Sunday, 18 August 2019

NEWS: Salford's Lowry Theatre announce the return of their ever-popular Open Day!

The Lowry announces return of its hugely popular Open Day

The Lowry announces the return of its Open Day following the huge success of the event in 2017 and 2018. The venue will open its doors from 10am until 5pm on Sunday 1 September for a day of free activities that enable visitors of all ages to explore the venue in a completely new way.

In 2018 The Lowry saw more than 7,000 people attend their Open Day. Throughout the day visitors were able to take part in a range of workshops, drop-in activities, back-stage tours and performances. 

Opportunities to get involved this year will include stand up comedy masterclasses, Lowry inspired art workshops and dance classes hosted by renowned companies Matthew Bourne's New Adventures and Rambert.

Due to overwhelming demand in previous years, visitors will also be pleased to see the return of backstage tours and workshops in lighting and sound. 

The range of activities will also spill out of the building and onto the plaza as visitors will be able to watch live performances from Charmaine Childs: The Strong Lady, play large outdoor games, join in bhangracise and take a boat trip around the Quays. 

All activities and events are free. Visitors can book places online for some of the workshops in advance. There will also be a limited number of places available for each ticketed event on the day, these will be allocated on a first come first served basis. 

A timetable of events will be released and online booking opens on Tuesday 27 August via The Lowry’s website.

NEWS: New Dance Company launches on 10th September at The Palace Theatre, Manchester.


Z Bo Jackson, in partnership with the Palace Theatre, Manchester, are proud to announce a gala night of dance – hosted by Kimberly Wyatt - to launch The Z Bo Jackson Company - the UK’s new dance fusion theatre company.

From free runners to hip hop, ballet to street dance, the Z Bo Jackson Company will combine a diverse mix of dance styles with compelling storytelling and magnetic physicality.

The mix of dance styles on display, combined with stunning visuals, means the company’s performances will appeal to dance fans and musical theatre-lovers alike, as well as today’s YouTube and Insta-audiences.

The company launches on Tuesday 10th September with a star-studded gala night of dance at the Palace Theatre, Manchester.

Hosted by the amazing Got to Dance judge and Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt, with guest artists Flawless (Britain’s Got Talent and Street Dance 2), ballet star Brandon Lawrence (Principal Dancer with the Birmingham Royal Ballet) and West End star Chrissy Brooke (winner of ITV’s Dance Dance Dance.)

Singer, dancer and choreographer Kimberly Wyatt will perform alongside Flawless in one number, while BRB’s Brandon Lawrence will perform a solo choreographed by the award-winning George Williamson. Chrissy Brooke will perform with the Z Company ensemble.

Innovative and respected choreographer and director Bo Jackson has created the vision behind the thrilling new company and is excited to launch in Manchester at the Palace Theatre.

Said Bo: “Manchester is the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and as such the perfect international city in which to launch a new dawn in dance for the 21st Century.

“The gala will provide a taste of Z’s future ambitions and celebrate Manchester’s unique placement as a Northern Powerhouse in theatre and dance.

“The Z brand will break down the walls of dance to create a uniquely diverse dance experience, as free runners mix with elite dancers, and ballet cross-pollinates with hip hop.Dance is a universal language and as Einstein observed ‘Dancers are the athletes of God’.

“As with this gala, the Z brand will invite celebrities and well-known dancers to appear alongside our main ensemble moving foward. We can’t wait to unleash our brand at the Palace Theatre next month.”

Host of the gala, Kimberley Wyatt, said: “I’m very excited to be part of this unique evening of dance in Manchester to celebrate the launch of Z Bo Jackson Company. It will be a spectacular night of celebrating all things dance, with street dance superstars Flawless, principal dancer of the Birmingham Royal Ballet Brandon Lawrence and Dance, Dance, Dance Star Chrissy Brooke. Prepare to be amazed!"

Get ready for an explosive night of entertainment at the Manchester Palace Theatre on Tuesday 10th September at 7.30pm. Tickets from £13.

Insta @zbojackson

THEATRE REVIEW: The Secret Garden - The Pavilion Arts Centre, Buxton

On tour since June, Chapterhouse Theatre Company’s The Secret Garden arrived at Buxton’s Pavilion Arts Centre. A change for me seeing shows here, as opposed to talks and the like, I went with an open mind, as expected.

With a minimal but satisfactory and simple set, used to act as the exit and entry points between various settings of scenes, the ‘wall’ emblazoned with an ivy-ridden door which was not as hidden as it could have been when characters were looking for it, was on an open stage and served its purpose well, I guess.

Pre-show, Matthew Christmas entered to advise that he was the stand -in for the actor who was to play multiple parts, due to the original casting (Sam Gibbons) having injured himself. This prepared us in case the parts being played were not up to scratch but they were, despite the obvious presence of a black file containing the script, being read almost word for word which prevented the opportunity for physical movement to portray the part. I am surprised that, with it being a large tour, there is no understudy or swing to take on such parts without having to read a script on-stage. Nonetheless he did well.

After this, we experienced a strange scene in which spoilt brat Mary Lennox (Katie Lawson) is in India with her mother (Kim Baker) shouting at - and slapping - her. This is during turbulent times in the continent and leads to her parents being killed, forcing her, with the help of a soldier/servant friend - whose death was poorly-directed - protecting her, sending her off to England to be with her uncle (on her father’s side), Mr Craven (Matthew Christmas), assisted by housekeeper Mrs Medlock (Kim Baker). This scene is odd as the ‘fighting’ (choreographed by Andrew Ashenden) is obvious and pretty poor and includes Mary escaping in a wicker laundry-style trolley and being in the same trolley when she arrives off a train in England. A timelapse perhaps and maybe she wasn't a passenger but a piece of cargo but nonetheless, I found it odd.

Upon arriving at her uncle’s residence, Misselthwaite Manor, she is met by Medlock and friendly house maid Martha (Jessica Porter) who, for me, is the best in the cast. Whilst exploring the grounds, Mary asked her uncle for a patch of land to tend to, after discovering the door to a walled garden with animal-loving Dickon (Kieran Seabrook-France). She also meets gardiner Ben Weatherstaff (Matthew Christmas) and comes across a robin (that was huge and did not look like one, with the use of a tin (but wooden) whistle), the housecat and a fox (all puppets).

Whilst tending to her patch, Mary hears a ‘child’ crying inside the house. When we discover what or who it is, we realise that the sound being made and the actor playing the role of Colin (Tim Chapman) are not that of a child. This, along with the aforementioned wicker trolley, and the fact that the garden looks the same from the inside as it did from the outside, are inconsistencies but at least the entrances and exits into the garden and Colin’s room were consistent.

Obviously they enter the garden and the story of that is a happy one, with stresses and strains between characters, but the morale is clear and beautiful and the show ultimately well-performed (directed by Ben Poole) and true to the story, even if backed by some out of tune sounds from the cast to set scenes.

Well done and we look forward to their Winter tour of A Christmas Carol after they have been to China with Wuthering Heights.

Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 15/8/19

Saturday, 17 August 2019

NEWS: Bruce Springsteen makes film directorial debut with 'Western Stars'


Warner Bros. Pictures will release a cinematic film version of Bruce Springsteen’s latest album, 'Western Stars', worldwide, on the big screen. Longtime collaborator Thom Zimny directs together with Springsteen in his directorial debut. The announcement was made today by Toby Emmerich, Chairman Warner Bros. Pictures Group. 'Western Stars', which will make its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, is slated for release this Autumn.
Springsteen’s first studio album in five years, 'Western Stars' marks a departure for the legendary singer/songwriter while still drawing on his roots. Touching on themes of love and loss, loneliness and family and the inexorable passage of time, the documentary film evokes the American West—both the mythic and the hardscrabble—weaving archival footage and Springsteen’s personal narration with song to tell the story of Western Stars.
'Western Stars' offers fans the world over their only opportunity to see Springsteen perform all 13 songs on the album, backed up by a band and a full orchestra, under the cathedral ceiling of his historic nearly 100-year-old barn.
Emmerich stated, “Bruce lives in the super rarified air of artists who have blazed new and important trails deep into their careers. With ‘Western Stars,’ Bruce is pivoting yet again, taking us with him on an emotional and introspective cinematic journey, looking back and looking ahead. As one of his many fans for over 40 years, I couldn’t be happier to be a rider on this train with Bruce and Thom.”
'Western Stars', Springsteen’s 19th studio album, has achieved global success. It has been #1 on the iTunes charts on every continent, including such countries as the U.S., the UK, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, India, South Africa, and all of Scandinavia, among other countries. It has also received rave reviews, with critics using words like “hauntingly brilliant,” “beguiling,” “gorgeous” and a “masterpiece.”
Springsteen and Zimny, who together helmed 'Western Stars', have collaborated on several projects over the years, including the documentary 'The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town', and the Netflix filmed version of the Tony Award-winning 'Springsteen on Broadway' which Zimny directed.
'Western Stars' is written and performed by Bruce Springsteen, with Special Guest Patti Scialfa. Thom Zimny, Jon Landau, Barbara Carr and George Travis produced the film, with Springsteen serving as executive producer. The original score is by Springsteen.

THEATRE REVIEW: Buddy Holly Lives - The Floral Hall, Waterfront, Southport.

Buddy Holly Lives is the brainchild of Asa Murphy who performs the leading role of Buddy Holly. It is a tribute show written and produced by Murphy which recounts the story of Holly’s musical career with a small cast of three and his backing band. Popular Liverpool DJ Billy Butler introduced the show and received a warm welcome from the Merseyside audience. He cited how the simplicity of Holly’s music struck a chord with veteran bands such as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Bob Dylan and mentioned that it was also the 60th anniversary of the death of Holly. Following this, a recorded tribute from Holly’s parents from USA was played thanking the fans for their loyalty and devotion to Buddy Holly and his music. Butler’s wife, Lesley played the wife of Holly’s manager and narrated parts of the story at various times throughout the show. She was lively and entertaining mimicking a southern American drawl and dressed in various 1950’s style dresses.

The staging and lighting were basic with a retro mic and a semi-circular construction of a DJ play station representing Radio KDAV, the US radio station which served the community of Lubbock, Texas where Holly lived. KDAV was later christened "The Buddy Holly Station" because young Buddy Holly performed in a country show there before he reached stardom. The station observes Buddy Holly's career the first weekend of February each year, which coincides with the time of his 1959 death in a plane crash in Iowa.

Murphy and the cast demonstrated through dialogue and music how during the 1950s KDAV broadcast an oldies format which focused on pop music of mainly rockabilly, doo-wop, and country oldies. The owners of the station at the time, Monte and Gentry Todd Spearman were keen to keep to this format. Holly was told to concentrate his performances on country music favourites and at first kept the station owners happy playing Hank Williams classics such as 'Your Cheatin’ Heart' and 'Hey, Good Lookin’'. But after seeing Elvis perform in Lubbock in 1955 Holly was captivated by his music and started singing his songs such as, 'Baby I Don’t Care' and 'Blue Days, Black Nights'. He was reprimanded for doing so, so started playing his own music concentrating on slow ballads such as 'Words Of Love' and 'Listen Closely To Me'. His iconic hit, 'That’ll Be The Day', was inspired from watching actor John Wayne after hearing him use the phrase many times in his movies popular at the time. He was eventually fired from the radio station for playing rock and roll music and being told that it will never catch on.

The Crickets, Holly’s backing band, were represented by four musicians who had gallantly stepped in at the last moment for the performance as it was originally planned for 9th August but due to problems at the theatre it had to be re-arranged for tonight and the original band were unable to perform due to prior commitments. They had only had time for one rehearsal just before the performance and can be commended on undertaking such an excellent performance.

The show went on to recall how Holly and The Crickets were then booked to appear at the Apollo in Harlem in August 1957. The promoters had booked them thinking they were black and they played rock and roll to a predominantly black audience with lots of heckling and distain. But they gained approval and the crowd were won over after Holly’s renditions of 'Oh Boy', 'Not Fade Away' and 'Rave On'. Holly went on to tour with Chuck Berry and Murphy honoured this part of Holly’s life by singing 'Brown-Eyed Handsome Man'.

After the interval, Murphy explained how Holly was the first artist of his kind to use stringed instruments on his songs for instance the beautiful ballad he then performed, 'Moondreams'. We then saw Holly working on his music in the studio with The Crickets producing songs such as 'Everyday' which Murphy encouraged the audience to sing along to alone which they did with great enjoyment. Murphy recalled how Holly had toured with The Everley Brothers and recounted Holly’s performance at the Liverpool Philharmonic in March 1958 which many of the audience had attended.
More of Holly’s hits were enjoyed by the audience singing along to 'Wishing' and the huge hit penned by Paul Anka, 'I Guess It Doesn’t Matter Anymore'. 'Raining In My Heart' and 'True Love Ways' brought spontaneous applause before we heard about the fatal winter tour of February 1959 which led to Holly’s death along with Richie Valens and The Big Bopper after appearing at the Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa. A huge hush descended on the audience as they remembered that fatal day, commemorated by Don McLean as “The day the music died” in his colossal hit 'American Pie'. After a few minutes of remembrance, which brought a tear to some members of the audience’s eyes, Murphy raised the atmosphere by announcing that Holly’s music hadn’t died and that he still lives on in the hearts and minds of his fans and treated the audience with an uplifting 'Peggy Sue', 'Early In The Morning', 'Maybe Baby' and 'Think It Over' which had everybody up on their feet jiving and singing.

The party atmosphere continued with 'La Bamba', 'Heartbeat' and 'Oh Boy', the audience of mainly over 60s re-living their youth with jive moves and hand jives. Murphy did an excellent recital of Holly’s greatest hits and was generous in his appreciation to his fellow musicians and cast members. It was a fantastic celebration of the musical genius of the boy from Lubbock Texas, Buddy Holly and an enjoyable night of memories of his hits from his era.

Reviewer - Anne Pritchard
on - 16/8/19

Friday, 16 August 2019

MUSIC REVIEW: Chetham's Piano Festival: Gala Concert - The Stoller Hall, Manchester.

19th Chetham’s International Piano Festival, The Stoller Hall
Gala Faculty Recital, 7.30pm 15th August 2019

The evening gala recital marking the opening of the 19th Chetham’s International Summer School and Piano Festival was eagerly anticipated by audience members, including delegates and non-delegates.

Peter Donohoe was a familiar face to start off the evening, having been a student right at the foundation of the school of music in 1969. He was the only performer to address the audience and he provided a light humour in informing us that he was adding a couple of pieces to his own programme and thus creating a ‘Viennese Sandwich’ by inserting two pieces by Schoenberg between his two Haydn Sonatas.

His performance was remarkable in technical virtuosity balanced with a beautiful lyrical approach to the melodies. Haydn is famously regarded as a composer that was jolly and indeed very happy with his success. Donohoe equally presented a cheeriness in his performance of Haydn’s sonatas 46 in Ab Major and 48 in C major. These presented quite a few challenges which Donohoe mastered with a crisp, sharp touch and a commanding energy.

The first two pieces from Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Piano added a clear contrast in mood and style and were a clever insert between Haydn’s classical sonatas. Donohoe was able to change tact quite quickly for these pieces, atonal in style and abstract in expression. He did not lose his sense of humour and with a twinkle in his eye, he segued quite quickly from the second Schoenberg piece into the start of the second Haydn piece. This was not unnoticed by the audience and added to the sense of occasion. This was a fiery and energetic start to the night.

Joseph Tong continued the evening with a repertoire of two Schumann pieces – Arabesque in C major Op. 18 and Fantasie in C major Op. 17. This shift to the romantic period should have been an opportunity to explore music with a deeper emotive element but unfortunately was somewhat lacking in emotion. Tong performed delicately and with strong technical control but the exquisite melodies were presented a little too matter of fact for my liking.

Claudius Tanski on the other hand performed a dazzling Rigoletto-Paraphrase by Liszt, showing off a note perfect performance with emotive and lyrical playing, which is difficult to achieve given the constant virtuosic demands of this whirlwind of a piece. Tanski made the piano sing passionately and convincingly. The second piece in his set was an odd little piece – Ich Ruf Zu Dir – an adaptiation of the Bach Chorale by Ferruccio Busoni. It was indeed hymn-like and subdued bringing the audience down from the dizzying heights of Liszt but displayed a personal and emotional depth to Tanski’s artistry.

Carlo Grante added another moment of humour at the start of his repertoire by seemingly applying too much force to the lever on his piano stool, thus plummeting down and jumping up at the piano until he found the right height. Prior to this, each pianist had subtly adjusted their heights by this lever mechanism, but Grante added some mischief in a manner not dissimilar to Mr. Bean. The audience clearly enjoyed it. This in no way detracted from his exquisite and sensual performance of one of the most difficult set of pieces in piano music – Ravel’s Gaspard De La Nuit (The Treasurer of the Night), supposedly an euphemism for the Devil. This music from the impressionist period is intensely beautiful and deceptively difficult – the first section is full of flowing lines and cascades depicting the nymph Ondine who seduces the observer to her kingdom under the water. Grante shimmered and seduced us from start to finish in this movement and indeed the entire piece.

There were no programme notes provided for this concert which was a shame, as this suite would have benefitted with an explanation: Le Gibet (The Gibbet), portrays a man hanged on a gibbet in a dessert in the setting sun. While this is an odd image, the suite was based on dark romantic poetry and in keeping with this early twentieth century style. Grante kept the sound of a bell tolling perfectly prominent, adding an eeriness to this slow and meandering piece. The final piece of the suite, Scarbo, is most definitely one of the most difficult in the piano canon. It depicts a goblin at night, terrorising an unfortunate soul in their bed. He dances and leaps around with speed. Grante attacked this piece with a ferocity that leapt out of the piano and certainly placed the audience on edge. Again, the virtuosity and extreme technique were not second to a strong narrative and expression. Grante performed this piece with seeming ease and delight.

While you may have thought the evening could not have got any better, there was a brief moment when a second piano was put into place for the final piece of the night – Chopin’s Rondo in C Major for two pianos. This was performed by Xinyuan Wang and Balazs Szokolay. Wang opened the piece with a fierce and very determined flourish and what ensued was an almost inhuman performance in that the synchronisation between both musicians was so precise that it simply took the breath away. There was much humour in this performance and it was very clear that both pianists were enjoying every moment of this demanding piece. The clarity and forward direction of each line was mesmerising and a sheer pleasure to hear. It was delicate where delicacy was needed, playful and light but also bold and confident.

This was a sensational end to a sensational opening concert for the summer school and festival.

There were lots of young faces in the audience, mostly made up of students at the summer school and participants in the upcoming piano concerto competition as part of the festival. This opening gala only served to throw the gauntlet down at the next generation of musicians, inspiring and challenging and undoubtedly producing a new generation of talent.

Reviewer - Aaron Loughrey
on - 15/8/19

MUSIC REVIEW: Chetham's Piano Festival: Recital by Martin Tirimo - The Stoller Hall, Manchester.

19th Chetham’s International Piano Festival, The Stoller Hall
Martino Tirimo, 5pm 15th August 2019

The opening recital to Chetham’s School of Music’s international summer school and festival for pianists was given by prestigious pianist Martino Tirimo who was introduced with a brief overview of some of his accomplishments which include having conducted an opera at the age of 10, and since then having recorded the complete piano works of Mozart, Chopin, Schubert and recently of Beethoven.

The programme consisted of lesser performed pieces by Beethoven. These covered a variety of Beethoven’s styles and covered pieces from his entire period of composition.

The opening 7 variations of God Save The King were performed with utmost solemnity adding a deep beauty to the familiar theme of the British National Anthem, performed first in a choral style then adapted and varied by various compositional devices. Tirimo made great ability to keep the melody first and foremost in each variation without losing the various effects and decorations that adorned it.

This solemnity was kept for the entire concert, which was entirely fitting for the serious character that Beethoven was. Possibly beyond any other composer, the music of Beethoven provides a window into his thoughts and feelings. Tirimo was able to present that in his performance.

The 7 L
ändler– an Austrian folk dance in quadruple metre – were melodically driven and maintained a degree of simplicity as was expected from folk music. Tirimo played these with great playfulness and certainly danced around the keyboard.

Timiro treated each subsequent piece - the Allegretto in C minor, Waltz in E flat, Fantasy and G minor - with delicacy, balancing melodic expression, sometimes extremely moving, with a meaningful meandering of harmonic exploration.

The final piece, one of Beethoven’s last sonatas, E Major, No. 109 was performed with great pathos. This piece reflects a maturity in style as Beethoven pushed towards the romantic period adding more complex harmonies and progressions, with more moments of meaningful dissonance. He still incorporated exciting contrapuntal passages but increasingly, as highlighted by Tirimo, the ornaments and fugal complexities became an integral part of emotive expression rather than just effects.

Tirimo was well received by an excited audience and it was indeed a treat to hear these pieces performed so reverently.

Reviewer - Aaron Loughrey
on - 15/8/19

THEATRE REVIEW: We're Going On A Bear Hunt - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

This beloved picture book, which has been gathering readers for the last three decades, is now a musical for children aged 3 – 7 years, courtesy of Kenny Wax Family Entertainment Ltd. I attended this morning’s performance at the Lowry in Salford with my Assistant Reviewer, aged five. He was a bit put out that he hadn’t brought his teddy with him, as many other children had, and even the ushers were wearing bear ears.

In this production that was both adapted and directed by Sally Cookson, the rhyming verse of the original text had been cleverly turned into a libretto for a full show, with barely any additional dialogue. It was set to Benji Bower’s score: an enjoyable and interesting piece of music in its own right, and not just for the children. Moving through a variety of themes, from the warm lazy dreaminess of a beautiful summer’s day to livelier, bluegrass-flavoured passages with lots of percussion and kazoo, there was plenty here to sharpen the concert-going ears of the future.

The original cast of characters had been stripped down to just four performers: Dad (Artie Godden), Boy (Benjamin Mowbray), Girl (Rebecca Newman), Dog (Benjamin Hills) and a lifesize mobile puppet as Baby Sister. They were a fairly interchangeable family, with Dad, Boy and Girl sporting large spectacles, and dressed in muted shades of blue, green and grey, and Baby Sister being a little more individual in a pink romper suit. Together they took their task of hunting for a bear in the English countryside very seriously, even as the first scary growls from the back of the theatre sent shivers through the delighted young audience.

Designer Katie Sykes managed to cope with the demands of the picture book quite well on the fairly sparse set. As the family progressed on their journey – and dealt with small audience members quoting passages from the book back at them – each of the stages were cleverly handled. The passage through the grass was created with large handheld overhangs. The river was initially laid out with wet blue towels, then buckets of water that the actors could step in – and finally, out came the water pistols and the actors were spraying the audience. Assistant Reviewer was awestruck at the power of theatre at that point.

Very sensibly, the actors put on their coveralls before dealing with the mud part of the journey, which they plastered pinned-up papers and each other with. The snowstorm was quite magical, with the actors spinning white ribbons into swirls while lighting effects played out across the entire audience.

Eventually the bear’s cave was reached, and the bear, looking rather groggy, shambled on in a fairly harmless and not-scary fashion, so even the smallest toddler was at peace. After some chasing about, the family ran back home, squeezed through the smallest front door possible, and hid under a large pink eiderdown with a collection of small cuddly teddies of their own. Everyone lived happily ever after, including the bear, and Assistant Reviewer had watched the entire performance with keen attention, as had the rest of the audience.

This is not a big belly-laugh show, or full of loud effects, and there’s no pop music or “Look behind you!” But it does involve the most magical aspects of children’s theatre, and does them well. Special mention to Benjamin Hills for his drumkit-playing Dog, who managed to get through every action sequence with maximum coolness and a calm “Woof.”

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore
on - 13/8/19

Thursday, 15 August 2019

NEWS: London puppet theatre, Blind Summit win contract for Hollywood Bowl show!

Blind Summit to bring puppet ballet to LA’s Hollywood Bowl
Award-winning puppetry innovators, Blind Summit (London, UK), are delighted to announce that they have been commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to present Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf at the Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, on Tuesday 20 August 2019.  It is part of a Russian programme for the orchestra's Classical Tuesday Series, conducted by Bramwell Tovey and narrated by the critically acclaimed stage and film actor John C. Reilly.
Fully utilising the cameras and the huge live relay screens around the world renowned 17,000-seater venue, the ambitious new puppet-led production from Blind Summit's artistic director, Mark Down, will use the whole Bowl as its stage.  The close up, on screen visuals will not only give the audience a more immersive experience, the action will assist in bringing Prokofiev's popular music to life, making it brighter, fuller and more alive throughout the 30-minute production.

Peter, a three-puppeteer operated, life sized ballet puppet, will skip through the crowd, which becomes the big green meadow, jumping on tables and climbing over the audience.  The other characters, brought to life by masked dancers, will appear from different places all over the Bowl before gracefully moving around the arena as the heroic tale unfolds. The bird pops up at the back of the orchestra, which transforms into the tree, while the cat slinks into view and relaxes at the base of the tree.  The duck waddles round the edge of the pond (the Passerelle) filled with the dining audience; and the wolf appears seductively from behind the narrator and begins to skulk around the big green meadow and the pond seeking out its prey. 

The narrator, played by John C Reilly, is also fully involved in the action of Blind Summit’s production.  As a visiting dignitary he is there to present Peter, a boy who exemplifies the ideals of a pioneer and an example to all, with a medal.  With a pair of binoculars becoming the narrator’s point of view, relayed onto the big screens of the Hollywood Bowl, he finds the characters around the arena and the instruments within the orchestra as he introduces them one at a time.  Using the binoculars to capture the action around the arena, he recounts Peter's brave exploits to the gathered crowd before the final medal presentation.

Mark Down, Artistic Director of Blind Summit said: "I was hugely excited to be asked to make a puppet interpretation of Peter and the Wolf at the Hollywood Bowl with the LA Phil.  When I first listened to Peter's theme, I immediately saw a three-man operated puppet skipping on stage. In a workshop the music really came alive when we interpreted it as ballet. The formal stylised mime language made it sound witty, playful and full. Our production fast developed into a puppet ballet.

"I see Peter and the Wolf not so much as a fairy tale, but as propaganda to promote classical music. It can also be seen as propaganda for the ideals of the Soviet Union in 1936 which gave us the concept of a medal giving ceremony.  This also inspired us to look to the Socialist Realist art of the 1930s, to create visually what we heard Prokofiev doing musically.”
Blind Summit's production of Peter and the Wolf was commissioned by the LA Philharmonic. It is directed by Blind Summit's artistic director and master puppeteer, Mark Down, together with co-designers Ruth Paton and Fiona Clift, who have collaborated on a number of Blind Summit productions, and with choreography from Daniel Hay Gordon (The Royal Ballet, Staatsoper Berlin and Sadler’s Wells).
Talented puppeteers Laura Caldow, Fiona Clift and Sean Garratt will bring Peter to life alongside the other characters played by masked dancers, Patricia Langa (Bird), Sean Murray (Duck and Hunter), Will Thompson (Cat), Ruben Brown (Wolf) and Eleanor Perry (Grandpa).
TMAX Productions are in the process of documenting the making of Blind Summit’s Peter and the Wolf in a series of short videos.  The first episodes can be viewed here

PODCAST REVIEW: Two Lines In Doctors: S3E6 with Marcy Hazell.

A Manchester-centric local podcast hosted by a local actor, Steve Connolly, who chats with other local performers. The 'sell' in this podcast series though is something a little different, and I quote....

"Two Lines In Doctors is about people like us who dare to dream that they can be actors. People who are doing it a bit differently, who may have had a whole other career, who may not have gone to drama school, who may be older. People who keep on believing because they are passionate despite the hilarious amount of kickbacks and disappointments. Who inspires us? How can we support each other?"

In other words, this podcast is for those who have tried other career paths and are considerably older than the youth and early teenagers coming from Drama Schools - a kind of support network for those who have come to acting later on in life. It's a really lovely idea, and very praiseworthy. 

In this episode we listen to and about Marcy Hazell, an honorary Manc originally from Northern Ireland, and how she came to Manchester to study art at the Met univeristy, but then went from briefly owning a gallery, to dreaming about a cafe bar gallery. So in order to get a handle on the business she started from the bottom up and was a waitress before finally owning and managing her own Tea shop. 

Tea is something she is still very passionate about and continues to vlog about it and sell it under her own brand 'Parched'. 

She talks about her selling her Arndale Market shop - in a way only the mafia could have done better - by acepting a suitcase full of £50 notes! She talks about having to have urgent surgery which involved the removal of a rib. And of her finally getting down to her other passion, acting. Of joining an agency, of taking acting classes, of having walk-on / extra work, and of finally 'making it'! 

An Elvis Presley-lover, and Manchester United supporter, she now works very hard in many varying aspects of the industry, such a Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre, Roleplay, Promo Work, Fringe Theatre, Rehearsed Readings and she even tells of the time she did skin work as Manchester City's mascot! That really went against the grain for her, but she just thought of the money!

There are a couple of nice little anecdotes in the podcast too. Especially one in which she talks about being an extra as a midwife on Coronation Street and having to deliver Michelle Keegan's baby. 

The podcast is 60 minutes long, and to be honest it did drag somewhat. As lovely as it was to listen to two mates chat, it became rather introvert and almost as if I were on the outside voyeuristically listening in on a private conversation. There was little effort only to include the listener into this tete-a-tete. The problem being I think that Steve and Marcy are good friends already and so they did tend to joke between themselves and exclude the listener, whiich was a shame. 

At the end of the podcasst, there was a competition question. All you have to do is to answer the following question and you could be in with a chance of winning an exclusive limited edition Two Lines In Doctors mug. The question was, " Where does Steve's sister live?"  Email your answers to

Reviewer - Chris Benchley
on - 14/8/19 

INTERVIEW: The directors of Paine's Plough Roundabout chat about their work coming to Salford in September

In association with Salford's Lowy Theatre, Paines Plough will visit Salford for the fifth time this September with their touring pop-up theatre-in-the-round. This year they will be at ALBERT PARK in BROUGHTON between the 5 - 7 September. Three plays, three directors! Read what they have to say here....

Annie Lunnette Deakin-Foster – Movement Director
Stef O’Driscoll – Director
Janisè Sadik – Assistant Director

How did you get involved with Roundabout?
Stef (SOD): I have been working with Paines Plough for the last 8 years. I started with them as assistant on Wasted, I assisted James Grieves then became associate director at Paines Plough and directed a couple of shows, so the natural progression is for me was to direct the Roundabout Season, I did my first season last year then I have come back again this year.
Janisè (JS): I’m the trainee director at Paines Plough this year, so I’ve been put on this lovely programme, the Roundabout.
Annie (ALDF): I worked on a show with James Grieves last year and this year, he connected me to Steph and then Steph put me on board for The Roundabout.

How long have you been working on these shows?
SOD: So it’s an insane process when you’re making 3 shows, we had 7 weeks in London then 4 weeks in Mold. That works out at 11 weeks in total to make 3 shows, 4 of those you’re in tech and previewing here.

What do you enjoy about Roundabout and what are the Challenges?
SOD: I love the Roundabout, the Roundabout is everything what it means to be human, it brings communities together and I think we need spaces like that more than ever with what’s happening currently in the world. So for me its community, its joy, it’s magic. It has an inbuilt lighting system, there’s no other like it. That fused with sound just creates a really magical place to grapple with what it means to be human. I don’t know what else to say other than it’s joyous.
ALDF: It’s a really intimate space as well you sort of break down the relationship between audience and performer and there is nowhere to hide for the performers, which as an artist is something really exciting to work with and how you can express using your bodies, and story tell through your bodies in 360 degrees, is just really rewarding in this unique space.
SOD: yeah and it’s like the audience are a part of it, they’re the 4th character, they’re very much a part of that space. So to have something so live where the audience are very present is everything that I think theatre should be.

How is it working with the same 3 actors across the same 3 plays?
SOD: I think each play requires a different physical language in that space, it’s really about discovering what that is to support the actors with what to do. The space is so unique so we prep them to be in that space. Its 360 degrees, in the round, so if you’re facing someone, the people behind you also need to know if you’re happy or if you’re sad. There is a physical toolkit that gets made particularly for the space its self and then looking at what is the best way to tell each story. So there is a lot of work that’s been done in terms of playing different characters, how do they walk, how do they speak, and finding distinctions. So a lot of work goes into what is needed for each play in a physical way.
ALDF: Yeah and we really try to establish the different words very early on. That might shift from what we thought it was going to be in rehearsal, to what it ends up being. I think that helps land each play in a different world, or environment. But I think the basic toolkit are opening out and exploring characterisation and physicality and connecting to intention.

How important is it to take this work to local communities, like Broughton in Salford?
SOD: It is so important that the Roundabout flat packs in the back of a van and can go to anywhere on the doorstep of people that might not be able to access the arts for whatever reason; they can’t travel or its too expensive, or their only idea of theatre is in their nearest town which is like a west end musical. If you don’t have things like the Roundabout, then it will stop people accessing something that, I think is, transformative and every one should have the ability to be able to experience something to see themselves in a story to be able to understand what the world is about and grapple with what means to be human. So we need to do more of this, it’s incredibly important that people can access it on their doorstep.

Have you been to Salford before?
SOD: Yes, so we was in Salford last year with the Roundabout, and it was amazing to see a community take over the Roundabout space, it was amazing. We had Ordsall’s Got Talent which took place with lots of people from the community doing a talent show, the opening as well which was lots of different youth groups performing. It was beautiful to see how the Roundabout gets transformed by communities, so not only are we saying here is the best of the best new writing, come and enjoy and share this with us, but equally for them to have ownership of what goes on in there.

Describe each show with one sentence:
ALDF: I’d describe the experience overall as like a box of chocolates, with various flavours. But Dexter and Winter is a fast paced adventure of fun and discovery.
SOD: Daughterhood is about what it means to be a daughter and we look at what two sisters and them grappling with duty and stepping into duty when their father is unwell.
JS: On The Other Hand we’re Happy is pure love, magic and it really touches you on social responsibility.

THEATRE REVIEW: Guards At The Taj - Theatre By The Lake, Keswick.

As last minute decisions go, my decision to head up to Keswick at the weekend to see their latest show in their summer rep season stands as one of my good ones. For me it’s a two hour drive up the M6 and most people go to the Lakes to climb up mountains or whatever but on this occasion for me it’s Theatre. Recently I’ve been going up there to experience their Theatre By The Lake and it’s just as fun as Helvelyn. I find it refreshing to visit a theatre firmly focussed on producing great theatre in-house without any political expectations thrust upon them unlike so many northern theatres right now. Artistic Director Liz Stevenson has put together an engaging and entertaining season of theatre and I desperately want to see the rest.

It’s opening night for Guards At The Taj, a dark comedy written by US-based playwright Rajiv Joseph and it was first produced in New York in 2015. Since then it’s been produced at the Bush Theatre in London. Now, the Theatre By The Lake have put it in their rep season directed by Kash Arshad.

Guards At The Taj centres around two pals who are junior members of the Imperial Guard to the Emperor of India. One of the pair, Babur, played by Luke Murphy, seems a bit of a liability so much so that despite Humayun’s attempts to cover for him and his family connections, they get given the worst jobs. It goes beyond this premise though, far beyond and far deeper, exploring the nature of beauty and questions whether beauty is a thing that can be killed. It’s a fine question and despite occasional mild verbosity is driven home by excellent writing in the dialogue and the philosophies expressed.

All of this is made complete by beautiful craftsmanship from the actors Murphy and Devesh Kishore and creative team headed by Arshad. There’s a touch of the “Pinteresque” to this play and although I say that about an awful lot of the plays I like, I think it’s right to say it, particularly in this case. There are some fabulous moments of stillness and silence in which you begin to form your own stories using your own imagination. When the silence is broken the play moves, beautifully paced and structured and intelligently nurtured by Arshad to bring out the best in Joseph's text.

This play isn’t for the faint hearted I should warn, there’s literally bucket-loads of blood and though most of the maiming happens before scenes open it’s still a visceral depiction of the lot of junior members of an Imperial Guard forced to do the dirty jobs.

At a rough estimate Guards At The Taj runs about an hour and a half in length with no interval. There are, unfortunately, a couple of lengthy scene changes which run on a little too long for comfort and a little too short to be classed as an interval. There seems to be nothing that can be done about this as the actors need that time to clean off the blood they’ve immersed themselves in. It’s the price we pay for gore!

This is a well crafted play. It is a great piece of writing superbly executed by a fine pair of actors and a great creative team. There’s passion there, which is infectious and worthy of high praise.

Reviewer - Karl Barnsley
on - 10/8/19

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Tea?...(With Milk) - The Space at Surgeons' Hall, Edinburgh.

The theatre company ‘Everybody’s Story’ asks us the question: “Are you part of the 51% that is told to change every part of your body? Laser off all your hair? Cover yourself in expensive products because you’re worthless?” The memorably titled ‘Tea?...(With Milk)’ explores the stories of young women who have to decide whether or not to conform to a society that demonises women’s bodies... which they are therefore expected to change (or modify at the very least) to be deemed ‘acceptable’.

At the start of the show we were greeted by an ominous voiceover: “you are warned that the following performance contains sudden loud noises, scenes of rape, swearing and WOMEN….” Which then was followed by a very long list of, mostly derogatory terms that are commonly used to describe the female of the species … “drudge, washerwoman, assistant, wife, slut…” powerful when heard collectively and reminding us that for many women things sadly haven’t moved on enough in the 21st century.

We were then introduced to a TV show called ‘Solidarity’ - presented by our duo over a pot of peppermint tea, with which members of the audience were approached, in a not unthreatening way, to “drink it, feel it swishing around your mouth, burning your throat.” A discussion about make-up and its importance ensued (“If the cake doesn’t look nice, I’m not going to eat it”) The audience were then asked - quite randomly - to take selfies of their pouting abilities to send into the show “after the break”.

What followed this rather bizarre first segment, was a complete change in performance style with a thought-provoking stylised movement sequence showing a manic make-up routine juxtaposed with the obsessive consuming of detox ‘weight loss’ tea. After this intermission, ‘Solidarity’ continued, with an in-depth discussion about male mysogony and dealing with unwanted contact that we’re so often told to “brush off”; then turning into a story about a teenager’s painful first experience of loveless sex that in turn made teen pregnancy the focus (“where your life becomes walking to the creche in mummy/baby matching shell-suits”); then became a discussion about foot fetishes before veering into sudden competitiveness over their sexual ‘prowess’.

As important as these issues are - and something that theatre as an art form has increasingly dealt with for the last half a century as vital social commentary - this play had the feeling of being extremely disjointed with links not always being made between the numerous topics being discussed. The TV show concept didn’t quite work for me, which not only tried to tackle too many themes at once - thus not drawing the audience in as much as we might have hoped - but overwhelmingly gave the feeling of watching a school devised piece... which no doubt many teenagers would have appreciated and potentially related to.

Whilst I often appreciate work that both encompasses shifts in style with an absurdist, abstract edge, as well as having a strong message (‘Witch Hunt’ currently at Pleasance Dome is a great example of this) 'Tea?... (with Milk)' didn’t really manage to fully communicate its point of view in a way that either had a coherent structure or was fully engaging to watch. Even in the potentially powerful scene at the end when both performers stripped to their underwear and asked audience members to draw shapes on them with lipstick to signify “what you first noticed about me” - I couldn’t help feeling that this was a missed opportunity to refine the original question to get us to think about the prejudices we all have about body image and where these come from.

Finally, one of the crucial ingredients of a successful live performance is to ‘know its audience’. I was a little thrown when comments were made such as “you don’t want to turn up to a meeting looking like you’re 34”... and to the audience: “come on, all you millenials can take selfies!” With Edinburgh audiences being more often than not made up of all age groups, the company may want to rethink this. 

Tea?... (with Milk) is at The Space at Surgeons' Hall until 24th August

Reviewer - Georgina Elliott
on - 13/8/19