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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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Review: First Time (Refract Festival 2019)

A funny and frank autobiographical solo-show, First Time (from Dibby Theatre) is written and performed by theatre-maker and HIV activist, Nathaniel Hall and returned to Sale Waterside Centre as part of Refract Festival.

Diagnosed just two weeks after his 17th birthday and only months after coming out as gay to his family, Nathaniel kept his HIV status from almost all for over 14 years.

In late 2017, Nathaniel ‘came out again’, as it were, and is now advocating for better contemporary representation of HIV in popular culture. The show is a vehicle to break down HIV stigma and contribute to the UNAIDS aim of ending HIV within a generation.

With humour, honesty, a great deal of both heart and heartbreak, Nathaniel Hall stood (and danced – nice Ketchup song moves) before us and told us his story.

Like all the best Fringe theatre, the set was simple, tube lighting in the form of a colour changing triangle (my favourite being blue to depict Stockport – that god forsaken pyramid!).

Accompanied by beats and bantz (yes I did that – I just needed a bit of alliteration) we were in his flat, on that bench where he met his first, at his prom, on his holiday when he first fell ill, in his doctor’s waiting room, in the clinic when he got his diagnosis…

The diagnosis that he wasn’t to share with his parents for another 14 years.

Like everyone else who was around at the time (I was very young though, ok?) the AIDS advert was terrifying in itself without me really understanding the substance behind it.

AIDS advert – 1986

We were asked not to die of ignorance – whilst things have improved medically and concerning awareness there is still ignorance surround HIV and AIDS to this day.

  • Whilst not in the realms of Dot Cotton in Eastenders circa 1987 not wanting to wash Colin’s smalls in the launderette because a) he’s gay b) he must have full blown AIDS c) she’ll ‘catch it’ through touching his pants – yes I’m currently OBSESSED with classic Eastenders on Gold – there’s still lots for us all to learn.
  • And so, thank god (or who/whatever) we have people like Nathaniel who having contracted HIV at 16 has dealt/is dealing with his diagnosis in such a selfless, giving (funny and entertaining – no really, First Time is a one-man show of two halves, as it were) way.

    An immersive experience, we took part in an HIV quiz – no we did!

    Speaking of first times, I had one shouting

    I love orgies

    in Sale.

    Like the candlelit vigil in Sackville Gardens at each Manchester Pride, we were shown images of those who had lost their fight whilst we held candles of our own.

    Getting to me good and hard was the picture Nathaniel showed to us of himself in his cream suit at his High School Prom. You see he was waiting to pick up that suit when he met his first time encounter ‘Sam’ on a bench in Stockport in 2003.

    It may be me applying the knowledge of what was to come when I saw that picture (and my failing eyesight) but I saw the little boy at the end of the film Big as he walks down the road in his too big Tom Hanks suit.

    I’m sure Nathaniel’s cream suit fitted perfectly and he looked amazing. You get where I’m coming from.

    I have a copy of the letter in my bag that Nathaniel wrote to his parents and eventually even gave them (not before it was anonymously read to crowds at one candlelit vigil by an actor).

    I’m not crying you’re crying.

    Yes Nathaniel is HIV+, contracting this from his first time (he doesn’t blame ‘Sam’ by the way). But do you know what? He’s a bloody good actor, writer and performer – funny, witty, creative and giving.

    Heading to Edinburgh Fringe, you can go see the show there (thanks to those who contributed to the Crowd-Funder to help take solo show First Time to Edinburgh Fringe).

    If First Time ever returns to Sale Waterside Centre for a third time – go see it there.

    Find out what else is on at the brilliant Refract Festival here…Back with a Bang! Refract festival returns to Sale this Summer and of course here…Refract 19

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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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    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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    Review: JB Shorts Reloaded at 53two

    The ideal short – film, story, play should leave the audience wanting more without needing more.

    Celebrating 10 years of theatre production and story telling, 20 sell-out seasons and 120 world premieres, JB Shorts have brought something extra special to those glorious arches of 53two.

    On until 30th March, JB Shorts Reloaded brings six JB Shorts classics back to the stage, featuring both original and new actors to the productions.

    Six shorts, I could write a lengthy blog post about each. And wax lyrical about each. And other such clichés. Individually and as a collective, JB Shorts Reloaded brought 90 minutes of laughter, sorrow, shock, captivation and overall entertainment to the table. And indeed the arch.

    And come the interval, I was already wishing each short was a long.

    Each play so different to the last, as each cast took their bows, I was left wanting (not needing) more, yet within minutes I was already transfixed and enraptured by the next…(In the spirit of the subject, I’ll try keep this short – and no spoilers)

    • At the End of the Day – originally playing March 2009

    Featuring Alexandra Maxwell, Philip Shaun McGuinness, Callum Sim, Peter Slater and James Quinn (also writer and director) – please do forgive me Mr Quinn…

    to the regiment!

    with Aileen Quinn as assistant director, this took us into the familiar world of Premier League post-match coverage, as the action jumped from the studio to the post-match interviews with players and managers alike – each character strangely familiar to us all, each bringing their own brand of wrong.

    A joyous 15 minutes of knowing clichés from the footballing world, a laugh out loud start to proceedings. Bawdy, well-observed and, importantly, very, very funny.

    • Banal Encounter – originally playing October 2009

    Featuring Andrew Bentley and Laura Littlewood, written by Peter Kerry and directed by Chris Bridgman, in scenes reminiscent of, of course, Brief Encounter, two chippy commuters meet on the platform, time taking them further into each others confidences, swapping pithy stories about each others domestic lives.

    So far, so quaint. Until it isn’t.

    And as the mood takes a turn for the worst, this short and the talent on stage will leave you thoughtful, moved, shocked…transfixed.

    But then there was barely time for recovery as the first half was brought to a close by…

    • Blind Date – originally playing March 2013

    Talk about mood shift. Featuring Susan McArdle and Will Travis, written by Dave Simpson and directed by Alice Bartlett, we were catapulted into the heady world of online dating.

    Six years from its original debut, the principles of hidden identities on online profiles continues to apply through all social media – intended or not.

    Self-promotion is the name of the game but there’s no time for a deep analysis of society today. Because I need to tell you what a riot this short was. Physical, character comedy at its best, I screamed as the two misfits met and their disguises began to unravel.

    I didn’t actually scream – that would be mental and I’d probably be asked to leave the arches, forthwith. Anyway, bloody funny and a slight almost twist in the tale.

    Now I could, at this point, review my interval drinks but why make my review about shorts into an even longer post than it ironically already is (nice drop of red).

    • Snapshots – originally playing March 2011

    Now this was very special in the clever construction of the narrative. Featuring Glenn Cunningham, Julie Edwards, Beth Nolan and Sean Ward, written by Diane Whitley and directed by Rachel Brogan, this short takes us straight into a couple’s anniversary party, hosted by their granddaughter, Zoe. and her (somewhat reluctant) boyfriend.

    Laying on a surprise photographic slideshow of their marriage, the latter couple then take on dual roles as the grandparents during their younger years. The different chapters of their relationship are punctuated by each photo, as the elder ,present day, couple add an inner monologue narrative to each picture and its era.

    It’s insightful, sad, smart, funny and if my clumsy description of how the play was constructed has you confused, then that’s another reason why I urge you to get tickets. It’s on purpose, you see.

    • The  Outing – originally playing November 2015

    Featuring Richard Hawley, Jeni Howarth-Williams and Kerry Willison-Parry, written by Lindsay Williams and directed by Miranda Parker, this short sends us down a path of nostalgia, sentimentality, sweet and safe story-telling as two middle-aged people meet on a coach trip to Conway. Chips, seagulls, castles, paddling, it’s all very seaside postcard.

    One word, well ‘name’, wlll make you sit up and take notice as the short sends you down a more sinister path all together and start you thinking, ‘are the parents always to blame?’

    Thought-provoking, sensitively done and clever.

    But thoughts put on hold, it was time for the final short. What was left to pull out of the bag?

    • Can We Stop it There? – originally playing October 2009

    (deep breath) Featuring Arthur Bostrom (yes, it’s really him – I’ll spare you and him any predictable catchphrases – I’m still feeling bad about Mr Quinn), Lucienne Browne, Martelle Edinborough, Darren Jeffries, Emily Spowage and  Rob Stuart-Hudson, written by Trevor Suthers and directed by Brainne Edge (or was it…), this truly was an ensemble piece.

    Self-referential, meta, however you want to term it, this wonderful farce in the finest traditional sense, was a cacophony of red herrings, accents, wry looks, bum steers, theatrical nods and in-jokes. It was frantic, funny, riotous and the perfect way to end what was an epic evening of fringe theatre from JB Shorts.

    I truly love this form of theatre as I wrote in my post Review – Talk to Yourself at The Kings Arms only a couple of weeks ago.

    We’re truly spoiled in this neck of the woods by the accessibility to such talent and with six wonderful shorts each as rich in narrative, production, acting and entertainment as the one it follows, this is your opportunity to see a wealth of talent in a wonderful space, for a wonderful price.

    In short, go.

    For further details and tickets, see JBShorts.co.uk

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    Theatre review: SparkPlug

    There are plays, productions, shows that you appreciate the work of, admire, praise, write about, commend.

    Then there are those that you actually want to frogmarch people into the theatre to see.

    You almost don’t want to write about it, lest it spoil the experience. You want to write of it, of course. But not a breakdown of it, as it were.

    If it didn’t make me look like a lazy little blogger, I’d have titled this post

    Go immediately and see SparkPlug, written and starring David  Judge, on at HOME Mcr until 23 February

    and just post some pictures.

    img_2851
    credit: author’s own

    But I’ll say a little more.

    Brought to the stage by Manchester-based theatre company, Box of Tricks, and directed by Hannah Tyrell-Pinder, SparkPlug is autobiographically inspired, telling the story of ‘a white man who becomes the adoptive father, mother and best friend of a mixed race child.’

    A single-hander by the astonishingly talented David Judge, we’re taken straight to Manchester 1983 onwards by Judge, the frame of an old Capri (which goes on its own journey of transformation as the narrative develops), Rod Stewart, Michael Jackson and some impassioned and incredible storytelling.

    David Judge (Dave), credit: Alex Mead, Decoy Media.

    For 80 minutes, we were swept along with the beautiful, rhythmic, poetic dialogue as Judge told the funny, tragic, sometimes shocking story of race, sexuality and those who act as judge and jury on the two.

    The energy in the dialogue was matched by the way Judge cleverly commanded the stage, every inch of the car frame interrogated as he swung, lay, sat, drove and decorated his object of amour.

    There were other props seen, touched, but Judge, through his delivery, accents, stature, dancing, singing and display of emotion, gave the audience everything they needed as we travelled through the 80s with him. Young, old, man, woman, black, white, mixed race…Judge had it covered.

     David Judge (Dave), credit: Alex Mead, Decoy Media

    A Manchester audience will obviously appreciate and understand more the cultural references which can be drawn simply by utterance of the word

    Wythenshawe

    but the setting of the story is largely irrelevant, the story is the thing.

    I think that’s all I’m going to tell you about the performance and it’s more than I wanted to. I just want you to see it and be entertained, educated, moved and open-mouthed as one very talented man tells us a story of love.

    David Judge (Dave), credit: Alex Mead, Decoy Media

    Visit https://homemcr.org/production/sparkplug/ for more details and, importantly, access to your tickets.

    Seeing this production on Valentine’s Day, I’m inspired to say that whilst it’s true that money can’t buy you love, £12.50 can buy you a ticket to a brilliant evening at the theatre.

    PS SparkPlug is not just for Manchester; at HOME until 23 February,  it will next move onto an extensive 18-venue tour, ending in Birmingham in April. Don’t miss out.

     

     

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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 – Sherlock Holmes – The Final Curtain at the Opera House

    I’m going to start with a sincere apology to Liza Goddard.

    She has such a wealth of stage experience behind her, that for me to bring up the Give Us a Clue theme tune seems very wrong.

    I know I shouldn’t mention it but it’s like a scratch I have to itch. Please forgive me reader and theatre-goer (and do pity me with my full permission) but I’m afraid I’m unable to hear Liza Goddard’s name without the jazzy joy that was the intro music to charades based celebrity TV spectacle Give Us a Clue, bursting into life in my very soul.

    Click here for perfection itself

    Such is the mark on me, that I’m equally unable to hear Liza Goddard’s name without immediately thinking

    and Lionel Blair!!!!

    But to many this odd memory of mine is merely serving to delay the crux of the matter – the play that is Sherlock Holmes – The Final Curtain – showing at the Manchester Opera House until this Saturday 28 July, 2018.

    Starring  the both immensely talented and respected Liza Goddard and Lionel Blair!  Robert Powell (I’ll spare him any clichéd reference to a specific role – again sorry Liza), the two actors have proven once again what a dream team they are, this being their third stage production together.

    And so we move swiftly on from the strange word of my childhood TV memories and to, eventually, the infamous Baker Street in the post-war 1920s.

    Simon Reade’s play introduces us to a Sherlock Holmes (Powell) who is now in his dotage and living in Eastbourne. It is somehow funnier than it should be that he has elected to evade detection of himself by declaring himself to be ‘Sherlock Smith’.

    In the week where Manchester’s Bee in the City has seen lots of the little fellows popping up all over the centre, it is apt that bee-keeping is somewhat central to the plot.

    The play certainly ticks all the Sherlock Holmes boxes:

    Pipe ✅

    Drugs ✅

    Baker Street ✅

    Numerous mentions of ‘arch-nemesis’ Moriarty ✅

    Dr Watson ✅

    In fact the latter, warmly and humorously depicted by Timothy Kightley is, in a sense, our narrator for the evening, embracing new technology and appearing on BBC radio to take listeners through one of Sherlock Holmes’s casebooks – the tale we then see unfold.

    It is no spoiler that a dead body on Sherlock’s private beach (no less) kick starts matters and heralds the arrival of Watson’s now estranged wife Mary (Goddard) who commands the stage and indeed story with a certain authority.

    Bringing tales of visions of the Watsons’ deceased son, James, into the mix, Holmes (or ‘Smith’) is encouraged by Mary to return to Baker Street where she and Dr Watson are now co-habiting – the latter having moved into psychoanalysis.

    Scenes of a seance caused me a wry smile, given my attendance at one of Derek Acorah’s shows in this same theatre some years back.

    Let’s say this show was more successful at ‘conjuring’ up the spirits than poor Derek that night.

    The play doesn’t necessarily provide any stand-out moments. It ambles along and tells its tale, the actors delivering well the material in hand.

    I was, however, fascinated by the role the ‘title’ player ‘the curtain’ holds throughout. As each time the curtain swept from stage left to right (and vice versa) the scenery and actors would have changed by the time it reached its destination.

    In fact it became somewhat of a game for me to try and catch a glimpse of the sorcery going on behind (I managed one pair of feet – bravo all in involved!).

    And so whilst I would say there is nothing here to astound, perhaps there doesn’t need to be. It’s a quintessential English story that entertains. Whilst the first half may not quite leave you yearning for more, the second half picks up the pace.

    There’s even an ‘elementary’ thrown in, for good measure.

    For more details, times and tickets, visit The Opera House/ATG tickets website.

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    Greater Manchester Fringe – Into The Deep

    There is a lot being done to raise awareness of male mental health at the time of writing, which is both joyous and tragic.

    Joyous that those afflicted or potentially afflicted are being offered support, reassurance, an outlet, and above all else, a message that they are not alone.

    Tragic that the above is all required.*

    I was unfortunately only able to attend the last performance on Inside The Deep’s three night run, as part of the Greater Manchester Fringe, and so unable to point towards the next performance in Manchester.

    However Camden Fringe is the next lucky host of this play and indeed Bristol-based outfit, Popcorn Productions.

    Showing at Leaf in Portland Street…

    (fantastic space downstairs – check it out for future events)

    …the four hander written by and starring Ed Lees along with actors Chris Alldridge, Ned Costello and Polly Wain, tells the story of Fisherman Thomas Lewin (Lees), his teenage son Marlon (Costello) daughter Carla (Wain) and father William (Alldridge), in rural Cornwall.

    During the play, scenes may be geographically static, set around a kitchen table throughout, but the movement is provided by its ever changing timeline, shooting seamlessly back and forth from the present day, to scenes from Thomas’s youth to eventually a little time in the future.

    Fear not…

    True that when I first watched Pulp Fiction at the tender age of … in my teens, I was confused. I knew I loved it. But I was confused. 10+ watches down the line I eventually had the linear timeline down in my head.

    Into the Deep used a more subtle device which was arguably more clever (soz Tarantino).

    To take us from one time period to another, the constant sounds of the radio in the scenes, acted as an effective device in telling the audience just where we were all at.

    However, soon into the 60 minute play, I stopped taking conscious notice of the radio and instead took my lead from the actors and characters themselves who appear in both timelines.

    The difficult relationship between Thomas and his father William, Ed Lees and Chris Alldridge, was often the focus and both were captivating in their performances.

    In fact, at times, the scripted words were a mere support to the body language, facial expressions and movement displayed in their performances as they portrayed a tale of mental anguish, familial tensions, and abuse – both physical and emotional.

    Throughout 60 minutes you bear witness to crushing disappointment, pressure, fear, worry, heartbreak, confusion, pride, devastation, as the narrative takes us through how as humans, our relationships in our youth can continue to affect us, even when thought ‘buried’ and that chapter closed.

    As we see Thomas’s children Marlon and Carla both go from sparky, outgoing, cocky characters in the opening scene to ones which start to unravel as a reaction to their circumstances (powerful performances by both actors), it is difficult as witness not to fast forward and fear that history may repeat.

    It is mention of the opening scene that reminds me to stress that whilst I have extolled the production values and physical performances of all involved, the written words should by no means be relegated to supporting artist.

    Whilst indeed powerful, the dialogue is also subtle, witty and yes even funny. Who’d a thought Jeremy Paxman could be a punchline!

    Back to the point,

    Loss is a theme threaded throughout; a partner, a mother, work, money, a home, an opportunity…

    And it is through a combination of such that the audience sees Thomas unravel before our eyes in his memories of, and cutaways to, the past – for the most part, his pain is internalised.

    It is hard to believe that in a relatively small space, and within a modest set and timeframe, the production can take an audience through such an intense emotional journey in the storytelling, acting and smart production devices (the sounds signifying Thomas being taken to a place of mental anguish are chilling and effective).

    It soon filled up – I panic and get places early

    In short, all players made you believe in them and the story they were telling, and the overall performance was the perfect example of how bearing witness to a fringe production can feel such a privilege.

    With such intimacy that is lost in the larger venues and shows, the actors and indeed whole outfit involved in Popcorn Productions had nowhere to hide and how fortunate for us that they didn’t.

    Manchester – check out what else is showing as part of Greater Manchester Fringe..

    Camden and surrounding areas – you’re in for a treat in August – check out the details

    Rest of the world – take note of Popcorn Productions – quick sharp: Get clicking

    *…and for anyone who may wish to, please visit my friend’s page. She is raising money for Mind and thus all those with mental health difficulties: Sponsored Sky Dive

    Look after each other x

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

    Theatre Review – DollyWould at HOME

    And people say she’s just a big pair of tits.

    (David Brent).

    Yes, I’ve said tits in a blog post. But there’s no point being polite as the Theatre Company I had the good grace to see perform this evening are called Shit Theatre. Although for polite publications it’s written Sh!t Theatre.

    I’ve already written tits and not t!ts. So I may as well write Shit and not Sh!t.

    And it’s my blog so ner.

    Childish comments and profanities done with, it’s time to speak of the wonder that is DollyWould at HOME theatre.

    The themes of this performance are Dolly Parton, Dolly the sheep, Cloning, Originality, Sexuality and Death. With much crossover to boot.

    Following their sell out run at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Louise Mothersole and the marvellously named Rebecca Biscuit (sorry, I’m going to be obvious and allude to it as it’s just too wonderful not to), take us on a journey both metaphorical and literal to Dolly Parton’s life and theme park (literal in that they went and showed us their holiday snaps, although I’m sold and planning my own literal, literal trip).

    Dressed part Dolly Parton, part Dolly the Sheep, we learn through video, song, interview extracts, slide and performance art just what makes Dolly so unique and original. And Dolly the sheep so unique and original – the latter somewhat ironically due to being cloned.

    But then we hear of the time Dolly Parton experienced cloning of her own. She entered a Dolly Parton Drag Competition, exaggerating all her famous features including making her

    rhinestones rhinier

    Predictably she didn’t win. Her uniqueness was done better by others.

    There’s much to enjoy from DollyWould. I tittered (or t!ttered) much at the device where we hear the dulcet tones of American interviewer extraordinaire Barbara Walters asking Dolly (Parton) in a 1977 interview where she wanted to be, what she wanted to achieve, Mothersole and Biscuit (is the surname thing ok? I always feel a bit rude) replicating the answers through the medium of song.

    Through an audio montage which bizarrely left me feeling quite emotional (granted I’ve not had much sleep this week) we hear a long list of questions and comments from interviewers past (including our own growly nation’s sweetheart Michael Parkinson) about her appearance and weight.

    We don’t hear the retorts but we don’t need to.

    Dolly’s got a theme park and a gift shop.

    Dolly the Sheep will live on through her clones. Dolly the Parton will live on through her merch and her Drag army.

    They are both the same as they are both unique.

    There is also the giant mammary glands, descriptions of cadaver rotting and tattoo shop philosophy but even if you believed me, I still want you to see it for yourself.

    I believe it’s sold out but there is still hope and a waiting list for cancellations.

    DollyWould is at HOME until Saturday 5 May – click here for info and ticket queries.

    I Would. Well I did.