Homage?

Wow, it was so much more. The release also promised a dark comedy and as the narrative moved forward, boy did it bring the dark.

Said it before, many times, will say it again. Fringe theatre has nothing to hide behind – no elaborate sets, special effects, ‘big name’ draws or anything else that hides weak scripts, cliched narratives or lazy acting in seemingly plain sight.

And that’s what makes it so special and even more so when you’re blown away by a production.

Written by BAFTA ‘breakthrough Brit’ Gemma Langford and directed by Joel Parry, the lines were both funny but often poignant, pitched perfectly by the cast who delivered an engaging performance throughout. But the themes, messaging all the way upto the final uttered line

Keep your eyes closed

clearly came from a place of deep understanding of the workings of life and human behaviours, and how ‘normal life’ – ‘spag bol’ and all, can sometimes deeply and dangerously mask the inner truth of who someone truly is and what they actually want.

I grew up in a village just a couple of miles outside of Blackpool (hence the ‘honorary), and so have a deep, genuine affection for proms, tower ballrooms, 2pence slot machines and the deep melancholic feel of a seaside town in the depths of winter.

Therefore as the play progressed and turned a darker shade of flashing neon, I was already fully immersed in the environment. Oh, not the swinging I hasten to heavily add…

As some characters covered up and some laid bare, both metaphorically and practically physically, the old adage ‘things aren’t always what they seem,’ never rang more true.

I genuinely encourage you to see this play so whilst I always steer clear of a spoiler anyway, I’m being even more cryptic than ever.

But head along to the wonderful Hope Mill Theatre, and all its charms, and catch a performance of Shangri-la from Broken Biscuits Theatre Company, whilst you can (you have until 20 February).

Do watch out for the soul-searching on the tram journey home though…

For full details including cast, creatives and booking details, head to https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/welcome-to-shangri-la

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

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

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

Review: Our Kid (Greater Manchester Fringe Festival)

I’ve documented my love for fringe theatre before.

On the one hand you get to see experimental, exciting, no-holds barred productions and on the other hand, you get to see theatre which feels real, familiar, gritty, passionate…

Our Kid, written by and starring Taran Knight, falls into the latter category and is all these things and very funny to boot too.

In the great theatre space upstairs at The Kings Arms, Taran Knight single-handedly took us through a tale of sibling rivalry, sibling love, sibling anger…

in Our Kid, Jimmy (Knight) tells of Tommy, his younger brother – golden child – the one Jimmy took the fall for for years, all against a backdrop of Manchester and Salford.

Indeed fringe ate itself as the venue, The Kings Arms, made a cameo on a couple of occasions throughout.

Via a range of pitch perfect accents depicting family members, a girlfriend and colourful acquaintances, the 50 minute production took us through decades of incidents, punctuated by a Mancunian soundtrack.

Indeed whilst not a wholly linear timeline musically, what did signpost us to each year and how much time had passed was the brilliantly funny device of Manchester United terrace chants.

Oh Robin Van Persie…

Ah, we’ve arrived at 2012 – gotcha.

City fans – brace yourselves…

I want you to see this brilliant play so no spoilers here but Taran Knight takes us through tragedy, anger, love, devastation and elation.

Taran Knight as Jimmy – credit: Craig’s Barker

There’s much to laugh at too. Truth be told whilst the Northern Quarter is all too familiar to this writer, I don’t like Prosecco either…

As Knight filled the small space in an energetic and spirited performance, the peppering of local references never felt forced.

You felt like you were down the pub (the Salford Arms got heavily name-checked too), listening to that character. That bloke, Jimmy who’s alright – means no ‘arm – good ‘eart, shame what ‘appended etc. His poor mother…

A play that tapped right into the streets of Manchester – how austerity, domestic violence, drug culture, love can shape, challenge and divide people and their families.

Taran Knight had us fighting alongside Jimmy, looking out for Jimmy looking out for Tommy, shaking our heads at Jimmy, shaking our heads at Tommy…

It was meta. We were in a Salford pub in the world of a play in the world of Salford pubs including this Salford pub.

And that’s why I love fringe theatre. It’s real.

Go and see a touch of heartfelt brilliance.

Further performances on 24, 27 and 31 July. More details and tickets can be found On the Greater Manchester Fringe website.

Categories
Culture dance Events Gigs Giveaway Manchester News Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

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.

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 Manchester Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Preview: Renaissance Men at 53two

The marvellously titled Bag of Beard Theatre had me at…

…it’s a Millennial Withnail and I…

when telling me about their show Renaissance Men, coming to 53two on 19 and 20 April.

Fresh from sell out shows at the Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington, this is Manchester’s (and surrounding areas of course – in fact who am I to forbid long-distance travel to this?) chance to see this dark comedy about life, art and friendship.

With desperately sad stories on this issue emerging all too frequently, regarding those we both do and don’t know, this exploration of masculinity and mental health promises to be timely and profound.

Written by James Patrick and Alexander Knott, the play is set in a squalid London flat (sounding familiar?!), and tells the story of Quentin and Irvine, a vow to give up drinking alongside a plan to open an art supply shop to fund their boozing (sounds like a better plan than a simple demand, no?).

The show has already garnered some of the finest reviews available to humanity…

…An utter delight to watch (North West End)

A riotous comedy – topical, original and very funny (Theatre Things)

For tickets and more details visit http://53two.com/renaissance-men/4593772681

Tickets are £10 with £2 unwaged available.

If you need any more convincing, read my love letter to fringe here

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

Review – The Stretch at 53Two

An hour of theatre last night felt like ten years. I don’t mean how that sounds.

Manchester Actors’ Platform (MAP) has brought The Stretch back to the 53two stage from 6 to 15 March, following rave reviews at the JB Shorts Festival.

img_3207

Written by Joe Ainsworth and directed by Simon Naylor, the piece follows Lee (James Lewis) who, after making one terrible mistake, faces a 10 year prison sentence.

Photo credit: Sean Mason

The production is largely a monologue by James Lewis who delivers an hour’s prose with passion, wit, rhythm and energy. As Lee bounds into our psyche with protestations of innocence and appeals and incredulity, we are taken into a world of sentences, cells and screws.

Photo credit: Sean Mason

Lee’s anger is tempered by his hopes of an appeal and taking solace from his mother and girlfriend Kelly. Instantly likeable, Lee (and indeed the play itself) quickly wins you round with his bad-lad humour and asides, no more so than when he describes meeting Kelly when she was on a hen night, when she emerged on a wave of inflatable penises (it was either a wave or a sea – I forget. However the inflatable penises firmly lodged themselves in my memory. So to speak).

A screen stage left provides periodic updates on the timeline, each milestone bringing a different Lee. Euphoric, angry, spiced-up, devastated, the audience bears witness to the highs and lows of the character as he is exposed to the dark realities of prison – suicide, pain and drugs, and learns about the lives (and deaths) of loved ones on the outside.

Photo credit: Sean Mason

Supported by a small cast taking on multiple characters including prisoners and officers on the inside and figures from the outside, the entire outfit was strong, their dialogue snappy, one particular actor’s dancing devastating (again, in a good way) and together contributing brilliantly to what was a seamless 60 minute rollercoaster ride of emotions.

And as we eventually learn of the crime that landed the lead in prison, it provokes a question in us (I’m arrogantly speaking for all the audience but I bet I’m not far wrong), as to whether we can find room (and whether we should) to sympathise with the perpetrator as well as the victim, as they reap the consequences of one terrible ‘mistake’.

As outlined in my preview post, The Stretch was written in conjunction with the Pastoral Team at HMP Forest Bank, and based on true experiences, 

The production promised to show the highs and lows of being ‘inside’, and sought to shine a light on the support given to those incarcerated and seeking rehabilitation and an entry back into society and civilisation.

It did and impressively so. The Stretch is another example of why I love fringe theatre, as outlined in my post/love letter earlier this week.

Not content to confine their light-shining to the stage, MAP are collaborating with Manchester poet Argh Kid and holding a fundraiser on Sunday 10 March –  with all proceeds going towards charities that support the rehabilitation of those convicted.

Showing at 53two (LOVE this under the arches atmospheric venue), The Stretch is playing until 15 March. Don’t miss out.

For tickets and more details, visit http://53two.com/the-stretch/4593849274

To learn more about Manchester Actors’ Platform, visit http://www.maplatform.co.uk/

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

Review – Talk to Yourself at The Kings Arms

I was going to start this post off with the sentiment,

I love Manchester.

It’s true, I’ve got a t-shirt with it on and everything.

But to do so, I would have committed the cardinal sin of referring to a ‘happening’, an ‘event, an ‘occurrence’ as being in Manchester rather than Salford. I do this an incredible amount of times when referring to anything at the Lowry or Salford Quays (the clue’s in the name, for goodness sake) or indeed MediaCity.

So technically

I love Salford

For Salford is the scene and setting for The Kings Arms, that glorious old pub which pumps the finest ales known to humanity downstairs, and hosts talent and creativity upstairs.

And it is in Salford (and Manchester too) where, on a Monday evening, you can bear witness to bold, experimental, unabridged, unapologetic theatre and even contribute to the development of said performance.

Hosted by Mike Heath and Salford Development Week, Talk To Yourself is a production from YEAP , a theatre company based in Manchester. Salford Development Week is a fantastic opportunity for both writers and performers to try out their work and for audiences to provide feedback and contribute to the development process.

And this is what I mean by I love Salford – for having such a brilliant place as the characteristic Kings Arms where you can spend a wet Monday evening exposed to such opportunity and, well, entertainment.

And I love Manchester because I just do. And because it’s such a hive of creativity,  producing such set ups as YEAP.

We’re lucky us Mancunians, Salfordians, North Westians – original and honorary.

Talk to Yourself was a script in hand performance, written by Lea Fante and directed by Adriana Buonfantino, and was a monologue based on true stories and experiences of pregnancy, focusing on the subject of abortion.

The experimental part of the piece, for me, was the dialogue between the woman reflecting on previous experience, and debating her current situation (Lucy Temby), with interjections from a nameless…computer? robot? being? side stage (Diana Atkins) who provides stone cold objective statistics on abortion – a contrast to the emotive and strong musings and indeed performance on stage.

Theatre and indeed all facets of the arts are subjective. A piece is only realised/finalised/completed when it has provoked an emotion, reaction, a response from another person.

To judge a performance is akin to judging a reaction – there’s no right or wrong. I prefer not to critique theatre itself, only reflect on how it made me feel.

For the record though, the evening including the performance, venue and a forum for feedback, gave good epitome of fringe theatre; raw, brave, thought-provoking, intimate, uncomfortable, real.

And, to be honest and simple, thoroughly enjoyable. I was left longing to learn more.

Whilst my own feedback is neither technical nor specific , I hope what is clearly a love letter to fringe theatre tells you what you need to know (I might get that printed on a t-shirt).

Curtain call please for the YEAP , The Kings Arms and Salford Development Week

Click on the links for more details.