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Preview: HOME is where the People’s Art is – the first Manchester Open Exhibition

Whilst works, appreciation, opinions and afforded gravitas come in all shapes and sizes, art should be inclusive and HOME is bringing this ethos to life by celebrating the amazing talent of Greater Manchester.

In the first region-wide exhibition of its type, HOME welcomed submissions from all across all 10 boroughs, for the inaugural Manchester Open Exhibition which opens tomorrow, Saturday 18 January and runs until 15 March 2020.

Justine Le Joncour – Newton Street

The exhibition sees entries from all levels of experience; established artists, new and emerging talent, enthusiastic amateurs and first-time artists.

Ben Goring – Rich
Gwen Evans – Ar Lan Y Mor (By the Seaside)

With over 2000 pieces submitted, over 500 works were selected by a special panel which included HOME curator, Bren O’Callaghan and Helen Wewiora, Director of Castlefield Gallery.

The result is a wonderfully eclectic exhibition representing the wonderful people of Greater Manchester, which includes paintings, prints, photography, sculpture, digital and mixed media, video and audio, spoken word, performance and more.

Kat Preston – An Ode to Willendorf

And, in the words of the great Jimmy Cricket (never forget) there’s more…(it was a contemporary reference toss up between him and Columbo)…

20 of the artists have been shortlisted for a Manchester Open Award, and the five winners will each receive an artist bursary to the value of 2000 pounds, in collaboration with Castlefield Gallery, which will be tailored to each individual artist, and may cover such things as travel, materials, studio rent, website development or any aspect of their practice following peer advice. Full details including the names of all finalists can be found HERE

Just one more thing (nobody puts Columbo in the corner), visitors to the Manchester Open Exhibition during the first four weeks will get the chance to vote for the winner of The People’s Choice Award.

All winners will also receive (and I LOVE this) an award made by Stockport’s On The Brink Studio, from Manchester poplar, bog oak and wax from the beehives on the roof of HOME.

Jen Orpin – It’s the Manc Way – Safe Passage

So support Greater Manchester by helping support HOME support Greater Manchester and head on over to the Manchester Open Exhibition at HOME from Saturday 18 January.

I’ll be visiting this week and will share what is sure to be my joy and favourites in a further post and pics on here, Twitter and Instagram.

More details can be found at https://homemcr.org/exhibition/manchester-open/

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Review: The Jumper Factory at HOME

I do sometimes question why I come away with so many positive feelings, thoughts and, well, reviews, from productions that I’ve been lucky enough to see in theatres in and around Manchester.

Be they performed on a stage in a large auditorium, in a church, in a renovated mill, even in a pub cellar, theatre is about entertainment and it’s about story-telling. It’s about communicating an idea, a vision, a feeling, a message. If you walk away at curtain down (if there is a curtain), with your thoughts provoked or your senses stimulated or even your funny bone triggered, then the entire outfit involved has done its job.

And last night, The Jumper Factory, did just that.

Credit – author

Brought to HOME Mcr by the Young Vic, written by Luke Barnes and directed by Justin Audibert, the 45 minute production requires little fanfare in its manifestation on stage. This is partly due to the 6 fine young actors’ talent, and partly due to the truth, experience, honesty and belief that are clearly the foundations of the show.

Credit – HOME, Young Vic – Leon Puplett

Developed by the Young Vic through a series of workshops with eight prisoners at HMP Wandsworth, The Jumper Factory tells their story. However, not before those same prisoners were given the opportunity to tell it themselves.

Performed in wings around the prison, the feedback was so positive that the eight involved wanted to ensure that their story went beyond those walls and to ‘the outside’, in order to gain an understanding of life ‘inside’.

Added to this grounding in realism and raw material, is the fact that the six young actors; Ayomide Adegun, Raphael Akuwudike, Joe Haddad, Rasaq Kukoyi, Jake Mills and Pierre Moullier (all aged 18-25), on stage last night, not only entered the production with either little or no acting experience, they, like many, have all had their lives touched in varying ways by the criminal justice system.

Credit – HOME, Young Vic – Leon Puplett

This perfect storm of elements results in a show that is authentic, humorous, heartfelt and, yes, entertaining.

As the six form a tag team to tell a tale of one prisoner’s experience of life behind bars and away from his mother, his girlfriend, his step-son (who calls him Daddy 2); each actor took their turn in taking on the main role, the mother, the girlfriend…each performance in a role as believable as the last.

Credit – HOME, Young Vic – Leon Puplett

The story isn’t one of pity, extremities, shock, or controversy, merely a presentation of a life that most of us will never know, but from what good could possibly stem.

As the saying goes,

it is, indeed, what it is.

And what it is is a not to be missed tale told with a combination of truth and talent.

The Jumper Factory runs until this Saturday 14 September. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit https://homemcr.org/production/the-jumper-factory/

To learn more about the Young Vic, visit https://www.youngvic.org/

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Preview: Penguin Pride 2019 (part of Pride at HOME)

Last year I shared my immense joy at what was an evening of entertainment, enlightenment, education and laughter (I couldn’t find a synonym for lolz beginning with ‘e’, ok?):

Penguin Pride – less a review, more a tribute

Well it’s back and I’ll be there and you should be too. And I’ll tell you for why…

This year, Penguin Pride will take place on Wednesday 21 August at my own home from home – erm, HOME.

In this, the year commemorating 50 years since Stonewall, Penguin Pride will be looking back and celebrating how far LGBT rights have come, where we are now and what the future may hold.

This year’s line-up includes a mix of old and new Penguins Live faces:

Multi-award winning poet and playwright, Toby Campion, returns as MC and yes, you may have even seen him outside that photo booth in those adverts with his BFF…

Other writers and performers taking part include award-winning Yorkshire poet Andrew McMillan, arts writer and Attitude columnist Paul Flynn, Glasgow based author, Kirsty Logan, Liverpool based writer, Emma Morgan and LGBTQ+ writer roo

For full details and tickets, head to https://homemcr.org/production/penguin-pride/

To read about last year’s event which included performances from this year’s Toby Campion, Paul Flynn, Kirsty Logan and Andrew McMillan, head here to Penguin Pride – less a review, more a tribute

If it’s half as good as last year’s, I’ll run out of superlatives.

See you there…

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Head HOME for Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and so on and so forth.

In fact, let us not mess around.

Let’s just go straight to Chris Rea. Ish.

Because this year, Mancs, Honorary Mancs, Visitors to Manc…

I’m going HOME this Christmas…

Why, you ask? Well I can’t wait to see those faces.

Whose, you ask?

Well everyone who frontline works there from Box Office to Bar. But of equal measure, I can’t wait to see some of the films and theatre productions that HOME Mcr are treating us to this yuletide season. Because, frankly readers? We’ve all been very good and have swerved the naughty list.

First up, At Home in the 80s.

I love three things (I mean I love more but for the purposes of the here and now, I love three):

  • Being at HOME
  • Christmas
  • The 80s

And so those clever people combine all three with their season of films inspired by this devastatingly brilliant decade.

Image courtesy of Park Circus/Disney

We all live for nostalgia at Christmas and these films deliver it in spades:

  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit?;
  • An American Werewolf in London;
  • This is Spinal Tap (watch out for more on this on sister blog What the Projectionist Saw;
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark;
  • Bill and  Ted’s Excellent  Adventure; and
  • Heathers.
Image courtesy of Park Circus/StudioCanal

We love the 80s and this is the only decade to bring us significant films.

Hey, who said that? HOME and I beg to differ. What about the era of slapstick?

Guess what, reader, HOME are bringing this to us as well with a season of Slapstick featuring the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and The Marx Brothers in:

  • A Night at the Opera;
  • One Week/Sherlock Jr – a Buster  Keaton double bill accompanied by live musicians HarmonieBand; and
  • Modern Times – again, watch out for feature on film blog What the Projectionist Saw, coming to a screen near you…

For full film listings head to www.homemcr.org/cinema

I love slapstick and I love HOME. But is there a second cultural medium bringing the two concepts together? I hear you ask (you’re saying a great deal today, reader).

Why yes! HOME may be inviting you into their intimate grown up cinemas this Christmas, but they haven’t shut up shop at their theatre spaces.

For older children (and adults), the Dutch musical explosion that is Slapstick (anyone know how to do an umlaut on a laptop – anyway there should be two dots of the ‘a’), hits HOME, with an ode to the timeless comedy of Messrs Chaplin, Keaton, Marx, Laurel and Hardy, with five world class performers combining musicianship, mayhem and physical comedy to bring a show that will mesmerise from start to finish. Running from 13-22 Dec.

For the little Mancs, Honorary Mancs, Visitors to Manc, (let’s say between the ages of 2-4)there is the delightful White, a fully immersive show where the little ones sit on bean bags in a magical white tent and hear the story of two friends in a magical white world whose job it is to watch over the birds and their precious eggs. Sarah Jessica Parker described the show as

One of the greatest experiences of a lifetime and the best 40 minutes of my life.

and you can’t argue with SJP. Running from 13-23 Dec.

And so we have it, for all details of dates, tickets and the venue itself, head to www.homemcr.org

For Christmas, there’s no place like HOME (I know it’s twee, but it works so…)

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Culture Manchester Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

OthelloMacbeth – a play of two halves…

Or should that be a production of two plays? Or a production of two halves, each one a play? But are they two plays? In this world premier of the HOME and Lyric Hammersmith co-production, they are two, yet they are one.

And I shall tell you for why.

The plays (when discussing Othello and Macbeth, I shall from hereon in refer to them as ‘the plays’, and when discussing OthelloMacbeth, I shall refer to it as ‘the production’)…

And so, the plays, written by one William Shakespeare, are both linked by their tales of jealousy and power and this was non-more so apparent by the seamless fusion of their narratives in last night’s production.

However, we can’t give all the credit to the themes set out by Shakespeare those centuries ago, but some must go to  Salford-based Director, Jude Christian, and the incredible cast  of  Samuel Collings (Iago/Macduf), Grace Cookey-Gam (Lodovico/Lennox), Paul Courtenay Hyu (Brabantio/Duncan), Caroline Faber (Lady Macbeth), Kirsten Foster (Desdemona), Sandy Grierson (Cassio/Macbeth), Kezrena James (Bianca), Melissa Johns (Emilia) and Ery Nzaramba (Othello/Banquo).

But fear not (and I can feel the tension from those worrying just how alternative OthelloMacbeth might be), the heart of both plays are there – the dialogue faithful to the Bard’s writing, the delivery as passionate and empowered as any you would see in a ‘straight’ version of both plays at the RSC.

But the focus of both plays and indeed production, is shifted to the females, the spotlight and the narrative shifted both seamlessly but markedly to their roles in the plays and story. Whilst I would argue that Macbeth was perhaps quite ‘good’ for flagging up the females in the tale of murder, ego and greed, I would say that Lady Macbeth was played out, in this production, as no less strong but perhaps more sympathetically and softer in the delivery of lines and expressions as the weaker but markedly out of control Macbeth takes down those in his way. An example of softness adding a positive strength and sympathy to a character.

The women of Othello are dignified in their passionate reactions to the unjust (understatement) treatment of Desdemona by beau Othello and those around him as they storm, swagger and posture their way through the tale.

At this point, I should say that whilst all cast were truly mesmerising throughout each play and indeed multiple roles played, my attention was often stolen by Melissa Johns and her strong, feisty, funny, warm, determined depiction of Emilia.

With regional accents retained, traditional costume replaced by contemporary clothing, this does nothing to distract from the stories and impressive acting of the two great works.

Indeed, the sets are stark, particularly in Othello, the focus of the first half, where all action takes place in front of a stark, steel backdrop leaving literally nowhere to hide for the company. And as the first half, and indeed play draws to a close, the audience are treated to a blurring of the tales as the steel curtain is raised and Melissa Johns, Kirsten Foster and Kezrena James seamlessly evolve into the three witches of Macbeth…

Spellbinding, clever and captivating, I think even Shakespeare would be proud of this representation and indeed modern mash-up of his work.

OthelloMacbeth is faithful to not just the classic texts but moreover to the female roles taking them from the metaphorical wings to the centre stage.

Showing at HOME until Saturday 29 September, click here for more information and tickets.

Photo credits: Helen Murray

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Theatre review – The Fishermen at HOME Mcr

It’s always an exciting thing to attend a world premiere production of…well anything, really.

Not least when you get to see it before it hits Edinburgh Fringe audiences. Certainly not least when you’re not getting to Edinburgh Fringe yourself (although, fear not as there is plenty to entertain on our good own Mancunian doorstep of course).

And so HOME Mcr is hosting the rather wonderful theatre company New Perspectives and their pretty brilliant production of The Fishermen, until Saturday 28 July, 2018.

The play is adapted by the award-winning playwright Gbolahan Obisesan, from the much celebrated 2015 Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel of the same name, by Nigerian author, Chigozie Obioma

In summary, the story tells of two brothers in Nigeria – Ben, actor, Michael Ajao, and Obembe, actor Valentine Olukoga, who, along with their two older brothers, defy their commanding father, by secretly taking up fishing at a forbidden river.

However, their carefree capers are one day interrupted by the visitation of a ‘madman’ who delivers a terrifying prophecy, leading to life-changing consequences.

img_7505
Valentine Olukoga (Obembe) and Michael Ajao (Ben) – photo by Pamela Raith

Shown in HOME’s intimate Theatre 2, theatregoers are immediately immersed into the play before being fully seated, the lights lowered and the doors closed.

A simple set is revealed (and given the electricity of the performances by the two actors, anything else on stage would be unrequired, unwarranted and a mere distraction), sounds of river wildlife emanate throughout the space, and even a character is noted in the shadows, already in place towards the rear of the stage, sat quietly, back to the audience.

img_7509-2

Ajao and Olukoga give highly energetic and eclectic performances throughout the 80 minute production.

They take us through this intense tale of family misfortune in a free-flowing and essentially uninterrupted singular scene, whilst portraying multiple characters and timelines seamlessly whilst never provoking confusion.

One minute the snappy dialogue and mimicry of various family members has the audience laughing, and the next –  stunned and shaken by scenes of fear, terror and violence.

Valentine Olukoga (Obembe) and Michael Ajao (Ben) – photo by Pamela Raith

Throughout, the metaphorical light and shade in the story are mirrored, accompanied and indeed heralded by the subtle yet brilliant lighting direction.

And I should note (this is going to sound very ‘theatre-darling’ ), I have only had the privilege of seeing an actor cry on scripted cue twice in my life – the first was Sir Kenneth Branagh in the Manchester International Festival performance of Macbeth (and that was because it was a close-up on the big screen in a carpark – it’s ok, we were allowed to take in picnics)…and the second time was last night, mere feet from my seat.

Don’t miss this short opportunity to bear witness to this powerful and breathtaking performance of African storytelling. At very least you’ll have bragging rights over that lot up in Edinburgh 😏😁).

For full details and tickets, visit HOME Mcr – The Fishermen

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Theatre review – Diamond – HOME Mcr

I have two things in common with performance artist, David Hoyle; we’re now both Manchester based and we both grew up and spent our formative years on the Fylde Coast – he in Layton, me in Thornton-Cleveleys, both a pebble’s throw away from Blackpool.

Oh a third – we were both in Theatre 2 at Manchester’s HOMETheatre tonight at the show Diamond; he on stage, me mesmerised and enthralled in the audience.

Born in 1962, Hoyle David (I feel distinctly uncomfortable just using surnames – I know it’s standard practice in writing to do so, but I feel rude. Hopefully ‘David’ isn’t being too familiar although after being invited into his fascinating life this evening, I’m laying claim to knowing him somewhat)…

And so Ladies und Gentlemen

and those clever enough to transcend gender

(see show for details) I shall continue.

Born in 1962, David has been at the heart of the LGBT scene for decades and more than qualified to wear the crown of subject matter expert.

His one-man show, Diamond, takes the audience through a 60 year period (the last 60 years, incidentally), interweaving his own experiences, from gay adolescent in Blackpool to Divine David, the ‘anti-drag queen cult phenomena’ on Channel 4, with important and documented events in gay history such as the 1957 Wolfenden Report (recommending the decriminalisation of homosexuality).

During the show, whilst literally centre stage, David shares the spotlight with other significant gay figures and ‘happenings’, from Manchester’s own Alan Turing to Manchester’s own protest and demonstration against Section 28 – ‘Never Going Underground’.

ManGaychester- a chapter of the book and indeed show, (and the point at which I also want to pay tribute to the wonderful Lip Sinkers) gave us my favourite musical interlude and costume (not withstanding David’s fabulous charity shop ensemble midway through):

Nipple tassels swirling hypnotically to a distinctive Manchester beat.

How was your Monday?

With passion and humour blunt and biting, and nostalgia weaving between the gritty (the grim devastation of losing friends to AIDS in the 80s) and the affectionate (memories of working in a 70s BHS – staff meetings held round the coleslaw), light and shade runs throughout the 75 minute production.

As David says;

The show is a celebration of survival against overwhelming odds. We have a LGBT history we are proud of.

And so whether lesbian, gay, bi, transgender or indeed straight, I think we all left feeling a little more educated and a little better about ourselves this evening.

With only two more dates left (12/13 June), don’t miss your opportunity to bear witness to this wonderful journey.

For more details including tickets, please visit the HOME website.

ps To my fellow Fylde Coastian turned Honorary Manc, David…

I see your ‘going to watch the entire cast of Are Young Being Served in a Blackpool show’ and raise you ‘ going to see the entire cast of Hi-de-Hi on stage at the Winter Gardens’.

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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 – Minefield

Walking into HOME theatre on Thursday night, my plus 1 and I discussed the subject matter of the production we were about to see; that of the Falklands War.

Both of a similar age (he 15 months older – devil is in the detail), we both agreed that the Falklands was one of the first significant ‘news’ events we were aware of at infant age. The second was the Miners’ Strike, some time later. The latter, mainly because I was scared of Arthur Scargill – the man who…

shouted on the television.

I am not pitting (sorry, that was truly not intentional) any one side against the other by having that particular fear. In fact, everyone from that era seemed to be ‘shouting on the television’ at one time  or another. It was very much the intonation du jour.

And so whilst the Falklands War was one of my earliest memories, it is admittedly a conflict that I know less of than the World Wars of earlier decades. Phrases such as ‘the sinking of the Belgrano’ and ‘Goose Green’ are familiar to me, but the details less so. In fact it is indeed pointed out on stage that it is not a conflict that is taught in schools.

And it should be.

And I now know a lot more.

And it is thanks to the incredible company who, as part of the Viva! Festival at HOME, brings those two months vividly to life in Lola Arias’ Minefield.

I need to be careful not to fall into a trap of looking like I’m (arrogantly) reviewing six men’s experiences of war, rather than a play. But here lies the fascination, if you like, because the six men who stood before us on stage last night are not only acting out and, yes, entertaining us with an account of the Falklands. It is their account. And their memories. And their lives which are being laid bare before audiences.

At this point, I should also strive to call the Falklands, the Malvinas too. Or at least reference this name as the six veterans were from both sides of the conflict:

Gabriel Sagastume – a soldier who never wanted to shoot a gun and who is now a criminal lawyer;

Marcelo Vallejo – a mortar direction controller who today is a triathlon champion;

Ruben Otero – who survived the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano, and who now plays in a Beatles tribute band;

David Jackson – who spent the war listening and transcribing radio codes and who now listens to other veterans in his role as a counsellor;

Sukrim Rai – a Gurkha and knife-expert who now works as a security guard; and

Lou Armour – who was on the front page of every UK newspaper when the Argentinians took him prisoner on 2 April 1982. Today he is a teacher for children with learning difficulties.

To give you a sense of the purpose of the production, Argentinian Director, Lola Arias, says

War isn’t what interests me, it’s what comes after that interests me. What matters to me is what happens to a person who went through that experience. What matters to me is what memory has done, what it has erased, what it has transformed.

Never has a vision been so realised than in Minefield. Not only in the accounts that as an audience member, you feel moved and privileged to be privy to, but in the imaginative, clever, informative and humorous ways in which the play does so.

I want everyone I’ve ever met to go and see this production (no mean feat, given that it’s only on for two more nights; 13 and 14 April 2018, and hence my review being a little shorter than I might like, given my desperation to get it out asap on my lunch hour), and so I won’t commit to any spoilers because I have true faith in all of you going straight online to book your tickets (see details at the end of this post).

However, I will throw in some phrases to give you something of what the production brings to the table in just one hour and 40 minutes of live theatre of which I have never experienced before and will stay with me for some time:

  • An account of a veteran who transported body parts in what was his own blanket (and remained so, sleeping under it for the duration of the conflict
  • Maggie Thatcher as you’ve never seen her before (nice legs David Jackson)
  • Diaries, letters, blankets, and stark, stark memories of a period shared with a captivated audience
  • A striptease
  • On stage therapy as one veteran shares his searingly honest and painful memories of the war to another, now trained as a Psychologist;
  • An Argentinian Beatles tribute band; and
  • so much, much more.

As my plus 1 and I left the theatre, largely in silence (we hadn’t had a spat), we broke that silence to marvel at what we’d just seen and how we’d describe it to someone who hadn’t seen it.

A better writer than me may come up with a strong tagline but all I can say is, if you can see it, please do. And if you can’t, read about these men, and all those who are not with us to share their own personal tales. Be it on a drum kit or in drag.

Picture credits: Tristam Kenton

To book your tickets (do it), please do so here.

For more information on the Viva! Festival and the full programme of events, please click here.