Friday, 31 August 2018

REVIEW: Oh Man! - Contact Theatre, Manchester @ a secret location!

We were told to meet at the Deli-Lama cafe. Once we were there, we were taken to a secret location to see a performance which doesn't want anyone to reveal what's in it. Consequently, I will write about why I loved this piece of theatre without spoiling it.

Contact Young Company and Hetain Patel have joined forces to create a personal and powerful performance exploring what it means to be a man. The subject of masculinity is such a vast one. However, the focus and strength of this piece lies in the young company's personal perspective on the subject, and in the process demonstrating sheer cleverness and creativity.

After a rather long walk, we looked at an installation before the show began. This of course was in response to the stimulus of masculinity. The installation presented a range of viewpoints and information on the subject from a diverse range of voices and people. It was intriguing, engaging, and insightful. However, the use of post it notes and slips of paper made the presentation look a little messy.

Following on from this, the contemporary, devised performance began. Every single one of the young performers should be so proud of themselves. For their age, they are already giving such mature performances, showing a real understanding and underlying passion for the subject. They switched between playing a role and themselves with clear distinction. They are a youthful, vibrant, and politically charged young company. I love how the piece made you laugh one minute but shocked you the next, especially when something was said or done that just went too far.

On the whole, this piece consistently investigated the notion of toxic masculinity. It is widely defined as a narrow and repressive description of manhood: the noun manhood has connotations with sex, violence, status, and aggression. While it can be argued that all masculinity is toxic because it can inhibit and restrain personal freedom, and what about the societal construct of a gentleman?! Surely this is a positive side to masculinity, which wasn't really explored in the piece. To be a gentleman is to be chivalrous and courteous to others and is therefore a harmless construction. Unless of course it begins to restrict personal expression. I just felt like the piece dwelt on the negative a little too much, surely there are some positives to consider? I admired the piece for looking at masculinity from a woman's positioning too: diversity of voices is important and makes for a more rounded analysis of the subject.

To summarise: Oh Man is a bold, comprehensive, and intelligent look at what it means and what it is to be a man. This piece is not afraid to go into dark places. Brilliantly performed with ardour and spirit by the young company. Congratulations to all.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
On - 3/08/18

REVIEW: Circa Tsuica: Now Or Never - A Big Top outside The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

A travelling French circus company, who live in their own commune in Saint Agil, have perfected their unique art of a Brass Band circus. All the performers are not only circus performers [they were all studying at the Centre International Des Arts Du Cirque and formed not only friendships but their fledgling company at that time] but all are proficient singers and they are play musical instruments - in fact they form their own Oompah Band making the music [almost continuously] at the same time as performing their circus antics.

The show is a delightful and humorous 90 minutes, and the performers [no programme and so unable to credit] are endearing, open and highly skilled. As we enter the tent, we are all personally greeted by one of the cast who will, a la style Europeanne, kiss you on the cheeks and hand you a small glass. The stage is set with two crepe stands and two tables full of small nibbles and juices. It's all free and it's all a part of the show. The audience are invited to help themselves and as we queue (how British) for a French pancake and some French dilutable cordial the brass band strikes up and plays in and around us making us feel just as much a part of this show as the performers themselves. There is no pressure for us to return to our seats quickly, just to stay and enjoy the atmosphere.

Once the majority of audience were seated one of the troupe sang a gypsy like melody accompanied by the rest , and then they started their modern-day clowning. Balancing on bicycles started this sequence. This gave way to an extended audience participation sequence and another vignette about playing music from the carcasses of pigs  (more on both those in a minute!) and then there was some large hoop work, high trapeze, and seesaw acrobatics to finish!

The way in which the troupe engaged and used the audience throughout was wonderful. In fact it was a masterclass in audience manipulation and participation. Audience members were used at different points throughout the show and it was done in the most lovely and unobjectionable of ways.

The section I refer to above was when they used two men, first of all to play a trust game with them, and then to become the King and Queen in a country festival procession using more audience members - this time young children - to pull the float round the stage. The company also used members from a local band to play with them in both this section and a couple of others [again - no programme - no idea which band].

The one section which personally I hated, it seemed in rather bad taste and was certainly not suitable for young children was the extended sketch which saw a herd of pigs rounded up and put into a cage, where they died, and were brutally dragged out and given musical instruments. The 'mafia' style killers (wearing sunglasses) then proceeded to stand on the pigs or manipulate their limbs in order for them to hit the drum or blow air into the brass instrument they had been given. Admittedly it was clever, but it was also macabre and out of tune with the rest of the show.

Whilst I am on the subject; the show is advertised as being suitable for all ages. I would strongly disagree with this sentiment. The band is very loud, and they do stand right next to you at times and so the noise levels can be just too much for some - especially the banging of a big bass drum. Further, there is a lot of loving, and simulated sex going on in this show too. Part of their bicycle balancing act was showing couples have simulated oral and actual sex, there was a lesbian kiss on the high trapeze, and we saw too much underwear from both male and female participants. Highly inappropriate for the young I have to say. Had it been advertised as 18+ or even PG then it would have been OK.

From my adult perspective however, I was watching a humorous and highly skilled professionally put together piece of physical entertainment. The troupe's talents and abilities are unquestionable and the show itself was a sheer delight. I absolutely loved it, but I am an adult, watching an adult circus!

The final leap across the podium from the seesaw was incredible, and to be so up-close and personal with the performers - to be able to see their beads of sweat and interact wit them was something that rarely if ever happens in theatre and this was exciting.

I would absolutely recommend Circa Tsuica [Romanian for 'brandy' apparently!] - they are amazing! - but be warned, parental guidance is absolutely necessary!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 30/8/18

REVIEW: Les Miserables - Theatre Royal, Wakefield

After seeing Wakefield Youth Music Theatre’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar last year, I have been eagerly awaiting their 2018 production of my all-time favourite musical - Les Misérables. I’m such a super fan of the show (having seen some 30+ times in the West End), I’m often anxious about seeing amateur productions in case it taints my memories of this phenomenal musical. However I knew this production would live up to the previous high standards seen in Jesus Christ Superstar last year and I certainly was not disappointed.

The story most certainly isn’t a jolly one (as the title suggests!) and has some challenging themes, however the young cast (aged just 9-18) of fifty local youths delivered a flawless West-End worthy production. From the live orchestra's overture (which alone always gets me both excited and tearful all in one go) to the final bows, each cast member - from lead roles to ensemble - gave 100% in their performance and there were no weak cast members. Daniel Romano as leading role Jean Valjean along with his nemesis Javert (Joseph Davis) set the high standards the moment they both sang their first notes during the Prologue where we meet ex-convict and prisoner 24601 Jean Valjean as he is granted parole but pursued by Javert.  Both Romano and Davis have such powerful and pitch perfect vocals whilst delivering all the right emotions as they act out the channelling roles. Whilst each lead role gave an outstanding performance this evening, it was Romano’s moving performance and transformation from ex-convict to Mayor, to doting father to his final days which really delivered the wow factor. I hope that Daniel will continue in musical theatre for years to come. 

Emma Burke’s vocals as Cosette were somewhat hypnotic and soothing - she has the voice of an angel and played the challenging role with ease. Isabel Hinchcliffe (Fantine) and Ella Wilson (Eponine) also gave knock-out performances, a highlight for me being Hinchcliffe belting out “I Dreamed A Dream” with such power and emotion. One of the most iconic parts of Les Mis as a production is the stage set, and whilst Wakefield stage isn’t designed to take the large 360 degree rotating stage set or the large barricades which usually enter the show roughly three-quarters into the story, the production team had managed to do their own unique version consisting of a mainly fixed set barricade consisting of a variety of old doors which moved at various points to recreate the Bishops home, the streets of Paris and the bridge where Javert ends his own life.  Although at first glance I wasn’t sure how or it it would work for various scenes, it did and it worked perfectly well with no glitches. What I loved about this production is that the large ensemble were utilised more frequently than in previous productions, giving everyone more opportunity to shine; from “Beggars At The Feast” the ensemble congregating outside Cosette's wedding to Marius - dressed in the typical workhouse clothes whilst the rich dressed in bright fancy outfits inside the wedding to filling the streets of Paris in “Look Down” and “Look Down/Paris”.

With such a large ensemble it is often hard to spot each individual once let alone spot them a few times but this production was cleverly staged so that the audience got to see not only the talented leads but the incredible ensemble which gives the show its “oomph”, especially in the bigger musical numbers such as “Master Of The House” and “One Day More” There is not one thing I would have changed about this production, other than it causing me to break my usual promise to myself each time I return to the barricades - that promise being “I will not cry, I will NOT cry!” 

The production runs until Saturday 8th September with matinee performances on both Saturdays.  Tickets are available but are selling like hot cakes (and after tonight I can see why!). The Box Office can be contacted on 01924 211311 or A five-star performance! 

I’m already wanting to camp outside the theatre to secure tickets to the groups 2019 production- Sister Act.

Reviewer - Lottie Davis-Browne
on - 30/8/18

REVIEW: Threads (film) - HOME, Manchester

Originally broadcast on BBC Two in September 1984, Threads is a television drama which explores the impact of a nuclear bomb going off over Britain against the background of increased hostility between the United States and the Soviet Union. Seeing the drama on the cinema screen of Manchester’s HOME venue, more than thirty years after its initial broadcast, only added to the brutal impact of its unflinching examination of a society which is reduced to an irradiated wasteland where the survivors dwindle until the population reaches levels unseen since the medieval period.

Threads was scripted by Barry Hines, better known for his 1968 novel A Kestrel for a Knave and directed by Mick Jackson, better known for directing the 1992 blockbuster The Bodyguard. Prior to working on Threads, Jackson had directed a documentary film for the BBC called A Guide to Armageddon and was keen to explore the results of a nuclear holocaust through a more dramatic medium. The resulting work is an intriguing mix of Hines’ gritty, socially conscious depiction of working class life and Jackson’s documentary filmmaking background as informative voice-overs and onscreen text relay information about the devastation caused by a nuclear bomb and the plans the government have in place should such an attack take place, while the first part of the drama focuses on the lives of the people of Sheffield as they go about their day to day lives.

The drama, set in Sheffield, begins with young couple Jimmy Kemp (played by Reece Dinsdale) and Ruth Beckett (Karen Meagher) finding out that they are to be parents. They decide to get married and find a place to move in together, although there seems to be doubts that the relationship will last from Jimmy’s working-class parents and Ruth’s more middle-class family. Against this background, news reports begin to report on heightened tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union in Iran. As military action begins to escalate anti-war and anti-nuclear protests begin to break out in the city and people begin to stockpile food. In one of the few lighter moments in this otherwise bleak piece, Jimmy’s mother (played by Rita May) remarks the supermarket she is in is “busy for a Wednesday. You’d think it were coming up to Christmas!” Meanwhile, the British government’s emergency plan to hand control of running the country to the council leaders of the towns and cities across the various cities and counties is pushed forward and an emergency committee is established under Sheffield town hall to plan for the event of an ever-increasing nuclear attack.

This first half of the drama is very much a spiritual successor to Hines’ earlier work; Jimmy Kemp could easily be Billy Casper from Kes as an adult (he even keeps an aviary in his parents’ home), having to face up to taking on new responsibilities as husband and father. As the prospect of a nuclear bomb hitting Britain in the American-Soviet crossfire becomes more of a reality, televisions begin to play the Protect and Survive information films seemingly on a loop. These government produced films contrast a matter-of-fact British narration with the grim realities of nuclear fallout; a section of a film about disposing of a dead body after a nuclear attack is used effectively in Threads as people stop and stare into an electrical goods shop in the city centre where every television is showing the information film.

The turning point of the drama comes with the nuclear bomb going off over Britain and Hines’ socio-political concerns soon give way to the more visually dramatic film-making impulses of Jackson. From this point onwards, the documentary elements become more frequent as the audience as regaled with information about what happens when the bomb goes off and the drama shifts in tone from a ‘kitchen-sink’ drama to a more nightmarish, horror inflicted vision of life after the bomb. The section with the bomb exploding features some impressive editing work which really brings across the shock of the event, while the make-up artists did a fantastic job on the burn make-up on the actors who played the survivors. In a harrowing scene, Ruth walks through the burnt out remains of Sheffield, confronted with injured and sick people, and, tellingly, a woman holding the burnt corpse of a baby to her breast. In another gruesome scene, survivors begin to walk to the hospital and are treated by doctors using hacksaws to amputate infected limbs; these scenes are closer in tone to horror films. The emergency committee, meanwhile, have no clue what is going on and soon anarchy breaks out as the survivors struggle for food.

This second half of the drama does seem to meander a bit – the drama proceeds to show the after effects of the bomb for days, weeks, months, and finally over 10 years after the event. The grim imagery and bleak, nihilistic tone soon becomes grating but, one supposes, that is the point. After a nuclear attack, time ceases to have any meaning, humanity and civilisation falls apart and life becomes one desperate struggle after another.

Threads remains an important landmark in British television history and offers perhaps the most realistic depiction of what life in Britain would be like if we ever experienced a nuclear attack. It isn’t an easy watch by any means but, chillingly, resonates just as well in 2018 as it did 34 years ago.

Reviewer - Andrew Marsden
on - 30/8/18

INTERVIEW: Rebecca Phillipson chats with SIMON NAYLOR; actor, director, producer, and owner of 53Two, Manchester.prior to his playing the role of MacBeth in a brand new production coming to Manchester in September.

Rebecca Phillipson chats with SIMON NAYLOR; actor, director, producer, and owner of 53Two, Manchester.prior to his playing the role of MacBeth in a brand new production coming to Manchester in September.

Hello Simon, thanks for speaking with me today.

Technically I was a scarecrow in The Magic Moonbeam when I was 5, but, my first professional stage performance was at Hull Truck in a play called ‘Unleashed’ when I was 22, directed by Alice, strangely, who is directing this Macbeth!

I’m from Manchester! I am from Bury and moved to London to train in 2002. I managed to last in London for 13 years and then moved back to the greatest city on Earth some 3 and a half years ago.

So, I was approached by Alice some time ago, who has opened a new theatre in Rotherham – Rotherham Underground. Obviously, myself and Alice go back some years so when she asked if I’d a) be Macbeth in the production and b) if MAP Productions would co-produce the show, it was an obvious answer. We’ve used actors from both Yorkshire and Lancashire from ages 5 to 45 so it’s an ace collaboration.

Well, it’s billed as for ages 8+ although it is a bit violent (of course Macbeth always is!). On the whole though I’d say it’s a pretty accessible and interesting version so, if you’re breathing, give it  a go!

Shakespeare is always a challenge, but that itself is the gift; the text is just marvellous! We’ve set it in a post-Brexit world where society has collapsed and there’s no real ruler. We’ve had a good time talking about how this would impact things and it’s pretty amazing how similar it all feels.

It’s Macbeth!

It’s terrifying. Every single one of his lines is a classic. Everyone knows it, everyone has seen it and everyone has this their own version in their head. This particular version, I think, is pretty different and Alice has worked hard to switch it up which is brilliant – but, that’s not for me to decide!

Long,…and we get bruised! We warm up at 10:30am as a group and finish at 7/7:30pm. The days are pretty long but the company is ace and so we have a giggle. We started working on just the script and dissecting everything before we got it on its’ feet and started to play.

Wow! Massive question. Probably one of the classics; ‘The Crucible’, ‘A View From The Bridge’, ‘All My Sons’…maybe anything by Miller! Also on the bucket list are characters like Richard III and Angelo from Measure for Measure. Anything by Anna Jordan and, more recently, I read a play called ‘All We Ever Wanted Was Everything’ by Luke Barnes which knocked my socks off!!

So many different people for different reasons; Paddy Considine, Ray Winston, Judi Dench, Matthew McNulty, Karen Henthorn. All of them such different and brilliant actors.

I genuinely don’t really have days off but that’s not a bad thing. I love what I do!

Someone fat and bald!

Don’t do it! No, seriously, just keep going and be aware that being a ‘good actor’ doesn’t just mean doing TV work. It means working on your voice, physicality and, perhaps most importantly, your business. Work hard – the hardest working people tend to be the luckiest and I think there’s probably a correlation there!

You can catch Simon and the rest of the cast in Macbeth in Manchester....

7 Sept - Angel Meadows - an outdoor production - 6:30pm start.
8 Sept - 53Two - 7:30pm
9 Sept - 53Two - 7:30pm

Thanks so much for being with me, good luck with the rest of your rehearsals and I look forward to seeing the show.

REVIEW: Streep Tease - 3MT, Manchester

Streep Tease is pretty much what it says on the tin - an evening of Meryl Streep monologues performed by an all-male cast. What started out in Los Angeles in 2009 has made it to Manchester in 2018. It is clear that the cast made up of Paul Antony, Michael Pope, Callum Taylor and Josh Vince all absolutely adore Meryl Streep. And if you are a fan of the Oscar Winner you will have a fantastic evening, but if you’re not so familiar with her body of work then some of the humour in the show may go over your head. 

Each actor gets to take on two of Streep’s most iconic pieces including her Academy Award winning performances in The Iron Lady, Sophie’s Choice and Kramer vs Kramer. Although the pieces were written for a female actor each member of the cast puts their own spin on the pieces. However, the standout performance for me was Antony’s interpretation of the Iron Lady - it was powerful but also absolutely hilarious. 

On the whole most of the performances were pretty decent. I did notice there was no Director mentioned in the programme, and perhaps there wasn’t one. There were a few things that may have been addressed if a Director was there, in particular in The Devil Wears Prada piece Antony did speak a bit too fast, so some words were lost. The intimacy in Pope’s interpretation of Sophie’s Choice was great but due to a lot of noise coming from outside the building meant I was straining to hear what he was saying. I understand that it is supposed to be a timid and quiet scene but perhaps a bit more volume would have helped, or even positioning himself closer to the audience. 

Antony proved himself to be a good host as halfway through the night he hosted a Streep Smart Quiz with members of the audience. It was a fantastic idea to include to audience in the show. It was fun and from this the audience warmed to them more. Whether it was intentional or not I’m not sure, but there seemed to be an error at the beginning of the show when the opening montage played twice. The cast did try to style it out, however because it was such a long clip I think it would have been better to stop it and switch to the correct one. 

No evening of Meryl would be complete without a mention of Mamma Mia, and there is not just a mention that can do justice to the finale is a singalong of the classic ‘Dancing Queen’, which was great fun to watch and be a part of.

Reviewer - Brian Madden
on - 30/8/18

Thursday, 30 August 2018

NEWS: 10 year old girl from Alsager wins Copley Art Prize at The Lowry

10-year-old girl from Alsager wins art competition with contemporary take on iconic LS Lowry style.

Martha Blue - Winner of The Copley Award 2018

LS Lowry’s iconic style has been given a 21st century makeover by a 10-year-old from Alsager in Cheshire as part of The Lowry’s annual Copley Prize.

Entitled ‘Lowry’s People’, the work was Martha Blue’s entry to the 2018 prize - an annual competition for 4-11-year-olds to produce a painting or drawing inspired by the famous artist’s work.

Her work was chosen as this year’s winner by Noel and Alison Copley, who founded the competition, along with the curator of The Lowry Collection, Claire Stewart.

The work has been added to the permanent LS Lowry: The Art & The Artist exhibition and was unveiled by The Lowry’s director of visual arts, Michael Simpson. It will remain on display for one year.

Noel Copley, said: “The competition is all about inspiring young people to create something connected to their experience of Lowry’s work. Martha’s work celebrates his love of crowds and people going about their everyday lives - and yet it also manages to be very contemporary in its nature. That’s what made it stand out for us.”

In July 2014, The Lowry galleries were renamed The Andrew and Zoë Law Galleries in recognition of the couple’s £1m donation to the arts centre – which is a registered charity.

'Lowry's People' by Martha Blue. Winner of The Copley Prize 2018.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

REVIEW: Cilla: The Musical - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

Cilla the Musical returned to Greater Manchester to perform at the beautiful Lowry Theatre, Salford and the opening night saw a packed auditorium of theatre goers and Cilla Black fans eager to see Bill Kenwright and Laurie Mansfield’s cleverly adapted musical about the rise to fame of the lovable Liverpudlian from Scottie Road.

Dependent on your age you will know Cilla Black for differing reasons. If you’re younger you will know her through the TV shows Blind Date and Surprise Surprise more than likely, however there was much more to this Liverpudlian icon as she was one of Britain’s biggest selling female singers in the mid 1960’s with 2 hits reaching number 1 and 11 top ten hits in a period of 5 years.

It all starts with a young Cilla dancing in a club in Liverpool called The Cavern and being dragged up on stage to sing with an up-and-coming four-piece band called The Beatles. Cilla, being close friends with the band members, is introduced to music mogul Brian Epstein which changes Priscilla White’s life forever.

Cilla the Musical is a rollercoaster of breath-taking highs and heart-wrenching lows in the modern day fairy-tale of a young girl who followed her dream of fame and fortune and an incredible insight into Cilla and Bobby’s love story, with an amazing snapshot of the music of the 60s featuring some pretty big bands such as The Beatles, Gerry And The Pacemakers and The Mamas And Papas, all played out with a background of family struggles including religion and prejudice.

Kara Lily Hayworth plays the part of Cilla through the years and to say that she is stunning in the role is a slight understatement. This young lady who originally queued for four hours at London’s Dominion Theatre during the first round of auditions for the role with her final audition at the Cavern Club in Liverpool stunned tonight’s audience when she belted out Cilla’s first number one hit ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’ where I definitively had a goosebump moment. Executive Producer and Son of Cilla Black, Robert Willis is quoted as saying: “We wanted somebody who wasn’t going to impersonate my mum but someone who could capture her spirit… when I saw the response of the audience at the Cavern; I knew she was the one my mum would have wanted!” and 'wow' she certainly does! Kara is perfect for this role and is a truly believable Cilla with pitch perfect vocals as she sang classics such as ‘Love of the Loved’,’ You’re My World’, ‘Alfie’, ‘Don’t Answer Me’, Liverpool Lullaby’, ‘Step Inside Love’ and ‘Something Tells Me’.

Alexander Patmore gave a phenomenal performance as Bobby Willis - Cilla’s boyfriend (and future husband) with a perfect blend of humour, stage presence and vocal excellence. His character was warm, loving and unbelievably loyal and his rendition of ‘A Taste of Honey’ was outstanding.

The costumes as well as Gary McCann’s set design were perfect for the Swinging Sixties style; the set recreated the Cavern Club with its red brick walls and raised stage encircled by dancing teens, Abbey Road Studios, Liverpool’s Scottie Road, The London Palladium, TV studios, and finally the elegant bars of America. The set moved seamlessly and was incredibly authentic with stunning lighting by Nick Richings and sixties dance choreography by Carole Todd equally enhanced the visual delight of the entire show.

The incredibly talented and versatile cast worked well together to create this brilliant masterpiece into the insight of Cilla Black and the era of the swinging sixties music scene, 

The only criticism I have to the casting was that of Cilla’s mother ‘Big Cilla’ as the actress looked younger than Cilla’s pals Pat and Pauline and her character felt slightly flat as the boastful but humorous mother. Other than that one slight niggle, I can certainly say that no one left disappointed by the end of the evening and if you see one show this year make it Cilla the Musical as it the most heart-warming and magnificent 5 star theatrical masterpiece.

Reviewer - Katie Leicester
on - 28/8/18

REVIEW: Fame - The Alhambra Theatre, Bradford.

Fame – The Musical is based on the 1980 film which also spun off into a TV series during the early to mid-1980s. The concept follows a group of young students who have been chosen to attend the New York School of Performing Arts (referred to as simply PA) – they have all been chosen because of their potential to succeed and go on to a career in show business.
There was a large and impressive set for this production of Fame, set against a background of black and white photographs – all of which looked very much like they were taken in the 80s based on clothing and hairstyles. The set was relatively static with stairs up to a balcony covering the width of the stage, frequently used throughout the performance, with smaller pieces of scenery such as lockers, desks, chalkboards being wheeled on and off at the relevant times.
The first half of the show was a little slow to say the least.  I completely understand that we needed to get to know the characters but it felt like the opening scenes were longer than they needed to be.
The main characters were Tyrone (Jamal Crawford), a hip hop dancer with all the talent to go right to the top of his field but seemingly without the attitude to knuckle down and go through the classical training. Tyrone was partnered in his dance class with Iris (Jorgie Porter) who is just about the complete opposite of Tyrone – a ballet dancer who is driven to and from school in a long black limousine. Tyrone is singled-out for both praise from his drama teacher (Cameron Johnson) and criticism from his more strict English teacher Miss Sherman (Mica Paris).
We also got to meet the rest of the cast including Joe (Albey Brookes) – a Latino student who seems more intent on his sexual interests than his education.  Brookes played this part expertly with every possible innuendo opportunity being taken, creating more than a few laughs in the audience. Mabel (Hayley Johnston) was very interesting character, she was portrayed as a dancer who desperately needed to lose weight and although I thought Johnston was excellent in this role, her appearance wasn’t that of an overweight dancer and I couldn’t help feeling that this lacked some realism.
Talented piano and violin student Schlomo (Simon Anthony) was an interesting character – his father being a very famous violinist and seemingly checking up on his son on a very regular basis.  Schlomo developed an attraction to Carmen (Stephanie Rogas), a very talented singer but with a drug addiction that is featured much later in the show.
There were many more key characters such as Goody (Alexander Zane), Lambchops (Louisa Beadel), Serena (Molly McGuire), Nick (Keith Jack), Mr Myers (Cameron Johnson) and Mr Scheinkopf (Graham Hoadly). The number of characters that were given almost equal stage time contributed to what appeared to be a very slow first half of the show.
The second half was much better, with storylines being tied up with a more hectic pace and some of the more emotional scenes. This is also where we get to hear the amazing voice of Mica Paris who played Miss Sherman – she has a singing voice which is full of true soul and passion. Her renditions of ‘These Are My Children’ and the ‘Fame’ soundtrack were simply incredible and prompted sections of the audience to give her a standing ovation at the end of the show.
This production of Fame has without doubt got flaws but the cast are very talented and it is a fun show.  The vast majority of the audience left having thoroughly enjoyed themselves – I left feeling that the show having enjoyed it but also feeling that it could have been so much better.
Reviewer – John Fish
on – 27/8/18

NEWS: The North plays host to the start of Jamie Raven's latest tour


UK Tour 2018


Britain’s Got Talent Finalist, Jamie Raven, is proud to announce the UK tour of his brand new show, Making Magic – a look at how magicians do what they do.


Why does magic work?
How are our hearts fooled into believing something that our brains know simply can’t be true?
Making Magic will culminate in a random member of the audience, with absolutely no performing experience whatsoever, being turned into a magician in order to perform the final trick of the show live on stage with Jamie

Time Out (Abu Dhabi)

Jamie Raven burst onto an unsuspecting world during the 2015 series of Britain’s Got Talent. His magic amazed audiences and even made Simon Cowell exclaim “I now finally believe in magic!” en route to reaching the final and finishing, in his own words, as “Top Human”
His appearances on Britain’s Got Talent and other subsequent performances have now been seen over 450 million times online and Television, making him one of the most watched magicians in the world today.
In November and December 2015, Jamie headlined The Illusionists at The Shaftesbury Theatre, which went on to break the box office record for a limited engagement and in doing so became the most successful Magic show ever in the history of London’s West End. In 2016 and 2017, he took his own one man show on a tour across five countries, playing 120 shows across 105 different venues. He is looking forward to doing it all over again with Making Magic
The summer of 2017 also saw the release of the official range of four Jamie Raven Magic Sets, with a fifth scheduled for release in December 2018, as he strives to inspire the next generation of Magicians.


Listings information

Venue: Lancaster Grand LANCASTER
Dates: Monday, 24th September
Time: 7.30pm
Box office: 01524 64695

Venue: Theatre Royal WAKEFIELD
Dates: Wednesday, 26th September
Time: 7.30pm
Box office: 01924 211 311

Venue: Dancehouse MANCHESTER
Dates: Thursday, 27th September
Time: 8.00pm
Box office: 0161 237 9753

Venue: Northwich Memorial Court NORTHWICH
Dates: Friday, 28th September
Time: 7.30pm
Box office: 0333 666 3366

Venue: Tyne Theatre NEWCASTLE
Dates: Saturday, 29th September
Time: 7.30pm
Box office: 0844 2491 000

Venue: Playhouse NORWICH
Dates: Monday, 1st and Tuesday, 2nd October
Time: 7.30pm
Box office: 01603 598 598

Venue: Marina Theatre LOWESTOFT
Dates: Wednesday, 3rd October
Time: 7.30pm
Box office: 01502 533 200

Venue: Churchill Theatre BROMLEY
Dates: Thursday, 4th October
Time: 7.30pm
Box office: 020 3285 6000

Venue: Dorking Hall DORKING
Dates: Friday, 5th October
Time: 8.00pm
Box office: 01306 881 717

Venue: Camberley Theatre CAMBERLEY
Dates: Sunday, 7th October
Time: 7.30pm
Box office: 01276 707 600

Venue: The Palace SOUTHEND
Dates: Monday, 8th October
Time: 8.00pm
Box office: 01702 351 135

Venue: Corn Exchange KINGS LYNN
Dates: Wednesday, 10th October
Time: 7.30pm
Box office: 01553 764 864

Venue: Beck Theatre HAYES
Dates: Thursday, 11th October
Time: 7.30pm
Box office: 020 8561 8371

Venue: Magnet Leisure Centre MAIDENHEAD
Dates: Saturday, 13th October
Time: 8.00pm
Box office: 01628 685 316

Venue: Alban Arena ST ALBANS
Dates: Monday, 15th October
Time: 7.30pm
Box office: 01727 844 488

Venue: Haymarket BASINGSTOKE
Dates: Tuesday, 16th October
Time: 8.00pm
Box office: 01256 844 244

Venue: Theatre Royal MARGATE
Dates: Wednesday, 17th October
Time: 7.30pm
Box office: 01843 292 795

Venue: Corn Exchange NEWBURY
Dates: Friday, 19th October
Time: 7.30pm
Box office: 0845 5218 218

Venue: Ferneham Hall FAREHAM
Dates: Saturday, 20th October
Time: 7.30pm
Box office: 01329 231 942

Venue: Wycombe Swan HIGH WYCOMBE
Dates: Sunday, 21st October
Time: 7.30pm
Box office: 01494 512 000

Venue: Hexagon READING
Dates: Monday, 22nd October
Time: 7.30pm
Box office: 0118 960 6060

Venue: Grove Theartre DUNSTABLE
Dates: Tuesday, 23rd October
Time: 7.30pm
Box office: 01582 60 20 80

REVIEW: [title of show] - Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester.

Do you ever have days when you really feel like you simply could not be bothered to do anything? Even when you are waiting at the bus stop you feel like packing it in and going back home for a nice cup of tea? Well that was me last night, and I almost did capitulate to my inner ennui and go home without watching this fabulous chamber musical. I am however, extremely glad that I told myself to not be so silly and get myself down to Hope Mill Theatre without further ado.

The show's title, is, [title of show]; which isn't at all odd once you understand the premise of this show. It is basically a Musical about two men trying to write a Musical whilst writing their musical. What could be simpler?! And even when they complete their musical and it is performed off-Broadway, they are still characters in their own musical, and somehow are still in the process of creating more material for their musical which has to end somehow....!! Basically the show is its own creation; a work-in-progress kind of show! To be fair, it's makes much more sense and is easier to understand by watching it than by me trying to explain it!

The show is written very much in the Revue Musical style, with an off-Broadway feel and although the music is derivative [deliberately so!], and the action is something akin to a live vlog, this minimalism and self-effacing humour works very much in the show's favour. It is a musical with four characters, no costume changes, 4 chairs, and a pianist.

We are in New York City, and two gay friends Jeff (Mark Wood) and Hunter (Tom Guest) have been thinking about writing a musical together for some time. An opportunity to do just that comes along in the form of a competition for new musicals and against all the odds - with three weeks only until their deadline - they decide to go for it.  This is the story of how they decided to go for it; what they did in those three weeks - the storyline of the musical is the musical - and also what happens to them after their moment of fame starring in their own off-Broadway show for a limited run.

Wood and Guest are absolutely brilliant in their roles. Two better actors could not have been found. Their chemistry together was wonderful, their NYC accents totally believable and their acting and singing abilities were of the highest calibre. Helping them along in their musical-writing quest were two females - both friends of Jeff and Hunter and both out-of-work actresses trying to get out of the roundelay of day jobs and auditions. Heidi (Donna Metcalfe) was the experienced one who had appeared on Broadway twice already - albeit in understudy/ASM roles - whilst the more sassy and outspoken Susan (Hannah Davis) always seemed to have a chip on her shoulder. Their roles were less well defined - perhaps due to the nature of the writing - but they still proved their worth in their solo songs / moments. It was in their quartets where they were sadly a little inaudible.

There is a fifth cast member in this show too, although the other four do their best to ignore him. Larry, the keyboardist / pianist. (Simon Murray). He is omnipresent and as much a part of the show as the others. He interacts with them, even rehearses songs with them, and his character is one who is used to being ignored, continually eating and shrugging, his minimalist movements and back-chat made the perfect foil for all the frippery of the main roles. Not only that but he really was the actual Musical Director as well!

Despite this being a 20th century creation by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell {yes, the writers of the show even used their own real names for their characters!}; as a couple of the lines in the show do make notice of, some of the jokes and cultural references are already passee and will definitely go under our British humour / cultural knowledge radar (and they did!) but surprisingly the references to garner the biggest laughs this evening were the two Sondheim musical quips. I do think though that some of the names and musical show titles should be updated if it is going to become a more well-known musical both in the present day and in the UK. Surely a musical of this nature needs to keep evolving in order to stay relevant?

That being said though, with creative and sensible direction by Mal Wood, the show was extremely enjoyable, funny, human, touching, and true to life. The four (sorry, five!) strong cast members brought this perhaps awkward show to life beautifully and, as chamber musicals go, this one has to be on the top of my list!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 28/8/18

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

REVIEW: The 18th Chetham's International Summer School and Festival For Pianists - The Stoller Hall, Chetham's Music School, Manchester.

This annual event, which has resulted in Chetham's hosting the world's largest (and perhaps also most friendly) festival and summer school devoted to the piano, is now in its 18th year, and this course will have seen more than 500 pianists from all corners of the globe come together with 67 pianist / teachers to learn, share, experience, educate and be educated. It is a fantastic and joyous occasion for students on the course, the tutors, and also those, like myself who have just come for the public concerts. It must be a wonderful experience for those on the course to have such intimate and intensive contact with so many international maestros. 

The event takes the form of workshops and lectures throughout the day-times, whilst the evenings in the festival are given over to performances. Some of the performances are given by the resident international faculty, most however from guest pianists who have been delighting audiences with their concert-playing skills for many years.

It is a two-week festival, and with 29 performances over this 12 day period, it would have been almost nigh impossible to have gone to watch all. I did have the opportunity however of catching just a few.

Sunday 19 August - Orchestral Concerto Concert # 1

This concert featured two prominent pianists who played Romantic concerto pieces accompanied by the talented Stockport Symphony Orchestra, and conducted by Chetham's School Of Music's Director Of Music, Stephen Threlfall. Both these tow pieces and the two pieces in the following concert were composed by pure Romantics who were not afraid of wearing their emotions clearly on their sleeves and not letting their feelings get in the way of a damned good tune!

We started with one of my all-time favourite pieces of music - a tone poem for orchestra and solo piano which was written as part of a film score for the 1941 'Dangerous Moonlight'. Richard Addinsell's, 'Warsaw Concerto'. The music depicts the struggle of Warsaw during the second world war, juxtaposed with the romance of the film's leading characters. Written in homage to Rachmaninov, the music is sweeping, grand, often bombastic, often plaintive, but undeniably and beautifully 'Romantic'. This evening the piece was played by 71 year old veteran and piano legend, Seta Tanyel

Following this was Tchaikovsky's exciting and dramatic 2nd piano concerto. In amidst all the exuberance and repetitive chord and melody structures which characterise this piece, there is also a much darker side to the music too; it is not all pomp and frippery. In three movements, this is Tchaikovsky at his best. Not afraid to put all of his emotions, tumultuous as they may be, into the piece, but still keeping the concerto firm in form and never descending into either jingoistic or morose territory as he could easily have done. This evening we were treated to Leslie Howard's interpretation of it. Again, at 70,  another piano legend and veteran performer.

Sunday 19 August - Orchestral Concerto Concert #2

The second concert; which followed after an interval, was of a similar format. Again we were treated to The Stockport Symphony Orchestra with Stephen Threlfall holding the baton.

This time the shorter opening piece was another firm favourite of mine. Rachmaninov's Variations On A Theme Of Paganini. This utterly stunning piece of writing was first heard in 1934, and played by Rachmaninov himself. The piece starts with a variation before we hear the theme, Paganini's Caprice No 24 for solo violin, which is very closely related to the actual theme, and from there the composer develops and moulds this melody into an awe-inspiring array of styles; but it is his variation 18 (Andante Cantabile) that is the most famous and never fails to bring a tear to my eye. Playing this this evening was fellow Russian, also wearing her heart very much on her sleeve for this piece, Dina Parakhina. Wonderful!

The concert and the evening finished with Grieg - yet another of the great Romantics. His piano concerto is a wonderful and evocative piece of music, and as the three movements twist and turn with patriotism, folk melodies and pure joy, it is little wonder that the tunes borrowed by Grieg to form the basis of this concerto have gone on to feature in modern culture such as TV advertising. A bravura interpretation played with style this evening by Peter Fowke.

Wednesday 22 August - Harpsichord Concert by Robyn Koh.

Koh is an ex-pupil of Chetam's who has gone on to find worldwide acclaim, making her professional performance debut in Moscow when only 16.

In this evening's 90-minute recital she played works as varied and as colourful as possible, showcasing the unique sound of the harpsichord. Playing on a modern instrument, designed and painted in the old traditional style it looked somewhat incongruous in the ultra-modern surrounds of The Stoller Hall, and indeed, it could certainly have benefited from modern amplification as the sound produced was extremely quiet - too quiet at times. 

Koh's excellent playing took us on a criss-cross non-chronological journey from High Baroque music to contemporary pieces written especially for the harpsichord. We even heard three movements from the suite, 'Puzzle Pieces' composed for Koh by fellow Chetham's alumnus, Colin Riley which are dedicated to mutual musical friends. These ultra-modern sounds juxtaposed with the more usual harpsichord sounds from the likes of CPE Bach or Scarlatti, made for an interesting and varied programme.

Wednesday 22 August - 2nd Gala Faculty Recital

One of four recitals given by members of the summer school faculty, I stayed after the harpsichord concert to hear this one.

We were treated to 5 pieces played by five virtuosos, with Gemma Beeson starting the concert with four lovely preludes by Debussy. The first. La Cahedrale Engloute was almost symphonic in nature; slow, lyrical, harmonic. This gave way to La Puerta Del Vin, which was an exotic gypsy dance. Bruyeres took us back to terra firma with a slow lullaby, before the final piece, Feux D'Artifice took us on a whirlwind of cascading demi-semi-quavers reminiscent of The Flight Of The Bumblebee.

William Westney was next, and he played the classical and highly dramatic Variations Serieuses by Mandelssohn.

It was then the turn of the evening's announcer, Murray McLachlan to entertain. This is he did in style, playing a transcription for solo piano of the second movement of Rachmaninov's 1st piano concerto. It sounded strange and somehow dislocated from the original, but maybe that is because I only have heard this music before the way it was intended to be played. 

No piano showcase would be complete without including at least one piece by both Chopin and Liszt, and so the final two works this evening ticked those boxes nicely!

Seta Tanyel was the penultimate pianist this evening, and she performed a lovely rendition of  Chopin's Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise (opus 22) , whilst Leslie Howard finished the evening in pompous Lisztian style with Reminiscences Of Norma; a virtuoso and flamboyant piece of bombastic grandiosity and pomposity - but a jolly good tune and an exciting and wonderful piece nonetheless. What a fantastic finish!

There was, sadly, one problem with this concert, and that was due to utilising two different pianos. I am uncertain why two pianos were required, but having the stage-hands change them between EVERY pianist was seemingly just thoughtless. This could easily have been averted by either having both pianos up and running all the time (the stage was big enough) or having the order of the concert changed to make all those using the same piano play together. Certainly the concert would have run much smoother this way.

Saturday 25 August - Orchestral Concerto Concert #1

The first of two concerto concerts this evening saw The Chester Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Stephen Threlfall accompany the virtuoso pianists.  Starting the evening off in a whirlwind of 20th century Americanism was Murray McLachlan playing Gerschwin's fantasia, Rhapsody In Blue. A piece so imbued with American musical and cultural influences of the first half of the 1900s, that it has become almost a curio piece now - something from another place and time. It's a wonderfully evocative and stirring piece nevertheless, and Mclachlan played it with ease and skill. I felt though that the orchestra was a little restraint in this piece, they didn't seem to be too keen to bend the time signatures in the way that true jazz and blues musicians do and can.

Following this and we couldn't have asked for a more  sharp a contrast in both composition and piano-playing style. Where McLachlan was flamboyant and emotive, Eugen Indjic's was centred and controlled. His body never moving - not even the arms. The playing coming simply from his wrists and hands. It was a masterclass in minimalism. 

The piece being played was Schumann's piano concerto in A minor, which has three movements. It starts with a loud and exciting first movement which gives way to a gentle and lyrical andante intermezzo flowing seamlessly into an allegro vivace third movement. Widely regarded as one of the greatest early Romantic composers, this piece lays testament to that claim in abundance, and Indjic's playing of it was nothing short of masterly.

Saturday 25 August - Orchestral Concerto Concert #2

To start this concert, again with the Chester Philharmonic Orchestra under Stephen Threlfall, we were treated to the wonderful Scherzo by Litolff.  This piece, usually played in isolation nowadays is actually a movement from his Concerto Symphonique No 4, and not only was his a prolific composer but was also, like his contemporary Liszt, a brilliant piano virtuoso. It seems such a shame really that his works remain largely unknown and un-played.

This evening our pianist was BingBing Li, and for me, this was the highlight of all the concerts I have thus far seen. The lightness of her touch and her strength of her interpretation was electrifying and made this piece come alive as I haven't heard it played before.Scherzo is Italian and means 'joke', and Li's superb mastery of this piece made it laugh and sparkle throughout the auditorium. 

Following her was no less a talent as Artur Pizarro took to the stage to play Tchaikovsky's 1st piano concerto. The strident ascending chords of the piano pitched against the first melody on the strings is possibly the most precocious and splendid start to any piece of music but surely also defines the nomenclature 'Romantic'. 

One could only sympathise with Pizarro's growing frustration and irritation as the piece progressed however, because the orchestra simply had not practised this piece enough and were unable to keep up with his genius. I thought I heard out-of-tune notes from the string sections, and certainly there were a couple of times when the orchestra was not in sync. His growing frustration at this became more and more obvious to the audience as the piece progressed, as he even made a pistol with his fingers and put it to his temple at one point in utter despair. Perhaps it was a little unprofessional of him to show his grievances so openly, but I also felt extremely sorry for the orchestra too; they are an amateur hobby orchestra, [although still of a high standard] and so there is no way that they should've been expected to have reached the gilded high proficiency Pizarro obviously expected, and I don't feel they should've been put in that position. Most unfortunate.

Monday 27 August - Thomas Hecht: Solo Piano Recital.

Renowned American pianist, currently Professor of Music at Singapore University, delighted the somewhat disappointingly small audience [Bank Holiday?] this afternoon with his mastery and genius. 

Dressed in a black oriental styles silk shirt, he first played Four Ballads by Johannes Brahms.  I did not know these pieces but knowing that they were by Brahms it wasn't difficult to imagine the lush orchestrations that he might have used had they been written for a full orchestra, and his beautiful use of repetitive melody and folk song throughout - even the song of a cuckoo in the third movement! - were nothing short of Romantic genius. 

Hecht's playing was sublime. He has a lightness of touch combined with a firm assuredness which is both firm and flamboyant at one at the same time. Lovely to watch, and even better to listen to. 

For the last two pieces in his recital he chose to go back to his homeland and to a composer of which I know precious little. In fact, until this evening, I had heard only piece of music from this composer to my certain knowledge, and that is his Adagio For Strings.  And so to listen to two further pieces of composer Samuel Barber was  both educational and extremely interesting. 

First Hecht played his Ballade (opus 46) and then followed this with his piano sonata (opus 26). Barber's music seemed to me to be the natural progression of piano music: still very much grounded in the Classical tradition, with dollops of Romantic idealism and influences, but put together by a 20th century mind and American background and style. The sonata had a fairground waltz and a multi-layered jazz fugue amongst other things, and needless to say I loved the music and am now searching out more Barber!

Monday 27 August - Martin Roscoe: Solo Piano Recital.

The second concert this evening was by another hugely talented internationally renowned pianist, Martin Roscoe. 

Roscoe started his recital with two pieces by a prolific but seldom played composer of wonderfully tuneful and Romantic / Early 20th Century music Ernst Von Dohnanyi.  Although he wasn't German, he used the German form of his name since he thought it would give him more status and merit, and despite being Hungarian by birth, it was at that time a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and so Germanic names were just as common. 

Dohnanyi used the music of his homeland and other melodies he knew to wonderful effect as he interpolated them in his works. It is a pity his orchestral works are not played very often these days, they are well worth finding and listening to.

The two piano pieces this evening were also lovely. First was 'Pastorale On An Hungarian Chrsitmas Song' and this was followed by his Rhapsody in C. Both short and deceptively difficult pieces which sound easy.  Roscoe made them sound even more easy of course - that is his genius!

Following this and he finished the concert with a longer work; a piano sonata by Schubert. Much more a part of recital repertoire, and a composer that we have all heard of! Again played beautifully.

Overall this summer school and festival looks like the ideal opportunity for piano enthusiasts everywhere, no matter what stage of proficiency, from beginner to concert pianist, there is something for everyone here; and this inclusiveness, willingness and approachability that is exhibited from all the staff is exceptional. Even as an outsider and audience member this feeling was palpable. 

Reviewers - Matthew Dougall, Chris Benchley and Florian Kutchka.
on - 19 - 27/8/18

Monday, 27 August 2018

REVIEW: Love's Labour's Lost - Ordsall Hall, Salford.

It all sounded so idyllic, an August bank holiday summer evening sat in the gardens of the beautiful Ordsall Hall in Salford watching Love’s Labour’s Lost – the Shakespeare comedy being the latest production from Folksy Theatre.  However, this is the UK and after the constant rainfall throughout the day, there was a very understandable decision made to move the performance indoors.  Whilst it was a little disappointing, the setting of the Great Hall in Ordall Hall was very impressive.
This was my first experience of Folksy Theatre, who have been touring the UK since 2008 putting on mainly open air performances.  The cast for this production consisted of six members, all whom played multiple parts.
We very quickly got to meet the entire cast as they started to interact with the audience, toasting the King and wishing us good health with their tankards and goblets.  This was a fantastic way to break down the barriers and made us all feel like we were personally involved in the performance and not just there as observers.
Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies, thought to have been written in the mid-1590s.  It follows King Ferdinand (Andrew Oakes) and his companions Lord Longaville (Andrew Armfield) and Lord Berowne (Alex Bird) who swear off food, sleep and women for 3 years – in order to become scholars.  Needless to say this all goes wrong as they meet the Princess of France (Em Watkins), Lady Rosaline (Isobel Whitcomb) and Lady Maria (Holly Durkin) – each falling in love without confessing to the others that they have broken the agreement.
There is a subplot of Costard (Holly Durkin) and Jacquenetta (Alex Bird) who have secretly been romantically involved, and are about to be sentenced by the King.  It is here that we get to meet Don Adriano de Armado in the first of his many hilarious appearances in the play – brilliantly portrayed by Andrew Armfield as he struts around the room bellowing his lines in his outrageous accent.
On discovering that the Lords have broken the vow, the King chastises them but Berowne quickly reveals that the King has also fallen for the Princess.  It is at this point that they decide to relinquish their 3 year vow in pursuit of true love but this path is far from smooth.
Many of the scenes are suitably chaotic and playful, as you would expect from a Shakespeare comedy, including the King and his Lords dressing as Russian Muscovites dancing for the Princess and her Ladies which was hysterical.
It can often be a difficult balance of modernising Shakespeare but still being true to the original script, but Folksy Theatre have done an amazing job in this production.  They use modern dress and modern ad-libs but they remain wholly true to the script throughout the performance.  I will definitely be checking out future Folksy Theatre productions and if you haven’t then I would urge you to do the same – a thoroughly entertaining evening that may have been even better had the weather been kind to us.
Reviewer – John Fish
on – 26/8/18