Sunday, 20 October 2019

MUSIC REVIEW: Manchester University Symphony Orchestra - The Martin Harris Centre, Manchester.

The first full concert this academic year from the Manchester University Symphony Orchestra, and, boy oh boy, did they put on a show! Three pieces in the programme this evening, and with each piece they just got better and better.

Their opening piece was a little inauspicious, and I was also not aware it had started until it had; the lights in the auditorium had not been sufficiently dimmed and there was no conductor, and so the start took me, and several others, by surprise. That however, was not the only 'surprising' thing about this piece. A contemporary rule-bending composition from Simon Hellewell - currently studying for his PhD in Composition at the university - called 'Parabolae', it required most of the orchestra members to play tiny gongs or cymbals at various points throughout, besides playing their own instruments. There was no percussion section though, so all the percussive sounds were played by other players. Being able to see the sheet music on the violinists' music stands, I could also tell that the score had been printed in the form of a parabola. A curiosity piece at best, but for me, without any real substance and I found it impossible to enjoy. For me it was a little like a classroom exercise to illustrate some point of his musical learning, rather than a piece of music for an audience to listen to. Perhaps I simply didn't 'get' or 'understand' the piece; but surely the whole point of music should be its accessability?

Thankfully the piece was not too long and we were soon on terra firma with music with which one was able to relate. This was Prokofiev's rarely performed 5th piano concerto. Prokofiev, like many others of his generation, took their musical influences from all over; they looked backwards to the Romantic and Classical periods and forwards to the jazz and new wave; even, as was very much the case with Prokofiev and evidenced in this work, to influences such as military music, folk music, Jewish music and nursery rhymes.  The piano concerto is not very long as concertos go, and yet it is given 5 movements (the standrad being 3). Perhaps the reason for this was that it was originally not going to be a piano concerto at all, but a piece of concert music for piano and orchestra, thus giving the orchestra equal status with the piano. In Classical style concertos the solo instrument was always paramount to the orchestra. The whole piece is jocular and light-hearted; even the more gentle and reflective larghetto of the 4th movement, you still have the distinct feeling that Prokofiev is somehow sticking two fingers up at the stablishment, or even the audience for having the audacity to like it; or even the critics who dared to try and analyse it and pigeon-hole it! The solo piano today was played by current student, Max Bilbe. Technically the playing was superb, I had the wonderful vantage point in the audience of being able to see his finger-work which was exemplary. The passion and the pathos he put into the piece was noteworthy; however, for me there was just a lack of lightness, a lacking of joviality. Many moons ago when I took piano lessons my teacher always told me that if I wanted the piece to dance, I had to think about dancing; if I wanted to the piece to laugh, then think of a joke and laugh along with the music. It was great advice, and I don't think Bilbe was laughing at all through any of the piece, and thus it became a little too staid, a little too mechanical. This is just a personal preference and interpretation. That notwithstanding it was a highly creditable interpretation and I enjoyed listening to the piece immensely.

After the interval, and to the favourite piece of the evening; quite the showstopper! The Symphonic Dances (op 45) by Rachmaninov. There isn't really much to say about this piece except that it was perfect and magical. I have never heard the MUMS orchestra play better! The dances were composed whilst Rachmaninov was living in America in 1940, and they were to be his last composition. Critics have often mused whether or not Rachmaninov himself knew it would be his last work, since he makes subtle (and some not so subtle) references to many of his earlier compositions (none by direct quotation) throughout. Whatever the case, these are exuberant and life-affirming pieces and played by a larger than usual symphony orchestra; and whether Rachmaninov liked it or not, they are still very Russian in their soundscape and structure. Even the second movement, a more gentle and lyrical waltz (.. it wasn't just the Austrians who were capable of a good waltz tune!!) sounds very Russian, even if you didn't know who composed it.

The first piece this evening was conducted in rehearsals by orchestra member Dexter Drown. The first movement of the Symphonic Dances was conducted by student conductor James Gillett, who was extremely watchable and exerted a lovely control over the piece, interpreting it superbly. The other pieces in this evening's concert were conducted by conducting tutor at the University of Huddersfield and regular conductor at MUMS, Robert Guy. In contrast to Gillett's whole body commanding approach, Guy's conducting is gentle and unassuming, and yet totally in control. Neither style better than the other, just interesting to note and see how the orchestra responds to these differing techniques.

All in all, a wonderful evening's entertainment listening to some beautiful Russian music played by the talented (MUMS) Manchester University Music Society Symphony Orchestra. Bravissimi tutti!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 19/10/19

MUSIC REVIEW: Kate Rusby and Midnight Skyracer - Manchester Central, Manchester.

The former mining town of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, has produced several stars for the musical firmament and this year’s Manchester Folk Festival featured two of them who coincidentally share the same initials – Kathryn Roberts at HOME last night and Kate Rusby at Manchester Central tonight.

The all-female five-piece Bluegrass band Midnight Skyracer proved to be an inspired and popular choice of support act to Kate Rusby. Despite having only formed in 2017, Midnight Skyracer have already received critical acclaim - and two International Bluegrass Music Association award nominations - for their debut album “Fire” (2018).

Several of the songs from tonight’s set were from “Fire”. The tender “Virginia Rose”, for example, co-written by Tabitha Agnew (banjo, vocals) and Laura Carravin (guitar, dobro) is a tender ballad and suits Agnew’s mellow voice perfectly whilst “So Long, Goodbye, We’re Through” is what Charlotte Carravin (guitar) describes as a “fast train song in the key of B” and showcases Leanne Thorose’s more powerful vocals.

Not on an album (yet – we are promised another one is on the way) is “Steaming Buzzard” which Charlotte proudly describes as having been inspired by the sight of a beautiful buzzard atop a steaming manure pile one summer evening. Midnight Skyracer move effortlessly between tempos and moods (and Laura switches between guitar and dobro). The haunting “Shadows On The Moon” by Eleanor Wilkie (double-bass) is perhaps the best example of the band’s pitch-perfect harmonies whilst “Leaving On The Next Train” brought the set to a lively and powerful end. We will be hearing a lot more of Midnight Skyracer over the next few years though.

Kate Rusby’s arrival on stage after the interval was warmly received. Accompanied by Stevie Burns (bouzouki), Mick Cork (accordion), Duncan Lyall (double-bass / Moog) and Damien O’Kane (guitar), she began her set with “Benjamin Bowmaneer” from her 2016 album “Life In A Paper Boat”. “It’s a strange song”, Rusby opined, “but that’s what I like about folk music – you can write songs about anything”. Telling us the story – it’s about a tailor who made himself a horse out of all sorts of bits and bobs – she likened Bowmaneer to “The A-Team, you know, how they’d get locked in a shed with a few plumbing tools and build themselves a tank”. Rusby’s unaffected warmth and humour is undoubtedly as much a reason for her popularity as her singing.

Kate Rusby’s greatest love is for her family, and this shines through the whole set. Introducing “The Farmer’s Toast” she tells us how her parents met through folk music and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2018 whilst the incredibly moving “The Bitter Boy” is a poignant tribute to her beloved Uncle Stan. I confess to shedding a tear or two at this one.

There’s a lot of fun in this set too. Talking about “The Fairest Of All The Yarrow” Rusby points out that the Barnsley word for this flower is “yazzer” which leads her on to Yazz – “did you know that Yazz’s ‘The Only Way Is Up’ will fit to this tune?” It does, as she and O’Kane cheerfully demonstrated.

The life of a true Folkie isn’t just about music, of course – no, there are all sorts of arcane traditions involved! Take Pace Egging for example, which as far as I can tell is basically an excuse (as if one were needed!) for painting hard-boiled eggs and drinking lots of beer as we learn in “The Pace Egging Song”.

The set came to a close with an old Rusby favourite “I Courted A Sailor” (“of course, I never did – we don’t get many sailors in Barnsley!”) and finally – as an encore following rapturous applause – the tender “Underneath The Stars”, fitting given Rusby’s earlier description of the night sky as her “constant companion through 27 years of touring”.

On the subject of stars, I’d certainly give both of this evening’s superb acts five of them!

Reviewer - Ian Simpson
on - 19/10/19

THEATRE REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty - Theatre Royal, St. Helens.

October felt rather early to be enjoying a pantomime but as I ushered my four year old grandson into his seat I could feel the excitement and eager anticipation of the audience building before Sleeping Beauty started. Young girls dressed in their princess party dresses and young boys with their multi-coloured lit-up swords looked towards the stage with wide-eyed wonderment as the curtain rose and the show started.

Billed as ‘The most spellbinding panto of them all’ Producer and Director Chantelle Nolan, along with Jane Joseph, were able to whisk the audience away to a land of magical adventure where Princess Aurora (Mia Molloy) is tricked by villainous Fairy Carabosse (Samantha Palin) into an eternal slumber which can only be broken by a kiss from her true love. James Lacey played the handsome Prince, Lewis Devine excelled as Chester The Jester and Warren Donnelly, best known for starring in TV series Shameless, played the King. Si Foster provided plenty of laughs and slapstick chaos as Dame Queenie and Abigail Middleton delivered plenty of delightful magic as Fairy Sparkle.
Choreographer, Sarah Walker devised the dance routines performed by junior dancers from dance troupes Sparkle – Attitude Dance, and Glitter – Dance Dynamix, along with senior dancers Millie Davies, Jodie Taylor, Georgia Cowin and Ellie Fook whilst musical supervision was undertaken by Callum Clarke. Writer, Liam Mellor has put together an enjoyable two hours of entertainment utilising the talents of the cast to the full albeit in comedy, song and dance.

Devine as Chester The Jester has a full-on part in the entertainment and is to be commended for his versatility and stamina in the role. Reminiscent of comedians Norman Wisdom and Bobby Ball, he was visibly sweating from setting first foot on the stage and kept young and old amused throughout. Although some of his jokes weren’t suitable for youngsters, they had their parents laughing out loud and I’m not sure that the PC brigade would approve of some parts of the script which were rather sexist for this day and age, but hey, that’s something Panto has long been an established provider of.

The one scene which had me and the rest of the audience laughing out loud the most was a scene where Chester The Jester and Dame Queenie were attempting to wallpaper the castle walls. It involved a lot of green wallpaper paste which had them slipping about uncontrollably (not scripted) and Dame Queenie’s wig coming off at the same time, again not scripted. They should definitely keep it all in the script as it was the funniest part of the show, so much so the actors had to hide their faces as they also couldn’t help laughing.

Some current jokes about Boris Johnson, Brexit and Donald Trump had to be included of course along with bottom-burping jokes which are pretty much standard fare in a panto production. Jokes about the local districts near to the theatre, such as Earlestown, Carr Mill and Clock Face went over my head as I am not a resident of the area, but locals seemed to get them and appreciate the jibes. One point to mention is that packets of sweets were at one point thrown into the audience which was a bit scary as they could have been construed as a missile and could possibly have inflicted harm or injury to a child or adult and it’s also difficult to explain to a four year old why he didn’t receive any of the sweets being thrown. Luckily I had a packet of sweets in my bag to give him.

Molloy as Princess Aurora is a talented singer and competent dancer and actor. Lacey as the Prince also performs well and Palin as Fairy Carabosse with her Maleficent horns is excellent as the baddie of the piece. Donnelly as the King and Foster as Dame Queenie are an excellent comedy duo and work well together.

At one point there are flames of fire emitting from the stage and there are fireworks at the end which all added to the excitement and pleasure of a very entertaining production.

Regal Entertainments are presenting Sleeping Beauty at the theatre from 19th – 29th October 2019, which will be convenient for parents wanting to take their youngsters as it covers the half-term school holidays.

Reviewer - Anne Pritchard
on - 19/10/19

THEATRE REVIEW: How To Beat Up Your Dad - The Tallyrand Theatre, Manchester

How To Beat Up Your Dad is about Eamonn; a young man’s journey through to manhood.

Like with most shows I review I veer towards cross-art forms and experimental material. This time I’m at The Tallyrand in Levenshulme, Manchester. A new generation of young, personable hipsters gracing the local cafe bars with underground and experimental work.

The night set up by Autre Half Promotions began with a 45 minute solo music set from Aldous RH. Geared with a Microphone and a mixer (not the one you use with spirits) he sang along to sensual '70s summertime classic rock; singing love songs and cosy anthems. His persona was gentle with hip rocking, progressive, funk and soul - he’s one to watch in Manchester.

After a short break the title show begins unnervingly quickly. Drumsticks slap loudly through the audience. A trunk opens unwillingly on stage with Eamonn crawling out showing his vulnerability. We are confronted with pride verses shame after being forced to reveal himself to the audience.

The show floats in and out of violence and humour with: Eamonn and other characters; Theo and Albert (as themselves, and their personas, both trying to be centre stage); and absurdity and storytelling. We see Eamonn as a young boy, naked, in a quick, yet disturbing exchange with a Priest which sets the tone for darker times to come. This provocative scene was portrayed in a sensitive and whole way. However as Eamonn gets older the interactions he encounters become more domineering, and the audience learn how he has to battle with each interaction to reach the top of the ladder, and ultimately win at being a man.

I particularly enjoyed their stylistic approach to storytelling, with poetry and spoken word used as a device to explain traumatic events which had me cackling, quickly loudly, throughout. The juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy is perfectly balanced here.

The actors keep expanding their approach with a direct showcasing of extreme masculinity - almost forcing the actors to become volatile, confronting real life drama in a man's world against each other, and following this, the audience live through it all moment-by-moment by creating a real edge to this piece. Toeing the line so carefully that the piece could explode any minute, which was really thrilling.

It was, however, on a production level tactless at points and insensitive. I worried who was in the audience - will they be triggered? I’m no 'snowflake', but more disclaimers or trigger warnings might have been needed. Yet, at the same time, I admire how brutally honest it was - you can’t argue with how raw and real it felt. Uncomfortable laughter knotted together with well-written punchlines shows the audience that these actors are having fun whilst really trying to teach us something special here with elements including seeking approval from the audience and clown. It was everything and anything. Yet with it being free form, comes a lack of precision with the overall outcome. What did they want me to go away thinking about, because the subjects covered are profound: abuse, tragedy, one-upmanship, violence, therapy. 

Having said that I would consider this show (albeit with more care and attention to certain aspects) to be a staple theatre piece to showcase to young men to alter cirlic behaviour acquired from generations before them. This show holds the potential to change young men going forward [aka stop feeding the monster]. One particular line stuck out “Being friends is like a competition”. How To Beat Up Your Dad is rebellious, it is punk, it is a bit scary, it is Berkoff, it is brave, it is a true reflection of the complicated and funny journey; manhood. I think.

Reviewer - Susanna Amato
on - 18/10/19

Read Susanna's interview with Theo and Albert here ...

INTERVIEW: With The Caravan Guys on their debut play, 'How To Beat Up Your Dad'.

Number 9's reviewer Susanna talks to The Caravan Guys, Theo Mason Wood and Albert Haddenham, about their debut play How To Beat Up Your Dad.

Two musicians turned actors have produced a hilarious, yet frightening portrayal of manhood, abuse, violence and male competition. The original title for this show was How To Beat Up Your Dad (The Musical) Albert explained “This is not a musical, it was, but it’s not now, but it has music in it. I’m the musical director.” Theo helpfully added “ Aldous does drums. There will be synths.”

Hello! Who you are?
A: We’re Caravans Guys Theatre, we’re a small two man theatre company, based in London but we’re both from the North.
T: About a year ago, we were both been in bands. I didn’t know who Al was, and my friends kept saying “you need to meet Albert, he’s really funny!”
A: I’ve never heard anything about Theo.
T: Albert, then, had been hearing some of the stuff I’d been doing, and then he sent me loads of messages begging me to be his friend, and I thought he was this creepy dude, but actually really sincere.
A: That’s the number one thing about me.
T: I’d not been feeling satisfied with what I was doing and wanted to do something within acting, and comedy, and found myself looking at my new partner!
A: ME!
T: I had a story written, a small portion of this play.
A: There was one night we were watching videos and watching our favorite comedies and I just thought were we into the exact same stuff.
T: And when Al moved down to Brighton. I thought there was something here, so I sent him a message: do you want to make a play? Within the first rehearsal we had done pretty much the whole play. While getting really drunk. Slowly over months we drank less and less and now we can do the show completely sober.

“HOW TO BEAT UP YOUR DAD is the tale of one young man’s journey through manhood" - how does a man know they've reached manhood?

T: They don’t really.
A: We all know our gender through actions we’ve learned, and from the world around you.
T: Manhood can be many things: power, dominance, respect, aggression, violence - which is all quite depressing. Even soppy boys like us, you can see people fighting for dominance, be it about anything, not about physical strength, it could be about who knows the most about curry, or whose read the most books. We’re all crunching against each other to see who comes out on top. The character in this story starts as a young man, who is quite fragile, and throughout the play he learns to become respected, and ultimately win, he has to be violent and dominant and he can’t show his emotions.
A: It’s also about how trauma inflicts on those traits as well. It informs men's opinions of what is strong. That’s another key point: trauma.
T: You’ve recognised another man has made you feel bad or small, then you go into the next period e.g. not trying to feel bad or small, and then you push that onto other people and that’s how you inherit manhood and masculinity from each other and then pass it on.

Why did you want to make a show about manhood and violence?

T: Because we’re surrounded by it. All the time. Violence is like the end point of masculinity. Violence is the final option. How can you assert yourself over other people?
A: And the easiest one as well.
T: You’ve made me feel small and anxious and you’ve brought up things that make me question myself, but I can’t look at it, so I’m going to fight you.
A: Beat it out of me and you.
T: A guy I went to school with, his ex-girlfriend started going out with a new guy, and he saw them out in town, and he went up to them and said: “Look mate, I hope you understand this, but I’m going to have to fight you.” The other guy said: “Yeah alright.” And they shook hands, and my school friend got really badly beaten up. He came into school the next day and said “You know I had to do it” and that they had shook hands before, and shook hands after, and he got himself really badly beaten up. I just thought this is ridiculous that you solved the problem like this. You were feeling bad about yourself or sad.
A: It sounds like a medieval knight.
T: Haha! Exactly. And it’s not sorted. None of your feelings have been sorted there, you’ve broken up and now you’ve got a broken jaw. That situation is horrible and very confusing, but it is funny. The violence that comes from masculinity is so ridiculous. Look how stupid is this?! Men beating each other up because they’re feeling sad.

I imagine many men can resonate with the topic, what has the response been so far?

T: Good. People have got it. I was worried about how it was all going to go down. It’s quite full on.
A: I was worried as well.
T: ..about how horrifying the content is. And it’s all so true.
A: How men treat women, and how they treat each others is horrible.
T: And we say it, show it and act it to each other.
A It’s tiring rehearsing it.
T: Luckily people understand it’s funny, but we’re not poking fun at the subject. We’re not making fun of the victims in the story, or the men in it who are ridiculous. We’re showing how extreme masculinity is.
A: We’re looking forward to coming to Manchester to perform to an objective audience, because we've been doing it in our rooms.
T: There’s an electricity, a call and response, you’re bombarding people with these jokes and then hitting them with darkness.
A: You feel manipulative and in control. I’ve only ever performed with bands. The level of control in your hands is quite frightening and if you perform it badly then…
T: It feels like juggling, thoughts; feelings; jokes and it’s all hanging there and catching them all at the very end.
A: Why do you always use circus analogies? Everyone is supposed to relate to an analogy.
T: It’s like a diablo… !
Interview by Susanna Amato Read her review of this play here...

MUSIC REVIEW: Chetham's Symphony Orchestra: Petrushka - The Stoller Hall, Manchester.

I wonder what it is like to close your eyes and listen to a piece of music you have never heard before, being played by an augmented professional adult symphony orchestra, only to open your eyes to find that that sound was being produced by teenagers. I wonder no more. It is an incredible and mightily impressive feeling. These youths (maximum 18 years) are phenomenal and this evening they were playing better than ever.

Three substantial concert works were performed this evening, all conducted by ex-alumnus Paul Mann. His conducting was precise, energetic, demanding, physical, and as both a musician and audience member easy and interesting to follow. Moreover the orchestra responded well to his baton-weilding, and the cumulative sound this evening was lush and harmonic.

The 'piece of music never heard before' was the opening piece this evening. Paul Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Weber (1943).  This piece which lasts just over 20 minutes in 4 movements, is, as the programme notes so rightly suggest, probably far more Weber than Hindemith, but the Hindemith stamp is nevertheless omnipresent: the use of a large orchestra, sharp dynamic changes especially in volume, the ovetly 20th century twist on the Romantic style of composition adding dissonance, odd tonality or time signatures and other devices here and there - and particularly here in the first movement it felt very William Walton-esque at times. The music is rich and colourful, beautifully evocative and intense. Sometimes so simple and yet so effective, other times being extremely clever, but the cleverness is superbly calculated, still remaining tuneful and thematic. The piece was quite cinematic in feel throughout.  Some passages are reminiscent of the Classical style, others more Romantic, but all wrapped-up in the 20th Century compositional ethic. I enjoyed the second movement for its clever minimalism. I am absolutely no fan of the music of Philip Glass et al; however here the second movement consisted almost entirely of one single simple phrase which was continually repeated and modulated, and worked really well. I had heard of Paul Hindemith as a composer but was not familiar with his oeuvre. This has inspired me to find and listen to more.

Following this was a work with which I am extremely familiar. being a huge Tchaikovsky fan, and this work being a favourite of many a concert recital, it is a very often-played and well-liked piece. It is also Tchaikovsky's only violin concerto. Saying that however, one mustn't trivialise the work; it is a work of incredible depth and texture, and the solo violin part is absolutely no stroll in the park! And after the now smaller orchestra had reconfigured and the 16 year old soloist, and Chetham's pupil, Yixuan Ren took to the stage, we heard what must surely be one of - if not the most - instantly recognisable opening phrases in the violin repertoire; Ren handling this tricky and very long first movement with skill and precision, having remarkable technique and nimbleness. The andante second movement always reminds me of a Yiddish folk song - rightly or wrongly - and the exuberant and non-stop third movement brings the whole to a climatic and joyous finale. The violin solo is an incredibly difficult one, and even professional violists have famously passed this work by. All the more credit to Ren, whose interpretation was intelligent, mature and sensitive as well as technically superb.

The final piece of the evening was the concert's title piece, Igor Stravinsky's 'Petrushka'. Written in four distinct tableaux (or movements if you prefer) in Switzerland, and made into a ballet at the suggestion of Sergei Diaghilev (1911). I was extremely interested and rather curious to hear this work this evening as I have only ever once before heard this music live, and that was as the background music to the ballet. Watching a ballet the focus is on the dancers and their storytelling, and the music is somehow less important. Without the dancing however, one is forced to listen far more intently to the music as I did thsi evening, and what I heard was surprising and delightful. Again an augmented otchestra was required for this work including celeste, piano, 2 harps and a large percussion section. Dynamically extremely difficult but handled with aplomb, this work has a lot to say in those little moments between the sound, the pauses. It was lovely to hear these tiny moments of silence and then to listen to an unusual pairing of instruments to start a little duet before the main orchestra enters once again. Interesting rhythms, different styles and unusual harmonies litter his music. There is so much happening in the composer's mind, it is almost as if he is running out of time to write it all down on the page before he forgets it. I loved the beautiful extended diminuendo denouement, and the unexpected almost inaudible final notes.

A wonderful concert, hugely enjoyable, and unbelievably impressive to see and hear what those still in training are capable of. Magnificent. A triumph!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 18/10/19

photo - Sara Porter

THEATRE REVIEW: Burnout - The King's Arms, Salford.

The pitter patter of rain on The King's Arms' roof could be heard in the main auditorium. An accidental coincidence which complimented the poignancy surrounding "Burnout". Directed by Ethan Boswell-Cranshaw.

It was written by Selina Helliwell who also played the main character, Elise with colourful expression. It's interesting to read that this play started as a two minute monologue and having watched the final version tonight, it feels like it has developed organically over time. Monologues turning into duologues, turning into a full blown play. The script came into fruition when Helliwell was struggling with her own mental health. "Burnout" was good because it was successful in its objective of fighting the stigma surrounding mental health. The writing was authentic, raw, and revealing - balancing its imagery-filled language with naturalistic dialogue.

Plot-wise, it centred around a 24 hour gym featuring the characters: Becky (Briget Uzodinma), Tim (Christopher Sutcliffe), Daniel (Gareth Morgan), Megan (Lana O'Kell), Susie (Mary Taylor), Elise (Selina Helliwell), Jack (Stephen Gidwaney), and an unseen, unheard missing person. Each character had their own demons and issues they struggled with. The main focus was on the love triangle storyline between the overwhelmed Elise, the uber-obsessive and jealous Tim, and the cool Fitness Instructor Daniel. Jack provided much comedy relief in the bleak world of the play, flexing his skinny muscles and acting like a "hard man" to impress the ladies. Think of Quagmire from "Family Guy".
On reflection, the company of actors played their performances effectively to the intimacy of The King's Arms space. Situational comedy and awkward humour showed itself now and then and this was not over-performed - landing rather well with the audience. In particular, Susie's sweetly sinister and oddball humour resonated well. The sporadic soliloquies were a great theatrical device to present characters' innermost and darkest thoughts to the audience. With rhetorical questions keeping you engaged. Although, it wasn't always clear whether they were meant to be delivered in direct address or not. In addition, the evenness of humour and drama worked throughout until the final confrontational scene where, confusingly, the audience laughed at some of the serious moments for some reason. On a lighter note, all of the actors were confident in their roles, it looked as though they've had a lot of rehearsal time to play around with characterisation.

The stage was a 50/50 split between a gym and a reception selling Grenade protein bars. However, when a different scene presented a new location the set pieces were awkwardly covered up with a cloth which didn't work. Solo spot lighting elicited a claustrophobic and vulnerable feeling. Meanwhile the wash of blue lighting was both doleful and somewhat comforting at the same time.
"Burnout" related to the physical, the mental and the emotional here. One of the standout lines in the play was: "Bottling things can kill you". An important message to take away for sure. The setting of the gym actually reinforced the notion that mental health should be seen in the same light as physical health. Say you can't go into work because you're unwell with flu or just had a severe panic attack, both are legitimate reasons for absence, which should be respected. The cast and creatives were clearly proud of this play and what it stood for. So they should be, it was good.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 18/10/19

OPERA REVIEW: The Mask Of Orpheus - English National Opera, London.

Don’t look back audience in the underworld!

A spectacular, epic, lyric tragedy - an iconic, significant, original work - this composer from the north of England transports the well known Orpheus myth into the late twentieth century. 

Orpheus was a legendary musician, poet and prophet in Ancient Greece. He had superhuman musical skills which he used to charm his way into the underworld to try and rescue his new wife who had died after being bitten by a snake. He almost succeeded in this difficult mission. He was allowed to bring his wife back on the condition he did not look back at her on their way out of the underworld , but for whatever reason, at the very end he turned round and lost her for ever. 

This piece is complexly scored for massive, untraditional orchestral forces that require two conductors in the pit. There is a combination of percussion, brass, wind instruments, harps that represent Orpheus’ lyre and atmospheric electronic music created in Paris. Beautifully played rich, ritualistic music roams freely with repeated and intertwining themes exploring memory, melancholy, lamentation, time and the nature of music itself.

We are led from inconsolable grief to acceptance and transformation. Orpheus crushing his own skull in the end to erase his memory and silence his mind. The new beautiful mask then appears as featured on the advertisements for this opera.

There is always a busy stage which can sometimes be overwhelming .The mental torment at times is frenzied, nightmarish verging on lunacy with accentuated patterns and symbolism. There are scenes of graphic nature and violence. Dramatic scenes take place inside moving glass boxes; the passing clouds and allegorical flowers. Surreally Orpheus is in an intensive care bed at one point and there are multiple hangings, coffin appearances and a moving graveside episode. Losing love hurts but just keep moving....Different perspectives and extra drama is added by having the three leading characters appear in three different guises.

Peter Hoare as Orpheus the man and Marta Fontanals-Simmons as Eurydice the woman sang their parts with great sensitivity and a hint of magic. The whole cast showed great talent for this contemporary performance.

Visually the colours on the set were exquisite with beautiful lighting and wonderful projections of faces, flowers, leaves, reflections by the bath and terrifying swarms of bees symbolising Aristaeus who desired to be Eurydice’s lover and was the first man to cultivate bees for honey. The bath and bed on stage are used as effective exits to the underworld.

Dance and movement throughout was skillfully performed with long and stunning performances by the aerialists.

The costumes were lavish and fantastic but ranged from solely underpants to the most ornately decorated outfits with Swarovski jewels. Significant were the single bejewelled gloves of Orpheus and Eurydice. Daniel Lismore rightly deserved Vogue’s description as ’England’s most outrageous dresser’.

It was a cruel twist of fate that Orpheus often sailed with Jason and the Argonauts and saved them from danger but was unable to save himself. Orpheus looked back to magical times and also forward to more scientific days; maybe because of this he was a tragic defeated figure.

This production was a celebration of the outrageous and the ultimate feast of opera - a tour-de-force - English National Opera at its best, and part of their series of four Orpheus operas this autumn.Touchingly Harrison Birtwistle was in the audience for this first night and appeared on stage for the curtain call
Reviewer - Judith Armstrong
on - 18/10/19

FILM REVIEW: Blackmail (1929) - with live organ accompaniment: The RNCM, Manchester.

Sitting in a busy but not crowded Lower Hall 1 of the RNCM, we did not have to wait too long before we were introduced to our organist, Darius Battiwalla, who gave us a brief but informative introduction to the film; and reassured us that the organ was rather quite “substantial” hiding behind the black and gold art-deco inspired screen surround.

Coincidentally, the last silent film I went to see at a cinema screening was Hitchcock’s previous film, The Lodger: A Story Of The London Fog (1927), at The Cornerhouse (those were the days), which was live streaming the live accompaniment up from London. All I can say is, this was better!

As much as I enjoy silent films, I have always found it somewhat difficult to settle into them with a pre-recorded soundtrack. I totally understand why it is done but I always feel it doesn’t make the film wholly silent. However Battiwalla’s improvised organ accompaniment added a whole new level to viewing silent films. To feel the resonance of the organ through the floor and chairs, and to hear it actually in the same room as you was something else. It was the closest one could come to going to a cinema in the late 1920s. It was a true silent film screening.

This screening was not only a celebration of Alfred Hitchcock’s last silent/ first talkie film, but it also humbly showcased and celebrated a dying(?)/ certainly rare skill and feature that disappeared with the advent of synchronised sound.

Blackmail tells the story of Alice White (Anny Ondra) who kills a man in self-defence and is blackmailed for it. Meanwhile at New Scotland Yard, Alice’s boyfriend, Frank (John Longden) and the other detectives try and figure out who committed the murder. All against the backdrop of 1920’s London.

The film itself is certainly a step up from The Lodger in terms of scale and pace. Many tropes which would become the norm in his later films start out in Blackmail, the alluring leading blonde, the landmark, the unheard conversation and so on. Darius Battiwalla said in his introduction that the film was “...a London film.” and he was right. Amongst the climatic finale in the British Museum, we also see Trafalgar Square from Whitehall, and the flashing lights of Piccadilly Circus as well as many other places all shot beautifully and seen in a way that we are not familiar with anymore. The BFI restoration certainly enhanced these shots and the overall picture was sublime.

You can break Hitchcock up into many periods and for me, his silent period shares the podium with his films from the late 1950s. I still maintain the opinion that he couldn’t end a film, the ending of Blackmail is no different from Rope or even Psycho; abrupt, somewhat forced, and almost like the typewriter ran out of ink when the screenplay was being written and that was it. This screening brought back a thought which I had originally when I saw The Lodger and had forgotten about, and it was how strange, almost alien, to see a Hitchcock film in London (or even England). I feel we are that familiar with his films being in an American setting that we almost forget his origins; of his later, critically successful films, his 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much came close to capturing that with the latter half of the film. However, I digress.

Darius Battiwalla’s skills as an organist were unquestionable. He really brought the film alive, and captured the tone and pace perfectly. I could have quite happily sat behind the screen and watched him play. The Royal Northern College of Music put these screenings on annually or so, with Battiwalla stating that while they have used piano accompaniment in previous years, this year was a return to the organ, and what a good choice that was.

Another positive note which must be mentioned was the audience, there was a good age range in attendance from teens to the elderly, certainly an improvement from when I was the only person under 20 at the screening of The Lodger. Whether they were there for their love of Hitchcock or silent cinema, or even both, it makes me confidant that these films will be loved by the populous for decades to come! I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who is into silent films, or certain directors of the period to try and make it to a screening like this one. I would also recommend Blackmail to everyone, a thoroughly enjoyable film with all the suspense, drama and action of your typical Hitchcock production.

Reviewer - Daryl Griffin
on - 17/10/19

DANCE REVIEW: Cinderella - The Palace Theatre, Manchester.

This production of ‘Cinderella’ was originally created for The Dutch National Ballet in 2012, but has been restaged to celebrate the English National Ballet’s 70th Anniversary season. It remains close to the original tale, although there is no fairy godmother, but the twist within this was exquisite to survey.

Julien Crouch’s set is magnificent in its opulence. The grandeur of the set fits majestically in a proscenium arch theatre and is a true spectacle to behold. From the overly large fireplace in Cinderella’s kitchen, to the archways and windows of the palace, it fills the space, and if anything makes it feel even more colossal. Transitions between sets are fluent and extremely visual. Projections are expertly used, both for setting the scene and for comic effect. A gauze at the front had visuals projected onto it, nothing new or revolutionary I know, but was highly effective in its use and complimented the production well.

Julian Crouch’s talent obviously knows no bounds, as he also designed the costumes. The costumes were sublime. The regal nature of the royal family in gold and red velvet were splendid. The waltzing blue-costumed courtesans gorgeous to observe. The most dazzling 'four seasons' in delicate and beautifully made attire. The one costume I was most disappointed in was Cinderella’s ball costume which lacked the grandiose quality compared with the rest.

English National Ballet chose Sergei Prokofiev’s score for their production of ‘Cinderella’. It is a beautifully rich score with lots of depth and an added element of darkness, which sits nicely with the idea of the ‘four fates’ that lead Cinderella on her journey. The dancers of the Four Fates intertwined beautifully both with the music and the choreography, adding a sense of foreboding and prophecy that I particularly loved watching. Their fluent movement of Cinderella around the space, aiding her dynamically was incredibly appealing to witness and I savoured their symbolic representation and choral qualities.

Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography was outstanding. His flair for both traditional ballet with elements of contemporary movement provided visual elegance and delight. The repetition of the jaunty hand movements of the clock hands, both by the Four Fates and the ensemble, foreshadowing the importance of time. Erina Takahashi’s performance as Cinderella was etherical and dazzling to watch. She appeared to dance as light as a feather and her stamina was admirable, an absolute joy, faultless in her technique. Joseph Caley as Prince Guillaume was commendable and praiseworthy in his portrayal and complimented Takahashi well. I particularly enjoyed the performances of Alison McWhinney and Katja Khaniukova as the stepsisters. Although not ‘ugly’ on the outside, the clever choreography displays their grotesque nature at certain points and they added some delightful comedic moments. The artistic director of the English National Ballet, Tamara Rojo, takes on the role of the evil stepmother with considerable panache. A cruel and malicious character at one moment, to a hungover and amusing character the next. As an audience member I was enthralled with her wonderful portrayal and sought her out whenever she took to the stage.

This was one spectacular performance with an abundance of memorable moments: dancing horse chestnuts, tree gnomes and a pumpkin carriage conceived by a lot of fabric and a wind machine, to name but a few. Act one was definitely the highlight for me and I was certainly blown away with the sumptuousness of it all. A first-class performance.

Reviewer - Catherine Owen

on - 17/10/19

Thursday, 17 October 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Little Shop Of Horrors - The Carriageworks, Leeds.

'Little Shop Of Horrors' is known to theatre-goers worldwide, it's a kooky cult classic loved by many. It takes place in a small florist set in downtown New York. It follows a clumsy florist's assistant who comes across an 'interesting plant' that he puts in the shop window which slowly brings success to this down-and-out business.

As the show opened we were met with three dazzling singers, 'The Ronnettes', who throughout the show acted like narrators guiding us through the story ever so slightly pushing the show towards it's unfortunate ending. I enjoyed this slight difference to the show and felt their characters were open for interpretation for the audience. Hoyland, Mountford and Rowett brought a lovely vibrancy to the show and all had spectacular voices. Seymour was played by Ronan Pilkington who I felt played the role exceptionally well, adding some extra comedy to the role with pauses and mouthed adlibs. He had me in stitches! Overall it was very well cast, with strong performances from every actor.

The set was predominately placed in the flower shop, the set is definitely what stood out for me the most. At the beginning of the show everything was black, grey and white reflecting the misery and bleakness of Skid Row. When Audrey 2 is first seen it stood out massively against the colourless set bringing vibrant beauty to the store. As Seymour's success grows more and more colour started to gradually find its way into the set, almost as if the plants were taking over. I thoroughly enjoyed this concept and felt it brought something new to this well known show, amazing work from Director Neil Knipe.

Throughout the show there seemed to be some difficulties with sound and lighting which was a real shame. There was a loss of lines here and there due to microphones not always being turned on and starts of scenes were slightly lost due to lights not coming up quick enough.

I enjoyed the small routines in between scenes and during song numbers, however I feel that the movements of the characters being eaten by the plant needed to be slightly slicker as it was visible to the audience that they were just stepping inside the plant and pulling the fabric over them.

It was great to see a few new and refreshing changes to this show, overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Well done to all involved!

Reviewer - Bethany Suthers

on - 16/10/19

NEWS: Animation Greats to come to Sale, Manchester in November.

Animation Greats Come To Waterside, Sale

Creative Industries Trafford (CIT) and Waterside are proud to announce an exciting season of events focused on animation, stop motion and the work Manchester’s legendary Cosgrove Hall Films (makers of DangermouseThe Wind In The Willows and Chorlton & The Wheelies).

Materials In Motion is a two-day symposium, delivered by CIT and Manchester Animation Festival, that brings a roster of international, award-winning speakers to Waterside, including speakers from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the renowned Annecy Animation Festival prize-winners to explore how animation archives can be saved for future generations. It runs from Friday 1 – Saturday 2 November.

On Saturday 2 November, CIT’s Puppet Masters Animation Conference welcomes leading figures from the worlds of animation, puppetry and voice-acting to Waterside featuring screenwriter and voice actor Brian Trueman (Chorlton & The Wheelies, Wind In The Willows, Dangermouse), Francesca Maxwell (art director, ParaNorman & The Fantastic Mr Fox), Phil Chalk (BAFTA and Royal Television Society award-winning animation company Factory Create, makers of The Clangers) and animation director Jo Chalkley (Cosgrove Hall Films and Aardman Animations). The event features masterclass talks and in-conversation discussions with each speaker giving insights into their work and inspirations during what’s sure to be a fascinating afternoon.

Also at Puppet Masters, which is supported by Arts Council England, CIT features previews of newly commissioned works in progress from three emerging animation projects supported by CIT, as well as screenings of animated short films from all over the UK.

Waterside is home to the Cosgrove Hall Films Archive and in the build up to a new exhibition, there is a sneak peak of rarely seen puppets and props from The Wind In The Willows (1984 - 88), which has been donated to the archive earlier in 2019 after being thought lost for several decades.

The Cosgrove Hall: Frame By Frame exhibition runs from Thursday 14 November 2019 to Saturday 4 January 2020 and takes audiences right back to the basics of animation detailing the processes behind some of the best loved children's animation. The exhibition breaks down the most complex Cosgrove Hall series, such as The Wind in the Willows, looking at the finer details of production, with original puppets, costumes, production material and inside stories. The exhibition focuses on stop motion production and techniques, inspiring a new generation of animators to draw inspiration from Cosgrove Hall classics.

The animation programme takes place at Waterside in Sale on Fri 1 & Sat 2 Nov.

Tickets and further information can be booked at or on
0161 912 5616.

NEWS: cast announced for Hope Aria's final show of 2019... The Astonishing Times of Timothy Cratchit at Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre


Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment, Joseph Houston & William Whelton for Hope Mill Theatre and Timothy Cratchit Development LLC are delighted to announce the full cast for THE ASTONISHING TIMES OF TIMOTHY CRATCHIT, a new musical with book by Allan Knee (the writer of Hope Aria’s 2017 hit musical, Little Women), and music and lyrics by newcomer Andre Catrini. Ryan Kopel stars in the title role of Timothy. He is joined by Paul Greenwood, Michael Matus, Sammy Graham and Helen Pearson who star as Scrooge, Grimaldi, Lucy and Mrs Linden/Miss Poole respectively.

Ryan Kopel made his West End debut last year in The Inheritance (Noel Coward Theatre) and recently appeared in West Side Story (Edinburgh International Festival). Paul Greenwood has previously starred in Arthur’s World (SPID Theatre, London), You Can Always Hand Them Back (Mercury Theatre), A Christmas Carol (New Vic Theatre), Our Father (Watford Palace), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (UK Tour) and Guys and Dolls (UK Tour). His TV credits include Father Brown (BBC), Holby City (BBC), Lewis (ITV), Midsomer Murders (ITV), Casualty (BBC), Superintendent Yelland in Spender (BBC) and PC Michael 'Rosie' Penrose in The Growing Pains of PC Penrose and Rosie (BBC). Michael Matus has most recently starred in Richard III (UK Tour), King Lear (The Duke of York’s Theatre), Broken Glass (Watford Palace) and The Wizard of Oz (Sheffield Crucible). His TV credits include Shakespeare and Hathaway (BBC), The Split (BBC) and Endeavour (ITV). Sammy Graham has recently appeared in The Happy Prince (The Place), Strike Up the Band (Upstairs at the Gatehouse) and It’s Only Life (Union Theatre). Helen Pearson played show regular Frankie Osbourne for 15 years in Hollyoaks (Channel 4). Her theatre credits include Comic Potential (Lyric Theatre), Love Songs for Shopkeepers (Stephen Joseph Theatre), Educating Rita (Swansea Rep/Tour) and Blood Brothers (Birmingham Rep).

Also in the cast are Trevor Whittaker as Quilp Hannah Brown as Momo/Miss Tulips and Sadie-Jean Shirley as Aria. Completing the cast are Dimitri Gripari, Tadek Chmiel and Tom Sterling.

THE ASTONISHING TIMES OF TIMOTHY CRATCHIT tells the tale of a young man who sets out to find his place in an expanding and volatile world. Inspired by the characters of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the story follows the plight of young Tim from the home of his benefactor, Ebenezer Scrooge, to the theatrical madness of the great comic, Giuseppe Grimaldi. 

The new musical will be directed by Jonathan O’Boyle (HairThis HousePippinRain ManAspects of Love), with choreography by Sam Spencer-Lane, musical direction by Chris Poon, set design by Gregor Donnelly, lighting design by Aaron J Dootson, sound design by Paul Gavin and orchestration by Assaf Gleizner.

THE ASTONISHING TIMES OF TIMOTHY CRATCHIT is produced by Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment and Joseph Houston & William Whelton for Hope Mill Theatre, in association with Timothy Cratchit Development LLC.


Hope Mill Theatre
Hope Mill
113 Pollard Street
Manchester M4 7JA

Box Office:  0333 012 4963

@hopemilltheatr1 / @HopeAria2019

The Astonishing Times of Timothy Cratchit

22 November – 29 December 2019

£18 - £28 (Previews £16)
Family and Premium tickets available

Tue-Sat 7.30pm, Wed & Sat 2.30pm, Sun 3.00pm
(2.30pm only on 24 December, no performances 25 & 26 December)

NEWS: Light Up Poole returns to Dorset in February 2020

Thursday 20 – Saturday 22 February 2020
Poole High Street, Quay & Old Town
Free and ticketed events

Light Up Poole, the annual festival of digital light art, is set to return in February with three nights of extraordinary light spectacles and community events that will transform the town after dark.

More than 40,000 visitors experienced last year’s incredible displays and for Light Up Poole 2020 organisers are extending the light up time and expanding the programme with talks, workshops and ticketed events including a family rave.

Funded by Arts Council England and main sponsor Poole BID, with additional contributions from BCP Council and private businesses, Light Up Poole will run from 20 to 22 February and showcase the work of local, emerging and international artists with a series of newly created digital light art installations and projections as well as creative participation events that encourage visitors to make their own work that casts Poole in a new light.

“This year’s Light Up Poole was a truly magical experience and 2020’s event is set to be even more dazzling and memorable,” says Poole BID manager Ailsa Wilson.

‘Just walking down the High Street was a spine-tingling experience, seeing crowds of people who’d come from our community but also far and wide to be part of this inspiring event. Listening to the buzz and excitement in the street was a pure delight.”

Light Up Poole is presented by Audacious, the community interest company dedicated to delivering high quality, accessible experiences that enable people to engage with light as a creative medium.
“It’s about breaking down the barriers between art and science, adding an A for Art to the STEM subjects,” says Libby Battaglia of Audacious. “Many of our visitors are young people and their families so by fusing art, technology and innovation Light Up Poole triggers curiosity about how art is presented and shows there are careers to be made in this field.”

This year Light Up Poole artists are responding to the theme ‘Spectrum’ with work that addresses diversity in terms of age, faith, social exclusion and migration.

“Light and colour both occur across a spectrum and so do human emotions so we are working with artists that address the full range – the physics of light as well as how it feels,” adds Libby.

“Artists show us things we think are familiar in a new light. They see the world differently and use that creative vision to show something new about the places we live.”

This year Light Up Poole is working with Poole Museum and new partners Mathmos, inventors of the lava lamp and based in Poole since 1963, whose designers will unveil a lava lamp window installation and lounge in the Museum during the festival weekend; while Poole-based Siemens Mobility Limited is to theme its 2019/20 STEM engagement activities around the theme of ‘Spectrum’ to align with Light Up Poole.

Other community partners include local conservation charity Birds of Poole Harbour, leading partners in an osprey translocation project to restore a breeding population of ospreys in the south of England. Artist Michael Condron, who is known for his dynamic, larger-than-life pieces, is using work by conservationists to create a sculpture of an osprey to be bathed in light and installed on Poole Quay.

In advance of Light Up Poole and led by Soundstorm Music Education Hub and Wave Arts Education Agency, primary school children will engage with creative music workshops and write poems to music inspired by the migration journey of the osprey. Birds of Poole Harbour will exhibit the poetry in its HQ and hope to share this new artwork with partner schools in West Africa where the ospreys typically spend their winter.

Light Up Poole is also proud to welcome veteran fire artists Ben Rigby and Mandy Dike, collectively known as And Now:, to create a contemplative fire garden in St James’s Gardens that explores notions of faith and invites visitors to contribute to an evolving sculptural installation.

Other confirmed highlights include the return of Wild Strawberry, whose ‘Weather Machine’ was a highlight of Light Up Poole 2019, with a giant 60s-influenced overhead extravaganza called ‘Psychedeli-tron’ above Poole High Street, and Belgian artist Tom Dekyvere will follow his stunning ‘Rhizome’ structures from last year with a new commission called ‘AdBlock’ and ‘The People’s Florist’ in which members of the public can paint their own designs inside an illuminated box.

Elsewhere, there are Light Up Poole debuts for bipolar artist Mig Burgess who will be creating ‘talking’ trees from public feedback and artist Mark Perry whose ‘Sea Shells’ project finds him working with writer Gemma Aldred to capture the often unheard and isolated voices of Poole’s homeless and elderly communities.