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Preview: Will Self: A Life in Writing, at The Lowry 24.11.19

Will Self has written his memoir, Will, and we should all rejoice. Almost as much as I rejoiced when he took part in the Geordie Jumpers sketch on Shooting Stars.

Yes I know his incredible back catalogue of daring and original writing and I bring Geordie Jumpers into it (oh just Google it and thank me).

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Brought to The Lowry theatre by Penguin Live, this Sunday, Self will be discussing his book and taking us on a journey into his memoir which, in turn, promises to take us a world which is funny, frenzied and brutally honest, from battling drug addiction in the 1980s to a foray into post-uni adult and, indeed, literary life as the author of both novels and books of non-fiction.

These include Great Apes; The Book of Dave (a personal favourite of mine); The Butt (winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction in 2008); Umbrella (shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2012; and his most recent novel, Phone, which was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize in 2017.

For more information head to https://www.penguin.co.uk/events/2019/will-self-life-writing/

Tickets are on sale and available from https://thelowry.com/whats-on/will-self-a-life-in-writing/

The performance starts at 2pm and when booking tickets, you can pick up a discounted copy of Will for just £8 (RRP £14.99) to collect on the day.

See you there (I’ll be the one not mentioning Geordie Jumpers).

To read about frankly fabulous previous Penguin Live events, please see below..

Review: Jon Sopel – Inside Trump’s White House (Penguin Live)

Review: Paul Mason’s Clear Bright Future – Penguin Live

Penguin Pride – less a review, more a tribute

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cinema Culture film Manchester preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Film Review: Mrs Lowry & Son

One of my favourite sketches, amongst thousands (which, incidentally, does not include the bloody parrot one), is Monty  Python’s irreverent (could it be anything else) look at working class life:

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2q1ojy

Turning matters on their head, whilst t’father in ‘is rolled up sleeves, braces and britches, sweats over his work as an award-winning playwright in ‘ampstead, his well spoken son who previously has gone ‘poncing off to Barnsley’ to be a coal miner, returns home. Concerned about his mum, he exclaims

Look at what you’ve done to mother! She’s worn out with meeting film stars, attending premieres and giving gala luncheons…

Well there’s nowt wrong with gala luncheons, as Graham Chapman furiously retorts, and to that end, nowt wrong with gala premieres.

And so (somewhat tenuously), we come to the Gala Premiere showing of Mrs Lowry & Son, at, where else, Salford’s very own Lowry Theatre.

Starring the wonderful (and no introduction-warranting) actors Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Spall in the title roles, the Adrian Noble directed film takes us to Pendlebury and almost exclusively to an elderly Elizabeth Lowry’s bedroom where, from a bed, she relies on  (how much this is actually required is unclear and a point which Redgrave refused to speculate on during the Q&A following the screening), berates and manipulates her ever-patient but very much grown up bachelor son.

Exuding regality (and extreme fragility when, perhaps suited), Redgrave’s Mrs Lowry is quick to criticise her son’s ‘hobby’ and any artistic aspirations (which, would always be quiet and humble) he may dare to have. Indeed any praise or commendation is reserved for the buying of sausages from the ‘correct’ butchers (although did he buy them from the father or the son in the shop because this is important…).

As we see Mrs Lowry bemoan the fact that her previous middle class standing had given way to what she sees as a low class existence in 1930s Pendlebury,

I haven’t been cheerful since 1898

the irony is, of course, there in spades, given the reverence, value and respect in the history of art which was to come to one L.S….

Occasionally venturing outside the terraced house and into the streets as our Laurie goes about his day job collecting debt, the film is careful not to litter the screen with obvious and clichéd nods. We’re not bombarded with matchstick men, cats and dogs in the frame, but we do see landscapes and scenes of inspiration for paintings which were to become.

As Timothy Spall so beautifully put it in the Q&A, Lowry saw the ‘gorgeous decreptitude’ in his surroundings.

That can only sound like an oxymoron if you’ve never seen one of his paintings. Then it makes perfect sense.

One direct and glorious reference we are treated to in the film, deals us a live version of  one of my favourite Lowrys…

Lowry was to turn down a knighthood, later in life, reasoning that as his then late mother wasn’t there to see it, there wasn’t a point. One wonders what Mrs Lowry would have thought (perhaps even if it was secretly, dressed up in critique), were she to witness her son’s legacy – right up to last night’s Gala Premiere.

Whilst we’ll never know for sure, with writer Martyn Hesford’s screenplay, we’re probably as close as dammit to guessing.

Mrs Lowry & Son is released in cinemas nationwide from  Friday 30 August.

The permanent and rather wonderful exhibition L.S. Lowry The Art & The Artist at, where else, The Lowry, is open daily and free to visit. See thelowry.com for details.

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

Theatre Review – Now or Never by Circa Tsuica – aka what did I just see?

I haven’t been to the circus since 1985. Well that was true until a couple of weeks ago.

Circuses (circii?) are like buses etc etc.

People with a passion for reading about circus-based shows showing in Manchester in August by a local blogger, will be familiar with the anecdote told in my post Theatre review: Switch and Tipping Point, when my mum unwittingly became part of a circus show – a clown/basically thief stole her purse in the foyer, throwing her into a pre-show frenzy – only to have it presented to her from the ring in the opening minutes of the performance. Oh how she laughed.

Audience participation in circii (I’m going with it) and indeed most show genres reached whole new levels last night, at the Lowry Theatre with the show Now or Never by contemporary French outfit, Circa Tsuica.

I say at the Lowry, an enormous big top has been erected on the plaza in front until Saturday 1 September, showcasing this fusion of acrobatics and brass rhythms along with 20 young musicians from the MAPAS Jazz Band, Salford.

Well what does that mean? It’s difficult to describe.

Try

…I hear you say, one reader.

Ok. Now when you read what I’m about to write, understand that this is what happened, this is what I saw, and is not the result of any fevered temperature or illegal substances.

Entering the big top to a cacophony of brass and woodwind, myself and my plus 1 of the husband nature, were greeted by…at this point I need to make a decision as to whether I call them clowns, musicians, acrobats, performers…I’m going to go with performer as the safe option. We were greeted by a performer who immediately embraced each of us with a European double cheeked kiss and a plastic tumbler.

In a kind of trance, we took our tumblers into the ring to have them filled with lemonade by a performer on a unicycle, before heading off to be served crepes at a stall. However, our journey to said stall was briefly interrupted by my husband getting a back massage from a performer with two drumsticks.

Still with me?

As the audience took their seats, crepes and lemonade in hand in a deeper trance, we were then taken through 90 minutes of music and circus, acrobatics and trick-cycling all to a soundtrack that felt like a New Orleans-esque, minor key funeral march.

I spent half the performance in open-mouthed wonderment at what can only be described as a spectacle, the other half terrified I was going to be extending my audience participation remit beyond being fed crepes or massaged with sticks, to slow dancing with a performer playing a trumpet or balancing on the back of a bike.

The last time I felt such tension was as a child at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, when worried I was going to be called on stage to make the animal noises in a raucous performance of Old McDonald Had a Farm (I couldn’t do pig noises).

I have to say this tense state was all on me as plenty of audience members, young and old, were less physically and socially contorted than myself and eager and happy to join in the goings-on before us. And I enjoyed these goings-on immensely.

The only concern I was left with is

‘how on earth do I describe what I’ve just witnessed?

Short of drawing on comparisons to Cirque de Clunes in Alan Partridge’s Knowing Me, Knowing You, I settled on the trippy, clumsy descriptions above, the photographs interspersed and this public information message:

If you want to bear witness to something unique, exciting, bizarre, unprecedented, exhilarating, funny, odd, bonkers and jaw-dropping – go and see Now or Never at the Lowry Theatre – on until Saturday 1 September.

Click here for times, details, tickets and a brave attempt to describe what you’re in for.

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Celebrity Culture Events Manchester Music Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Theatre review – The Last Ship at the Lowry

Billed as Sting’s personal, political and passionate musical, this was a ship that I wasn’t prepare to let sail by without an inquisitive look.

On a tour of UK and Ireland, The Last Ship sailed into the Quays last night, making its debut at The Lowry theatre.

I have already used two puns both based on the word ‘sail’ and we are but two sentences into this post. I do apologise.

Spoiler there’s a third towards the end.

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Inspired by Sting’s childhood experiences and featuring his Tony-nominated original score and lyrics, the show is set against a backdrop of the demise of the shipbuilding industry in the North East, and hones in on the story of childhood sweethearts and their personal journeys together and as individuals.

Be reassured that there is no schmaltz on stage – the story isn’t tied up with a red ribbon, no eyes will be rolled (I’m an eye-roller – they stayed unrolled), and the issues laid bare of the workers’ struggles during this time, by no means romanticised.

Despite the image I’ve chosen to use below.

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The cast is impressive and stellar, featuring Richard Fleeshman (Gideon Fletcher), Charlie Hardwick (Peggy White), Joe McGann (Jackie White) and Frances McNamee (Meg Dawson).

It should be noted that last night, Peggy White was played by Penelope Woodman who I have to say was, indeed, one of the stars of the show with her rousing vocals and passionate movements.

But how to separate one member from the others, really.

The Last Ship is an energetic, heartfelt, literal foot-stamping/air punching musical from start to finish.

At the start of each half, the cast even break through the 4th wall – especially after the interval.

I won’t say how and why, other than to say, don’t worry if you’re having a chat in your seat and suddenly look up to see the cast assembled on stage looking and waving at you. You won’t be thrown out for flagrant abuse of theatre etiquette.

It’s fine

Not a natural lover of musicals myself, I hope my words hold some weight (if never before or ever again), when I say that the songs were catchy, moving and engaging at first ‘hear’. There was a fine balance of word and song, any musical interlude feeling natural and instrumental (pardon the pun) to moving the narrative forward.

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With Sting’s style literally written all over them, the songs and music took in sea-shanties, strings, acoustic guitar, piano and even electrica strains as the audience were also treated on brief occasion to Sting’s back catalogue. It’s no tall order to perform an established legend’s songs whilst said legend is in the building (yep, Sting was In.The.Building), but Richard Fleeshman owned every note and word.

Indeed, the music was equally matched by the rest of the vocals on stage, a mix of dialogue, song, impassioned shouts and humour (I particularly enjoyed the gritty and witty asides from Frances McNamee as Meg and Kevin Wathen (Davey Harrison)).

Equally breathtaking to the music and acting, was the set design.

With not a prop touched or moved, we were seamlessly taken from from ship yard, to a terraced house, to the local pub, to the docks, to a protest march to waves crashing; all with the clever use of screens, projections and sound and lighting effects.

With any piece of theatre which brings with it ‘political’ amongst its adjectives, there is a risk and a fear from the audience that they are about to encounter an angry rant and lecture (whichever way you lean). Fear no such thing.

And the Baroness in the royal blue suit is, I’m sure, based on nobody. Nobody at all.

This is an honest, non finger-wagging, moving yet entertaining piece of theatre which I enjoyed – and that was before Mr Sting appeared in all his unassuming glory (no scene-stealing, mic grabbing antics here) at curtain call.

Showing until Saturday 7 July, I urge you to give this show a go, and don’t let that ship sail. sorry.

Visit the The Lowry’s website for all details, including tickets.

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

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