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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.

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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

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Preview: NQ Jazz – 21.10.2019 – Sue Rynhart & Huw Warren

NQ Jazz is one of my favourites things.

Yes we have Matt and Phred’s and I give thanks to the gods of live jazz that we do.

But Manchester needs even more and NQ Jazz gives us that more in a gloriously dark, underground befitting location that is The Whiskey Jar.

The rather marvellous Richard Isles Trio at The Whiskey Jar

To speak in New York terms (because, of course), if Matt and Phred’s is Birdland, The Whiskey Jar is Smalls (I’m basically using this opportunity to show off about the fact that I’ve been to both).

This Monday 21st October sees Dublin singer and composer, Sue Rynhart, take to the atmospheric Whiskey Jar basement bar, with pianist (and composer) Huw Warren.

Sue previously visited our fair city with a performance at the Manchester Jazz Festival and brings sounds which are an edgy blend of modern jazz mixed with contemporary sounds.

Credit: Karl Burke

Welsh pianist Huw, a BBC Jazz award winner, carries with him an international reputation for innovative music making.

Fresh from the release of their new single We Are On Time (Flower Seeds), join them (and me!) this Monday 21 October and kick start the week with a little NQ Jazz therapy.

For more details, visit https://nqjazz.com/

To hear Sue and Huw’s new single, visit Spotify – We Are On Time (Flower Seeds)

NQ Jazz is every Monday at the Whiskey Jar, 14 Tariff Street, Manchester.

Entry £5 (£4 students with ID), doors at 8pm, live music from 8.30pm…

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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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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 Manchester News Popular culture preview The Arts Theatre

Preview: The Stretch at 53two

Fringe theatre excites me the most – it has the creative freedom to tackle the nitty, the gritty, and the downright…well, yes, dirty.

MAP Productions are bringing The Stretch back to the 53two stage from 6 to 15 March, following rave reviews at the JB Shorts Festival.

Photo credit: Sean Mason

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

Promising to be powerful, The Stretch will show the highs and lows of being ‘inside’ and is seeking to shine a light on the support given to those incarcerated and seeking rehabilitation and an entry back into society and civilisation.

Photo credit: Sean Mason

Written in conjunction with the Pastoral Team at HMP Forest Bank, and based on true experiences, the play will take Manchester audiences on a poignant journey behind bars when life takes a terrible turn after one horrible decision.

Head to the 53two website for tickets and more information. Unwaged tickets are available for each performance.

Review to follow. See you there…

53two, Albion Street, Manchester

MAP Productions

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Theatre review: Romeo and Juliet – Moscow City Ballet

I love Prokofiev’s score, Shakespeare’s story, and I love going to the ballet. So with all ingredients in place, it is natural that I have seen multiple ballet productions of Romeo and Juliet in the past and either because of or despite this, I happily wanted to see the latest brought to Manchester; this time by the Moscow City Ballet at the Palace Theatre.

And so what would this production of the infamous star-crossed lovers bring to the stage?

The Company were in town for two nights, bagging a brace of big production ballets, accompanied by a live orchestra, the  Hungarian Simfonieta Orchestra, conducted by Igor Shavruk.

The second was Swan Lake, the first; this the most famous of love stories.

The costumes were something to behold, the colours dazzling, the flowing fabrics of the female dancers as graceful as the steps performed in them, and the sets simple yet vibrant with curtain backdrops depicting Verona including the infamous balcony and the church where the short-lived marriage took place.

I can’t speak of the aesthetics and costumes, designed by Natalia Povago, without mentioning the challenge posed to principle dancer, Kseniya Stankevich, who, as Juliet, not only stole the show with her heartfelt, honest and moving performance, but even did so for quite some time with a dress which hadn’t quite been zipped up during a scene with her nurse. The tension!

Speaking of the nurse, special mention must be given to Ekaterina Lebedeva who gave a perfectly pitched comedic performance, an almost slapstick affair, as she stomach-juttingly stomped across the stage, gurning away providing a laugh out loud moment and the perfect light relief. And let’s face it, I shouldn’t think I’m giving much away when I point out that whilst Romeo and Juliet is a love story, it is one shrouded in sorrow and devastation.

In fact the production provided perfect light and shade throughout. The shade, whilst most expected, had added dark dimensions by way of the dancers bedecked in swathes of black fabric, depicting pending and eventual death. None more so than in the final scene of the production when the four victims of death, two Capulets, two Montagues, are held aloft in formation – almost symbolic of crucifixion.

But let’s get back to that light – the marriage scene where Juliet and Romeo (Dzimitry Lazovik) charmingly, naively and sweetly steal frantic kisses at the altar behind the Friar’s back, was again a welcome injection of humour to a story that even the least experienced in the texts of Shakespeare knows will end in heartbreak.

In summary, the entire Russian company put on a spirited performance, bringing an oft-told tale of young love and family rivalry alive once again, adding artistry and a touch of beauty, to what would normally be another dark and dreary January night in our dear old city.

For dates of future performances by Moscow City Ballet throughout the UK, see http://www.pmbpresentations.com/

For all upcoming productions at the Palace Theatre, visit https://www.atgtickets.com/venues/palace-theatre-manchester/

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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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Theatre review: Switch and Tipping Point

I last went to the circus in Great Yarmouth circa 1985.

Obviously this was a remarkable feat considering I hadn’t yet been born.

Ok, I’d been born a bit and enough to remember the thrills, spills, gasps and heart-stopping happenings that went on – and that was before we’d set foot in the ‘big-top’.

My lovely mum is a meticulous checker. She likes to check she has everything before moving onto the next location, situation, other things ending in ‘ation.

I’m the same – I’m constantly declaring after a frantic rummage in my bag that I’ve

lost my phone!

Such is the frequency of these desperate and frankly inaccurate declarations, that I’ve been told that I’m now only allowed to exclaim

I don’t have an immediate visual on my phone but I’m sure if I calmed down and stopped over-dramatizing everything, it would reveal itself in my bag during the next second.

or something.

And so, just as we were to leave the foyer and enter the theatre, our excitement was brought to a halt by a frantic mother,

I’ve lost my purse!

purse AND chequebook, no less (the 80s ahhh).

My poor mother retraced her steps with a tension only known to a parent torn between finding the source of all financial security and life itself – and two sulking children who were but steps away from a world of wonderment and delight.

The two sulking children won out and oh how we laughed when early into the performance, a clown revealed that he had pickpocketed my mum in the foyer, gleefully bounding upto our seats with her purse.

I say we laughed – my mum was torn between an unequivocal sense of relief and the innate need to inflict violence and provoke some tears of a clown.

And so we finally come onto the point of this post and the rather wonderful and dramatic (for very different reasons) spectacle that was last night’s show at Upper Campfield Market – Switch and Tipping Point.

But why the overly indulgent and long anecdote about a thief clown? you ask.

Well I guess this is the closest thing to the circus spectacle I have come to since, with a heavy emphasis on ‘closest’ – for this was contemporary and a million miles away from clowns and strongmen.

In a double bill between Ockham’s Razor and Contact , myself and fellow audience members were treated to a wonderful evening of dance, meets acrobatics, meets aerial performance  with a stunning soundtrack to match.

Contact’s home on Oxford Road is currently undergoing building transformation and so its 2018 season is on a Manchester-centric tour of surprising and amazing venues. I was both surprised and amazed at last night’s location of Upper Campfield Market Hall, Deansgate, as previous to this, it was known to me as ‘that bit near Dimitris – there’s a gate’.

To the point where you could even see daylight through its…well not thatched but ‘something’ roof, it was a brilliant urban setting and one which made me declare (quietly)…

All things should be set in market halls forever

I live in Altrincham. It’s ingrained.

Beginning with Switch, this performance from Contact, was indeed developed with Ockham’s Razor, and featured young people from North Manchester. Both visually and symphonically, the performance with movement drawn from circus, dance and object manipulation, was hypnotic – not least the rhythmic sounds produced by the sticks held, twisted, turned, swung, brandished, swivelled, balanced, carried and…well, mastered.

Credit – Lee Baxter

It’s unbelievably difficult to try and describe, sum up, review artistic performance such as this as visuals, opinion, interpretation and indeed subjectivity are key. Indeed we’re told in the accompanying notes that the performance – sometimes as a unit, sometimes in battle, sometimes in unison, sometimes picking out its victim amongst the group, was to symbolise and reflect community, inclusion and integration.

Credit – Lee Baxter

And so I will say that the performance was intense, powerful, seamless and strong and indeed any implied parallels to life’s struggles, strains and joys came through with just the right amount of subtlety and clarity.

After 5 minutes to reset the stage, we were straight into the next performance – Ockham’s Razor’s aerial extravaganza.

Credit – Mark Dawson Photography

Sticks gave way to poles and the five performers added a visual to the concept of the circus ring, immediately creating a circle within which all movement took place.

Movement and manipulation of the poles was daring, graceful, elegant, masterful, comedic and beautiful.

Credit – Mark Dawson Photography

You would swear that the five performers weighed next to nothing, as they seemingly defied gravity, their lack of wings and all which we know of the laws of physics (I got a B, I know some), as they leapt, swung, balanced, teetered and flew through the air before us.

Credit – Mark Dawson Photography

I wasn’t the only audience member open-mouthed (I hope, anyway – I did have an element of ‘gawp’ about me last night) as we were treated to an hour of graceful performance and emotive music.

With a festival atmosphere in the hall – street food stalls and drinks surround the inner sanctum ‘stage’, audiences young and old will be transfixed by this show – go and see something different and if we all leave with the same look of wonderment I saw on a little girl’s face on the front row, then Contact and Ockham’s Razor are doing something very right.

And nobody stole my purse so, you know, winning!

Only on until Sunday 19 August,  don’t waste anymore time and head to contactmcr.com

Switch and Tipping Point take place at Upper Campfield Market Hall, Wed 15 – Sat 18 Aug, 7pm, with 2pm performances Sat 18 and Sun 19. Tickets are on sale now priced £15/£10 concessions available securely online at contactmcr.com or by phone on  0161 274 0600.