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News: The Lowry offers 20 Salfordians chance to headline WEEK 53 Festival

It’s something we’ve known for a long time – there’s a lot of talent in our region but it’s not just the household names I’m talking about.

Thanks to a project called The Twenty, people who dwell in the city of Salford will be provided with the exciting opportunity to turn their creativity into a reality by submitting event ideas on the theme of POWER, the theme of this year’s WEEK 53 Festival.

The Twenty, (credit: The Lowry)

The project developed by The Lowry in conjunction with Salford CVS is encouraging people to unleash their inner artistic talent and come up with events from graffiti battles to knitting groups, with each of the 20 successful submissions provided with a grant of 500 pounds to make it a reality.

The first rule of The Twenty is you do not talk about The Twenty you must live in Salford.

The second rule of The Twenty is you must be over the age of 18

Organisers are keen to stress that this opportunity is for everyone, especially those without previous experience in the arts.

Lynsey O’Sullivan (credit: Nathan Chandler)

Lynsey O’Sullivan, director of learning and engagement at The Lowry, and creative lead for The Twenty says

Everyone has the capacity to come up with a crazy idea for an event – but life can so easily get in the way, be that time, money or space. This project is designed to break down those barriers.

But how does one submit one’s proposal? I hear you cry.

There are three ways:

The deadline for proposals is Friday 14 February at 12noon.

More information about The Twenty can be found at www.thelowry.com/whats-on/week53-the-twenty

WEEK 53 is a biennial cross-arts festival which will take place from Friday 24 April until Sunday 3 May. More information can be found at https://thelowry.com/about-us/festivals-projects/week-53-2020/

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

Preview: Salford Museum and Art Gallery welcomes new Collier Street Baths exhibition

I’m as guilty as the next person at taking our streets of Manchester and Salford for granted.

Focused squarely on not tripping over my own feet (the great tumble of St Annes Square of 2003 – never forget), or striking out straight into the path of a tram, I, alongside many residents, workers and visitors to the area, never think to stop and look around at the many beautiful buildings in our midst, both old and new.

Ready to open our eyes and inspire an appreciation of such, an art exhibition has landed at Salford Museum and Art Gallery, celebrating the beautiful architecture of Collier Street Baths through a collection of paintings by local artist, Ian McKay.

Ian McKay c/o Salford Leisure

Just off Trinity Way in Salford, the Grade II listed building was designed by the city’s own Thomas Worthington, who designed many of the noted structures including The Albert Memorial and Memorial Hall in Albert Square, and the City Police Courts.

The oldest surviving public baths in Great Britain, Collier Street Baths (also termed ‘Greengate Baths’, opened in 1856 by the Manchester and Salford Baths and Laundries Company, but since closing in 1880, has remained derelict ever since.

The good news is that the building is finally to be redeveloped – watch that Salfordian space!

1856 was the beginning of the golden age for public swimming and the baths were used by 50,000 people a year at their peak. Note Oarsman, Mark Addy, who rescued more than 50 people from drowning in the Irwell (yes, that’s who the pub was named after, not the actor), indeed learnt to swim at Collier Street Baths.

Fascinated by the building’s Italianate architectural aesthetic (Worthington having been inspired by a recent trip to Italy), artist, Ian McKay, spent time on location producing a collection of drawings and colour studies of the exterior of the building, which eventually evolved into a series of abstract paintings.

Ian McKay c/o Salford Leisure

Ian says

Collier Street Baths to me is a crucial part of Salford and Manchester’s social history and I felt the building deserved to have its story told visually…the baths played a huge part in the health and wellbeing of people in both cities and gave people a lot of pleasure so i wanted to create this same feeling with an exhibition that is a tribute to this fine building.

Ian also runs Gorton Visual Arts, which teaches new skills to elderly residents, vulnerable adults and residents with learning difficulties, all in a safe studio environment.

The Collier Street Baths exhibition runs until 26 April 2020 at Salford Museum and Art Gallery, is free to visit and open six days a week (excluding bank holidays). A programme of activity will also run to support the exhibition.

For more details, visit the Salford Museum website.

And next time you’re pounding our glorious streets, paved, of course, with Mancunian and Salfordian gold, remember to look around you (check for trams first)…

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Celebrity Culture Events Literature Manchester Popular culture preview The Arts Theatre

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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Manchester Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Review: Studio ORKA’s Tuesday (Manchester International Festival)

There are many times I’ve been to the theatre (literally and conceptually – not all plays take place on the stage), when I’ve thought ‘what a brilliant production, what a great story, what an excellent ‘play’ this is.’

And then there are times when I’ve left the idea that I’m at a play far behind and been drawn into the world before me on another level.

Seeing Tuesday by Studio ORKA, a Belgian company of hugely acclaimed actors and designers, was one of these rare occasions.

Credit: Chris Payne

Performed in St Augustine’s, a Grade 1 listed Victorian church  in Pendlebury, Salford, Tuesday tells the tale of an older man who looks back on his life, following his abandonment by his mother.

I baptise you Tuesday, he said, because I found you on a Tuesday – from now on, the most beautiful day of the week.

Tuesday (Titus de Voogdt) is brought up by the widowed Nester (Dominique Van Melder), along with son, Rene (Robrecht Vanden Thoren) who found him as a baby in the church where Nester works, and where the play is set.

Occasionally we see glimpses into the outside world through the church doors as people come and go, whilst Tuesday, from childhood to man, 1945 to present day, remains in his sanctuary.

We first enter the story with Tuesday, now a man clearly in his dotage, preparing for the funeral of Nester. Arriving early to the funeral, an elderly lady listens to Tuesday practise his eulogy, his own life story soon playing out before our eyes.

A mainstay of the story are Funeral Director, Benedicte (Tania van der Sanden) and daughter Stella (IIse de Koe) together with all aforementioned players forming one fairly happy, dysfunction not withstanding, family.

Credit: Chris Payne

The tale is magical. So drawn in, I soon forgot I was in a church watching a play set in a church. I was just in their world.

There are books, films, productions that never quite leave you. Those which you may, perhaps, watch every year at Christmas, which embrace you and reach out to your inner child.

Credit: Chris Payne

This is one such production. The characters are funny, human, warm, flawed, vulnerable, loving and likeable. The musical contributions, interludes, punctuations, delivered by the rather wonderful Studio ORKA chorus, are immersed into the story seamlessly, never awkwardly (I’m not a fan of the traditional musical where everyone breaks into song for no apparent reason in a toe-curlingly cringey way).

There is a sequence towards the end where accompanied only by the piano, Tuesday silently moves around his church/world/home, taking us all round the ‘set’, coming in and out of view, up and down ladders with an acrobatic grace which was incredibly moving, poignant and spine-tingling.

Credit: Chris Payne

The tale is one of togetherness, finding comfort in those we love however those paths meet, and all those little  events, experiences, seemingly unremarkable moments which make us who we are.

In short, I wish I could visit Tuesday’s world once a year as everyone needs a little magic, comfort and reminder once in a while of what life is all about.

I know, I know, twee – I’m being twee.

But I bet I’m not the only one over the course of the run that entered church to see a play and left feeling like they’d just been given a huge, lovely bearhug, care of Studio ORKA and Manchester International Festival.

Studio ORKA

MiF – Tuesday

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Events Manchester Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Review: Our Kid (Greater Manchester Fringe Festival)

I’ve documented my love for fringe theatre before.

On the one hand you get to see experimental, exciting, no-holds barred productions and on the other hand, you get to see theatre which feels real, familiar, gritty, passionate…

Our Kid, written by and starring Taran Knight, falls into the latter category and is all these things and very funny to boot too.

In the great theatre space upstairs at The Kings Arms, Taran Knight single-handedly took us through a tale of sibling rivalry, sibling love, sibling anger…

in Our Kid, Jimmy (Knight) tells of Tommy, his younger brother – golden child – the one Jimmy took the fall for for years, all against a backdrop of Manchester and Salford.

Indeed fringe ate itself as the venue, The Kings Arms, made a cameo on a couple of occasions throughout.

Via a range of pitch perfect accents depicting family members, a girlfriend and colourful acquaintances, the 50 minute production took us through decades of incidents, punctuated by a Mancunian soundtrack.

Indeed whilst not a wholly linear timeline musically, what did signpost us to each year and how much time had passed was the brilliantly funny device of Manchester United terrace chants.

Oh Robin Van Persie…

Ah, we’ve arrived at 2012 – gotcha.

City fans – brace yourselves…

I want you to see this brilliant play so no spoilers here but Taran Knight takes us through tragedy, anger, love, devastation and elation.

Taran Knight as Jimmy – credit: Craig’s Barker

There’s much to laugh at too. Truth be told whilst the Northern Quarter is all too familiar to this writer, I don’t like Prosecco either…

As Knight filled the small space in an energetic and spirited performance, the peppering of local references never felt forced.

You felt like you were down the pub (the Salford Arms got heavily name-checked too), listening to that character. That bloke, Jimmy who’s alright – means no ‘arm – good ‘eart, shame what ‘appended etc. His poor mother…

A play that tapped right into the streets of Manchester – how austerity, domestic violence, drug culture, love can shape, challenge and divide people and their families.

Taran Knight had us fighting alongside Jimmy, looking out for Jimmy looking out for Tommy, shaking our heads at Jimmy, shaking our heads at Tommy…

It was meta. We were in a Salford pub in the world of a play in the world of Salford pubs including this Salford pub.

And that’s why I love fringe theatre. It’s real.

Go and see a touch of heartfelt brilliance.

Further performances on 24, 27 and 31 July. More details and tickets can be found On the Greater Manchester Fringe website.

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Culture Events Manchester Popular culture Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Review – Talk to Yourself at The Kings Arms

I was going to start this post off with the sentiment,

I love Manchester.

It’s true, I’ve got a t-shirt with it on and everything.

But to do so, I would have committed the cardinal sin of referring to a ‘happening’, an ‘event, an ‘occurrence’ as being in Manchester rather than Salford. I do this an incredible amount of times when referring to anything at the Lowry or Salford Quays (the clue’s in the name, for goodness sake) or indeed MediaCity.

So technically

I love Salford

For Salford is the scene and setting for The Kings Arms, that glorious old pub which pumps the finest ales known to humanity downstairs, and hosts talent and creativity upstairs.

And it is in Salford (and Manchester too) where, on a Monday evening, you can bear witness to bold, experimental, unabridged, unapologetic theatre and even contribute to the development of said performance.

Hosted by Mike Heath and Salford Development Week, Talk To Yourself is a production from YEAP , a theatre company based in Manchester. Salford Development Week is a fantastic opportunity for both writers and performers to try out their work and for audiences to provide feedback and contribute to the development process.

And this is what I mean by I love Salford – for having such a brilliant place as the characteristic Kings Arms where you can spend a wet Monday evening exposed to such opportunity and, well, entertainment.

And I love Manchester because I just do. And because it’s such a hive of creativity,  producing such set ups as YEAP.

We’re lucky us Mancunians, Salfordians, North Westians – original and honorary.

Talk to Yourself was a script in hand performance, written by Lea Fante and directed by Adriana Buonfantino, and was a monologue based on true stories and experiences of pregnancy, focusing on the subject of abortion.

The experimental part of the piece, for me, was the dialogue between the woman reflecting on previous experience, and debating her current situation (Lucy Temby), with interjections from a nameless…computer? robot? being? side stage (Diana Atkins) who provides stone cold objective statistics on abortion – a contrast to the emotive and strong musings and indeed performance on stage.

Theatre and indeed all facets of the arts are subjective. A piece is only realised/finalised/completed when it has provoked an emotion, reaction, a response from another person.

To judge a performance is akin to judging a reaction – there’s no right or wrong. I prefer not to critique theatre itself, only reflect on how it made me feel.

For the record though, the evening including the performance, venue and a forum for feedback, gave good epitome of fringe theatre; raw, brave, thought-provoking, intimate, uncomfortable, real.

And, to be honest and simple, thoroughly enjoyable. I was left longing to learn more.

Whilst my own feedback is neither technical nor specific , I hope what is clearly a love letter to fringe theatre tells you what you need to know (I might get that printed on a t-shirt).

Curtain call please for the YEAP , The Kings Arms and Salford Development Week

Click on the links for more details.

 

 

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Culture Manchester preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Theatre review: Trial by Laughter at The Lowry

Following their previous stage success The Wipers Times, which sold out both in the West End and across the country, Ian Hislop and Nick Newman are back to entertain us with their latest sharply observed stage production, showing this week at The Lowry theatre, Salford.

Author’s own

Inspired by real life events and based on the critically acclaimed original BBC4 drama of the same name, Trial by Laughter, takes us back over two centuries to 1817, and tells the tale of bookseller, publisher and satirist William Hone (engagingly and energetically played by Joseph Prowen), who stood trial for parodying religion, the despotic government and the lustful monarchy.

Author’s own

As Ian Hislop himself highlights in the programme notes. he’s been the defendant in a number of libel trials in the past in his capacity as Editor of Private Eye.

Political, satirical and let’s add hysterical cartoonist Nick Newman, is equally qualified to tell this tale of whether humour sees off libel when it comes to press freedom.

 

The play is fast-paced, snappy and as, you might expect, wondrously witty.

The stage is set up so that for courtroom scenes (frequently and cleverly interspersed by rapid location changes which punctuate the play), Judge, prosecution and defence face us, the audience, who find ourselves in the position of jury and public gallery.

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This device works well although it should be noted that any reaction displayed to proceedings will be assisted by the brilliantly funny retorts from unseen attendees as piped through from the back of the theatre.

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This historical romp takes us through Hone’s three separate court hearings held over three consecutive days, such is the insistence of Prince Regent (depicted brilliantly by Jeremy Lloyd – each of his scenes a living, breathing satirical cartoon) to have Hone punished for ridiculing his somewhat rotund appearance. publishing satirical versions of texts heard in church.

A charge of blasphemous libel is brought against Hone which carried potential sentences of a lengthy prison sentence or deportation to Australia.

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It was even more impressive, therefore, that William Hone represented himself in court to fight off such weighty accusations.

Now, I went to see this fine play during the same week that I concluded a journey down the rabbit hole that is the Netflix Conversation with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.

Stay with me.

The only parallel I am drawing here is the wish for an accused to provide his own legal defence. History books and a visit to the theatre will tell you who was the more successful…Oh and Netflix.

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In a post-Leveson Inquiry era, filled with super-injuctions and fevered attempts for the law to catch up with social media, this brilliant tale begs the question, can laughter outweigh libel (and should it)?

(I think yes, but don’t listen to me. I bring Bundy into everything.)

Trial by Laughter is showing at The Lowry until Saturday 2 February. For tickets and more details including cast and production, visit The Lowry website.

Photo credit: Philip Tull (unless specified otherwise).

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

Madama Butterfly 🦋 Fatal Passions and Attraction

I last wrote about this topic (in more detail)in my dissertation in the year cough cough etc.

You understand my entire dissertation wasn’t based on Michael Douglas but a small portion of it. I don’t have a degree in Michael Douglas.

I focussed on the femme fatale on film and how feminist theory has been applied on celluloid.

Have that, eh?

It was the lovely Glenn Close in the fantastically, ferocious Fatal Attraction who my attention was focussed on in part of my fancy pants essay. And whilst there are both implicit and hugely explicit parallels to be drawn and homages to be noted between Fatal Attraction and Madama Butterfly, I think that a little of the huge sympathy audiences have for our female protagonist in the latter should also be reserved for her or the former.

I’ll get to it.

Madama Butterfly is my favourite opera. Hands up I haven’t seen ALL of the operas. I work full time and have two cats to deal with. But it is a story and a score I’ve returned to theatres to see multiple times – once through the medium of ballet (those on stage, I mean, I didn’t go pirouetting off to the Opera House).

Last Tuesday I was invited to the opening night of Madama Butterfly at The Lowry Theatre.

My heart leapt in anticipation of what I knew would be a roller coaster of emotions throughout the performance from drama queen over here.

Opera North did duly take me on that ride and tears did duly flow.

You can read more here but, to summarise, Madama Butterfly 🦋 is a tale of the romance between Cio-Cio-San, a young Japanese girl and geisha who falls for the promises made, by visiting American naval officer Pinkerton, and agrees to marry him. This is to the chagrin of her family who are horrified that she is prepared to sacrifice her ancestral religion and embrace Christianity.

Pinkerton is going into the marriage for what he can’t be sure is love or a whim ‘someday I will take a real American wife’, but worries not, given that he is returning to American for an undisclosed period of time.

Three years pass and Butterfly still waits for her husband, and it is revealed that her marriage brought her a son. Together they wait for Pinkerton to return. Return he does, but with the ‘real’ American wife he always intended, here for the child, not Butterfly.

Devastated, Butterfly agrees, with what would be her penultimate sacrifice, the final being her life, using the dagger which took her own father’s life.

With a rousing score by Puccini which devastates me as much as the story playing out, there isn’t a performance goes by of this wonderfully sad story that doesn’t leave me in tears and as said Opera North’s was no exception, with a wonderful orchestra conducted by Martin Pickard.

Sung in Italian with English subtitles, the production was set in the home of Cio-Cio San (Ann Sophie Duprels) which was simply designed with what you might describe as typically Japanese minimalism, allowing the eye to focus on the players and drama ensuing within – not that you would need encouragement to do so.

Along with Merunas Vitulskis (Pinkerton) and Ann Taylor (loyal maid Suzuki) and all the players, I was mesmerised by the passion and emotion displayed through the vocals, body language and even periods of abject silence (the devastating scene as Cio-Cio San waits at the harbour with her son, to no avail).

The audience’s heart strings are tugged to breaking point by Cio-Cio-San’s sorrow and so I return to Glenn Close’s Alex Forrest, in Fatal Attraction.

There are immense parallels, as said some obvious (Alex playing Madama Butterfly at her home as she cooks newly acquainted married lover Dan Gallagher (Douglas) dinner, later trying to make nice by buying them two tickets to said opera.

There is even a nod (bow?) to Japanese culture in early scenes where Dan and Alex’s paths first cross at the launch for a Japanese self-help book.

Everything in Alex’s home is white, crisp, clean simple lines. Her father is dead (there is a double bluff where she proclaims him to be dead from a heart attack when Dan feigns collapse, only to then reveal she is joking and he is very much alive – Dan later learns he is in fact dead). She is spurned by her lover who has an American wife and child (to be fair to Dan, Alex knew of this from the off). However it’s the role that Alex doesn’t have, hers being that of the other half of a two night stand whilst Dan’s wife is at her parents.

There is a child (unborn) that Dan rejects upon being given the news that Alex is pregnant (immediately offering her money to abort). The (unsuccessful) suicide attempt as Alex slashes her wrists when realising that Dan is going to immediately return to his family set-up, their ‘love’ affair lasting only a weekend.

Alex is spurned by her lover but he is not her husband. He belongs to another and was never hers to begin with. Cio-Cio-San was lead to believe Pinkerton was hers and whilst both women are spurned, the latter is wholly more naive to reality than the former.

However, who can fail to be moved by the scene in Fatal Attraction where on the night of the opera performance that Alex had tickets to, she sits on the floor at home turning the lamp on and off rhythmically to the desperate strains of Puccini’s score, face frozen in an expression that is both despair and rage.

It’s terrifying and we’re all cheering Alex’s downfall in the end (not in support of Dan, it has to be said, but his ever so lovely wife Beth (Anne Archer). But shouldn’t we reserve a little of our sympathy for Alex?

She may not have had the naivety of Cio-Cio-San and her reaction to rejection may have been somewhat more outwardly facing than self-destructive, but there are definite parallels to be drawn.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

Or as originally written…

Heav’n has no Rage, Like Love to Hatred turn’d, Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d…

We all focus on the fury but rarely the scorn. In both stories, both women scorned suffered fatal consequences, one more directly, one indirectly, by their one hands as a result of their reactions.

Madama Butterfly, a beautifully sad story that must be seen and also heard, not least by Opera North.

Part of the Fatal Passions season at The Lowry there’s that F word again), you can see further Opera North productions such as Saloma at the theatre through to April.

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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