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Review: Back to the Future – The Musical

I can remember the first time I heard those ticking clocks.

It was a friend’s birthday party at her house and we all sat round as the video was put on.

The excitement was real as those clocks ticked and the camera panned across the Doc’s home and workshop in a garage in the fictional Hill Valley.

Some 30 odd years later and those tick-tocks were back as we took our seats in the circle of the Opera House, Manchester, a countdown taking place on stage, the atmosphere feeling as electric as the currents that crackled above our heads.

And so for years and years my brother and I have been quoting lines from the Back to the Future (BTTF) trilogy (mostly the first two actually – Soz cowboy BTTF.

Run for it Marty!

Good night Future boy!

Well you’re right, Biff, you’re right!

Not too early, I sleep in Sundays

Joey just looooves being in his playpen

You’re my m…you’re my m….

Ha a a a a a a a a a a a a he always says that…

And so it was with intrigue, fear and nerves that I approached the concept that is BTTF the musical.

Full disclosure – I’ve never been the biggest fan of musicals. I can cast an objective eye towards them and recognise talent and what is good about them (I hope), but as a genre of entertainment they’re not necessarily my favourite.

Would it be all…(a 5,6,7,8)

🎶 Gigawatts! 1.21 Gigawatts! They are Gigawatts! And there are 1.21 of them, that’s 1.21 of them…

No matter. If BTTF is involved and importantly the original creatives, co-creators and producers Bobs Gale and Zemekis are on board, you go, go, go.

Robert Zemekis in rehearsals (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

And blimey – I am so glad I did (we did need roads).

Bob Gale in rehearsals (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

Starring Olly Dobson as Marty McFly and Roger Bart as The Doc, the show takes us through the first film and story in a way that is fully faithful, and abridged where necessary.

Olly Dobson and Roger Bart (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

The dialogue is there as the actors riff on the old favourites, with lines delivered to cheers, laughter and the pure joy of recognition.

Olly Dobson and Hugh Coles (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

This was never more the case than when loveable old George McFly (Hugh Coles) was on stage. The show didn’t necessarily demand carbon copy imitations of the characters, but boy did we all marvel with open-mouthed glee (picture what that looked like) as the loveable old and original ‘slacker’ manifested before our very eyes.

Olly Dobson and Rosanna Hyland (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

And it was a very similar story with Rosanna Hyland as Lorraine, from the moment she poured out that vodka, through to pointing out her hope chest, to parking with a boy.

Olly Dobson took on the incredibly difficult task of asking us to imagine a Marty McFly who isn’t Michael J Fox (yes, I know, Eric Stolz for about 5 mins, fellow hardcore BTTF tribe members), and he smashed it.

(Pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

Darting, skateboarding, jamming his way round the stage in his life preserver, Dobson was a joy to watch down to the smallest of inflections – don’t get me wrong though, he made future boy his own.

We need to talk about the Doc, played by Roger Bart. I was never about to make like a tree and get outta there but for the opening strains of a song and dance routine as he shimmied round the DeLorean with his back up dancers, I was in a small state of shock.

Roger Bart (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

But then, Great Scott, I got it. And it was everything.

Christopher Lloyd is the Doc, we all know this. But Roger Bart is musical Doc. A Doc that delivers the 1.21 gigawattsness with the same breathy, incredulity, but with a hammy quality and campness that is simply perfect.

If you’re gonna be musical Doc, go big, go extra, or go home (with the aid of a bolt of lightening, perhaps).

Glor.i.ous.

And so to our dear time machine, the DeLorean. There it was in all its glory. Forget Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, this car is its own star which brings me to the special effects which were out of this world.

Believe me, this pic does not do the sfx justice (credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

How do you demonstrate time travel on a lovely old theatre in the middle of Manchester? I don’t know but thanks to the genius of the special effects, they did, and then some in a way that got the heart rate racing upto 88mph.

With a musical score that was the perfect balance of the original and the new (with a healthy dose of Huey and his veritable News thrown in (nice nod, naming a new character after his Lewisness), it even got Miss ‘musicals aren’t necessarily my thing’ on her feet.

If you put your mind to it, you can indeed achieve anything. And blimey o’reilly, has the world premier outing of this show achieved everything.

Hugh Coles and Aidan Cutler (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)
What a voice – Cedric Neal (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

Go, introduce your kids and bask in the brilliance of this new show. Buttheads.

Showing at the Opera House, Manchester, until 17 May 2020.

For further details and tickets, head to https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/back-to-the-future-the-musical/opera-house-manchester/

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

Review: The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel – HOME Mcr

Charlie Chaplin.

He was instrumental in my phonics education.

He was. And clearly on my cultural radar, and thus important to me, at a very young age (thank you mum and dad).

5 years old and engaged in a word game with my parents. The rules being thus – say the initials of a famous person and the others have to guess who it is.

That’s it – a simple game. Certainly no Johnny Go Go Go Go (one for the League of Gentlemen fans).

However, the way I played it threw quite the spanner in the works when after hours (probably ten minutes actually) of my parents trying to guess my…

T.T.

They were to finally give up. And I was to triumphantly reveal the correct answer…

Tyarlie Tyaplin.

Quite.

Still what I lacked in phonics, I clearly made up for in taste and so it continues to be that Charlie Chaplin is one of my heroes.

And so onto the review.

As told by erm Told by an Idiot and Theatre Royal Plymouth , The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel is a curious (read brilliant) story of a time when two icons of early Hollywood came together as part of the infamous Fred Karno music hall troupe.

Setting sail for New York in 1910, Charlie and Stan shared a cabin and were to spend two years together touring North America, with Stan as Charlie’s less successful understudy.

Whilst Charlie was to become one of the most famous people in the world within three years, Stan returned home. However, as we all know, fate decreed that he would meet Ollie, thus producing arguably, the greatest double act of all time.

There is a sad epitaph to the tale of Charlie and Stan. Whereas Stan talked about Charlie all his life, in return, Stan didn’t even warrant a footnote in Charlie’s detailed autobiography.

There is a nod to this fact in the production, in two clever opposing scenes set in 1957 when we see the two friends happily reunited (only for the scene to be repeated with the reality…)

In fact this is what the production so well. The Strange tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel brings in the ‘strange’ with wonderfully colourful and imaginative scenes adding layers of fiction upon the fact, in order to bring the best of silent, slapstick imagery worthy of their films and the music hall tradition of their beginnings.

The four members of cast blind you with their talent, be it mime, song, musicianship, comedy and pathos.

Turning their hands to anything, the show keeps you spellbound as 1hr 40mins flies by as the tale is told by whatever means at their disposal (a simple set doubling up for a ship, stage, Hollywood mansion, London hotel, you name it.

Clever yet simple devices such as luggage emblazoned with names tell you all you need to know, other dialogue replaced with movement, music and song and good old silent cinematic devices such as a projector screen.

But surely the little moustache would tell you who’s just entered stage left?! I hear you cry.

Well no, because even though Amalia Vitale who plays Chaplin comes to epitomise Chaplin from the beginning, the ‘Little Tramp’ costume isn’t relied on. So scarily like Chaplin is Vitale, false moustaches aren’t required to carry her; she becomes the icon purely via inflections and movement (that cane does creep in though, but that’s ok – the job’s done and he does get older throughout the show after all).

The other members of the cast – Nick Haverson, Jerome Marsh-Reid and Sara Alexander – play multiple characters (and instruments) and together the outfit brings a multitude of varied talents to the tale throughout including a whole lot of laughter from the audience.

There’s even some audience participation but if like me you’d rather hide under a rock, please don’t worry. Just don’t admit to being able to play the piano or sit on the front row. And to be fair? They all looked like they were enjoying their brief cameos in the show!

I did wonder why the production hadn’t been weighted equally between the title characters but then again, there is a clue in the production poster when ‘Stan’s face is covered by a bowler hat.

I would garner that this is all symbolic of their relationship and mentions of thereafter – Chaplin never acknowledging Stan, Chaplin’s success as a solo artist and therefore the production echoing this in its narrative.

Who knows. But what I do know is that I, and I’m willing to bet my fellow theatre-goers all loved the very different but very entertaining show that is The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel.

The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel is on at HOME Mcr until this Saturday 8 February 2020.

More information including booking details can be found at https://homemcr.org/production/the-strange-tale-of-charlie-chaplin-and-stan-laurel/

Tyeck it out.

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Events Food and Drink News Restaurants

News: Croma to treat Manchester to 2000 prices to celebrate 20th year in the city

Gourmet pizza restaurant Croma and I have two things in common.

The first is that pizza is an incredibly important part of our lives.

The second is that this year marks our 20th year living in Manchester!

To celebrate, I’ll be justifying ever single trip out and drink drunk with ‘it’s my 20th anniversary’.

For Croma, with November seeing 20 years since it moved into their central Manchester location on Clarence Street, the restaurant kick-starts celebrations this month by turning back time and releasing a menu with our favourite dishes sold at prices like it’s 2000.

‘The Croma Chonicle’ will take us lucky diners through the history of the restaurant with a generous serving of nostalgia in the shape of some tasty retro prices.

The restaurant was founded by Andrew Bullock, Kirsty Marshall and Bob Dunn and has since opened further restaurants in Didsbury (check), Chorlton (on to do list) and Prestwich (ditto).

Andrew Bullock said,

20 years has flown by, we feel lucky and proud to have been in at the beginning of the flowering of our city’s restaurant and bar culture…

(Me too, Andrew, me too…)

…and we can’t wait to see what the next 20 years bring to ourselves and our extraordinary birthplace.

Back to the menu, I’ve flirted and developed a deep passion for the Garstang Blue and Goats Cheese pizza in recent times, but my first love from 2000 onwards will always be the Inglese which is basically a full English breakfast pizza and as brilliant as it sounds. £5 flipping 80 pence for that little delight under this offer.

With pasta dishes from £5.45 and garlic balls at £1.45 (you literally can’t buy anything from £1.45 anymore. Well not literally but almost), an excuse was never needed to dine at Croma. But if one was needed, this is it.

Head to cromapizza.co.uk and marvel.

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Culture Events News People Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts

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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Preview: Manchester Jewish Museum to mark Holocaust Memorial Day with two premiere performances

2020 heralds 75 years since the liberation of the Nazi death-camps.

On Monday 27 January, Manchester Jewish Museum will mark Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD), with two premieres of musical and theatrical performances, staged at Manchester Central Library.

Songs of Arrival

During the afternoon, music by acclaimed Israeli composer Na’ama Zisser,the first to introduce cantorial music into opera, will be performed together with a premiere of brand-new songs in a free pop-up performance installation, entitled Songs of Arrival, from 4pm in the Music Library. 

Pic credit: Manchester Jewish Museum

The Museum’s very own community song-writing group – who have been working with musician and composer Joe Steele to create original compositions – will also perform. These brand new songs will premiere at the Library, and bring to life the Museum’s oral history collection from where stories of arriving in Cheetham Hill in the 1930s and 40s originate. 

Of the four brand new songs written and performed for HMD by the Museum’s community writing group, two are based directly on stories from the museum’s oral history collection. The other two draw on themes of migration and cultural integration more generally; a song created with ESOL students at the Abraham Moss Adult Learning Centre takes as its inspiration the ubiquity of the phrase ‘Thank you, love’, which the students observed after arriving in Manchester, weaving together different translations including Arabic, Portugese and Welsh. Meanwhile, Celebration of Love, written by group member Andy Steele, brings a positive message of ‘making peace, not war’.

Opera Singer Peter Braithwaite, who is also the Museum’s Artist in Residence, concludes this interactive musical installation and line-up with one of Na’ama Zisser’s song Love Sick – performed in Hebrew and based on the Song of Songs (Shir Hashirim) a book in the bible which explores love.

Holocaust Brunch

In the evening of Monday 27th, the Museum’s commemoration of HMD continues with the Northern Premiere of Holocaust Brunch by London based, Canadian theatre makerand performer, Tamara Micner. Fusing and using comedy with beigels, this funny and brave solo show brings to life the true stories of two Holocaust survivors connected to Tamara, and pries open an intergenerational wound to explore why we remember the Holocaust and what it is like to live in the shadows of genocide and displacement.

Pic credit – Holly Revell

Holocaust Brunch tells a remarkable true Holocaust survival story. Micner reflects on her experience of growing up as a descendent of survivors, and explores how communities can heal from ancestral trauma. Holocaust Brunch is a dark comedy, recounting a story not typically told, and Tamara Micner serves up beigels and cream cheese as she pries open an intergenerational wound and asks why we remember, and what it might look like to forget.

Pic credit: Holly Revell

Created with a team of Jewish and non-Jewish artists, Micner’s moving, funny and thoughtful solo performance invites audiences to reflect how, as the next generation, we can keep memories alive. As part of the creation of Holocaust Brunch, Tamara Micner has collaborated with London-based printmaker Yael Roberts, who has made a series of original prints, The Trauma Documents, which respond to parts of the story and appear throughout the show as video projections. These will be on display at Manchester Central Library alongside the performance of Holocaust Brunch.

The Manchester Jewish Museum is currently based at Manchester Central Library until 2021 whilst work is underway to extend its original Cheetham Hill site.

Songs of Arrival is a free drop-in event between 4-5pm – more information is at https://www.manchesterjewishmuseum.com/event/holocaust-memorial-day-songs-of-arrival/

Holocaust Brunch stars at 7.30pm and tickets can be purchased at https://www.manchesterjewishmuseum.com/event/holocaust-brunch-by-tamara-micner/

 The Manchester Jewish Museum is currently based at Manchester Central Library until 2021 whilst work is carried out to extend its original Cheetham Hill site.
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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

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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.

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

Review: All I See is You

Bank Holiday Monday and I was whisked back to the 1960s last night.

A time when Woolies was still a thing, Donovan was number 3 in the charts and who you loved or even just fancied could consign you to a prison cell and a place of deep shame and castigation in society.

All I See is You is first and foremost a love story.

It’s also a two hander, starring Ciaran Griffiths as Bobby and Christian Edwards as Ralph, both gay, both living different lives.

Bobby, gregarious yet inexperienced, soon embraces his sexuality, albeit in a society where homosexuality was a criminal act and measures must be taken. This is largely aided by acceptance in his family (Dad dealing it with through denial) and guidance from his also gay boss on the record counter at Woolies.

Ralph, however, while more experienced, is retreating further into society ‘norms’; his chosen career as a teacher and his more strait-laced family, leading to common measures of that cruel era, from typically taking a girlfriend to the more extreme of aversion therapy.

Written by Kathrine Smith, this two hander about concealing love and sexuality ironically leaves nowhere to hide.

In the 70 minute performance, all eyes and literal spotlight is on the actors. Aided only by brief insertions of musical memories from the era and simple yet effective lighting, the acting is the thing.

No props, just a stage and its actors.

There is a mix of inner thought monologue to the audience and performance between the two actors. In short, it is a privilege to bear witness to such talent in the intimate setting that fabulous fringe theatre allows.

The silences saying as much as the dialogue, the actors connect with the audience to the degree that you’re with them down ‘The Trafford’ as they enjoy a drink together in the shadows, in Ralph’s bedroom as his father appears at the door, on the hospital ward as…I’ll leave it there.

The contrast between the two characters’ lives is akin to their demeanours and personalities on stage.

Bobby (Griffiths) brings the passion, the comedic, the unabashed enthusiasm, the physical…Ralph (Edwards) brings the maturity, the considered, the pathos, the…passion.

Together the characters and indeed the actors bring smiles and tears, joy and heartache and a reminder of how far the lgbt community has had to come and what they’ve had to battle – all just to be in love.

Written in response to the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, I urge you to go and be entertained, moved, and reminded that while the U.K. has come this far, many countries (and indeed individuals) still have not.

Visit https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/all-i-see-is-you/ for more information and to book.

On until Saturday 1 June, don’t miss out.

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Culture Manchester preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Review: Hamlet at Hope Mill Theatre

Forgive me, Manchester theatre world and community, for I have sinned.

Despite being a fairly frequent theatre-goer and the space being in operation since 2015, this week was the first time I entered the wonderful world that is Hope Mill Theatre.

Forgive me further, Girl Gang Manchester and Unseemly Women, if I take a moment to talk about the venue as well as the show which drew me there in the first place, Hamlet.

Like most fringe venues, Hope Mill is delightfully tucked away, leaving the visitor with a sense of discovery when rounding that corner to see the fairy light lit entrance, inviting you in to experience an evening (or indeed afternoon), of wonderful theatre.

The candle-lit bar with its glorious (yes, glorious) pizzas, acts as the perfect warm-up for the performances on offer as you step through the curtains and take your seat.

And so, my seat was taken for the all female Shakespeare production of Hamlet.

A quick summary of the long-told tale of tragedy as gifted to us by the Bard himself, Hamlet returns from University to Denmark, only to discover that not only is his father dead, but that his mother has now married his Uncle and is the new King.

I wondered how an all female cast would manifest itself – whether it would form a distraction, a detraction (either positively or negatively) from the performance – was it a novelty? Of course it wasn’t. It was a cast of actors who happen to be women…who also happen to be hugely talented and engaging.

In fact, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s not about male vs female actors. It’s about removing ‘tradition’ and barriers. In this case, female characters written to accommodate male domination. Indeed, as the programme to the play lays bare – ‘themes of fragility and weakness run rampant’ (in Hamlet).

It’s a leveling up.

As often the case with fringe theatre, the set is simple, allowing the performances to play out in the spotlight, allowing no distractions or indeed back-ups to the acting.

Indeed, none needed.

In the title role, Eve Shotton, commands attention not only when the performance demands overt physicality, declaration and swagger, but in the sensitive moments and aspects of the play.

Hamlet would never have struck me as one of Shakespeare’s most comedic of texts, yet the humorous lines and situations were grasped firmly by the scruff of the neck by all involved.

With great timing and delivery, not to mention facial expressions (nothing can beat the intimacy of fringe theatre between cast and audience), this aspect of proceedings landed perfectly, providing much mirth and, dare I say it, laugh out loud moments.

As matters moved from the comedy to the more tragic, the cast join the shift in mood, providing the shade to the injections of light, and deliver a resounding production, which in the round, is all about balance.

Balancing the comedy and tragedy in the performances.

Balancing the aesthetic between historic and modernity in the costume.

But more importantly, a rebalancing of gender contribution to one of the most famous texts in the world of literature and theatre. Not only in its performing cast, but in its entire cast of creatives.

The late, great Richard Griffiths, as Uncle Monty in Withnail and I, proclaimed,

It is the most shattering experience of a young man’s life when one morning he awakes and quite reasonably says to himself, ‘I will never play the Dane’…

This wonderful all female outfit shows that while not every young woman can play the Dane as well as Eve Shotton, it needn’t carry the extra layer of this being for reasons of gender.

For all details, visit Hamlet at the Hope Mill Theatre

The play runs until Saturday 11 May.

Photography credit: Lucy Ridge Photography

 

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Restaurant Review: Sapporo Teppanyaki

It is here where I would love to show off about my travels around Japan, the food I’ve eaten, the sights I’ve seen, the cherry blossom I’ve been beguiled by…

But I have not been.

But I have this, and it’s mine…

My late father was a musician and musical director. Amongst those he musically directed were The Nolans.

I’m getting to my tenuous link.

As a youth I used to weep in butchers’ shops  dwell in West Yorkshire. And so we get to it. I was 3 the day that I went with my mum to little Batley train station to wave off my father.

where’s Daddy going?

asked that little girl, on that lowly platform, in that small, Yorkshire town…

Daddy is going to Japan

And so he was. To musically direct the Nolans in a music festival (of course). And this is all I have (I also have two child-size kimonos and a pair of wooden clogs).

So that’s Japan.

I was invited to Sapporo Teppanyaki which can be found on Liverpool Road, Manchester, and find it, I recommend.

The experience is akin to theatre, and fear not, the food does not rest on a gimmick. In fact I can wait no longer. The egg fried rice is the finest I’ve ever tasted.

Each communal table seated round two cooking stations, orders are taken and drinks delivered.

Small aside on the drinks menu – there is  champagne on there for £7 a glass – and it is a lovely champagne. Fellow fizz fanatics, take note.

The menu features sashimi, maki, omakase, soups and salads, yakisoba noodles, small plates and of course Teppanyaki. Whilst small plates emerge from a kitchen via a friendly server, the Teppanyaki is cooked right there in front of you.

And guess what? It’s not awkward!

Now it might just be me who loves/loathes a chef’s table. I love to watch the magic of cookery, but I’m beyond scared of whether I’m supposed to talk, not supposed to talk, is it rude to ask questions, is it rude to not ask questions? What do I do with my face? Do I make mmmm noises?

No, it was all fine. It’s a form of theatre to go to Sapporo Teppanyaki.

Now, I’m dying to get to the main event but I can’t overlook the starters enjoyed by myself and my plus 1.

I had the smoked chicken rolls – oak smoked chicken, beansprouts and mixed vegetables wrapped in a light pastry.

I do enjoy a vertical food. I can’t think of any other examples – oh does a hanging kebab count? But regardless of the attractive presentation, smoked chicken is a rare offered thing and it’s a shame. Because each roll was delicious.

My plus 1 chose the Black Pepper Akami – seared tuna loin served with a chilli sauce.

Another attractive dish, matched by the flavours. Now, I’m not a tuna fan. I pretty much abhor it. I tried this dish as I’m nothing if not dedicated to the cause of food-tasting in the name of Manchester and all those who sail in it. I liked it. This is high praise, given my tuna issues.My plus 1 loved it. The dish gave off heat but without masking the flavours.

Now, to the teppanyaki theatre.

When I describe this, know that I’m one of the most socially awkward beings on earth – I spent the entire evening at an event last year in Manchester ( Theatre Review – Now or Never by Circa Tsuica – aka what did I just see?) making myself as small as possible to avoid being picked to go up. The word ‘immersive’ sends chills to my very bones.

Now listen how I found myself trying to catch a sauteed potato in my mouth like an over-zealous seal, at one Sapporo Teppanyaki.

It’s that kind of place – happy diners laughing, eating, ‘ooohing’, ‘ahhing’ – and I don’t mean in a terrible way. As two chefs stood in front of us chopping, flipping, setting things on fire, it was truly an enjoyable experience to watch them work.

I chose the lamb rump teppanyaki, my plus 1 choosing the beef fillet. Each comes with stir fry vegetables, egg fried rice, sauteed potato, a sauce of choice and a ring-side seat at their realisation. Yes, realisation.

The chef will take the time to talk to you about how you would like your meat cooked so fear not, it’s not one for all and all for one. Your dish is still being prepared for you, to your specifications.

That’s all very well, but what does it taste like?

Well, imaginary voice/reader/subscriber, truly delicious. Remember the egg fried rice? Well everything was cooked to perfection. My lamb succulent and plentiful, the beef fillet pink where it should be (as requested), seared, seasoned and cooked with fresh garlic and chilli.

I have a thing for my food being piping hot (my drinks, erm, piping cold?). Served straight to your plate in front of you, I was in temperature obsession heaven.

It’s basically a really happy place. Everyone seated round the grills in a kind of horse shoe (but one with sharp edges – I literally can’t think how to describe the shape), you’re akin to each other’s evenings but without ever feeling like your evening is compromised by a lack of privacy. If someone’s having a birthday, you’ll, again, have a ring side seat without having to strain your neck (I do this), but it’s ok. I promise.

And so I will be going once more to Sapporo Teppanyaki. And whilst sadly I won’t be hopping on a train to Japan as quickly as I’d like (I should point out an airport did get involved further down the line), this will do me for now.

www.sapporo.co.uk