Thursday, 19 July 2018

King Lear (Alone) - The International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester.

 While condensing a three-hour tragedy with 27 characters into an hour long one man show may seem to be an impossibility, Writer-Director Frank Bramwell and performer Bob Young prove themselves to be more than up the task with this enlightening take on Shakespeare’s classic. The decision to stage the piece with a solo performer isn’t merely the result of a desire to impress with virtuoso acting but is key to the play’s emphasis of Lear's loneliness and estrangement from his family. King Lear is not only alone on stage but also in every sense of the word 'alone'.

The resulting piece offers a humanising look at the legendary king, as he grapples with advancing age and the consequences of his poor decisions in the past. While he may proclaim that ‘the past is another country’ it continues to haunt him and control his present.

Bramhall’s script skilfully blends Shakespeare’s original text with backstories and dialogue of his own invention, allowing the audience to have a deeper understanding of Lear’s relationship with his favourite daughter, Cordelia. While vast portions of the text are cut, the play never becomes confusing, and I’ve no doubt that any audience member unfamiliar with the original text would be able to follow the narrative with ease

The intimate performance space at The Anthony Burgess Foundation provided an apt setting for this stripped back take on the tragedy, with the production’s minimalist staging serving as a perfect backdrop to Lear’s confused state of mind. Lear frequently asked himself who and where he was, even addressing the same questions to the audience at times. This brought the audience closer to Lear as a character, particularly as the setting remained ambiguous to the audience themselves, so we shared his confusion.

The other characters in the play maintained a showery presence in the narrative, not just through the damage they have inflicted on Lear (and the damage which he eventually admits to having done to them) but also through the stage design. The looming tree at the back of the stage is entwined with blank masks, representing the many characters whom Lear attempted to recall and define as he brooded over the events which led to his current predicament. Most poignant of all is the small figure of Cordelia, hanging by her neck from the tree. This is a clever representation of what Lear dubs ‘a doll-like reminder’ of his favourite daughter. The moment when Lear finally refers to his daughter, confronting how his actions have led to her death, is the highlight of the play.

Young’s powerful performance holds the audience’s attention, and Lear is by turns petulant, arrogant, self-loathing and deeply needy, yet he always retains some degree of sympathy even as the play refuses to gloss over Lear’s intense flaws. Some of the more moving moments came as he struggled with the simplest of tasks, such as gingerly lowering his infirm body into a chair, or endlessly repeating the same dialogue over and over, unable to remember what came next.

Not only is his personal life slipping away from him, but we also witness his attempt to live up to the position of King, a role for which he seems to have been ill-suited even before he was ravaged by old age and poor health. Midway through the play, Lear re-enacted the day he divided his kingdom among Regan and Goneril. He made several attempts to sound more like a king, repeating his opening lines from the original text until he gave up and continued the scene. The irony being that it is his actions in this scene, rather than his tone of voice, which are his real failings as a leader, with his insecurity having left him incapable of withstanding the weight of his crown

I was left at the conclusion thinking that Lear’s identity crisis, while exacerbated by his dementia, is not just the result of ageing but part of a life long failure to ever properly understand himself or the people around him. The only responsive left for Lear is to resolve face whatever comes next with as much bravery and dignity as he can muster. 

Reviewer - Richard Gorick
on - 18/7/18 

The Acquired Taste Of Women - Footlights Theatre, Salford.

Cobblestone Theatre are a new and young theatre company based in Manchester. They presented their first comedy play as part of The Greater Manchester Fringe. After this, the company aim to develop their solid half  hour of material into a full length show. This piece has got excellent potential.

Jessica (Jodie Whelan), Louise (Charlotte Darley), Becky (Lucie Jowett), and Lauren (Hannah Drury) are no longer protected under the education bubble. They have finished university, been flung out into the world of work, and got themselves a very small flat. Some of the characters are still living in the student lifestyle: full of drinking, partying, and madness. The others are trying to adjust to the adult world. With barely any money, what better way to celebrate their move in together than by throwing the biggest party ever. Big mistake. 

This is a play about friendship, sexuality, and the adult world.

Despite the show being a work in progress, the characters were diverse, developed, and the relationships between them all were clear. Whelan's Jessica was the so-called leader of the girl gang: a lover of theatre, extroverted, but at times irresponsible. Becky, as played by Jowett, was an intellectual, with her reading glasses always by her side. Darley's interpretation of Louise was the organised and responsible one of the house; she was always cleaning. Drury's Lauren was passionately liberal minded, she believed in not putting labels on people.

Written by Whelan, she cleverly considered writing about what relates to her and the company, which made the play realistic. Anything and everything was chatted about in the space of a half an hour flowing conversation: food, men, women, alcohol, sex, sexuality, identity, partying, jobs, money, and responsibilities. Fundamentally, what they created was a realistic representation of young, working class women on stage.

The most notable set piece was half of a couch: which I think unintentionally but appropriately communicated their financial situation. I loved the messiness of the set, the left out booze and the sprawled out clothes (an absolute nightmare for Louise). However, using the stage blocks as stairs wasn't immediately clear and more consideration might be required on how to stage that scene.

Lighting, by Mauric Widdop, made the flat feel hospitable. There was an hint of disco light colours in the design too, giving a flavour of the party to come. So in a good way, when the party almost began in the play, it was a shame it had to end abruptly. I was absorbed in the story.

The Greater Manchester Fringe is a fantastic platform to try out new work and ideas, and there is something to be said about the avid and creative spirit of such an event. This company really embraced that spirit. I look forward to seeing how the characters grow, how the story develops, and how the company evolves.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 18/7/18

One Man Bond - King's Arms Theatre, Salford.

Subtitled, 'Every Bond Film in 60 Minutes', this one-man show produces just that - almost!

Brian Gorman, the man whose word is his Bond, sets out not to recreate the entire plot-lines of all the films [I think I counted 23 this evening... ] but instead creates a kind of miniature 'feel'  or 'montage' for each.

Perhaps I better explain. Walking onto the stage to the famous theme tune, Gorman takes each Bind film chronologically (I assume) from Dr. No to Spectre. Each film is given a few minutes' in the spotlight in which Gorman sings a little of the thee tune (just in case you didn't know which film it was - like me) and then gives a few lighting-speed impressions of the main characters and memorable dialogue that gave each film its plot. [including M, Q, Moneypenny, Pussy Galore and all the other so-called Bond-Girls, the evil villains etc etc]. Each of these sequences usually ending in a huge 'BOOM!' killing all in sight except of course Bond! The physicality of the sequences - comedy gun fights and throat-slittings were clever and very funny, I just wish I had been able to recognise more of the impersonations. (my lack of knowledge not Gorman's ability)

For those of you, like me, who remember watching the films as they were released on TV over the successive Christmases of my youth, and then never watching them again since; I found it all quite difficult to follow, and i certainly didn't know who majority of the impersonations were. However, if you know your Bonds, then I feel sure you will easily 'get' it all and find it slick, funny and clever.

I understood Connery, didn't particularly feel Moore was quite right, and Brosnan was hilarious, being given an almost feminine high-pitched RP accent.

Gorman has obviously given a lot of time and energy, let alone perhaps sanity, into this project, and it was excellently done. I missed the original Casino Royale where various actors including Ronnie Corbett and Peter Sellers all get to play Bond - that would have been a fun film to condense into a couple of minutes; but Gorman's take on Quantum Of Solace - nothing more than a questioning shrug was hysterical!

A very personable performer who doesn't take himself or his show too seriously, but has developed a clever and slick show nonetheless. A Bond aficionados heaven!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 18/7/18

Delayed - King's Arms Theatre, Salford.

We are on board a train travelling to Manchester airport. Six passengers find themselves sitting next to each other, and as the train comes to an unscheduled halt which sees the train delayed by over an hour, we learn something about these six travellers.

The first thing I question is whether or not such a set-up is 'legitimate'. The premise admittedly was a good one, and to have a few different strangers meeting and communicate on a train is most certainly not a new idea, but could have been if treated somewhat differently. There was absolutely no sense of urgency in any of the passengers, nor did we ever feel that there were any other passengers on this train of several carriages. Nor could I understand for the life of me how it was possible to rearrange and move fixed train seats to make a long line of six chairs all facing the audience!

Unfortunately there was no programme nor publicity material of any kind and so have no idea on the names of cast and crew.

The script was stilted and unimaginative, and the acting little better. I was uncertain whether this was a comedy or a socio-political statement; a drama or just a general comment on the state of our rail network. It started very slowly and the pace only picked up marginally with the entrance of the businessman determined to catch his flight to the USA. The individual stories of the travellers were clear and with thought and rehearsal could have been brought to life and provided a watchable and interesting narrative from which to develop. Sadly though, this was not the case, and I was unable to sympathise with any of the actors on  stage, since I simply did not believe any of them.

Two young lads going away on holiday to Spain for the first time: an invitation for raucous, over-the-top comedic stereotypical laddish boozy behaviour missed.  A nerd, afraid of flying, yet setting off to Australia: why? we never knew. What was his family background? we never knew. A hugely comedic or deeply dark and furtive character opportunity completely missed. A young couple who have been trying for a baby for ages, and then want to adopt, despite the differences and changes of opinions between them - another great opportunity to bring out these themes and play with them completely lost. The only one to actually have any relevance and balance to his character was the businessman, but even then, we learned too little, too late, to be able to sympathise with his plight.

It was also a very strange ending to the piece - the rejoicing that the train is finally starting to move again and no-one will actually miss their flights juxtaposed with the businessman's bad news was a very odd place to finish... mixed emotions, and no resolution; yet the dialogue prior to this had been mostly upbeat.

Verdict: a very poor script, lacking proper rehearsal and focus. I can only hope that this piece, in the spirit of the G M Fringe Festival, is a first draft and trial run. The play needs much R+D before its next outing.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 18/7/18

A Country Way Of Life - King's Arms Theatre, Salford.

A show I was due to review had been cancelled, and so, very much a spur of the moment decision from me, and I ended up at The King's Arms in Salford to listen to Jonathan Brick's country music and raconteuring.

And again, in another strange twist of fate, there were only two other people booked to see this 6:00pm show, and neither turned up, and so, what actually happened was Brick and myself sitting in the venue together, chatting and me listening to some of his act, interspersed with other more personal anecdotes and asides, since I was continually interrupting his flow.

Brick took this very much in his stride, proving to be not only highly knowledgeable about his subject (Country Music), but a very personable and easy-going chappy too. My misgivings about my lack of knowledge in his area of expertise distilled and disappeared within the first few minutes and listening to him talk about famous artistes (mostly American)  music was actually extremely interesting and I came away at the end of the hour far more knowledgeable and enthused about a genre of music that I thought 'old hat', than I would have thought possible.

I asked him the difference between the labels 'Country' and 'Western' for which he had a lovely and for me, quite surprising.answer. But don't ask him what 'Country' music is exactly... you will be there arguing this point for hours. Better to ask him, what it isn't. And why is it still considered the preserve of the white male?? There are very few current female country stars (despite there being plenty back in the good ol' days!) and even fewer black country singers.

For him, real Country music, the music that came out of the folk music of those immigrants moving over to America, especially the Irish, is how it all started - but - and he has a very valid point here - the Country music that we all subconsciously would acknowledge and recognise as such, is actually a manufactured and produced sound in order for the record companies to make money!.. and yes, of course you need to wear the cowboy boots, boot-lace ties and stetsons too!!

He tells us that Country music can be broken down into three distinct subject matters..... 1) I've seen a girl, 2) I've got a girl, and 3) I've lost a girl!

Nowadays there is a lot of cross-over of styles and genres and even the big pop artistes like Justin Bieber, Whitney Houston, to name but two, along with the likes of The Beatles, have all used country music in their repertoires to astounding effect (they just don't market it as 'country!)

To be honest, the hour sped by so quickly, and listening to Brick was a breath of fresh air. He even treated me to one of his own compositions. I could have stayed much longer and continued the conversation.

Well, he's taking his show to Edinburgh now, and so I can only hope he has more in the audience there than a couple of stuffed fish, the G M Fringe Bee, and me!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 18/7/18

Up The Bunting! - Bar Pop, Manchester.

Wildcat, in association with The Lipstick Thespians, welcome you to the local village fete. The downstairs bar has been transformed; the real bar automatically becomes a feature of the beer tent. On the stage we see: blue curtains, a massage bed, fairy lights, a homely-looking lamp, and of course, bunting.

Colin (Stephen Donald) is obsessed with the bric-a-brac. Although, this year he notices something is missing from the fete, the 'hook-a-duck' is gone. It has been replaced by an exclusive tent, where Lisa (Hayley Cartwright) practices reiki, reflexology, and meditation. Lisa and Colin, two contrasting personalities, are about to meet and change each other's lives for the better.

Donald's characterisation of Colin was detailed and nuanced. Colin got excited over the littlest and simplest of things. He had a Walace and Gromit smile, which not only communicated his warmth and joy, but his suppressed grief for his mother who passed away. There was wonderful acting from Cartwright as Lisa. Cartwright presented a well rounded character who was not just hyperactive, bold, and a bit barmy, but she was also vulnerable. The comedy in the play came from the contrast in their characters, and the fact Lisa behaved erratically in a calm setting.

The director, Alexis Tuttle, did a commendable job of bringing out the comedy in the play whilst never losing the drama and poignancy of the text. It lightly poked fun at meditation, mindfulness, reflexology, zen, and all the rest of it. However at the same time, the play showed how these holistic practices can create a cathartic experience for the likes of Colin, and help people to come to terms with losing someone.

For me, it felt like the play was notably divided into two scenes; with Colin's story being the main focus in the first scene and Lisa's story the primary focus in the second. This made the play feel slightly broken up and the stories not as tied together as they could be. The transitions could have been tighter and the mother's ashes accidentally spilt on the bed by Lisa, could have been swept away gently with consideration by the stagehand, given the context of the story.

This was a comic yet sad play about love, loss, reiki, the little things in life, and how two very different people have the power to heal each other. They were both survivors of their own story.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
On - 17/07/2018

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

18 Victoria - 53Two, Manchester.

Cody Daigle-Orians’ 18 Victoria is not the sort of play to see if you are feeling emotionally delicate. Its plot focuses on three siblings – Stephen (James Nicholas), Catherine (Alex Herod), and Ben (Joe Geddes) – who are dealing with the fallout of their father’s death when the news breaks that an asteroid (named 18 Victoria) is on a collision course with Earth and that all life on the planet will be wiped out in three weeks. As a study in strained familial relationships, grief, and nihilism, 18 Victoria is highly effective, wisely lacing the bleakness around some gallows humour to bring some relief from the encroaching doomsday which our characters face.  

The production at 53Two relied on a minimalist set: several large blocks which were placed around the stage and were used by the cast to either sit on or walk across. At the front of the performance area lay scattered rubbish, presumably added to give the air of the play taking place in a wasteland as society breaks down, although the detritus wasn’t particularly visible from beyond the front row. It did feel somewhat unnecessary; the bare bones set didn’t need the addition of strewn rubbish at the front.

 This, however, was the only aspect of the production which wasn’t effective (and even then, it is a bit of a ‘nit-pick’). Everything else, the script, performances, and even live music (courtesy of Stefan Melbourne, aka We Were Strangers, who provided a suitably mournful soundtrack to the events unfolding onstage) was of a high standard. The play is structured around interlocking monologues from each of our protagonists, although there are some occasional moments when the characters engage with dialogue with one another. The three performers breathed life into their roles: Geddes’ Ben, the youngest of the three siblings, is openly gay, fuelled by nervous energy (and cheap noodles), and he really, really wants his dad’s Encyclopaedia Britannica set. Catherine, the married, no nonsense, middle child, is given heart and soul by Herod. Lastly, there is the eldest brother, Stephen, who left home at sixteen, cynical, distant, and determined to see oblivion in by being so drunk he won’t feel a thing. Nicholas’ performance as Stephen was astonishing; he delivered his often blackly comic lines with aplomb.

Given the monologue based nature of the text, it could have been easy for Julie Root, the director, to feature the three performers just sat facing the audience as they delivered their speeches. Wisely, Root eschewed that choice in favour of having the actors move around the performance space and the actors who were not speaking sat down or moved from one block to another and were still in character, they were thinking, drinking, checking their phones for updates on the arrival of the asteroid, but without pulling focus away from the actor who was explaining how their character was coming to terms with a world that was facing its end: Stephen finding solace in drink, Ben in casual sex, Catherine attempting to maintain a façade of normality for as long as possible. All three characters describe a memory of an evening from when they were younger, when Stephen told them to pack their things and leave home with him to go to Antarctica. These sequences featured all three actors walking around the set with backpacks and torches and provided an interesting visual break in the play, as well as building on the backstory of the characters and why their relationship with their parents, as well as each other, was so strained. The revelation of what provoked Stephen’s decision to leave his family as soon as he could was shocking, although it could be argued that the explanation was unnecessary as, sometimes, things just happen in life with no reason being given.

The climax of the play, nonetheless, delivers an emotional gut-punch. Of note are Herod’s final moments as Catherine, facing the end of not only the Earth but the world she had built around herself. Herod managed to convey Catherine’s emotional turmoil effectively without having to resort to histrionics. Geddes and Nicholas also excelled in their final moments, finally meeting by their father’s grave, after so many years apart, to see in the end of the world together. The play avoided the cliché of the asteroid avoiding hitting the Earth and instead the audience witnessed the world’s end with the characters, thanks to a hugely effective use of lighting and sound effects. As Melbourne played his guitar and sang following the play’s end, there was no doubt that many in the audience had been emotionally gripped by the production.

Root & Branch Productions have certainly created an astonishing piece of theatre with 18 Victoria. It’s not the easiest play to watch, given its emotional rawness, but it deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible.

Reviewer - Andrew Marsden
on  – 17/7/18   

Cinco Coisas - Salford Arts Theatre, Salford.

Bianca Bertalot is a Brazilian performance artist and alternative therapist; and in this show Cinco Coisas, she tries to combine these two elements of her professional life to bring a fun and informative one-woman show about The Five Things (Cinco Coisas in Portuguese!) to a Greater Manchester audience. 

But what are the five things, I hear you ask. According to Bertalot they are the five basic developmental needs of a child: Place, Nurturing, Support, Protection, Limitation.

Bertalot presents herself well, a warm and friendly welcome as we enter the auditorium and her pitch for this interactive and audience participatory show nicely done. However, she did say that if we did not wish to join in or contribute in any way that would also be absolutely fine too, and yet, that didn't seem to be the case.. we were all involved, whether we liked it or not! I am not sure that this was entirely her fault however. In the audience this evening were 10 people only and so we all took up (on her invite) the first row of seats. These 10 included a group of 5 from Hong Kong with limited English, and two of Bertalot's friends (both Portuguese native speakers), and so given this dynamic, to not be involved would have been both rude and obvious! Moreover, nowhere in the publicity for this show does it tell you that audience participation and interaction is expected - that was something of a surprise for me. It's not my thing at all, and was not wanting at all to join in!

Bertalot's aims are somewhat grandiose and worthy, and her research into this area of work undeniable; however, despite the friendly and open nature of the performance and Bertalot's skill as a performer, I was still left wondering at the end of this hour long presentation two things. Who was her target audience? and what did she hope to gain from such a performance?

The opening gambit was patronising and belittling. We were all coherent adults and yet we were treated like children with learning difficulties as we had to learn how to pronounce 'cinco coisas' and sing it in a rhythm. The rest of the show see-sawed between two characters of her own creation; a stern-faced lecturer trying to inform us about the Five Things - and doing it in such a way as to talk down to us with that sickly smile of self-righteousness on the face (of course I understand that that was the characterisation) - and a playful, mischievous young girl called Melanie who just wanted to play, have fun and be accepted by the audience. Despite these two characters being excellently defined and cleverly judged, neither appealed to either the adult or the child in me. If we had wanted a lecture on child psychology then we would have gone to one, and if clowning and bouffon is your thing then better to watch it than have to become a part of it. Sadly there were no children in this evening's audience, but somehow I cannot see either of these characters particularly appealing to children either. the lecture would be boring and go over youngsters' heads, and they would more than probably find the clowning daft and, dependant on age, perhaps a little patronising. [although they would have LOVED the pompom fight!]

Bertalot is a talented and consummate performer, that much was clear, and her simple change between the two contrasting characters quick and clever using a red nose for one and glasses for the other - the final sequence when she wore both at the same time was a lovely idea. The show however felt very much more rooted in a style of theatrical presentation foreign to British audiences [I have seen similar styled shows in Europe before]. Further, the juxtaposition between physical theatre / clowning and information giving was an odd one. Perhaps the informative part of the show would work in areas where these 5 things are not already a 'given'. However, for the majority of people in the UK, this lecture is something akin to trying to teach your grandmother to suck eggs.

To be fair, the show might 'work' with a larger and more diverse audience. It would certainly work better in a non-traditional theatre space with audience in a circle on cushions. But the choice of venue for this show was far from optimal, and having such a small and difficult audience must have made her job much harder than normal!

Being very fond of physical theatre and very much in need of a jolly good belly laugh or two, I was looking forward to this show. However, most unfortunately I left feeling rather flat and disappointed.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 17/7/18

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Paisley - Leaf, Manchester.

Having read the publicity for Paisley before I arrived at the Leaf Café on Portland Street, I was expecting something a little out of the ordinary. It had been described as a “deeply personal piece of theatre focusing on culture and its development from a woman’s perspective” – and this was very much all of those things and probably more.
The scene is a typical girl’s bedroom with clothes strewn over the floor, a large mirror and dressing table and lots of personal touches dotted around the room. The girl in question was Paisley, dressed in her pyjamas and brushing her long blonde hair. In walks her mother and proceeds to collect up her abandoned clothes whilst bemoaning the untidiness. Paisley is due to get married on that day, her wedding dress hung up and still in the protective wrapping, and all things are clearly not as they may seem.
The overall story was one of women supporting women, with each of the characters telling their own tale of past struggles but each in a very unique way.
First there was Paisley’s mother who had talked very little of her past before Paisley was born, but in a Bollywood-style dance interpretation she shows how she had to battle against the odds in a war-torn land before escaping in order to build a life that now included her daughter. The dance was beautifully choreographed and with the exception of a scene where cast members came out wearing cows' heads it perfectly described her story – I struggled to see the symbolism that was being portrayed with the cows' heads.
There is Kira, the mother of John (Paisley’s groom-to-be) who had to endure an abusive husband when she married very young. Her story is told through the medium of Japanese puppetry, using beautifully created paper puppets and a shadow box to display the show using the grand fireplace in Paisley’s bedroom.  Whilst the fireplace seemed like the perfect setting for this, being sat on the back row on seats (albeit with only 3 rows) I struggled to see everything that was going on and judging by the arching necks around me others did also.
Gabby’s story was next (Paisley’s best friend through her childhood) who suddenly reveals she is gay and talks about the struggles she has had with her sexuality and her relationship with her own mother since coming out. Gabby sings her story in perfect pitch, switching between English and Spanish lyrics throughout.
One of the big things that came through in this performance is the attention to detail – the set design is just about perfect with every element playing its part in setting up the performance. The girlie touches that are placed around the room and even family photos just make this the perfect setting.
I enjoyed the performance of Paisley very much, the stories of struggles for each of the women were varied but all had the same underlying message – strength in adversity, women supporting women and true equality for women to stand shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. I did feel like the play was just trying to tick too many boxes with the different methods of storytelling but art is about pushing boundaries and I think Paisley did this.

Reviewer – John Fish on - 16/7/18

Monday, 16 July 2018

I'm Gonna Jump - 53Two, Manchester.

With such a title and publicity poster one might be forgiven for thinking this would be a comedy. You would certainly know what the play was about - or at least - have a very good idea. There is a rather worrying trend at the moment which has producers and backers trying to make new film and play titles more transparent. If a play is called 'I'm Gonna Jump' you can make two assumptions from this: one, the subject matter is about jumping (most probably suicide), and two; it involves youth (probably American) due to the use of 'gonna'.

Fabricate Theatre and MAP Productions' play of that name is indeed about teenage suicide, but it is most definitely not a comedy.

Stacey Harcourt plays Ella Chadwick in a one hour monologue which is something of a tour-de-force performance for her. Convincingly and easily playing a 18 year old school girl, she relates the problems she has with her home life (lives with her step dad who also happens to be one of the teachers at her school) and despite trying really hard, finds academic study just too much and rather boring. She even has a hobby of playing second violin in the school orchestra, but she is somewhat dissatisfied with that, wanting to play first but knowing she isn't good enough. Basically her life is in a slump and things get worse. Her best friend Chloe is 'perfect' and she looks up to her despite being envious. Always gets the top marks at school, always looks beautiful, etc etc...

However, it is the world of the internet which becomes Ella's curse. We all know only too well that teenagers put much store in Facebook 'likes', 'friends', followers on Twitter or Instagram etc.. and are all too needy for comments of encouragement or praise. Their online selves and lives being sometimes more important than their actual ones. Forever taking selfies and simply cannot put their phones down for more than 2 seconds!

In a series of unfortunate circumstances which spiral out of control like some Greek Tragedy, Ella is made to feel not the victim of misfortune (which she is), but instead unwanted, hated, debased, unfriended,  and eventually comes to the conclusion that the only way out of this mess is to make a video and post it to Youtube of her 'testimony' before she jumps from the highest point on the school building in a bid to commit suicide.

The monologue that we were privy to is essentially this testimony.

With the stage set with computers and computer paraphernalia and a large screen behind we first are shown a series of Youtube videos as we enter. Cute, humorous, animal videos which we can laugh at and go 'Ah!' to. This is a very clever opening, juxtaposing the mood of the play but cleverly introducing us to the play's theme. The screen then changes to reveal Ella's testimony video as she stands on the tower. It's a very powerful and emotional start.

The narrative continues with Harcourt acting on stage for the majority of the remainder of the show. The end reverts back to the video of her on the tower and her just about to jump before the video cuts out. These two montages work wonderfully and realistically. The other sections of videoed testimony in between were far less effective and weakened the impact of the first and last.

I am uncertain if indeed Ella, even after all the mishaps that have befallen her in such a short space of time, would see suicide as being the ONLY option. I am no teenage psychiatrist, but I think something, someone, or her own intellect, would have kicked in at some point before this very drastic measure. The play was also a little long too, despite Harcourt's superb and sympathetic performance.

This is still very much a work-in-progress, and certainly would benefit from further development, but with the winning combination of Tiffany Bowman's superb writing skills, pitching the language perfectly - a wonderful balance between how teenagers actually speak, and what is acceptable to an audience of mixed ages and experiences; Simon Naylor's no-punches-pulled realistic directing; and Stacey Harcourt's excellent delivery, a few more tweaks are all that is really needed.

A very powerful and thought-provoking piece of theatre tackling a tricky issue very sympathetically and naturalistically..

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 16/7/18

The Dark Room - Frog And Bucket, Manchester.

Those who experienced the home computer boom of the 1980s will no doubt remember the text-based adventure games which inevitable began with the words, “You are in a dark room,” swiftly followed by mounting frustration as you typed in, “Turn on lights,” only to be informed that, “You cannot turn on lights,” or even worse, “Command not recognised.” Australian comedian John Robertson has created a comedy show which revisits those halcyon days in his show The Dark Room.

Starting life as an interactive game via Youtube, Robertson has refined the formula into a comedy performance which brings the thrills, spills, and occasional frustration of the text-based adventure games. The show itself is an interactive adventure with audience members being given the chance to make decisions which either progress the story or result in their turn coming to a sticky end.

 Robertson’s stage set up consisted of a table with a variety of intriguing props (including a pineapple – or as Robertson called it “a flamboyant potato” - and an inflatable crocodile) and a projector screen which warned the audience pre-show that “You are about to die!” Death was a frequent hazard in text-based adventures; a wrong command could see the grim message “You died” appear onscreen. Robertson has retained this aspect and amplified it to comic effect with the words “YA DIE!” filling the screen during the game as players made incorrect decisions and Robertson led a chant of “Ya die!” with the audience (audiences were also encouraged to chant along with the opening line of each turn – “You awake to find yourself in a dark room!”).

As a performer, Roberston was commanding. Dressed in a suitably gauche looking costume to make him look like a dungeon master from medieval times merged with the 1980s (spiky shoulder pads and all) shining a torch under his face to look spooky, he bestrode the stage like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. For his vocal delivery, however, Robertson was channelling his inner Brian Blessed -and it came as a surprise to many in the audience when he dropped his ‘Dungeon Master’ voice for his natural Australian accent before the interval.

His repartee with the audience was engaging and he was more than capable of dealing with heckles from a couple of pedants in the audience.

Robertson explained the rules of the game: players would be selected from the audience (often volunteering themselves) to play The Dark Room. Anyone who escaped the room could win £1000 (no-one has done this yet, barring two people in 2012 when the prize was £50!). Players wouldn’t leave empty handed, however, as the table at the side of the stage was revealed to be the ‘Table of Wonders’ and they were given an object from the table (the ‘Wonders’ ranged from a Poundland bag to a football DVD). Robertson made sure the players would struggle to enjoy the bequeathed Wonder (the football DVD was awarded to an American couple from Seattle in the hope that they would never be able to play it because of the region encoding). As audience members were picked out to play The Dark Room, Robertson would ask what their names were and he would swiftly rename them “Darren.” To distinguish between the many Darrens of the night, Robertson would often add a word or phrase before Darren (“Resentful Darren,” “Seattle Darren,” and scoring the biggest geek points of the night, “Wesley Crusher Darren”).

The jokes came thick and fast and the options presented within the game were often primed for comedic effect. One screen offered the chance for players to ‘Check pockets’ or ‘Czech pockets’ and either selection resulted in a gag. Robertson’s often OTT delivery provoked much hilarity – at one point his voice shot up about three octaves at the end of the word ‘throw' which caused an audience member to laugh so hard and so much that they had to leave the room. Mere seconds after that, the computer programme which was running the Dark Room game crashed and an error message appeared on the screen. “I’ve broken that man and now the game’s broken!” Robertson howled with laughter as the rest of the audience fell into hysterics. Normal service was soon resumed and the final game before the interval was the ‘Democracy Round’ where the whole audience got to play by shouting for the option they wanted Robertson to select, the one with the most noise got selected.

The second half of the show was the same as the first but familiarity with the format only added to the experience as the in-jokes became clearer and the audience threw themselves into the chants of “Ya die!” In the audience were many who had seen the show before and returned for more. Given the constant hilarity of the show, it was easy to see why it was rewarded with returning audience members. For those was fond memories of the text-based adventure games, The Dark Room is a hysterical take on those graphic-less games of yesteryear. For those unfamiliar with what the show sends up, there is still a hugely entertaining and downright funny evening to be had. Highly recommended!

Reviewer - Andrew Marsden
on - 15/7/18

Sir Ranulph Fiennes: Living Dangerously - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

Many people may claim to live a dangerous life but when you compare this to a certain Sir Ranulph Twistleton-Wykeham Fiennes then all bets are off.  Described by The Guinness Book Of World Records as “the world’s greatest living explorer” he has spent much of his adult life tackling some of the most dangerous and unexplored parts of our globe.  It was no surprise that his appearance at The Lyric Theatre at The Lowry in Salford was all but sold out.
In the style that has become very familiar with stand-up comedians, Sir Ranulph introduced himself from the sidelines.  There was a short video describing just some of his amazing achievements and he then arrived on stage to very warm applause.
The style of presentation was something of a surprise as Fiennes stood behind a lectern in a very formal pose, aided by a large screen on stage that initially was just a black.
Fiennes immediately went into the story of his life, starting at the very beginning where he told us he had been moved by his mother to South Africa as a very young child and only returned aged 12 years.  It was here that he moved into the area of self-deprecation which became a familiar theme throughout the evening.  Fiennes is an excellent storyteller and has a very calm and relaxed manner, which made the choice of formal lecture style presentation even more surprising.
The first half of the show was very much about his life prior to being the polar explorer as we all know him today, his struggles through his academic life that includesdspells at Sandroyd and Eton College and his career in the armed forces as an Officer which resulted in an 8 year stay in the SAS – apparently much to his own surprise.
The second half of the show was much more visual as he talked more about his polar expeditions and we were treated to some amazing photographs on the big screen – some of which involved graphic detail of frostbitten hands and feet, either his own or one of his team.
One of the expeditions he focused on was the unsupported trip across the Antarctic continent on foot with Doctor Mike Stroud – a world famous expert on starvation – which was hastily arranged when they found out the often referenced ‘Norwegians’ were planning exactly the same trip.
The real strength of this show is obviously Sir Ranulph Fiennes himself and in particular his ability to make his clearly very dangerous expeditions sound light-hearted and humorous but without losing any of the realism that he and his team were only a step away from death the whole time. One reference in particular about human starvation expert Doctor Stroud discovering that “the level of starvation they were suffering was severe and beyond even his expectations” had the audience in fits of laughter.
The final part of the show was a Q&A that involved a mix of questions from the audience and questions that had been submitted earlier in the evening via the Twitter feed published on the big screen.  This allowed Fiennes to provide some more personal insights into his life and in particular the love even today for his wife Ginny who was with him for many of his early expeditions but sadly passed away in 2004.
The show itself was extremely enjoyable and Fiennes happily chatted to audience members and signed copies of his latest book in the foyer afterwards, which just made the whole experience more personal.  The only thing I could possibly criticise was the poor use of technology, where the simple inclusion of animation and graphics could have made his job of presenting his life so much easier – but this would be harsh on what was a superb overall experience.
Reviewer – John Fish
on - 15/7/18

Liverpool Pride is now only 2 weeks' away.... #alltogethernow!

With Liverpool Pride now just 2 weeks away organisers are happy to reveal a whole host of Pride Community events taking place across the city, with something on offer for all.
Liverpool Pride 2018 takes place across two days – Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 JulyWhilst the Saturday’s events all centre around the new location of Tithebarn Street, the main hub for the Sunday’s family focused Pride Sundae will be taking place in the beautiful surroundings of Liverpool’s oldest building The Bluecoat.

Sundae Funday will see a whole host of family friendly activities take place from 12 noon and running throughout the day including arts and crafts activities celebrating the festival theme of #AllTogetherNow, a food market, and weather permitting barbeque in the Bluecoat Garden, plus a youth dance event from Dance Dynamix led by Nazene Danielle Langfield which sees around 150 dancers from dance schools across the city coming together for a very special performance.

Activate Your Activism on Sunday afternoon at The Walker Art Gallery as attendees are invited to explore the galleries collection of LGBT+ artwork. From 1pm – 4pm workshops inspired by Lois Tierney’s pop up display of LGBT+ placards will take place giving visitors the chance to make their own artwork and create a Pride badge.

National Museums Liverpool will also play host to a number of LGBT+ events as part of Pride Sundae programme.  International Slavery Museumwill hold two LGBT+ events. Civil Rights and Freedom Fights explores how LGBT+ activism and civil rights movements in the USA and UK intersected. Take home a piece of activism by creating a badge in Faces of Change Badge Making workshops. Liverpool Queer Collective are set to host Telling Tales: I’m Coming Out at Museum of Liverpool an afternoon of shared stories based around the theme of coming out.

Concluding Pride Sundae’s events is the Post Pride Chillout at Liverpool Cathedral. Doors open at 6pm for an evening of reflection hosted by Open Table to honour the messages of love and support for the LGBT+ community from across the weekend.

While Pride weekend is considered the main event, the Pride team have been working hard to curate a series of LGBT+ events which will take place across the city throughout July.

Picturehouse@FACT presents Pride at the Pictures a popular monthly event which takes place on the last Monday of each month. All About My Mother on Monday 23 July tells the story of Manuela’s search for Lola, her sons father. Also screening as part of the event is Guen Murroni's short film FEE, with the film maker in attendance.

Brazilica: LGBT Film Night presents Divine Diva’s at Output Gallery on Monday 30 July.
The film charts the life of eight Brazilian transvestite performers and drag artists of the 1960’s who revolutionalised the sexual behaviour and challenged the deep conservatism of the time.

Tate Liverpool will host a whole week of events in Tate Exchange: Producing Equality from 16 – 22 July.  Throughout the week workshops and guest speakers will explore how Liverpool Pride is produced, exploring equality, inclusion and artistic content. On 21 & 22 July Liverpool Pride and Liverpool Queer Collective will host banner making sessions at Tate’s Clore Learning Space inviting all to get involved and create banners for the Pride March celebrating this year’s theme.

Bold Street’s radical bookshop News from Nowhere will display All Together Now by local artist Ben Youdan,  a powerful piece of art which has been donated to Liverpool Pride in order to raise vital funds for the festival.

Tales From The City at Museum of Liverpool brings together often hidden voices, personal items, shared memories and official documents which reflect how Liverpool’s LGBT+ communities have changed over the past five decades. The free exhibition will run until March 2019.

Riotous comedy The Ruby Slippers starring Emmerdale’s Kurtis Stacey and BBC All Together Now’s Owen Farrow.comes to Studio at Royal Court from 24 – 28 July.  Following a hugely successful 2017 UK Tour the hilarious show is back and not to be missed.

Stand out at the Pride March by creating your own placard. Make a Placard and March with Lois Tierney part of Independents Biennial will host placard making workshops on 26 July at St Johns Market. Participants can take part in the Pride March and will be given the chance to display their creativity in specially curated Pride Placard Exhibition.

Grin Theatre return to Pride with their annual Queertet on 26 and 27 July at The Casa. The annual celebration of LGBT+ writing proves popular with audiences; get your tickets early to avoid disappointment.

A Midsummer Nights Queer brings together some of the city’s finest LGBT+ promoters Beers for Queers, Eat Me + Preach, Lez Be Avin It andMerseyBears for a pre pride party like no other on at District on 27 July.

Liverpool Health Consortium’s ‘Lunatic Fringe’ comes to Liverpool Pride with Headspace Hanger: At Pride on Saturday 28 July. Headspace will provide a breakout space from the main Pride Event allowing revellers to take a quiet space to relax look after their well being and experience alternative therapies.

Open Eye Gallery and New Beginnings will create a photography exhibition engaging young people from Sefton to develop skills as festival photographers. Young people will capture the highlights from the festival weekend.

Pam Hogg and Duovision present Dr Hogg’s Divine Disorder at The Gallery is an exhibition of fashion, art and photography from Pam Hogg, a maverick of British Fashion. Not to be missed the exhibition will run from 14 July – 26 August.

With such an array of events there is something for everyone in the Liverpool Pride programme, add these unmissable events to your diary today.

The official Liverpool Pride 2018 trailer

Keep up to date with Liverpool Pride’s new announcements at:

Facebook LiverpoolPride
Twitter @LiverpoolPride

In The Heart Of The Wasp's Nest - Salford Arts Theatre, Salford.

In The Heart Of The Wasp's Nest {shouldn't that be 'Wasps' Nest?} is a play set in a failing, and somewhat behind-the-times Liverpool Fashion college; more specifically, the Technical Support Staff's room

The writing, (Karl Falconer and Natasha Ryan), is full of mixed styles. One minute it is an hilarious slap-stick comedy and the next we are into tragi-drama territory. The main stories (or themes) of the play are that of 'change will happen' and sexual misconduct in the workplace, however both of these ideas are diffused and not taken as seriously or as in-depth as they could have been since there was far too much preamble and periphery. Despite the writer drawing from personal experience, the narrative is clumsy and there are too many characters which are left on the sidelines under-developed. It was very much like watching a Brookside omnibus on TV!

Norman (Simon Hadfield) and Frank (Jonny Black) are the school's techies and have been there all their working lives. They represent the old, the firm, the fixed. And along with security guard Alan (Tim Swinton) are the dinosaurs which need replacing to face a new technologically advanced era and one which will be brought about by a woman, Angela (Christna Sedgwick). The old-school brigade are very un-PC [a deliberate pun] - they are both not modern computer savvy, nor are they politically correct and jokes against women and words like 'golliwog' form their day-to-day life.

These are the realities of the world we are being shown. Enter Carol (Natasha Ryan), straight out of college herself and given her first job as technical support worker and dumped into this atmosphere. Her pluck and humour see her through and she wins the men over. So much so that perhaps Frank, fuelled by alcohol at Alan's leaving party, gets a little over-friendly. Whatever the case, Carol accuses him of touching her sexually, and the real drama of the play starts to unravel. It takes a very long time to get there - too long - and the conclusion was also somewhat unsatisfying.

In order for this play to really pull the punches I think it wants to, then I would certainly suggest doing away with the silly office practical jokes, and the banal humour and stick to streamlining the script in the direction of serious drama. Taking away a few extraneous characters would also help. A homosexual lecturer, an unmarried pregnancy, and other 'issues' which perhaps encountered in real-life, can be omitted and put on one side for a future play. There is too much going on here already.

If this play was indeed inspired by the #MeToo campaign, then surely it is worthy and something that there should be a play about. In this evening's production the acting was generally very good, and the characters believable and interesting. The complexities of Frank and Norman - their social and political beliefs and old-school humour pitched against Carol's 'modern liberalism' was handled well, and indeed this is the central point from which everything else flowed (or at least, should have done). The directing however was slow, [why did we have video footage playing of a Liverpool of yesteryear and political debates featuring Margaret Thatcher when the action was set in the present? - this served only to diffuse things even more], and the story needed a rocket behind it! Majority of the first act could easily have been cut without losing anything of the story or the build-up.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 15/7/18 

Warrington goes large with Family Fun weekend FAMFEST this August!

A brand-new family festival, FamFest, comes to Warrington next month featuring a jam-packed programme on Sat 11 and Sun 12 August to keep the whole family entertained!
Orford Jubilee Park will be brimming with activity zones, rides and attractions, character shows, skills workshops, and a full music line-up, all guaranteeing a fun-filled weekend which runs from 11am to 10pm each day.
Head to the Kids Zone and enjoy spectacular live performances from kids’ TV favourites Mister Maker and Basil Brush, along with live action shows from Beauty and the BeastFrozen’s Anna & ElsaMoanaRapunzel and Flynn, and The Minions.
Roll up, roll up. The circus is in town and they want you! Juggling, plate spinning, diablo throwing, stilt walking – have fun whilst learning all the skills required to be the next great circus performer in the Circus Skills Workshop.
Get crafty and put your creative skills to the test with Disney’s Art Attack presenter Lloyd Warbey who will be hosting the Kids Craft Zone with lots of fun activities for everyone to join in with.
There will also be opportunity to meet a range of characters throughout the two-day family festival including Darth Vader and StormtroopersIronmanThe Incredible Hulk, The A-Team’s Mr T and many more in the Kids Zone
The Sports Zone will be host to a huge selection of sports activities to have a go at and get the adrenaline pumping. With everything on offer from SNAG golf andarchery, to rugby, cricket and basketball. Try to be the last one standing on the Gladiator podium, or why not battle it out in the sumo wrestling ring. There will be plenty to try and suitable for all levels and abilities.
Music fans will be in for a treat with the Main Stage featuring an amazing selection of top tribute acts paying homage to stars like Ariana Grande, Bruno Mars, Little MixTaylor SwiftJessie J, Katy Perry and many more! PLUS an extra special performance by Warringtonian - and winner of BBC’s The Voice 2017 – Mo Jamil.
FamFest Warrington is a ticketed event. Along with regular ticket prices, there are also upgrade options to VIP, family VIP or weekend tickets.
Ticket entry will give visitors access to Sports ZoneKids Zone and Circus Skills activities, the Basil Brush ShowKids Craft Zone and Character Zone, as well as the main stage tribute artists and shows. Mister Maker & his live shows are also there but only on the Saturday.
There will also be a pay and ride Fun Fair with lots of thrill rides and attractions to enjoy.
Visitors can also visit the Princess Pamper Pavilion where all young festivalgoers can pay to have glitter hair and tattoos done by the Disney princesses.
And there will also be food and drink, including a full licensed bar, and a VIP marquee.

Founder Pete Pinnington said: “I really wanted to create an event that caters for everyone, offering the whole family a fun and memorable day out! FamFest really does have something on offer for everyone – the younger kids will love the live shows like Mister Maker and Basil Brush whilst the older ones can have fun in the Sports Zone. Plus, the Main Stage will have music that appeals to all ages and generations - with the likes of Ariana and Taylor for the kids and Lionel Ritchie, George Michael and Coldplay for Mum and Dad.

“It promises to be an action-packed weekend, tickets are selling fast so get yours now!”

So, grab your deck chairs, pack a picnic and book tickets to Warrington’s premier summer attraction that is the perfect day out for the whole family!

Facebook:       Facebook/famfestwarrington
Twitter:           @famfestevents   

FamFest Warrington
Orford Jubilee Park
Saturday 10 August & Sunday 11 August 2018

All Under 3s Go Free

• Child (3-15yrs) – £15 (inc fees)
• VIP Child (3-15yrs) - £25 (inc fees)
• Adult £30 (inc fees)
• VIP Adult - £60 (inc fees)
• Family (x2 Adult/x2 Child 3-15yrs) £70 (inc fees)  
• VIP Family (2 Adult/2 Child 3-15yrs) - £100 (inc fees)

• Child (3-15yrs) – £25 (inc fees)
• VIP Child (3-15yrs) - £35 (inc fees)
• Adult £50 (inc fees)
• VIP Adult - £70 (inc fees)
• Family (x2 Adult/x2 Child 3-15yrs) £120 (inc fees)  
• VIP Family (2 Adult/2 Child 3-15yrs) - £150 (inc fees)

Parking is £11 for one day or £22 for the weekend. Parking should be booked in advance as there will be no pay-on-the-day parking available.