Sunday, 16 June 2019

MUSIC REVIEW: The International Roots Orchestra and Amani Creatives' Choir Concert - HOME, Manchester.

As part of the Horizons Festival at Home, Manchester, which aims to celebrate the contributions that refugees make to the cultural, political, social and economic life of the UK, there was a double bill music event featuring the Amani Creatives' Choir, based in Moston, and the Manchester International Roots Orchestra.

The Amani Creatives started off the evening with a collection of songs from different parts of the world and sung in different languages, representing the members of the choir. These were really engaging arrangements of folk songs with some echoes of the lyrics in English, which helped the audience to connect with the music but really you could have listened to them sing in any language and understood the beauty of the emotion. There were a few soloists who stood out, and the second song in particular had a fantastic unison trio with voices that blended really nicely. Although Amani Creatives focus on celebrating the music traditions of Africa, this particular song included a section in Syrian sung by a Syrian refugee who was simply superb.

There were no programme notes for this so unfortunately I cannot give the soloists the credit they were due – but each soloist had something different to contribute to the songs not only in the unique quality of their voice, but also the connection to the songs they were singing. The choir sang around six songs and while some of the songs were fun and uplifting, the slower songs had warmth but still had a lift to them.

The choir leader and creative producer for the ensemble, Emmanuela Yogolelo, was firmly in control – it all sounded so natural and effortless, but really there was a complexity that wasn’t immediately obvious, particularly in structuring these songs. While it was obvious to the eye that Yogolelo is a natural musical director, it was clear also that she is a skilled arranger and crafter of songs in African traditional styles.

The choir was accompanied by a three piece band – keyboard, bass guitar and drums. These musicians were fantastically talented and played quite complex rhythmic and harmonic elements in great support of the choir. Their moments of instrumental improvisations were well thought out and crafted.

This choir is a community choir that serves to display the fantastic energy and richness of African traditional singing, it clearly is something very important to all of the members of the choir who seemed really proud to be sharing their art with the public and with each other and the audience loved it.

The second half of the concert saw the Manchester International Roots Orchestra perform a rich programme of music – again from different parts of the world reflecting the performers' background. Here we had some fusion of styles and some outright authentic folk songs. There were a few really beautiful songs from the Kurdish tradition with the full band or as a duo with vocals/percussion. These were romantic songs, some with longing and some with humour and the singing style was very impressive covering a wide dynamic range and several vocal techniques. There were also some Roma style songs that were fun and had the audience dancing and taking part. The band itself was a seemingly odd mix of instruments – keyboard, double bass, bassoon, hand drums from different parts of the world, a drum kit and a large lute-like instrument that sounded like an energetic harp – but these contributed to fantastic arrangements of the songs. Many in the audience were familiar with some of these songs and were clearly pleased when this or that one was announced. It must be said that quite a number of people had to be turned away at the door as they hadn’t got a ticket in time and it was sold out. This was no surprise as this is a thoroughly professional band that took us all on a deeply warming journey around the world. Some of the songs were declaimed as poetry in English before being sung. Typical themes were homeland, lost love, fleeing war and hope. In the middle of the performance a slightly nervous guest performer told us about how she had to leave her home and she took with her the lyrics to a song that she really liked. She sang it all the time on her journey and she sang it to us. She wasn’t, she informed us, a singer – it was a beautifully astounding performance. This was not an easy song to sing, but a complex ballad which had a lot of variation and change as it went on and the performer sang this unaccompanied, maintaining her pitch perfectly throughout. It was one of the highlights of the night.

This concert highlighted the humanity of people who have had to leave their homes for a variety of reasons. They shared their sorrow through music, but also their joy, their love and their fun. It also highlighted the sheer wealth and depth of music from many world traditions and brought home how lucky we are as a society to have this richness of culture around us, simply through opening a door to those that need it.

This evening was a celebration and certainly something that each performer should be intensely proud of.

Horizons Festival continues over this week at Home, Manchester and has a variety of talks, cinema, theatre and music events.

Reviewer - Aaron Loughrey
on - 15/6/19

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Taking Steps - Heald Green Theatre, Cheadle. Greater Manchester.

Alan Ayckbourn is renowned for writing laugh-out-loud farces. He is the master playwright of situation comedy. With Taking Steps, it's just one hilarious, escalating problem after another and miraculously the play just about comes to a close. Overall, this amateur production by Heald Green Theatre Company did the play justice.

Tristram, a solicitor who fails to string a sentence together, was sent along to overlook the sale of a grand but deteriorating house. It possessed a scandalous past as it used to be a former brothel - said to be haunted by female ghosts. Roland Crabbe, who knew everything there was to know about buckets, and cunning builder, Leslie Bainbridge, were high-maintenance clients. Unfortunately for Roland, his wife Elizabeth was one step away from leaving him with the assistance of her brother Mark and his deeply unhappy fiancé, Kitty. This play was a mirthful muddle of misapprehensions, misinterpretations, and misunderstandings.

Rani Jackson played the expressive Elizabeth. As her character was a dancer she was appropriately the most over-the-top performer in the ensemble. This made her constant reminders of her job role all the more rib-tickling. Sanjiv Joshi's Mark worked intermittently, but not on the whole. Yes, the character of Mark was meant to be boring and send anyone to sleep (even if what he had to say was actually interesting) but he underplayed it rather than over-performed it. My guess is Joshi interpreted the stage directions too literally - because this was a farce you have to over-do the dullness. During the performance, Joshi broke the golden rule by breaking character to ask the prompt what his line was. It goes without saying you wait for the prompt to prompt you. At least he recovered well.

The clumsy, hopeless, babbling, easily-scared, non-sensical but loveable, Tristram was adeptly portrayed by Charles De Santis. His comic timing and gormless face was great. Think of his Tristram (looks and personality) as a less sophisticated Q from Skyfall. Lee Tipton gave a notable performance as the rather starry-eyed and obtuse builder, Leslie. Paul Reid owned the role of Roland, who was comically full of himself and, similar to Mark, could also send you off to dreamland wittering on about buckets. That's if his high consumption of whisky didn't send him to sleep first. Amy Pullar played the beautiful, broken-hearted Kitty, she brought out the mystery surrounding who she was and her story.

Directed by Dave Carney, he ensured the comedic confusions and entanglements were highlighted to full effect. While the direction and characterisation was similar to what had been done professionally before, the cast and creatives still made the play their own. The walking up and down the stairs idea was whimsical all the way through, although the number of stairs travelled wasn't clear. Giving further constructive criticism, I personally liked how the performance gently lured us into the world of the play at the start, before it became faster in pace. However, the pacing, entrances and exits could have been sharper and faster at times.

Onstage was a realistic set comprised of two bedrooms and one living room, as designed by Carney. It resembled the design of the 2017 production of Taking Steps by Stephen Joseph's Theatre Company. Except tonight's production was not in the round, the staging was end on. The furniture and props were spaced out nicely. While the action within scenes happened in insolation, there were moments where what was said cleverly connected with what was happening in another room. We learnt that while each character lived there separate lives, they were all very much connected. Actions had consequences, which affected everyone.

The Heald Green Theatre is a small and local venue which hosts plays, musicals, and pantomimes annually, as performed by the in-house amateur theatre company. It's a tight-knit creative community of young and old people alike who share a love of theatre and performing. I'll certainly be back to watch future productions and I recommend you visit them too. Thank you to Martin who was on front of house for making me feel welcome. All things considered, Heald Green Theatre Company are making a move in the right direction with Taking Steps: entertaining and funny.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 15/6/19

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: The Vicar Of Dibley - St. Herbert's Parish Centre, Chadderton. Oldham.

A national comedic institution and gem of British TV, 'The Vicar Of Dibley' is an excellent piece of theatre to indulge on, especially in an intimate theatre such as St Herbert’s in Chadderton. The only catch to halt your enjoyment, however, could be that the cast portraying the character parts do not live up to those iconised in the BBC sitcom but, bar a few tweaks, S.H.A.D.E.S do a brilliant job, with Kelly Parker at the helm as vicar Geraldine Granger, made famous by the national treasure that is Dawn French. Parker’s delivery, timing and overall demeanour is perfect for the role, dealing with a mix of personalities that the characters offer.

The set is to be admired and much commended, designed by Billy Holt and Seymour Francis, under the direction of Carole Griffiths, split between three locations used prominently in the TV show: the parish hall committee room, Geraldine’s living room and sitting room of parish council chairman David Horton (Tony Cenci) - who’s portrayal was less the serious and straight-laced man on the small screen, but more matched his excellent leading man of Mr Toad from their last production of The Wind In The Willows the pantomime.

Complete with the ‘theme song’ and hymn ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’, which would have been less monotonous had it been carefully faded rather than bluntly cut off at the start of each scene (admittedly the fader option was used occasionally), it is evident that the team thought carefully about the overall feel of the show, particularly with attention to the wardrobe and costumes emulated the formidable series meticulously. With parish secretary Frank Pickle (Andrew Kirk) and his outing from the closet; Nathan Simpson’s role as parish chair’s son Hugo; Martin Taylor playing vulgar and dirt farmer Owen Newitt; and village simple ‘blonde’ and vicar’s verger Alice, all thoroughly well-executed, along with Jim Pickle (Nick Lowe) whose much-admired stammer was included only in another cast member’s reading of a speech he had written for Alice and Hugo’s ‘wedding’, starring two of the Teletubbies, of course(!). David’s brother Simon Horton also makes an appearance, much to the delight of Geraldine.

With a collective title of ‘Love and Marriage’, the show and evening is split into three parts, depicting the episodes of ‘The Engagement’, Dibley Live (radio show)’ and ‘Love and Marriage’, the final of which was the most random, to say the least, with extra characters that didn’t make sense and tried to build up their part (and teletubbies).

A great night (or week) out, we look forward to their next production, Aladdin, in December.

Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 11/6/19