Friday, 30 November 2018

REVIEW: The Rite Of Spring - Halle Orchestra at The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

The Halle orchestra performed an evening of three very different pieces from the start of the 20th Century – Schoenberg’s 'Verklarte Nacht', Satie’s 'Parade' and Stravinsky’s 'The Rite of Spring'. What they did have in common, however, was the fact that they were not at all well received when first performed, and in fact were the cause of riots!

Transformed Night – Verklarte Nacht – was initially rejected from the Vienna music society as a composition as it contained a dissonant chord that was not uncategorised – an inverted ninth chord.Today when listening, it is hard to think why it caused so much issue with the academics of the day and the audience – who literally hissed in dismay at its premiere. It is a beautifully expressive piece of music. There are some occasional smudges of dissonance which, given the context, perfectly express the emotions of the night-time conversation it is inspired by. The Halle performed the 1917 string orchestra version, adding double basses to the six parts. The large forces work for this piece, originally written in 1899 as a sextet for two violin, two viola and two cello with independent parts, and add a real depth to the emotion.

Schoenberg based this tone poem on words by the poet Dehmel. Part of the consternation around this piece was indeed the subject matter – it is a conversation between a man and a woman in love. The woman shares a dark secret - out of loneliness, she had a child with a man she did not love. There is a sadness and regret, that she did not have enough hope to wait for love, which indeed came. The man is understanding and responds with acceptance and love. It is a rather specific and nuanced emotive passage, and shows a glimpse of the composer as a deeply emotional person. We know that he was also thinking of his future wife, Mathilde Von Zemlinsky, when he composed this. There were hints of Wagner and Brahms in this piece, which is tonal, and it was beautifully expressive. The Halle string orchestra really glimmered and shimmered through this performance which was very well received by the audience.

Parade, a ballet by Erik Satie, 1917, also has an unusual subject matter far removed from the stories of Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. It is the story of three circus acts who are trying to entice passers by to come in to the circus and watch it. They don’t succeed. The story allows Satie to insert his slapstick humour in to the music, including unconventional instruments such as typewriters, milk bottles, a pistol, a foghorn and other instruments. What struck me, though, listening to the Halle perform, was that in spite of the musical jokes which made the audience and orchestra members laugh, this is not a superficial piece of writing. Satie is able to produce a 'sound world' at times with a truly unique use of traditional instruments. There is some clever writing here in terms of structure and orchestration and the Halle delivered both the whims and the depths of the piece successfully.

The performance was a delight and energetic – a welcome ‘lemon sorbet’, as described by conductor Sir Mark Elder and no hissing or shouts of ‘filth!’ or hissing from the audience at all! How times have changed! On the subject of the audience, the Bridgewater Hall was nearly full to capacity and it struck me that a great number of the audience were teenagers or in their early twenties. This was refreshing to see.

The main event of the night, however, was Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. You can understand how this piece was firmly rejected by initial audiences. It is strikingly different from the music of its time in terms of rhythm, structure and its clashing chords. It was presented in the form of a ballet by the world famous Ballet Ruses at the opening of a brand new theatre. The dance style too was completely new. To top it all off, the story was of a pagan ritual wherein a young virgin is kidnapped from the tribe and sacrificed to the gods to bring in a good harvest. None of this was what the Swan Lake loving audience of the day expected or indeed wanted. It was perhaps the most controversial premiere of any piece in music history, with riotous behaviour to the extent that it drowned out the music on stage and the beat had to be shouted out for the dancers to hear.

It is also arguably, the most influential and important piece of music history from a compositional point of view. It embodies, in some way or another, the entire 20th century.

It was a mixed performance in my opinion. Some of the flourishes and lines were lost and smudged – particularly lines that were shared across instruments, while in other parts there was such a precision and high impact. I wonder if the chosen pace got in the way – it is certainly a piece with moments of high energy but it is the hypnotic and mesmerising pulsing which needs a perfectly steady pulse that makes the Rite of Spring truly magical. This came across at times but wasn’t consistent, a few breaths were lost. The opening notes of the second part were not together, and indeed the final flourish – the moment of death for the young virgin – was not together. This added some disappointment to the performance for me, but I will not dwell on a few moments made to the detriment of a performance with many strengths. The brass and percussion sections were astounding, getting across the magnificent power of this work with great precision. There were intense moments when the whole orchestra worked with such synchronisation of both beat and spirit that it was truly scary.

It is hard to imagine music today that would cause such a stir as it did at the start of last century. What would truly shock today’s audience? We have been fortunate to have had such a variety of new styles of music, exploring ideas about the meaning of music and what is or isn’t acceptable, or indeed has value or merit. These works were originally performed in places not dissimilar to the Bridgewater Hall in terms of prestige, and to an audience that was not dissimilar to the audience that attends ‘classical’ music. What is different today is a reluctance by the mainstream orchestras and concert halls to perform truly new works and allow the composers of today a chance to make us all complain, tut and hiss.

Reviewer – Aaron Loughrey
on - 29/11/18

Thursday, 29 November 2018

REVIEW: Bach's St. Matthew Passion - The Stoller Hall, Manchester

'The St Matthew’s Passion' by Johann Sebastian Bach is an emotionally charged retelling of the Biblical, with the emphasis as much on the emotional toil the passion takes on Jesus and his follower as the spiritual salvation it provides.

It is fitting then that the English Touring Opera has created a production with a heavy focus on community, both within the story and the wider musical community in which they work.

The Stoller Hall is quite an intimate venue, panelled with pale pine wood which provides a welcoming atmosphere. The stage was lit with purple and lilac spotlights and simply decorated. Rather than the stage being arranged for the orchestra, the musicians carried their instruments with them as they walked on stage, causally preparing for the performance in front of the audience. The ETO has collaborated with local choirs at every date on this tour. Tonight, the chorale section was provided by The Chetham’s Chamber Choir and The Manchester Cathedral Choristers

This informality brought with it an energy to the music, as the musicians seemingly reacted to the events occurring around them. This gave the whole production an unusual atmosphere, as the musicians and singers acknowledged that we were watching a concert, yet also reacted to the biblical story as if it were really unfolding around them. The singers, dressed casually, walked around the small stage, greeting and smiling with the musicians. They crouched and sat on the steps of the stage as they awaited their next cue and watched the actions of their fellow performers. The familiarity and comradeship on stage added to the progeny as the drama moved to its inevitable conclusion.

A particular highlight of the evening was just after Peter, performed by the tenor Richard Dowling, had denied knowing Jesus. The first violinist stepped away from the rest of the orchestra and began playing the mournful music not at the audience but directly at Peter. Peter’s grief was brilliantly conveyed as the violinist seemed to both accuse him as well as offering him comfort. The sense of regret at what had happened was palpable

I did, however, find the narrative confusing to follow at times. Even though the story is taken directly from the most famous of Biblical tales, the decision for the production to share the part of The Evangelist among the other cast members helped further muddle my understanding of who was supposed to be who at anyone time.

No doubt someone more familiar with the music than I wouldn’t have this trouble, and I can certainly see how this choice helped foster the sense of community which gave the production so much emotional power. However, it wasn’t until the midpoint of part one that I was clear on who was playing Jesus.

The Passion was performed in the original German with the exception of the Chorale parts, which were sung in English. Two screens on either side of the stage displayed abridged translations of the German lyrics. The English translations, especially commissioned by ETO for this production, are by a wide range of contributors, Including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowen Williams, the mathematician Marcus Du Sautoy, and the critic Samuel Hudson, among many others. The diversity of this group serves to highlights the universality of the story, as well as the music and form as a whole.

The ETO have crafted a production which refuses to allow Bach to be confined to the museum. Instead, they performed as the music as a living art from, rather than a nice cultural outlet. By treating the music as a something which still has much to offer the modern listener instead of a heritage piece, it brings an energy, innovations and even some flaws to make this ancient tale come to life.

Reviewer - Richard Gorick
on - 28/11/18

REVIEW: Ballet Bar - HOME, Manchester

The smell of food from Home Theatre’s restaurant drifts into the studio theatre completely by accident, effectively complimenting the location of this dance piece: a café and Jazz bar in New York. A dynamic group of six hip hop dancers blend physical theatre, clowning, acrobatics, and dance to electrify this underground and modish world. Calypso, Charleston, Electro, and Tango are all mixed up into a fruitful dance cocktail.

Part of France Now, a season at Home Theatre, Ballet Bar was choreographed and performed by Compagnie Pyramid. They were founded 13 years ago in Rochefort by a dedicated group of friends. As each record is laid on the bar’s extremely dusty gramophone, six group of friends (staff and customers at the Ballet Bar) respond with performances of different scenes and scenarios.

Stylish, sophisticated, and smooth, was the Ballet Bar set. Even if one of the characters hadn’t been on top of his cleaning duties. The black and white square pattern flooring went hand in hand with the symmetry of the set. When you saw the Ballet Bar sign next to the bar itself you kind of felt right at home. The lighting design was a delicate balance between a “quiet drink” kind of calmness and “bar fight” style chaos.

The physical language of the company’s choreography was layered with a plethora of ideas. Characters' movements were soft and steady one minute, then amusingly sudden and shocking the next. It was bizarre and playful, exploring various levels, pace, and directions. Dance motifs materialised organically from section to section. They used their whole bodies most of the time, finding numerous ways to present their characters in the space; utilising as much or as little of the space as they wanted. At one point, they just used their hands and arms. In another scene, there was amazing body-popping and locking in a solo number.

It began with the characters entering from in and around the audience, leaving no doubt we were more than welcome at the bar. It was funny when one character laid on some of the audience’s laps, another one hugged an audience member too. Immediately, you could tell how joyful and lovable they were as their idiot clowns. However, for me the change in music as a structure device to move to the next scene became a little repetitive after a while.

As well as the collective character of this group of guys/friends, you did have individual characters within the group possessing varying degrees of status. For example there were: the obsessive and serious clown (who always tried to clean the bar), the show off, the sensitive one, and the follower. After having a think, the interaction between characters was not as apparent as it could have been. Dance tricks such as: the helicopter, the head spin, and the worm definitely stood out - so did the choreographed bar fight scene.

When you engaged with the many stories told through dance, the comedy gags crept up out of nowhere. Now and then, the simplest of tasks, hilariously, could not be completed. No words were said and no words were needed. As my time in the theatre passed by, it’s like I had fallen down the Alice In Wonderland rabbit hole: the show became brilliantly peculiar, eccentric, and anarchic. I was under a spell listening to the soothing sound of static from the record player. There was an underlying sincerity to all of the dancers' clown-like performances and a focus which only comes from years of practice and performance experience. The stylised curtain call was a lovely way to round off the show and our night out at the Ballet Bar. It was a pleasure to watch. Very good.

Reviewer – Sam Lowe
on – 28/11/18

NEWS: A year-long celebration of women in cinema starts at HOME in January.

HOME announces Celebrating Women in Global Cinema - a year-long celebration of women in film taking place throughout 2019

In 2019 HOME Manchester will host a year-long programme of films and special events highlighting and celebrating women in film from across the world.

From specially curated retrospectives, seasons and special events, to takeovers of annual favourites such as Not Just Bollywood, this branded series of screenings and events will explore and challenge the place and space of female filmmakers from a variety of cultural, social and political perspectives.

Recognising the importance of accessibility and equality within the film industry from entry-level upwards, HOME has opened up six programming slots across the year to be curated by burgeoning female creatives and women looking to break into film exhibition, who are invited to attend a public “Meet Up” event in January to meet the HOME programming team, with a view to pitching their own content ideas.

Women in Global Cinema will partner with the recently launched Girls On Film podcast - the all-female review show presented by film journalist Anna Smith - to bring a series of live podcasts to HOME across the year. Championing the female perspective in film criticism and its importance to the exposure of female-led films, the events will include live debates, interviews and film reviews.
Celebrating Women in Global Cinema is co-curated by Rachel Hayward, HOME’s Film Programme Manager and Andy Willis, Senior Visiting Curator: Film and Professor of Film Studies, School of Arts and Media at University of Salford.
Rachel Hayward commented:
In 2019 we’re taking our on-going commitment to diverse and inclusive film programming to the next level with the theme of women in film permeating our cinemas for an entire year – as opposed to a one-off season or event. We look forward to celebrating what women from across the world have achieved in film to date and encouraging and supporting the female creatives of the future so that female voices in our industry become louder in the years to come.”

An overview of the programming announced so far follows:
Celebrating ground-breaking women working on both sides of the camera - from directors, writers and producers to on-screen talent - a series of mini-retrospectives will kick off in January with the ICO’s new retrospective of Margarethe von Trotta, one of the leading lights of the New German Cinema of the 1970s and 1980s. Other retrospective subjects will include: Euzhan Palcy, the first black woman to direct a Hollywood studio picture (A Dry White Season, 1989); Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding), one of India’s most critically acclaimed filmmakers; BAFTA-wining producer Rebecca O’Brien (I, Daniel Blake); and award-winning television writer and producer Debbie Horsfield (Poldark, Cutting It).

Further retrospectives and special events will explore the often complex relationship that influential female filmmakers and stars have had with Hollywood with subjects including: the Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony-award winning Barbra Streisand; controversial Italian director Lina Wertmüller, the first female Best Director Oscar nominee (for Seven Beauties, 1975); and, Ida Lupino, a pioneering director and producer who took on the male-dominated Hollywood studio system and worked on more than 130 films and television programmes from 1931-1978 and was the first woman to direct a film noir (The Hitch-Hiker, 1953).

New and specially curated seasons foregrounding women in film will include: Women, Organise!, a collection of films focussing on women’s activism and involvement in trade unionism marking the 120th anniversary of the GFTU (General Federation of Trade
Unions) in 2019; and, a major retrospective in May of pioneering Hong Kong filmmaker Angie Chen, whose expansive career spans award-winning short films and documentaries, collaborations with directors including Jackie Chan (Dragon Lord, 1982) and high-profile commercials.

Some of HOME’s most popular returning seasons will have a Celebrating Women in Global Cinema take-over, including Not Just Bollywood - HOME’s annual showcase of independent Indian filmmaking - which will devote the 2019 programme to female creatives in Indian film, including a retrospective on actor-director Nandita Das (Firaaq).

As a celebration of global cinema, the programme will include work from South and East Asia, Africa, Europe, and North, South and Central America. There will be a special season dedicated to women filmmakers in the Arab world, particularly in Lebanon and Palestine, in partnership with the School of Arts, Languages and Culture at the University of Manchester, in addition to a focus on women’s contributions to East Asian cinema, to be announced in 2019.

Further annual events will spotlight women in film including HOME’s Pride programme and year-round LGBTQ+ work, and ongoing partnership with the Women Over Fifty Film Festival. HOME will also continue to partner with The University of Manchester’s Sexuality Summer School whose 2019 “Queer Dialogues” programme will include an event with writer and activist So Mayer entitled “Dial(ogue) D for Dyke Disruption: A Queer Toolkit for Blowing Up the Film Canon” which will include talking points from queer and feminist filmmakers and critics from around the globe.

Similarly HOME’s Engagement and Industry programmes will foreground women’s voices. In-depth evening courses open to the public will explore women in cinematic spaces that are not deemed traditionally female - for example, “Women in Science Fiction” and “Women in Film Comedy” - while industry discussions with female creatives aim to increase the awareness of opportunities for women within the sector and inspire young audiences.  

Further screenings and work-in-progress content will be announced throughout the year - including a focus on women in documentary filmmaking and screenings of films by trans women - all of which will be Women in Global Cinema branded, allowing audiences to readily identify content by and about women.


REVIEW: The Addams Family - The Theatre, Students' Union Building, Manchester.

Manchester University Gilbert and Sullivan Society opened their run of The Addams Family musical last night at the students’ union theatre on Oxford Road, Manchester.

The Addams Family is a new musical which contains a number of very pleasing and catchy songs, more than a few of which are surprisingly difficult for both ensemble and soloists. Nevertheless, each number was sung with relish and from such a small cast – 17 members in total – a solid sound was made with some pleasing harmonies.

The familiar characters from the Addams Family TV series are all there – Gomez and Morticia, Uncle Fester, Lurch, Grandma and the two Addams children – Wednesday and Pugsley. It is a testament to the original show that these characters – essentially stock comedy characters – were played with depth.

The set for this production was simple and effective, with one setting from start to finish and various props and scene changes handled by the ensemble members. It is obvious that this society do not get much external funding for their productions, which is a shame – particularly as the vast majority of the audience were in their early twenties. Although the costumes were hired and looked really effective, a bit more money could have lifted this show to another level without much effort. Stage mics for the cast – be it head sets or ambient mics – would have made a huge difference. I was on the fourth row from the front and at times some lyrics and dialogue were lost even though the band was sensitive to what was happening on stage. It seemed very old fashioned to watch a musical with no microphones and made me wonder how they ever did it in the past, with a full band or orchestra. The band itself was humble – two reeds, drums and keyboard – but they provided a tasteful live music element and I am glad that they didn’t use pre-recorded backing tracks. The conductor was possibly not needed or may have been better employed leading from an instrument and adding more colour to the band. In saying that, the musicians played extremely well and there was an authentic sound for this show which combines some traditional musical theatre styles with latin and jazz elements. If I had one complaint, it would be that the keyboard was too quiet and had little depth at all times – I suspect there was a struggle to balance the band with the ensemble, nevertheless an amp or direct input would have allowed for more control of sound.

The premise of The Addams Family is relatively simple – Wednesday Addams gets engaged to a ‘normal’ boy from a ‘normal’ family. She wants both sets of parents to meet but while she tells Gomez that they are engaged, she makes him promise to keep that a secret from Moritica until after the dinner, just to see that they all get on. Mayhem ensues and tension builds in a fast moving first act with many laughs from the audience. In true Gilbert and Sullivan style, there are some ad-libbed lines which are clever and add to the enjoyment. The first act ends in full crisis mode with some fantastic performances from the main cast. It is hard to single out any of the performances but Gomez, Fester, Wednesday and Alice, the future mother in law, really shone out.

The second act of this show sees the various crises resolved quickly and without much complexity. It is a shame that this act did not have the same pace and tension of narrative as the first, but that is no fault of MUGGS who kept the show going with equal energy and humour as they gave in the first act. 

MUGGS’ The Addams Family is an amateur production that really entertains and the less professional aspects of this production do not detract from a full throttle, high energy performance that will make you laugh and laugh again.

Reviewer - Aaron Loughrey
on - 28/11/18

REVIEW: don't forget the birds - Battersea Arts Centre, London.

‘don’t forget the birds’, (un-capitalised) directed by Laura Lindow, is a harrowing, entertaining and thought provoking piece which tells the ‘true story of a how prison took a mother from a daughter and their heart-lifting journey to find each other again’. It was first commissioned in 2016 as part of a highly successful collaboration between Open Clasp Theatre company, which seeks to create theatre informed by ‘women disenfranchised in theatre and society’ and Live Theatre, which ‘has an international reputation as a new writing theatre’. The result of this is once again, a truly great piece of theatre. The performers in the show, Cheryl and Abigail Byron, are real life mother and daughter and, as revealed to the audience, are the inspiration for the piece too. Their connection to the story and each other is what makes the performance truly enthralling to watch: there is an honesty behind their words that does not go amiss and this showcases the bond between parent/child which most audiences can relate too.

The show, which runs for approximately one hour with no interval, begins as Cheryl steps out of the gates at HMP Low Newton, ready to begin her new life with her family - only to find that everything has changed. What follows is a comedic, yet sometimes devastating series of ‘moments’ which show mother and daughter trying to find each other in a ‘new world’ whilst making sense of their past. It is an artful mix of dialogue, recollection, movement and song and the piece was written by Catrina McHugh MBE after a series of interviews with Cheryl and Abigail conducted in 2016 after Cheryl’s release from prison. As a result of this, the script reads almost like a transcript of those interviews - audio sometimes plays over movement on stage and their conversations intertwine and move away from each other as they were conducted separately. Interestingly, both performers also carry the script with them on stage, despite it being clear that it is not needed or even to jog their memory of lines. The effect of this, I believe, suggests that they are almost ‘reporting’ the story to the audience, they are reading directly from the transcript of their lives - leaving nothing unsaid. The style of the piece means that the audience gets to see both perspectives at once, and though they vary wildly, they always find their way back together, to one moment - to one last look at each other through the prison door.

Verity Quinn, who designed the set, achieved the perfect mix of elegance and simplicity in the staging of the production - it was in tune with both the script and style of performance. The stage consisted of two boxes, two chairs, and a wide door frame and allowed for transitions from one ‘place’ to the next to run smoothly. The talent of performers and strength of the script meant that the audience never felt lost, we always knew where we were supposed to be. Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of the set, however, was the incorporation of roses. Roses lined the perimeters of the set, they were stacked on top of the boxes - they were inside the boxes. The effect was almost overwhelming, but nevertheless a beautiful aesthetic choice with a purpose that is later revealed in the play.

In short - the play is truly amazing. I did not know what to expect when I arrived at the theatre, and I was not only pleasantly surprised but totally engaged in the performance from the outset. It is the kind of show that makes you think, makes you laugh, makes you cry and makes you want to call your mother.

'don’t forget the birds' runs until the 1st December at Battersea Arts Centre, London.

Reviewer - Abbie Grundy
on - 28/11/18

REVIEW: The Oresteia - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

The Oresteia is a classic Greek Tragedy filled with blood and more murders than you can shake a stick at. When I arrived at the Lowry for this show I thought I was going to see a standard adaptation of the famous text by Aeschylus. How wrong was I? Instead we were treated to around a 70 minute summary of text humorously played by 3 actors; Nuala Maguire, Grace Goulding and Tanya Muchanyuka.

Judging by the amount of teenagers in the audience I am assuming The Oresteia is on the school syllabus. However, Splendid Productions were completely aware of this and made their adaptation perfectly suited to this audience. The three ladies had their attention from beginning to end, and believe me that’s not easy with a group of teenagers.

This adaptation doesn’t follow the sequence of the original text. We are introduced to the Furies at the very beginning here, and if my memory serves me correct the Furies don’t appear until the final act of the original play. I'm still in two minds about this. It's great to re-imagine the play, but some things are written in a certain order for a reason.

Although the production does take place in a rather large theatre there is a very fringe feel to the piece. The girls do their own tech and there is minimal props and costumes. After doing a bit of research after the play I learned this piece is indeed a Theatre in Education format. However, I do think Splendid Productions could have upped their game a little for a show at the Quays Theatre in the Lowry, after all people did pay for tickets to see this.

I think this production was great as an accessible version for children. However I can't help but feel in doing so they've cut out most of the beautiful language and poetry from the original version.

The acting from the three ladies is top-notch, each of them able to portray many different characters throughout and keep what is an ancient text amusing. However, what struck me as most impressive was the girls improvisation skills. They were able to interact with the audience too.

Obviously one the main parts of the original Oresteia is the role of the Chorus. The girls transformed themselves into cockney men, old women, common Essex style ladies and of course the Furies. However I'm not sure if this came across as well as it could have - a chorus is supposed to be a group, not 3 people.

This production is definitely fantastic at what it does - making an old play accessible to a younger audience. However, if you were looking for a classic performance of the original text you won’t find it in this show.

Reviewer - Brian Madden
on - 28/11/18

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

REPORTAGE: Manchester's Ice Cavern inside the Ice Village - Cathedral Gardens, Manchester.

Welcome to Manchester's first Ice Village, snuggly positioned in Cathedral Gardens, [the area between Chetham's Music School and The Urbis Football Museum] The Ice Cavern is a large temperature-controlled container which houses many cleverly crafted ice sculptures set amongst fir trees as well as an ice bar at the end of the short pathway. You'll need to wrap up well to view these beautiful artworks though, as it is -10 centigrade inside.

In all 250 tonnes of ice have been used to create these sculptures - some of the largest ice sculptures I have ever seen, including an almost full size locomotive engine, a polar bear and King Kong! Other noteworthy attractions along the route are a pair of ice thrones - feel free to sit on them and have your photo taken!,  Father Christmas and Rudolph, Santa's Workshop, and various winter animals including arctic foxes and penguins.

The sculptures also made reference to Manchester's historic and cultural past with 10 specific artworks which include a female suffragette train driver, pulleys and cogs evoking the centre of the Industrial Revolution, a football, and the Manchester Bee.

My visit this afternoon was on a very windy and raining dusk, and sadly, I did not see any outward sign of Christmas or Winter adorning either the cavern or the village. It all looked very uninviting and dour, lacking snow, sparkling lights and atmosphere! I can only hope that the place might look a little more like a Winter Wonderland in dry weather and snow on the ground. The outside of the cavern was a steel grey and the walkway to the entrance soggy and uninviting.

The whole Ice Village seemed to have the same lacklustre approach to bedecking the area in festive colours and tradition. Fake snow, fairy lights, icicles hanging from the buildings and snowflakes  lighting the paths are just some of the things which immediately came to mind which would have improved the look and attractiveness of the site a thousandfold.

Other attractions once inside the Ice Village include an ice rink, Father Christmas' Grotto, an arctic bar with rentable private mini-chalets, and a couple of arcade-style winter-themed games.

Hopefully nearer Christmas the Ice Village will start to look a lot more like an ice village, as it stands at the moment however it is very drab and uninspiring. Moreover there is little here to inspire and entertain young children. Once inside the cavern however, the sculptures are definitely worth a visit, but again, there is no interaction or entertainment on offer, and so youngsters would get easily bored by it I would imagine.

Reportage - Matthew Dougall
on - 27/11/18

REVIEW: Proof - Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester.

This is a gem of a production that needs to be seen. A Pulitzer-winning play from 2000, David Auburn’s script mines the dysfunctional American family with the extra bite and zest of mathematics, academic ambition, and a lot of references to hard-core partying maths geeks. It is the directorial debut of Joseph Houston, co-founder of Manchester’s award-winning Hope Mill Theatre, and their first non-musical in-house production.

Lucy Jane Dixon’s performance as university mathematics drop-out Catherine is superb. From the moment she is first discovered slumbering on her twenty fifth birthday on the back porch of her father’s old house in Chicago, she is onstage in almost every scene, and her brittle, vulnerable, yet luminous energy manifests through multiple layers of nuance as the play flashes back and forth in time. Her father, a brilliant mathematician, has just died. He had been suffering mental illness for many years. Among his houseful of notebooks filled with gibberish is one notebook that contains forty pages of an exciting new mathematical proof that will have reporters flocking to the house. How could this proof have come into existence? And, as one particularly pointed scene towards the end makes clear, why is it that young women get so incredibly under-estimated?

The side-story of Catherine’s relationship with her older sister Clare is played out with bombastic richness by Angela Costello. Clare has inherited only a thousandth of her father’s mathematical talent, but it’s enough to give her an affluent life as a currency analyst in New York, and she wants her drifting younger sister to move out there with her – to study, to work, to do anything except stay in bed all day. Catherine does not want to go. Catherine has inherited a bit more than a thousandth of mathematical talent. Catherine’s bags are packed for her when Clare very quickly sells the house. And then the notebook turns up.

In able support is David Keller as Robert, the recently-deceased fifty-something father who shambles well-meaningly across the porch at various intervals, caught between his deteriorating brain and the glory days of his youth when he was nationally feted as a genius. The twenty-something hotshot of today is played with just the right amount of condescension by Samuel Holland as Hal, on the surface an earnest and gawky mathematician who performs in a really bad rock band... but underneath, not too adverse to the thought of being nationally feted himself. Even if it’s by proxy. Via someone else’s notebook.

Stunning set design by Frankie Gerrard, showing a semi-realistic house and porch of silvery-grey driftwood that, under ultraviolet lights, becomes covered in mathematical graffiti. Costumes also by Gerrard, in muted pastel colours that give a further impression of being in a world that is not quite real, not quite formed, and not quite “proven.” Joseph Thomas’ lighting design veers from the naturalistic, bringing changing seasons and even some delicate snow in moonlight to the stage, to the harshly dramatic, assaulting the audience’s retinas with blazing back-lighting that has no mercy. Dan Pyke’s sound design brings a sonic boom to each back-lit blaze. And Manny Crook’s accent coaching has the actors chewing their way through Auburn’s dialogue in authentic nasal and hard-edged Chicago accents.

Hope Mill Theatre was opened in Manchester with the ambition of rivalling the Off-West End theatres of London. In “Proof”, that ambition is well and truly realised.

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore
on - 27/11/18

REVIEW: Absurd Person Singular - The Garrick Playhouse, Altrincham.

The Garrick Playhouse is a lovely theatre, with very comfortable seating and good sight lines wherever you're sitting, and a nice bar. It's a busy place and the car park quickly gets full but you can park for free in the adjoining streets in the evening should you only arrive near the start time. 

When I go to the theatre, I always love that bit as the curtains open to reveal the world you're going to be transported into. Unfortunately, I was denied that particular pleasure as the set was visible as soon as I walked into the auditorium. It was clear, even before the action began, that we were going back to the 1970s (the play was in fact premiered in 1972). The premise of 'Absurd Person Singular' is a very simple one: 3 married couples, 3 consecutive Christmas Eves, one in each household. Hence there are 3 acts! Acts 1 and 2 were played out before it was time for a break, just short of 9pm. In my opinion, I'd have had the interval after Act 1 followed by a very short intermission at the end of Act 2 for the change of scenery. People were getting fidgety and were glad of the chance for an ice cream and to stretch their legs. 

I was really impressed with the set design which included a double-sided and well constructed set on a revolve and this made for a speedy and smooth transition between Acts 1 and 2. The action starts in the Hopcrofts' kitchen with Jane (efficiently played by Ros Greenwood) and Sidney (Graham Simmonds) over fussing about making the right impression with their "posher" guests. There are definitely aspects in this show which remind you of Mike Leigh’s seminal piece, Abigail's Party. 

There is a significant element of farce throughout. For instance, with people constantly coming into the kitchen then leaving again and I found this terribly distracting. When the action was focused in one place, such as the sarcastic way Marion (hilariously portrayed by Laura Chandler) “compliments” Jane and Sidney on their kitchen, it was a much more effective and enjoyable comedy. 

Act 2 is set in the dingy apartment where George (Matthew Foster) and his depressed wife Eva (Kim Armston) live. You soon realise why she is having a nervous breakdown - the act opens with her desperately trying to write a suicide note - as George plays away and declares he is planning to leave Eva. As the act progresses, the two rather unwelcome couples are seemingly oblivious to Eva's attempts to commit suicide and only just manage to stop her when they eventually realise what's going on. Act 3 is in the country house kitchen of Marion - who gets progressively more drunk as the evening wears on - and Ronald (Simon Garland). He is a particularly unsympathetic character who leaves his wife languishing upstairs until she eventually appears in her fetching dressing gown. 

All the costumes were appropriate for the era and the look of the play was consistent, so the designers should definitely be congratulated for that. In conclusion, all 6 actors handled the typically verbose Ayckbourn script very well, undoubtedly though, Chandler was the stand out performer. However, for me, this comedy, which ends with an overlong festive game, is as dated as the set and doesn't stand the test of time. 

The play is showing nightly until Saturday December the 1st. Performances start at 7:30pm.

Reviewer - David Swift
on - 27/11/18

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

REVIEW: Excess Baggage - The New Adelphi Theatre, Salford.

Ronlin Foreman has had a long standing career in Physical Comedy. This evening Foreman displayed his talents in his one-man show ‘Excess Baggage’. Developed from his previous touring play, Pigeon Show, Foreman adapted the works from the piece to be able to manage this smaller-scale production. Currently on a UK tour, the next showing is on Wednesday 28th November at the University of Chester.

A very warm, smiling figure begins the play with an accordion. Laughing between words, he went on to detail how we have come to see a show not a play, a fool not an actor. What we are about to witness is not a narrative but a series of experiences, he describes. This character was hard to follow, and the laughing made it hard to hear the words. During this sequence, I was unsure as to what exactly I was watching as the story was difficult to make sense from. The laughter in the audience confused me at first, were they seeing something I wasn’t?

After a while, I could see the minimal staging clearly – a privacy screen with a costume box, and a chair at the side. The privacy screen’s presence is ironic, as Foreman happily changes on stage during the acts, serving to tell us not to be presumptuous about this piece and that there are many surprises in store for us.

From someone who has never experienced Physical Comedy before, I began apprehensive but was quickly won over by Foreman. What followed next was a fantastic display of creativity. The show is a collection of previous works spanning the past 40 years. Comprised of 5 main acts, including a bizarre rendition of Madam Butterfly, a sweet lovable clown with his banana, and a Grotesque man consumed by his fear of maggots, each act was introduced by Foreman with the history behind each one. By the end of the 60 minute showcase, the divide between audience and performer was gone. We had been taken on a journey through the highlights of his life as a performer, whilst all the time getting to know the man behind the red nose and the masks.

Foreman playfully toys with the ideas of tragedy and comedy, merging them as one throughout the performance. The message is clear, that these two things are necessary for life, and have a clear impact on Foreman’s creative process.

The physical control displayed in the performances was impressive for the 66 year old, who kept mentioning that he was very glad to not have died during the show. Whether this was an intentional aside or from legitimate exhaustion, I was thoroughly amazed by the ability he exhibited on stage. From elegant dance sequences, to contorting his face and body in crazy manners, we witnessed the sole reason as to why this man has had such a long-running career.

This is a must-see for anyone interested in Physical Comedy, and also an incredibly enjoyable watch for those who have never experienced the likes of it before.

Reviewer - Jasmine Tovey
on - 26/11/18

REVIEW: #JeSuis - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

#JeSuis is a piece of dance-theatre which has been created in order to make people aware that so many human atrocities happen throughout the world which are either scantily reported or don't even get reported at all. Human Rights campaigners are continually fighting the corner of people too scared to do it for themselves... those whose freedom of movement or expression has been politically or militarily negated - the silent ones who are in prison for their beliefs, forced to evacuate and are in refugee camps,  or their basic right to love, marry or be who they are is at risk. The title of the piece is taken from the 2015 attacks on the Paris satirical newspaper office when the social media world came out in mass sympathy with #JeSuisCharlie. This show aims to 'hashtag' all those who have yet to be hashtagged - past present and future. Je suis is French and translated means 'I am'. It can however also be extended to mean 'I exist' or 'I matter'.

This was the starting point and criteria that the Aakash Odedra Company brought to the table when creating this piece. #JeSuis is visual, striking, provocative, poignant, and hugely emotive. I did think though that their concern for getting their message across over-egged their pudding at times. Powerful lighting, montages and images, combined with tribal rhythms and choreography that was both unified and disonant, telling different stories but always with one oppressor and many oppressed. The oppressor does finally meet his match at the end, which does kind of tie everything up in a neat bow somewhat, and although makes for a satisfactory end to the piece of theatre, doesn't leave you with a sense that these crimes are still being committed on a daily basis all over the world.

In the hour long piece, choreographed by the company's founder Aakash Odedra, we were taken on an emotional journey through not just dance but physical theatre, some small sections of speech and even a song. - hence my reluctance to say that this was contemporary dance; it was so much more than that, and so 'dance-theatre' is what came to mind. Some of the scenelets worked much better than others, but the one which saw one of the performers use the radio as a mask and re-create a speech from Adolf Hitler in the style of Charlie Chaplin's 'Great Dictator' was neither funny nor clever and simply jarred. Another scenelet which I found strange was one further on in the piece which was hugely reminiscent of  'Dangerous Jade' from Evita, but using music very similar to a section from 'Jesus Christ Superstar'. Again, very odd.

The gagging, suffocating and cellophane wrapping was excessive.  Again a huge example of over-playing your hand, and being carried away with the enthusiasm of putting your message across. However here, as elsewhere, less would certainly have been more. More simplistic = more powerful.

An interesting piece superbly danced and realised. Their split-second movements and choreographed thoughts and purposes executed excellently. I am sad though that both the company felt the need to create this piece in the first place - the world should certainly be a better and safer place than it is; but also sad that rather than force-feeding us our emotional process, it would have been preferable to have been able to emote and sympathise in our own way. A very 'worthy' production with some very clever lighting effects and talented performers.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 26/11/18

REVIEW: The Illusion - HOME, Manchester

Originally written by French playwright Pierre Corneillle (1606-84), this freely adapted version by American playwright Tony Kushner, is an exceptionally bold choice for the graduating students of Manchester School of Theatre to present.

Now, bearing in mind Corneille wrote this in the 17th Century and Kushner adapted it in the 20th Century, those unfamiliar with the story could potentially be very wrong-footed by this play. Utilising what was then a new and highly inventive form of storytelling, this ‘play within a play’ takes the theme of ‘love’ and exposes it under the guise of passion, desire, jealousy and even a healthy dose of unrequited love.

Kushner has ably assisted the original text by shaking it up with lyrical speeches akin to that of a modern day Shakespeare. Carefully teasing out humour and pathos with beautifully constructed verse that enters the ear with ease.

The play opens with Pridamant (Sam Black) seeking counsel from the infamous and slightly unorthodox Alcandre (Ellis Konstantina) and her assistant The Amanuensis (Kirsty Johnson) regarding the whereabouts of his estranged prodigal son. Alcandre proceeds to conjure extracts of Pridamant’s son’s life who is portrayed through three characters Calisto, Clinton and Theogenes, all played by Thomas Ghaleb. To Pridamant’s occasional outbursts of surprise or dissatisfaction, we meet three high-born love interests in Meilbea, Isabelle and Hippolyta, ably performed by Dora Davis. Each love interest has a doting/meddlesome lady-in-waiting all hilariously portrayed by Lucy Greenaway. Along the tortuous route of love, we meet a variety of unwanted suitors in the form of Pleribo, Adraste and Prince Florilame (Dylan Brady) and a lunatic (Connor Coen), for good measure!

The performances under the expert direction of Seb Harcombe are detailed, full-bodied and a joy to watch. The characterisation, physicality, stage craft and ensemble understanding of the play is clearly delivered with conviction and vigour.

In order to fully appreciate how detailed a performance this was, I have to reveal a few spoilers to those who have never seen this play. As already mentioned, this is a play within a play that, fundamentally, holds the mirror up to life, love and us, the audience. At the culmination of the story, the scenery is dramatically pulled down to reveal a large mirror upstage. Thus revealing that whilst the real audience had observed the conjurings of Alcandre to us; seemingly opposite us via the mirror, those conjured scenes were played to a reflected and, until then, unseen audience.

I loved this ‘reveal’ because I had watched several scenes during the ‘conjurings’ that jarred with me. I found myself questioning why actors were upstaging themselves and using ‘bad stage craft’. It was not until this final reveal that I realised no upstaging had taken place whatsoever. In fact, the voyeurism of Alcandre’s conjured episodes seemed to become even more isolated to our prying eyes.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this clever performance and recommend the play as a whole. The performance I watched was confident, grounded and emotional in equal measures swinging from comedic triumph to catastrophic tragedy with a professionalism rarely seen in undergraduates.

Overall, an extremely high standard of performance on the prestigious stage of Home’s Theatre 2. Each cast member should be very proud of their performances for this play is no mean feat. Well done!

Reviewer - Alexis Tuttle
on - 23/11/18

Monday, 26 November 2018

REVIEW: Little Sparrow And Elfin Bow in Concert - The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester.

In the intimacy of the Bridgewater Hall's Barbirolli Room, (seating for 150), a small stage had been erected at the far end and we were treated to a double headline evening by two emerging singing talents, who are at one and the same time surprisingly similar but also very different too.

In the first half of this evening's concert we heard diminutive Liverpudlian, Elfin Bow, put her unique spin on her life experiences to music. We heard about Edith Grimshaw, an amalgamation of three childhood 'harridans'; her time as an art teacher [attested by her 'Alice In Wondeland' outfit] and her love of hats [she wore a red plush velvet top hat with a bright yellow flower], and why she stopped teaching to follow her passion of writing and performing; and we heard about her elderly father and his dementia. All of these themes cleverly interwoven into her songs.

Bow had a very relaxed and easy style, giving a little background to each song she played - most of which were original compositions, mostly from her album, but a couple of newer tracks not yet released.too. Her music is of the folk genre, but there are strong elements of classical and Country music evident in there too. She was also a competent musician, accompanying herself through her set with a various array of instruments from a holeless acoustic guitar, through banjo, to piano.

The one problem here was that the piano had not been lifted onto the stage, and so both piano and player were sadly unseen after the first two rows!

Little Sparrow sang backing vocals for a few of the songs, but my two favourites in the first half were 'Sweet Jonathan', a catchy tune with a Rock feel to it, and 'They're Calling All Of Us', based on a folk legend about the red dragon beating the white dragon in a battle and becoming the emblem of Wales.

Bow finished her set with a rousing call to arms for adventure and fun in the up-tempo, 'For The Love Of Peril'.

The second half saw Little Sparrow take to the stage. Her stage name is something perhaps ironic in the sense that vocally she is much more of a huge eagle - a surprisingly strong soprano voice soaring high. She would be equally at home with either light classical or rock.

This evening her sound was augmented by a cellist, guitarist, drummer and pianist, with backing vocals provided by at least two of these. Her opening song, 'Alone' was highly dramatic and moody, very reminiscent of Kate Bush.

Once again, the repertoire this evening was folk, but again the influences infusing her songs, many. She sang songs from her albums, a couple of completely new songs, and a cover. A well-thought through mix of both old and new, as well as slow and more up-beat.

Some of her songs were clever, such as the song 'Memories Maid', a wordplay title based on the book, 'Memoirs Of A Geisha'; an almost unrecognisable cover, as the now slow and deliberate narrative style of Madness' 'Baggy Trousers' is given the Sparrow treatment; and some just downright flash, such as 'Wishing Tree' from her debut album.

A couple of her songs were accompanied on the piano by Robin Dewhurst. The second of these, 'Tender', saw images of people projected onto the wall behind her. She had asked through social media for friends to send in pictures of loved ones past and present to make this montage as the song was written at a time when her mother was suffering with a serious illness. It's the dark times, quite often, which produce the most creative music, and this song, and the one following, 'Dry Your Eyes' were just beautiful testaments to that adage.

After this, a more up tempo song was called for, and she delighted the audience with three brand new songs before finishing her set with a further three taken from her debut album. My favourite song after the highly dramatic opening song, was, I think, 'Struck Gold' from her first album.

The advertising 'blurb' describes Little Sparrow's voice as 'beautifully emotive' and her 'use of expression mirrors the sincerity of her delivery'. I couldn't have put it better myself!

It was a hugely enjoyable evening being introduced to two new (at least to me) singers and some beautifully written, poignant, and cleverly crafted songs. If I am to be in any way negative at all, then the evening was a little on the long side, running at 2, 5 hours (including a 15 minute change-over interval). But since the music was so wonderful, I'm not going to complain!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 25/11/18

REVIEW: Little Forest (film) - HOME, Manchester

This is a slow-moving, evocative and thoughtful piece of cinema from South Korea. The origin of this film is a 2002 Manga comic of the same name written by Daisuka Igarashi; this then was made into a two-part live-action film in 2014, before Yim Soon-Rye, South Korea's leading female film director decided to rework it and make it more 'homely' and pensive, and the film was released only in February this year, and has already exceeded all box office expectations.

It's the story of a young lady, Hye Won (Kim Tae-ri), brought up in a rural countryside village with her widowed mother [the house is the father's but we never hear of him or know anything about him or his whereabouts] moves to the capital of Seoul to go to university and find work. It is at this juncture that her mother suddenly and without warning leaves the family house and disappears out of her life. City life is not for her and the boyfriend she has at university is not enough for her to stay. She is hungry. Hungry in every sense of the word. Hungry for real, fresh food, countryside food of her childhood, not the plastic fast food of the city. Hungry for fulfilment in her life. Hungry for happiness - something again she associates with childhood and the countryside. But above all hungry for answers.

She moves back to her family home and settles down to a period of self searching and soul searching. She tells herself that this will be only for a few days, but we all know that that simply will not be the case. Whilst there she meets up with two of her childhood friends, the ying and yang of her own personality. Eun-Sook (Jin Ki-joo) went to university in the city and returned to become a commercial gardener. His is at peace and one with the countryside and loves his gentle but sometimes harsh lifestyle. On the other hand is Jae-ha (Ryu Jun-yeol) as the girl who never got away from the town but always yearns and fantasises about the big city and is like a square peg in a round hole where she is.

Hye Won acclimatises herself easily to the ways of the country life again. Her love of food and cooking (a hugely important visual metaphor throughout) and the way she so easily slips back into the regular routine of seasonal labour, (The film goes from Winter, through Spring, Summer, Autumn and back to Winter again.) tells us that she has found at least some of what she was looking for. There are hints of what her life was like in Seoul, flashbacks to important memories of her with her mother, and a kind of love rivalry between her and Jae-ha over Eun-Sook. But mostly it is about her and her relationship with nature and food. We see her preparing and cooking various dishes throughout the film, and we even are 'treated' to the noises that accompany the eating of food too; slurping, wiping the face, masticating, and stomach rumblings are all audially enlarged.

'You have to wait to taste the best food' or 'Cooking reflects your heart' and other sentences from the film. It is also culturally quite interesting too. We see traditional foods and traditional recipes, as well as what a country house in Korea is like and how it is furnished.

What makes the film for me though is the ending. She eventually finds and has the courage to read the letter from her mother explaining why she left. It took her a whole year of evading the problem by working hard and cooking, but now she is ready to face up to herself. She leaves the village and returns to the city. This only confirms for her everything that she had thought already and is immediately miserable again. Upon returning soon afterwards back to her country house she sees the door open and someone within. The film ends here without revealing who that person is, and we are left on a wonderful cliffhanger. Her mother? Eun-Sook? Jae-ha? I would like to think it was her mother, but that's just my interpretation!

For anyone interested in food, the outdoors, and seeing something a little different, then this film is a must. It's very gentle and deliberately inconclusive in more ways than just the ending, but the subtle and real acting of protagonist Kim Tae-ri is also well worth the effort. In Korean with English subtitles.

Reviewer - Chris Benchley
on - 25/11/18

Sunday, 25 November 2018

REVIEW: The Haunted Man - The Edge Theatre, Chorlton. Manchester.

The Edge Theatre and Arts Centre is a warm and hospitable place to see theatre at this time of year. The whole building possesses a strong sense of community. As part of the Autumn 2018 programme, tonight's offering is 'The Haunted Man'. It is based on the novella by Charles Dickens, 'The Haunted Man And The Ghost's Bargain', first published in 1848. Hence, the "Christmas Carol" vibe throughout.

A Kindred Theatre Production presents a tale where the past and present are about to become entangled. We catch Jonathan who has just moved into a care home, in the past he was a professor. His mind is deteriorating, he can't tell what's real and what's imagined. One specific memory latches on to his mind, a memory he would rather suppress. Jonathan receives a gift, a book, Dickens' book of this story. Upon reading the inscription on the front, a ghost visits offering an incredible present: the opportunity to forget. This is a play about love, loss, betrayal, and friendship.

This story was about confusion and unfortunately I think this production was uncertain of itself as well. It was advertised as suitable for aged eleven plus. There was quite a lot of evidence to suggest this was a family piece of theatre: the theatrical storytelling, shadows, sound effects and music, and puppetry. However, the family theatre style was never realised to its full potential. As well, the content of the play contained mature themes exploring dementia, romantic love and relationships, and affairs - anyone might think this was a play for adults. The majority of the audience were adults. What was presented to us was a clash of styles, leaving me to ask myself what genre of theatre were we watching?

A care home set housed an amalgamation of the real world and Jonathan's internal consciousness. The safe and comforting feel of the set was merely an illusion. Here we had "haunted" in both senses of the word, in terms of the presence of the spirit world and being frightened by your own thoughts. The simpler the scary visual and sound effects were the better: the shocking knock on the door, a hand creeping from behind an arm chair, and the clever abstract shadows creating the illusion of a floating and transparent phantom. When additional sound or lighting effects were added it became over done (even slightly cheesy) especially for such an intimate show.

Some scenes became too long, getting caught up in establishing deep relationships between characters or communicating someone's backstory. In the process, forgetting about Jonathan who for me was the lead person guiding the narrative as he started to recall pieces of his mental jigsaw puzzle. Occasionally, I was asking myself why do we need to know this?

Sadly, the puppeteering was not as good as it could have been. The ghostly child figure appeared to move robotically; lacking fluidity. The two puppeteers executed some moves rather awkwardly too. After a while, one actor left to play another role, leaving the actress to puppeteer it - could they have just used one person all the way through?

For the most part, the play was a tangled web of moments from Jonathan's life. Effectively, we became just as frustrated and confused as Jonathan. It came as a wonderful relief when some clarity was given. Eileen, the love of Jonathan's life, was the one that got away. That was the heartbreaking memory he was trying to suppress. The acting was strong all around, capturing the storytelling style.

A great central performance from the actor playing, Jonathan too. Sadly, I didn't receive a programme so I'm not sure what his name was. Jonathan's internal pain, frustration, and mental pressure was made external and visible. One last thing, the ending with the Take A Break magazine did stick out like a sore thumb. It was trying to be humorous (?) but what ended up happening was the climatic poignancy of the last scene just shattered. 'The Haunted Man' contained strong performances but other production elements were uncertain or over done.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 24/11/18

REVIEW: MUMS Wind Orchestra Concert - Martin Harris Centre, Manchester.

It’s that time of year when there’s nothing quite like, or more enjoyable than, attending the showcase of a live orchestra, a show about morals and togetherness or just enjoying a good story or selection of music in the comfort of a warm cosy venue away from the cold dark evenings, as we lead up to the festive period. It was therefore a welcome invite to attend Manchester University Music Society (MUMS)’s Wind Orchestra concert at the Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall within the Martin Harris Centre and, although brief, there were some really nice moments.

Just one of those moment, indeed the first, was the announcement that the collective has got through to the finals (in April next year) of a national competition - gaining a platinum award the National Concert Band Festival - with the first piece we heard: ‘Adrenaline City’ by Adam Gorb. Gorb holds the position of Head of Composition at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) and the piece is described as “a quirky opening section contrasted by a mellow theme in the saxophones before the percussion take over in the middle section.” And ending “with a brief moment for contemplation before the final climax”. High praise indeed although I didn’t sense a climax so much, maybe once the players got into the rhythm and settled in as the start of the concert did seem somewhat disorganised. In fact, the end did too - there was no encore and no-one thanked us or the orchestra for our attendance and audience members just began randomly getting up after the applause. They could have had a moment of appreciation for all three of the night’s conductors.

Speaking of which, James Gillet began with a welcome message and was the holder of the good news regarding the award, mentioned above, as he has worked with the ‘band’ to achieve this. We then welcomed Katherine Stonham - whose musicality also falls into being a violinist - who conducted a ‘Silent Movie Suite’ containing 6 movements, by Martin Ellerby. Featuring a few solo cameos from the brass section, the percussion do a great job in helping to create atmosphere and ambience to the setting of each piece throughout the concert and I always say they are unsung in these concerts but they stood prime position for the left side of auditorium as the team of five play what must be in excess of 12 instruments in rotation.

Before the interval, we were treated with Rodney Newton’s ‘Capriccio’ played primarily as a solo by the talented tubist, Rohan Iyer who hails from Singapore. The piece’s “lively, syncopated opening is followed by a soaring romantic melody, whilst cadazas interspersed throughout allow the instruments to explore extremes in register and expressive quality.” Supported by the ensemble and conductor Gillet, Rohan did a brilliant job.

Next we heard the traditional and bold and ever patriotic sound of ‘Loch Lomond’ by Frank Ticheli. For this we welcomed the most confident of the three conductors, Joe Hearson, who has a wealth of experience also as a musical director in the musical theatre field, as well as more recently for a Beethoven project which made its Manchester premiere. We then welcomed Stonham back to conduct a rather odd rendition of an extract from Kevin Malone’s ‘Godzilla’. Frankly I did not enjoy it and simply do not think that the orchestra should be made to play along to piped soundbites of dinosaur noises and people running scared from it, least of all should they have to gasp and stamp their feet! This was a bizarrely thought-up item on the programme and unwelcome in my view although Stonham and the band did well to play over the top of such a horrible recording.

Finally, as a change to the programme, a welcome piece of levity was the return of Joe Hearson, complete with green headband and tail, as he presented the iconic theme from ‘Jurassic Park’, arranged by Paul Lavender, from the great John Williams’ original score. This was a nice ending to what was, for the most part, an enjoyable concert by the 72-strong orchestra, led by their three conductors and I look forward to returning to the venue for the University Society’s Big Band concert on 6th.

Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 24/11/18

Saturday, 24 November 2018

REVIEW: Heroes - The Lyceum Theatre, Oldham.

Walk along the West End or Broadway and you can collect up the range of names for the theatres in the ‘homes of theatre’ but can you match then with the local theatres and playhouses across the country or indeed in your community? Take Oldham for example…do you know the Coliseum? The Grange? How about The Lyceum?

Yes, this hidden gem is exactly that…a gem and hidden. Down a staircase, on the corner of its landmark Union Street, this theatre is, as it so rightly says on its website ‘Amateur Theatre at its best!’, and this week’s offering of ‘Heroes’ by Gerald Sibleyras (translated by Tom Stoppard) further upholds that statement. In a year of deserved celebration of the centenary anniversary of the end of WW1, we are all too aware of the sacrifices made by soldiers, and the mass of army support workers, whether present through the names on a cenotaph, the recollection of stories about ancestors or the physical evidence of affected ex-servicemen; amputations, disfigurements or the mental or emotional impacts, we remain forever proud and grateful in our remembrance.

After the due marking of Armistice Day, this playful, bawdy and heartbreakingly funny play, set in 1959 in the garden of a rest home for veteran soldiers in France, is a lovely way to spare a thought for those who have been through the process of war, albeit (and welcomed) in a more light-hearted way. We meet Henri (Phil McCarthy), Philippe (Vince Kenn) and Gustave (Paul Gledhill) - war heroes, all - as they present their bond, despite Gustav being the relative newbie of the quartet (wait!’ll see) having only arrived 6 months ago. Henri is the smartly dressed one who suffers with mobility from a leg injury but still manages, with his stick, to undertake his daily routine or ‘constitutional’ walk out of the grounds. Gustave, however, stays in and admires the poplars up in the distance past the cemetery and struggles to get out of the grounds; could it be PTSD? Philippe suffers blackouts where he faints and awakes with the words “yes Captain, we’ll take them from behind” which we eventually find is nothing to do with the forces but the reason for his ‘episodes’ is; a head injury.

Despite their friendship, plans are brewing when Philippe suspects that he is due to be bumped off because of his date of birth, this feeds Henri’s suggestion for them to escape, initially ‘for a picnic’ after he learns that the terrace below on the complex is to be closed meaning that the other inhabitants of the home will have to share theirs! Meanwhile Gustave is delivering sarcasm, reading and responding to Philippe’s post and fighting the corner of their fourth ally…the statue of a dog which adorns their terrace.

With almost seamless acting, brilliantly believable characterisation and embodiment of realistic veterans and their mission and what can only be described as a truly and astonishingly incredible set, the team of comrades plot their escape from ‘the tortures of their confinement: dictatorial captors, untrustworthy fellow ‘prisoners’, and far too many birthday parties.’ They hatch a plan to escape to Indochina and have us all in giggles throughout. With only a few pauses and an odd scene involving rope, it is no surprise that this comedic play was the winner of the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2005.

With a representative from a regional theatre collective due to review it too, I can almost guarantee the highly passionate and welcoming team at LTO (Lyceum Theatre Oldham) will have as good a turn out as they had tonight, and boy is it well worth it! May I therefore thank Director Pauline Walsh and her more than capable team for their tremendous efforts and hard work and I look forward to returning again soon, be it this season or next.

Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 23/11/18