Friday, 29 May 2020

NEWS: New dates for hit musical RENT at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

Hope Mill Theatre announces rescheduled dates for
revival of RENT plus full creative team

It will run Friday 30th October to Sunday 13th December 2020

Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester has announced rescheduled dates for its production of RENT, plus full creative team.

Due to the current Coronavirus outbreak, the venue has been closed since 17th March and has had to cancel or postpone all scheduled productions until further notice.

RENT, directed by Luke Sheppard, was due to open in July, with rehearsals beginning in June, however the musical will now open on Friday 30th October and run until Sunday 13th December 2020.

The venue has taken the decision to reschedule the run of RENT should they be able to open later this year, which they hope to be able to do.

All audience members who have already booked for the run of RENT have been contacted about exchanging tickets and refunds. 

Hope Mill Theatre would like to make it clear that it will only open If it is safe to do so and will comply with any government regulations given to venues. The venue will continue to review the situation as it develops.

William Whelton, Executive Director of Hope Mill Theatre, said: “These are extremely difficult and unsettling times for our industry and there is still a lot more clarity needed for venues.

“It is still unknown whether or not we will be able to open later this year, but we are staying hopeful and positive that we will be able to. As such, we must continue to look ahead and make plans. If we can reopen, it is vital that we have content to present – and I know this will be an incredible production.

“We will be making sure our audiences, staff, cast and production team feel safe and confident to be able to attend and work in the venue and we are planning at the moment for every eventuality, including the continuation of social distancing and making sure that all necessary risk assessments have been carried out.

“If we feel at any point that it is not safe or economic to reopen then we will review this decision. It would also be irresponsible for us to not anticipate a further postponement of this production in the current climate.”

Luke Sheppard, Director, said: “When the time is right, we are more committed than ever before to bringing RENT to the Hope Mill Theatre. The strong themes of love and hope that drive the piece have never felt more vital. The production we have planned will be a celebration of what it means to experience live theatre, and I look forward daily to sitting in this amazing space on opening night”

RENT’s creative team has also been announced: Director Luke Sheppard, Choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves, Musical Director Katy Richardson, Set & Costume Designer David Woodhead, LX Designer Howard Hudson, Sound Designer Paul Gatehouse and Casting by Pearson Casting.

Artwork by Feast Creative.

Casting to be announced soon.

Rent is a rock musical with music, lyrics, and book by Jonathan Larson and is loosely based on Puccini's opera La Bohème. It tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists living, loving and working in Manhattan's East Village, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.

The show premiered off Broadway in 1996 before moving to Broadway later the same year. The show has been staged all over the world, including in the West End in 1998 and in 2005 was released as a motion picture. It features hit songs such as RentWithout You, La Vie La Bohème and the iconic Seasons of Love.

RENT was originally produced in New York by New York Theatre Workshop and on Broadway by Jeffrey Seller, Kevin McCollum, Allan S. Gordon and New York Theatre Workshop. Musical Arrangements by Steve Skinner, Music Supervision and Additional Arrangements by Tim Weil, Original Concept/Additional Lyrics Billy Aronson and Dramaturg Lynn Thomson.

Presented by arrangement with Music Theatre International (Europe) Limited.

Twitter: @Hopemilltheatr1
Facebook: Hope Mill Theatre

NEWS: New Fiddler On The Roof film in development.

A new film of 'Fiddler On The Roof' is being made.

The classic is being remade with the Hamilton director overseeing the shoot

A brand new film version of the iconic classic 'Fiddler On The Roof' is in development, according to reports. Revealed last night in Deadline, the film will be directed by Thomas Kail (the original director of Hamilton and director on Fosse/Verdon) with a new screenplay by Steven Levenson (Dear Evan Hansen).

The original stage show, which follows Tevye the milkman, his wife and five daughters as they face oppression in Tsarist Russia, was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein. It won nine Tony Awards including Best Musical after it first premiered in 1964. It went on to be adapted for the silver screen in 1971, directed by Norman Jewison, where it won three Oscars. 

More news to follow when it becomes available. Watch this space.....!

NEWS: The Seagull and A Doll's House will both reopen it has been confirmed.

The Seagull with Emilia Clarke and A Doll's House with Jessica Chastain to be rescheduled

The shows will go ahead in the West End at a later date

Two major West End productions will return once venues reopen, it has been announced.
Jamie Lloyd's productions of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, adapted by Anya Reiss and starring Emilia Clarke and Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, adapted by Frank McGuiness and starring Jessica Chastain, will be presented "as soon as we can get back into the theatre".

Dates and full casts for the shows are to be announced.

Lloyd said today: "This is, of course, an incredibly challenging time for everyone, but we are looking forward to presenting our season to audiences in the future. I'm thrilled that Emilia Clarke and Jessica Chastain will lead The Seagull and A Doll's House as soon as we can get back into the theatre. We also remain committed to offering thousands of £15 and free tickets, together with our unique education work and our exciting new Emerge scheme, as soon as the season reopens."

The director has also confirmed that the Emerge scheme will continue, providing mentorship for aspiring creatives. The company will remain committed to offering 15,000 free tickets for those with limited access to the arts, and 15,000 £15 tickets for under 30s, key workers and those receiving job seeker's allowance and other government benefits.

The Seagull has design by Soutra Gilmour, lighting design by Jackie Shemesh, composition and sound design by George Dennis, costume supervision by Anna Josephs, props supervision by Fahmida Bakht, associate Direction by Jonathan Glew, associate design by Rachel Wingate, and Stuart Burt CDG as casting director.

A Doll's House features design by Gilmour, lighting design by Jon Clark, and composition and sound design by Ben and Max Ringham.

NEWS: Joseph's West End return put back by 12 months.

Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat moves West End run to 2021

The Really Useful Group and Andrew Lloyd-Webber have announced that the planned 2020 run of 'Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat' has been moved by exactly a year to 2021.

The piece will play a 10-week season at The London Palladium until 5 September, with all existing tickets moved to the same seats for next year – all times will remain the same.

Jac Yarrow will reprise the title role of Joseph and Jason Donovan will return to play Pharaoh, after they both performed in the musical last summer in a production that marked 50 years since the piece was first released as a concept album.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, who composed the numbers for the show and owns the venue, said that: "The team and I are working hard behind the scenes to get the world's most beloved theatre The London Palladium open and entertaining audiences this autumn. We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to find a safe route to provide access both backstage and front of house."

Further casting for 2021 is to be announced.

NEWS: A new production of 'The Last Five Years' musical to be produced in isolation and streamed online.

The Last Five Years production to be filmed in isolation and streamed online

A new production of Jason Robert Brown's 'The Last Five Years' will be filmed in isolation and shown over three nights at the end of June online.

The piece will be directed and star Lauren Samuels as Cathy alongside Danny Becker as Jamie. Samuels previously played the part at Chiswick's Tabard Theatre in 2010.

The piece follows the pair's relationship as it falls apart over half a decade and includes numbers such as "Still Hurting".

It will run from 27 to 30 June online at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced at £8.

NEWS: Highly anticipated run of new productuion of Hello Dolly in The West End postponed.

Unfortunatley, the new production of Hello, Dolly! in the West End, starring Imelda Staunton and directed by Dominic Cooke (Follies), has been postponed.

The Jerry Hermanscore is based on Thornton Wilder's 'The Matchmaker', and first debuted on Broadway over 50 years ago.

The story follows the socialite Dolly Levi who tries to find love for herself and everyone she knows, and includes numbers such as "Put On Your Sunday Clothes", "Ribbons Down My Back", "Before the Parade Passes By", "Elegance", "It Only Takes a Moment" and "Hello, Dolly!".

The show still plans to run, but with "new season details and all further information to be announced at a later date".

For fans of Imelda Staunton, news just in that she will star in Seaon 5 of TV's 'The Crown'. 

NEWS: US band Sports release new single, 'Tell You Something' today.

"Tell You Something"

Release date: Friday, May 29th 2020

Airplay Date: Friday, May 29th 2020

Split between Los Angeles and Norman, OK Sports, comprised of Cale Chronister & Christian Theriot, have been refining their infectious, funk-laden electro-pop sound that they first began to craft together in grade school.  The band’s debut LP, Naked All The Time (2015) and it’s follow-up, People Can’t Stop Chillin (2016) delivered a slew of critically-praised singles including: “You Are the Right One,” “Panama,” “Whatever You Want,” and “Someone You’d Rather Be Dating.” The band returned in 2018 with their first full-length album, Everyone’s Invited,  a vibrant twelve-track offering that received acclaim from Pitchfork, Pigeons and Planes, and Ones To Watch, in addition to earning plays on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic and Spotify’s New Indie Mix playlist.
With the release of “Tell You Something” (out MAY 29 - on embargo til then!), the band marks its first new single since 2018.  With more than a year spent writing and recording the single, the result is an experimental and innovative track effortlessly blurs the lines between synth-pop, indie-funk, and psychedelic rock.

The single can be downloaded via the following links....

NEWS: New podcast inspires young people to kickstart career in culture.

LOOKOUT: Creative Careers Podcast
New six-part series invites a host of experts from across the creative industries to inspire young people from diverse backgrounds to kickstart a career in the arts

Insta & Twitter: @LOOKOUTBrighton | #LOOKOUTpodcast | | Trailer
Launching on 3 June, the weekly podcast series aimed at 16-24 year olds will welcome the likes of acclaimed experimental theatre maker Tim Crouch who recently co-wrote BBC 2 hit Don’t Forget the Driverco-founder of independent record label Tru Thoughts, Rob Luis and TV and film 2nd Assistant Director Helen Fraser who has worked on Hellboy and BBC’s Dracula among other projects.
Ranging from Being an Artist With Victoria Melody, to Producing with Ruby Glaskin (executive producer of Milk Presents), listeners can expect to find out more about what goes on behind the scenes and how to get there. Alongside interviews, the podcast will feature music from producer and multi-instrumentalist J-Felix whose eclectic blend of boogie, p-funk, disco and soul has seen him take to the stage as the support act for Hot 8 Brass Band as well as perform a DJ set at Glastonbury.
For the past two years LOOKOUT has worked with young people aged nine to 18 offering mentoring with professional artists, workplace visits, creative industry-led workshops in schools and creative collaborations between artists of all ages. The new podcast will be available via major platforms so young people anywhere will be able to tune in and hear about careers they might not otherwise have considered.
Recognising the boundaries which can prevent young people from choosing the creative industries including financial and social barriers as well as a lack of careers advice and guidance, LOOKOUT: Creative Careers Podcast is the latest strive to open up access to creative opportunities, highlight transferable skills and provide support and encouragement along the way. The series has been made and presented by Ben Lintott, a 19-year-old from Brighton, who was a LOOKOUT mentee last year.
Ben says “Working on the LOOKOUT podcast has helped me develop my skillset in a medium which I had little-to-no experience in beforehand. I am immensely proud of how the podcast has turned out and thful to all those who gave their time, guidance and/or resources to it.”
Louise Blackwell, Charlotte Vivian and James Barton set up LOOKOUT to address a lack of access to arts and the creative industries for young people. The UK Cultural Industries contributed £111.7 billion and 1 in 11 jobs in 2018 (, June 2019) yet due to reduced arts education, parental perception, lack of representation and poor recruitment practices, barriers for young people from diverse backgrounds make it difficult to enter the creative industries.
LOOKOUT Co-Director Louise Blackwell says “Barriers to having a creative career are significant. We think now more than ever it’s important to offer young people confidence and let them know it’s okay to keep pursuing their dreams. We hope this podcast series offers some encouragement to those wondering what to do next.’’
Release schedule:
Weds June 3rd            Freelancing with Rifa Thorpe-Tracy, Rosie Powell and Charlotte Vivian
Mentor and diversity champion Rifa Thorpe-Tracy alongside Brighton based photographer, filmmaker and editor Rosie Powell speak to LOOKOUT co-director Charlotte Vivian.

Weds June 10th           Film & TV with Helen Fraser
2nd Assistant Director Helen Fraser shares insights from her extensive experience spanning films such as High-Rise (2015) and the small screen, with credits including Victoria (ITV, 2016) and Dracula (BBC, 2019).

Weds June 17th           Music with Bobby Brown and Rob Luis
Rob Luis co-founded record label Tru Thoughts in Brighton in 1999 which has since expanded to include a sister office in LA and released over 120 albums ranging from dub and hip hop through to folk and soul. Manager Bobby Brown has worked with artists including Elli Inrgram, overseeing major publishing and record deals and collaborations with artists including Chase and Status, Will Heard & Jordan Rake. He currently looks after rap & production duo Frankie Stew & Harvey Gunn who had two sold-out UK tours in 2019.                 

Weds 24th June           Being an artist with Victoria Melody
Award-winning British artist Victoria Melody has a background in fine art and makes theatrical shows, performances and films mainly focusing on Britain’s pastimes, passions and tribes.       

Weds 1st July              Theatre with Tim Crouch and Louise Blackwell
Tim Crouch is an experimental theatre maker, writer and director whose work has toured extensively nationally and internationally. He has collaborated with venues including the Royal Court Theatre, National Theatre and Traverse Theatre and recently co-wrote BBC 2 hit TV series Don’t Forget the Driver. In this episode, Tim will discuss his career with LOOKOUT’s Louise Blackwell, an experienced theatre producer and facilitator.

Weds 9th July              Producing with Ruby Glaskin
Ruby Glaskin in an independent producer and co-director of Milk Presents, who had a hit show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2015 with Joan, which has since toured extensively. Ruby’s experience as a producer spans theatre, dance and live art.

The podcast series is supported by Propellernet and funded by Arts Council England via National Lottery, Brighton & Hove City Council, Sussex Community Foundation and the Chalk Cliff Trust.

NEWS: Clown Funeral turn to radio plays after cancelled tour

Theatre Company Clown Funeral Turn To Radio Plays After Cancelled Tour Dates

This summer West-Midlands based theatre company Clown Funeral were due to continue the national tour of their new show A Pattern of Bad Behaviour after initial success at London’s VAULT Festival and Worcester University. 

Following the closure of theatres due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the rest of the tour dates have been postponed. In the meantime, the company have made their back catalogue of shows available to stream for free on the company's Youtube channel. So far 2017’s The Murderer has been viewed over 3000 times. They’ve also produced an online playwriting workshop in collaboration with Pegasus Theatre in Oxford. Left Luggage is the latest way the company is keeping connected with each other and their audiences during these stressful times, as well as providing an exciting challenge to work in a new medium. 

Left Luggage is a series of new radio plays published as a weekly podcast. An anthology-style series, each episode is self-contained in its own strange and exciting world where anything can happen. Using the company’s signature style of exploring the human corners of inhuman worlds, stories range from the chaotic misadventures of a frog named Alan to a post-apocalyptic cookout in the last restaurant on earth. Recorded remotely from the performer’s respective homes, the podcast has been produced, edited and voiced as a collaborative effort among all seven members of the company. 

“We’re not letting lockdown dampen our creativity, we’re turning the disappointment of cancelled shows into the opportunity to work in a brand new format” - Sam Thorogood, Actor. 

New episodes are released every Wednesday and are accessible via the podcast hosting platform Anchor and on streaming service Spotify. The show is currently being distributed to other podcasting platforms and will be available elsewhere shortly. The first 3 episodes are available now, with the fourth episode The Narrator available on May 27th.

NEWS: Lighthouse writer celebrates birdsong in lockdown poem. - The Lighthouse, Poole.

Lighthouse writer celebrates birdsong in lockdown poem  
Inspired by the return of birdsong as a consequence of lockdown, Lighthouse writer-in-residence Jack Thacker has written and recorded a new poem, The Night Office. 
The piece represents what happens when the nightingale’s song is slowed down to suit the iconic bird’s metabolism. 
“This is time, if you like, as experienced by the nightingale,” says Jack in his introduction. 
“If the lockdown has taught me anything it is that under the right circumstances, slowing down can be an opening up – I think it certainly improves our ability to listen.” 
Since September, Jack has been involving himself in all aspects of life at Lighthouse and responding to what he has heard and seen, publishing his work through the writer development agency Artfulscribe as part of the DO: Write literature development project in Dorset, supported by Arts Council England. 
That all changed of course with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the closure of all cultural spaces. 
“I’m now the writer-in-absence at Lighthouse,” he notes. “Like many others I’m working from home at the moment and while that has brought many challenges and certainly changed the nature of my work it has reminded me of the presence of birds and birdsong in our lives.  
“In the spirit of that small upside to the lockdown I’ve recorded a poem about that master of birdsong, the nightingale, the bird that sings in the middle of the night and the namesake of the new hospitals that sprang up around the country.” 
Jack’s poems have also appeared in numerous online and print magazines including PN Review, Stand and The Clearing, as well as on BBC Radio 4. He recently completed a PhD on contemporary poetry at the Universities of Bristol and Exeter and now teaches English at Bristol. 
See Jack reading The Night Office on YouTube. 

THEATRE REVIEW: It Is Easy To Be Dead - Trafalgar Studios, London.

It can sometimes be easy to forget the real people behind all the statistics and numbers. Charles Sorley was killed in action when he was just twenty years old. With VE Day having just passed not so long ago, it is important to remember the times of the devastating World Wars and keep the memory of soldiers alive.

This drama was written by Neil McPherson and directed by Max Key. The play told the tragic story of Aberdeen born, Charles Hamilton Sorley who was killed in action during the First World War. Sorley was studying in Germany when the war commenced and was temporarily imprisoned as an enemy alien. He was one of the first to join the army in 1914. His letters and poems were only what his parents had left to remember him by. Back then, there wasn’t the instant and technological communication we have now. Borrowing the words of Sorley’s vivid writings and combining this with songs from the period, “It Is Easy To Be Dead” was a theatrical biography of his brief life filled with hope, joy, and potential for the future. A personal timeline cut short by the futility and horrors of war.

The cast, in order of appearance were: Elizabeth Rossiter as the Pianist, Hugh Benson as the Singer, Tom Marshall played the father called William, Jenny Lee portrayed the mother named Janet, and Charles was played by Alexander Knox. Knox’s performance as Charles Sorley brought out his youthful sense of adventure with a subtle naivety. This characterisation was rather repetitive though throughout the first half. The other aspects to Sorley’s personality were revealed later in the second half when he was thrown right into battle as “cannon fodder” in the trenches. Another side to Sorley was also shown in one scene when Sorley interacted with his parents, William and Janet. It was clear that the two men refused to display too much emotion and maintain the British “stiff upper lip”. Most of the time, Knox broke the fourth wall and narrated the story as Sorley, communicating the facts and events that took place. But, all this left more to be desired regarding further exploration of the personal relationship with his parents and the nature of his friendships with fellow comrades.

On the other hand, I liked how McPherson played with the presentation of the poetry and letters. In addition, Key had acknowledged the small size of the set and the intimacy of the auditorium and used that to his advantage. Rather than attempting to re-create the vast scale of a terrifying and ear-splitting battlefield, Key placed an emphasis on the visual and auditory production elements to transport us to No Man’s Land in our imaginations. I couldn’t experience the intimacy of the space myself because I was watching this on YouTube, however I could only imagine this would have enhanced the experience, perhaps making it more immersive. The close proximity of Sorley to his mother and father onstage, despite being in two contrasting locations, really hit home the brutal reality of the separation and constant worrying. On a separate note, the filming of the production could have been smoother, at one point the camera panned to the right rather haphazardly.

Designer, Phil Lindley had constructed a cosy Study Room set full of little details completing the World War One period aesthetic. The set included: a desk, a book shelf with precariously stacked books, and a stained glass window. It was gorgeously lit with nuanced, bright, and naturalistic lighting but expectedly everything was darker in the second half. This was when Rob Mills’ video designs and projection could, quite literally, have the time to shine when the war time footage was projected; showing troops marching and bombs exploding. “Pack Up Your Troubles” is a catchy and classic war time song which appropriately featured mid-way through. Sound Designer, Nathan Hamilton did a tremendous job of recreating the petrifying and cacophonous sounds of war.

In conclusion: “It Is Easy To Be Dead” was educational, perceptive, and well done. This production is ideal for anyone studying History or English Literature. It was a story about growing up, experiencing traumatic times, and asking ourselves: “Why did they have to die?”

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 37/5/20

Thursday, 28 May 2020

ONLINE CONCERT REVIEW: The Barn Presents: The Music Of Finn Anderson. - The Barn Theatre, Cirencester.

Established in 2018, The Barn Theatre in Cirencester has been entertaining the masses throughout the lockdown and predicts a loss of £250,000 as a result of its, hopefully, temporary closure. With shows streamed online, since fairly early in the lockdown, they have recently started streaming concerts to celebrate the work of British composers of Musical Theatre, as part of the ‘Behind The Barn Door’ series and have been raising donations through their #SaveOurBarn campaign. This time in The Music of,it was composer-singer-songwriter, Finn Anderson.

First, whilst the concert was great, with great variety and diversity, I was slightly aggravated by the platform as, throughout the hour-long concert, I was subjected to adverts 12 times! Might I suggest that they consider options. Apologies if it is something at my end but I don’t think it is as this hasn’t happened to this excess on other streams. Nonetheless, the concept is great and the set up of the video is of good quality and well-thought out. It is a shame we don’t get to hear from all of the performers in interview form but it worked. Hosted by The Barn’s Producer, Jamie Chapman Dixon, with Finn Anderson present to discuss his work and how some of the performers felt and interpreted the songs we watched them perform, as prerecorded clips, we gleamed insight into his writing style, inspiration and how the performers have been coping with lockdown.

Dixon had come across Anderson in 2013 when he was putting on/had put on a show called ‘Streets’, which we hear a song from later in the stream. First to sing however was Rebecca Jayne Davies (whose credits include 'Half A Sixpence' and 'Jersey Boys') who had randomly met Anderson backstage in The Barn’s wardrobe department during a run of 'Daddy Long Legs', before they worked together there straight afterwards for 'A Christmas Carol'. Whilst researching him, she came across music from ‘Islands’ which he disclosed has an album-in-progress. Whilst discussion covered a song called ‘Hitchcock’, which is the only piece of the stream that is not from a musical, a song of heart-break, that piece was the second piece to be performed, by Nicholas McLean. Davies’s song was ‘Taking On The Government’ from Finn’s musical about an amateur allotment group who are against the local council’s plans to regenerate the area and develop the land - as she says: “so perfectly British”. It is performed in a well-spoken tone and passionate, it wouldn’t be out of place in a Calendar Girls-style show and is vaguely erotic (ish) if that’s how you interpret fertile ground and plenty of room to grow (maybe, just me and my friendship circle).

As mentioned, Nicholas McLean (whose experience includes 'Wicked', 'Avenue Q' and 'The Book Of Mormon') was next with ‘Hitchcock’. Played out like a film, the piece states that the plot can’t be twisted like a Hitchcock film as it's (about) real life. Next was Claire-Mare Hall (who has been in 'The Grinning Man', 'The Wicker Husband') with ‘Use To Say’ from Anderson’s 'A Mother’s Son', an upbeat duet with Rosalind Ford ('Once', 'The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button' and The Barn’s production of 'Just So') - as Nicky Evans was ill - but, as it was recorded, I did wonder whether Hall had to lip sync along to herself but it was a nice performance. Christina Bianco then sang ‘Sophie’s Apocalypse’ - a very apt piece considering the current pandemic. She really got into the part and, apparently, if there world were to end, cynic Sophie would indulge in hot chocolate with everything on it, and a muffin, as opposed to her usual skinny latte and an apple.

Next was Emmanuel Kojo ('Show Boat', 'Oklahoma', 'Girl From The North Country') who sang ‘Garden In My Mind’ from the aforementioned allotment musical which now features rehabilitated ex-offender Neil who finds solace in gardening to help his mental health. Incidentally, Kojo has found the lockdown a godsend as he has found time to reflect and refocus and think about himself and gather his thoughts. Brienne Keller ('Spring Awakening') gave us her rendition of ‘Chip Vn’ from 'The Bow Maker', which features explicit language, as we are made aware of prior to listening, and is around Lara and her experience of nothing going right along with the fact that wood brought from Brazil (hence some Portuguese lyrics) to Scotland is not good enough. Oliver Ormston (who was in 'Back To The Future' as it premiered its tour literally the day before the lockdown started, and has also been in 'The Addams Family' and 'The Book Of Mormon') introduced and performed ‘Snow Storm’ which was also included in Anderson’s musical 'A Mother’s Son', which Anderson was in Chicago prepping for a production of at the start of the lockdown. Sadly the song was cut from the show but Ormston gives a beautiful performance of it, before ‘Strictly Come Dancing' winner Joanne Clifton ('The Rocky Horror Show', 'Flashdance') sings ‘Flick The Switch’ from Finn’s first solo album, which he recorded when he was just 16.

Rising star and Drama School student Ella Young was discovered by Dixon on Twitter and was honoured to duet with Olivier-award-winner Matt Henry MBE for ‘300 Feet’, a love song from Anderson’s 2013 production of 'Streets', set on a roof top, 300 feet in the air, where two lovers are pursuing a secret relationship and both have conflicting views on how/whether to progress to the next step. Finally, we were treated to Danielle Hope (winner of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s search for Dorothy for 'The Wizard Of Oz' and has also been in 'Rock Of Ages', 'White Christmas', 'Les Misérables') who sang ‘Change Of Plan’, where she really got into the character’s head.

I am unsure what order the end ‘credits’ were in and I would have liked all of the cast to be included in the opening ‘holding screen’ but that didn’t distract from the concert which was thoroughly enjoyable. The next concert in this series will be The Music of  'Loserville' writer, Elliot Davis.

Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 26/5/20

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

PODCAST REVIEW: The Coliseum's Mini-Podcast: Episode 2: Off Out - The Coliseum Theatre, Oldham.

Oldham Coliseum's second podcast installment came in the form of three monologues written for a competition hosted by the Coliseum's Learning And Engagement team to find local writers under 21 who could be inspired by the words "off out" - ie: the once-daily trip out of our homes during the lockdown. The Coliseum received many submissions but only three were chosen to be recorded.

The first was 'Like Dad, Like Duck' by Joe Walsh, and performed by Jake Talbot. Here a youth revisits a small lake that he hasn't visited since his dad died. He talks to the duck about his situation, about how he and his mum are coping. It's frank, honest, open and sympathetic, with a touch of humour in there too.

The second monologues was 'A 60 Minute Adventure' by Adele Barnes, and read by Natasha Davidson. For me this was the most compelling and poignant of the three. There was a directness in here that hit me quite hard to be honest. It was difficult for me to finish listening to it due to a rather large lump in my throat and a whelling up of my eyes. In this story, the schoolgirl turns right from her house instead of left. She always turns left, everything is left. But today she turned right and found a tree up which she climbed and surveyed the area around her. There is a beautiful line towards the end saying how she now was able to see things differently. By keeping her distance, she has become closer.

Finally it was 'A Birthday In Quarantine' by Freya Williams, and performed by Sona Nisa. Here the protagonist bemoans that she is unable to go out and do things with her friends, that even the act of celebrating her best friend's birthday means delivering a present to her dooorstep and chatting to her two meters' apart.

The podcast finished with 8 short jokes read by 8 people who have worked at The Coliseum in recent times.

Whilst The Coliseum's doors remian closed, these podcasts are a way of still bringing quality theatre to us, and we all hope that we will be able to return to the theatres again soon. In the meantime however, in order to try an keep the cogs turning, theatres would welcome any donations you are able to give. You'll find details of how to do this on The Oldham Coliseum's website.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 26/5/20

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: Anno Domino (radio version) - The Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.

Recently we have been reminded that in similar trying times in history some of the world’s greatest artists have produced masterpieces, including Shakespeare, who in quarantine wrote 'King Lear'; and Edward Munch, who during the 1918 influenza pandemic produced several paintings, including a much famed self-portrait. Now during lockdown in a bid to raise much needed funds for his beloved theatre in Scarborough, the Stephen Joseph, celebrated director and playwright, Alan Ayckbourn has written and made an audio recording of a new play, which he also performs in with his wife, actress Heather Stoney.

In the play, Ayckbourn and Stoney play four characters each, with an age range of 18 to mid-70s. It is the first time that they have acted together since Ayckbourn’s last appearance on a professional stage, in William Gibson’s two-hander 'Two For The Seesaw' at the Rotherham Civic Theatre in 1964. Since then Ayckbourn has written numerous plays becoming one of the world’s most performed and prolific living playwrights.

'Anno Domino' looks at the break-up of a long-established marriage and the effect that this has on family and friends. Listening to the play is a bit like putting on a CD of Ayckbourn’s Greatest Hits. The characters are instantly familiar from many of his previous plays, especially 'Absurd Person Singular', 'Bedroom Farce' and 'Taking Steps'. In Anno Domino, Ayckbourn creates situations that will be recognisable to many who know his work, during the course of the play his characters discuss extra marital affairs, lock themselves in outdoor sheds and respond in differing ways to varying degrees of adversity. The play begins with everyone’s golden couple, Sam and Millie preparing to host a party to celebrate their Silver Wedding Anniversary. In the lead up to the event, Sam’s elderly father Ben, (by far Ayckbourn’s best performance in the play), declares, “After the first 25 years, you grit your teeth and then stagger on to the finish line.” At the party Sam and Millie drop an enormous bombshell announcing that they are splitting up. Sam’s younger sister and parents struggle to make sense of this and the rest of the play focuses on how they cope with the repercussions it has on their own lives and those around them.

At two hours long, the play could do with some judicious editing, some scenes go on for a little bit longer than they need to and I am sure that if this play was adapted for the stage Ayckbourn would put this right. Putting this quibble aside the play is a real joy to listen to and the performances of Ayckbourn and Stoney are a delicious treat. Hopefully after this return to professional acting after a gap of almost 60 years, Ayckbourn might be persuaded to record other parts that he has created, in particular it would be marvellous to listen to him and Stoney perform some of his marathon play cycle for two actors, 'Intimate Exchanges'. Recorded in Ayckbourn and Stoney’s own home, Paul Steer’s sound mix, given present day restrictions and limitations is first-rate. 'Anno Domino' may not be one of Ayckbourn’s greatest plays, but it has a lot in it, including his customary wit and frankness that will please his many admirers. 

'Anno Domino' is available as an audio recording exclusively on the SJT’s website, from 25 May to 25 June. The recording is free to listen to however subscribers are kindly requested to make a donation to support the theatre through the current crisis.

Reviewer - Richard Hall

on - 25/5/20

Monday, 25 May 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: Magnificat - online filming The Chorus Of Women, Poland.

There is nowhere I can find where it might say the location of the performance in this recording, but since the company are based in Warsaw, Poland, I can only assume it to have taken place in a local theatre.

The Chorus Of Women (or in Polish, Chor Kobiet) are a group of female performers of all ages and backgrounds who come together under Marta Gornicka's direction and tutelage to perform her self-devised choral speaking episodes.

This one, Magnificat, is a 36 minute rant exploring (for 'exploring' read 'denouncing') the Catholic Church's claims over the bodies and fates of women. Gornicka has taken texts from multifarious sources including The Bible, Euripides' The Bacchae, Polish poets, The Liturgy, newspaper articles, sacred music, pop culture and recipes! and turned the whole into a piece of performance choral speaking. A cocophony of rythmic words, sound and movement empowering women, gloryfying feminism, and attacking Catholicism all in one fell swoop.

It's angry, it's powerful, it's from the heart. Starting with a guttral whisper, these 25 women speak in unison, in groups, individually, they move as one in military precision, and sometimes they even sing too, and when they do their voices are pure, clear and harmonic.

Directed live whilst they are performing is Marta Gornicka, making the whole seem either like an orchestra with a conductor, or a rehearsal. The rehearsal idea is further enhanced by their costumes. All of them wear dressed-down, comfy rehearsal gear (t-shirts and jean shorts or similar) but all in different shades of blue. And they are all barefoot. I am uncertain what message this idea of costuming was meant to represent: individualism or conformism; ordinary or unique. But it looked ragged.

The performance however was not ragged, but a polished and skilful presentation which grabbed you by the throat and made you stay and listen. Using ideas of plainchants and responses from the Catholic mass, as well as choral snippets putting a contemporary slant on them all; this whiuspering, wailing, screaming, singing, non-stop, full-force declamation won't let you exhale until they have finished telling you what they intended telling you!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 24/5/20

ONLINE CONCERT REVIEW: The COLEction - The Arden School Of Theatre, Manchester

A two-part online concert recorded in isolation / lockdown by final year students on the MA Musical Theatre course at The Arden School Of Theatre in Manchester. The concert, cleverly called 'The COLEction' celebrated two of American Musical Theatre's greatest names. In the first half it was the music of Cole Porter, and the second, Cy Coleman.

The students were self recorded via their computers or mobiles in their own homes and had piano backing tracks to sing along to. Obviously the sound quality of such a concert is not going to be optimal (ditto lighting, costuming etc), and singing in an empty room with no atmosphere is absolutely not the easiest thing to do. I take my hat off to all of them for being able to cope with such things seemingly so easily.

For each song the students had been given a short (or in some cases not so short) dialogue lead-in to their number, which added greatly to the characterisation and placing of the song, although I feel of further benefit to the viewer, naming the Musical from which the song was taken would have been a nice idea. Fortunately there were only 3 songs in the whole concert which were new to me and couldn't place the Musical, but others would not have been so fortunate / knowledgeable.

Under Ian Good's direction and Robert Purves's musical tutelage (perhaps also his piano playing), these songs and characters were brought nicely to life, despite the circumstantial drawbacks. The first half (Cole Porter) started well with 'Why Can't You Behave' (Kiss Me Kate) sung by Lucy Appleyard, followed by the first of the three songs which stumped me. This was a fine song and given a lovely interpretation by Megan Smart. It was 'Primitive Man' from 'Fifty Million Frenchmen'.  There were 13 Porter songs in all, so I'll simply mention my 3 favourites, which were 'So In Love' (Alessia Ragno), 'Goodbye Little Dream Goodbye' (Rebecca Crookson), and 'The Right Guy' - the second song I had never heard before! (Megan Holland). Also in this selection they performed a song which I had only ever heard previously sung by a female, 'Be Like The Bluebird' given a lovely comedy run for its money by Ryan Davenport, and my all-time favourite Cole Porter song; 'Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye' sung by Olivia Hargreaves.

In the second act we moved over to the music of Cy Coleman (and no, before you ask, my all-time favourite Coleman song was not included sadly.. it's 'The Colours Of My Life parts 1 and 2' from Barnum). Again 13 songs, but this time 14 singers as we had one duet. Again, here are my favourite three from this section: 'Baby Dream Your Dream' (Sweet Charity) sung by Tilly Smith and Isabella Eades-Jones, 'Nobody Does It Like Me' (Seesaw) sung by Sarah Bailey, and 'Never' (On The Twentieth Century), sung by Megan Davies-Truin. The whole evening was nicely rounded off by another excellent performer (channelling Bernadette Peters) singing 'Lost And Found' from 'City Of Angels', (Kathryn Moon).

A very difficult ask under trying circumstances, excellently acheived. Thanks for keeping us all entertained in lockdown, and hope to see you all soon.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 24/5/20 

RADIO PLAY REVIEW: Home by The Arden, Manchester

The play - or perhaps more accurately a collection of soundbites - is an ode to the city of Manchester. Mostly the play pays tribute to the vistims of the 2017 Arena bombing, but also embraces the many other aspects of the city which have, in the writers' thoughts, brought about the greatness not just of the bricks and mortar but the spirit and perspicacity of those who call this city their home.

The play is about 55 minutes long, and is a series of vignettes; some are diary entries, some poems, whilst others are monologues or mini-plays. The content was written and performed by 2nd year students on the MA Acting course at Manchester's Arden School Of Theatre. The narratives contained within are based on real events, and many are very heartfelt. I would be lying if I were to deny having tears in my eyes at several points during my listening. The whole was directed by Rachel Austin.

The majority of the narratives concern themselves with May 2017, and the terrorist attack on the audience leaving the Ariana Grande concert. These tales are told from all perspectives; from those directly involved, to friends of those who died, to emergency service workers, to other muslims who are hated because of this, but all send a message of hope, renewal, and a stronger more unified community.

Other stories touch upon the many great people to have come from Manchester, and their impact on the world. Emmeline Pankhurst, Alan Turing etc. as well as explaining, to any non Mancs out there, the significance of and meaning behind Manchester's iconic bee symbol.

What does Manchester mean to you? It's home.

Evocatively and sympathetically performed and edited. A worthy listen.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 24/5/20

THEATRE REVIEW: Eclipse by Philip Ridely - online live streaming

After last week's short 2 minute, one line play, we have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, with this week's offering. 'Eclipse' is a 56 minute monologue. The longest and most detailed to date. We were also treated to some different camera angles, a more fitting and dressed set, and the perfect costume too. Perhaps the easing of lockdown restrictions has made the filming of this particular play a little easier. What wasn't easier however was the amount of acting and directing involved to bring this piece to performance level.

I've watched it twice now, and it is incredible. Not only is Philip Ridley a master story-teller (especially in matters macabre and offbeat) but a perfect mini-team of Wiebke Green (director) and actor Mike Evans made this long and static tale so eloquent and eminently watchable.

The whole starts with an ominous ticking - I thought at first perhaps a metronome, but changed my decision to a clock after hearing the piece, and it all ends with that same sound.. a very clever and almost imperceptible way of making his story just a small part of the 'continuum'.

The story - and oh boy what a captivating story it was too - concerned an ex-teacher who had lost his husband to 'the virus' and was taking up board and lodgings in an establishment on a street which looked like "the arse-end of the universe". Times have changed since 'the virus'. People are now living in the New World Order. The old one being before children and young people started going blind in their thousands and dying of 'the virus'; the old one was before the cull of the elderly, in fact anyone over 70; the biblical alloted time-span. People are now more feral, more hungry, times have changed.

He takes up residence in this boarding house, despite it being 'hexed'. The Roman Catholic church has always had a lot to answer for, and here we see that even in this New World Order, they are even more greedy and conniving, preying on the vulnerable etc. However, in order for the 'hex' to be removed from the property, the landlord enters into a contract with the Catholic Church for them to perform a temporary exorcism which will last for 70 days. He has to pay for this of course, and if, at the end of these 70 days he is unable to pay the total amount, plus a 50% surcharge!, he must forfeit the entire property and be left to the mercies of the angry and baying mob!

There's a deus ex machina awaiting for them though, and the macabre and chilling ending is quite fitting under the circumstances of the narrative.

Evans proved himself to be a consumate and sympathetic actor with a lovely and quite charming story-telling ability. The whole put me in mind of Roald Dahl's Tales Of The Unexpected, a most excellent series of adult Jackanory stories on our TVs some years' ago. Of course we never do get to know what 'the virus' was, although a very deliberate (or if accidental, then unintentionally clever) nod was given early on in the line, "bathed in a corona of candlelight".

Superbly tight direction (even down to the length of time it was possible to watch another man enjoy eating a biscuit!) and fine and nuanced acting. Absolutely brilliant! Bravo!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 24/5/20

Sunday, 24 May 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: Singin' For Engerland - Live online via Zoom

In the wake of lockdown, theatre has continued to entertain us, but this time from the comfort of our own homes. I have had the privilege throughout lockdown of watching a few pre-recorded theatre performances. After all, how would we cope cooped up inside for this long otherwise? But Up ‘Ere Productions brings us something completely different and more risky, a live theatre performance via Zoom. This is the first performance in a weekly series from Up ‘Ere Productions, entitled #WeeklyWatch, showing every Sunday. The money raised from this new and experimental style of theatre will go towards Oldham Coliseum, helping to keep theatre alive.

As it’s the end of Mental Health Awareness Week, the production began with a spoken word performance by Matt Concannon, a regular collaborator with Up ‘Ere Productions, with his piece entitled ‘Bubbles’. As always, Concannon’s work is poetic and almost mesmerising. One line in particular stood out to me; ‘The bubbles that used to excite me have now become bubbles of anxiety’. A powerful performance.

This was followed by the main feature. ‘Singin’ for England’ is a play from Benjamin Peel, tackling the themes of homelessness and addiction, in which we meet a young, homeless couple at a crossroads in their lives. Considering all four actors rehearsed and performed only via Zoom, never meeting in person, the chemistry between them was strong and their relationships believable. All four actors seemed perfectly cast, with Kyle Rowe as ‘Karl’, Hannah Rose Hughes as ‘Sheree’, Paddy Stafford as ‘Harley’ and Stacey Harcourt as ‘Magda’. Peel’s writing here also aided in this, taking the characters on a journey with his story-telling abilities. Peel’s writing was naturalistic with elements of surrealism and poetry. A well written play that has its viewers invested in the protagonists in the first few minutes.

Directed by John O’Neill and assisted by Jordi Williams, this must not have been an easy task. To successfully direct a new form of theatre in which the actors have a limited playing space and next to no interaction with one another is a feat in itself. However, O’Neill and Williams managed to make it work. The actors’ eye-lines and limited use of props and costume cleverly revealed enough about the characters. We were taken on an emotional journey throughout the performance.

The blending of film and theatre here via the Zoom call took a few minutes to get used to, but was a great new performance platform in which short scenes worked well and quick scene changes were possible. This success is greatly due to O’Neill who worked all of the tech for the live show, muting and unmuting actors where necessary. The attention to detail only added to the performance, such as how each actor’s Zoom name had been changed to their characters’ names. There was a feeling here amongst the viewers of eavesdropping on private and important conversations.

Although there were a few lengthy pauses and some moments of overlapping, the performance as a whole ran incredibly smoothly. This was probably in part due to the ensemble work required to pull off such a feat. I urge you to tune in next week and donate if you can. Let’s help keep theatre alive. After all, when else can you watch live theatre in your pyjamas with a takeaway on your lap?

Reviewer - Megan Relph

on - 24/5/20