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 Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Greater Manchester Fringe – Into The Deep

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

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

Tragic that the above is all required.*

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

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

Showing at Leaf in Portland Street…

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

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

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

Fear not…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the point,

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

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

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

It soon filled up – I panic and get places early

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look after each other x