Thursday, 31 January 2019

REVIEW: Edward II - The Casa Theatre, Liverpool

It seems like an excellent match; Grin Theatre, Liverpool’s longest-running LGBT+ theatre company doing a scratch version of Marlowe’s 1594-published Edward II. The story of a king undone by his love of another man is not regularly staged, despite the beauty of the text and the ever-relevant themes of forbidden love, the consequences of power, the state versus the Church and the dangers of class and social mobility.

The point on which the true life plot turns, is Edward II’s infatuation with the low-born Gaveston, which disrupts the traditional ways in which value and importance are measured and which pits the King against all his lords - with conflict, flight and ultimately death following. Marlowe’s created world is an amoral and cruel one, where everyone follows their own selfish desires and ambitions and where all consequently come undone, as the Medieval wheel of fortune turns full circle.

This is very much a modern production, immediately evinced by the suited and booted nobility, the ever present use of mobile phones and the stripped-down stage; a wooden chair symbolises the throne and there are judiciously used, often comedy, props - including children’s plastic toy guns and an outsized mitre. Simple lighting changes and composer Kenny Rainford’s intermittent but evocative musical accompaniment (including a snatch of rave music) give a certain smooth and contemporary veneer to a bare bones production.

The gender blind casting is effective with Christine Corser’s Countess of Lancaster/Lightborne being imperious as Lancaster and compellingly seductive as Edward’s Villanelle-like assassin – and much of the humour is camp, mocking, gleeful and almost panto-esque in its physicality.

The play is often referred to as an ‘actor's play’ but here, the play isn’t solely the vehicle for the virtuosity of the lead actor (Joseph McGhee) but is truly an ensemble piece with no one role outshining another. If I have one cavil it is that Edward’s emotional arc is perhaps flattened out and so he doesn’t quite reach tragic victim status – or receive as much audience sympathy as we expect.

The key strength of this performance is the clarity of the storytelling – diction enunciation, tone and emphasis are pretty much uniformly clean and crisp, so Marlow’s gritty yet poetic dialogue is precisely rendered. There is a touch of Northern Broadsides in the delivery of the dialogue too, with a range of, largely, northern accents and a Scouse king. It’s a credit to director/adapter Will Cooper that his invented iambic prologue is very much in keeping with the spirit of the piece.

This production puts Edward’s death centre stage and is explicit, and the murder itself seems to mock his homosexuality – in an age when homosexuality was not recognised and sodomy was punishable by death. This drew some unexpected laughter from the audience – either through shock, embarrassment or because the showing of the killing is possibly too sudden, over the top and bordering on dark slapstick.

Clearly a lot of work has gone into adapting the play – from the creation of the prologue to the carefully choreographed use of the restricted space and tiny stage, and the production is far more polished than its ‘scratch’ status would indicate.

It would be good to see this highly accessible, energetic and often playful production be allowed to blossom on a bigger stage.

Reviewer - Tracy Ryan
on - 30/1/19

REVIEW: Antarctica - HOME, Manchester

Antarctica is ‘an immersive work of orchestral music theatre.’ Composer and lead performer Laura Bowler travelled to Antarctica in January 2018 and subsequently devised a show intended to recreate the experience in Manchester. The piece combines footage from the trip, live orchestral music from Manchester Camerata (conducted by Jessica Cottis) and a vocal performance that occupies a space between spoken word and recitative opera. It also attempts to address climate change and the specific damage to the Antarctic, in particular citing the expiry of the Antarctic Treaty in 2048. 

The performance started well, effectively evoking a sense of being on board a ship and followed by a lovely reveal of the onstage orchestra. The orchestral performance was slick and competent throughout with the percussionists being used particularly well to create a beautifully eerie whine. At the back of the stage there was a large screen and this was also incorporated in an innovative way; action on stage was filmed live and immediately projected onto the screen adding an interesting layer to the performance. Unfortunately, this is where most of my praise ends. Overall I found the piece unpolished, chaotic and, despite all the noise, dull. The vocal performances and orchestral composition were repetitive, overlong, uninspired and often fighting over each other to be heard. Any effectiveness that was to be had from complex layers of repeated words and musical phrases was lost due to an apparent inability to know when enough is enough. Self-editing is key in all theatre but is utterly vital when creating something more avant garde. The multimedia aspects were ambitious but inconsistent in execution. The sequences that contributed to live projections were slick and well rehearsed though I felt the HOME stage did not provide quite enough room for it. There was an attempt to blend the authentic sea footage with other images; maps, statistics etc., but it was poorly done and gave an impression of un-professionalism. This was then compounded by the constant loop of the same footage of blank, featureless ocean. 

I would have hoped a trip to the Antarctic might have yielded more inspiring visuals. The promise of ‘immersive theatre’ is not something that is delivered on; surround sound and a confetti cannon do not immersive theatre make. And then, after a thankfully brief period of unintelligible screeching, the show ended on an almost high; a pre-recorded video of Laura Bowler performing a poem by Bysshe Coffey. This was the true highlight of the show. Bowler performed this superb poem without frills or gimmicks, and it was genuinely beautiful. 

Unfortunately, the overly specific credits then began to roll over the screen and over her performance completely drawing focus. I overheard one member of the audience expressing his love for this piece so there is without doubt an audience for it. For me, however, it is a mess with no clear message, or at least no message I could decipher from the overwhelming cacophony of sound, and it is telling when the 20 minute Q&A afterwards was more informative and compelling than the show itself. The Q&A also proved that there is genuine passion and understanding for their message and their craft, and I wish it had translated more successfully into their show. 

Reviewer - Deanna Turnbull 
on - 30/1/19

REVIEW: Tango Fire - The Peacock Theatre, London

It is January - midsummer - the Portenos of Buenos Aires are populating the streets in their finery; basking in the sunshine and staying up all night in the balmy temperatures. Smells of the finest freshly barbequed food waft out from the numerous restaurants and cafes, bottles of rich Mendoza Malbec flow freely...and people are beginning to dance: impromptu, improvised displays on the labyrinth of street corners that lead to the main square of the historic San Telmo - by now just visible by the old wrought iron street lights. There is Tango everywhere, with its many onlookers transfixed and applauding. The curtain is up and we are - quite literally - transported to the vibrant Argentinian capital as Tango Fire begins its seventh season at London’s Peacock Theatre.

The start of the show had a late afternoon, 1950s ‘street’ feel to it, brightly lit with dancers in full black and white floral skirts, mingling with the audience and casually sitting and watching one another as they took it in turns to treat us to some relaxed Tango Foxtrot with their partners. Once we were ‘broken in’ the tempo became decidedly more upbeat: the lights dimmed and swift costume changes revealed more slim-lined, tailored appareil cleverly cut for maximum ‘gancho’ kicks: the tango-defining leg swing. This smooth but energetic section was brilliantly executed, with each pair treating us to a glorious display of their incredible technical skills, effortlessly traversing the stage to a range of complex tempos. The last group dance before the interval - The Tango La Cumparasita (the most famous and recognisable of dances within the genre - often ‘the last dance of the evening’) - was a visual delight, where the complex. rhythmic sounds seamlessly translated into a unified motion that enveloped the stage with tangible passion and fire.

The staging of Tango Fire was simple but very effective - a stripped back version of an earlier incarnation I saw seven years ago. The raised area had the four musicians silhouetted against a plain backdrop, that enabled a huge palette of colours to effectively light the performers, create atmosphere and define the mood. Added to this visual feast were a plethora of costumes that were no less than fabulous - the female dancers in particular undergoing many changes of outfits in jewel-like colours, beautifully cut and suitably embroidered and sequined to enhance every stage of this lavish spectacle.

The ever-present band ‘Quarteto Fuego’ were very much the centrepiece of the show, either driving what has been described as the “intricate and symbolic relationship between music and the sensuality of dance” or treating us to one of many set pieces - thus creating effective continuity to a show that could otherwise have been hampered by the numerous costume changes. Comprising of four young virtuosi in their own right, they effortlessly navigated the complex timings and defining rhythmic patterns of the music, with some superb group and solo performances. The guttural violin playing of Gemma Scalia that defined the passion and grit embodied in the Tango art form, stayed with me long after the performance had ended.

Tango Fire was conceived by Buenos Aires-born German Cornejo, now considered to be one of the top choreographers in the world. His work first hit London audiences at the Peacock with Tango Inferno in 2011 and has been playing annually to packed houses ever since. With his partner Gisela Galeassi, their ‘Susu’ - Tango Adagio - in the second half was one of many beautifully controlled and at times mind-boggling set pieces by the six couples that make up the company. In turn they fired up the stage with their technical brilliance, in particular on display in their ‘Show Tango’ pieces (whereby the Tango genre is infused with acrobatics and ballet) which had the audience, quite frankly, in raptures. Despite the show coming to an almost abrupt halt at the end, it nevertheless earned itself several standing ovations, shouts for encores and continuous applause. This packed multi-generational audience were clearly fired up and energised by what they had witnessed, with septuagenarians and teenagers on their feet together in delighted unison!

And as the curtain finally came down, the 70-something couple who had been sitting beside me said “We braved the threat of snow and came anyway. Maybe the ‘cumparasita’ could have been slower... more passionate; but the second half more than made up for that... an amazing performance!”

It was indeed a mesmerising production with a very wide appeal, which if anything, will get even more into its stride as the run progresses.

Reviewer - Georgina Elliott
on - 29/1/19

REVIEW: John Paul White - Night And Day Cafe, Manchester

In 2011 The Civil Wars debut album was gathering some serious momentum. Released in February to unanimous acclaim it earned the duo, formed by John Paul White and Joy Williams a slot supporting Adele on her US tour. Fans of Adele must have just been feeling the effects of the Prosac, which is presumably handed out gratis at the beginning of Adele gigs, as The Civil Wars unleashed their unique brand of what one critic called “Gothic-folk”, so I can only imagine the mind-bending trip through the bayou that the crowds were taken on during this support slot. They toured small venues later that year and it was at Night And Day in September 2011 that I saw The Civil Wars live. They were on fine form that night; all rich harmonies, soulful country acoustic and sexual tension so electric that none of us could look each other in the eye afterwards, instead fanning ourselves with all the embarrassed fluster of Edwardian dowagers. Two years, four Grammies and a second album later, The Civil Wars had split. Leaving behind a pair of enigmatic apologies citing irreconcilable differences and then a wall of silence.

Tonight, John Paul White returned to Night And Day, debuting material from his new album ‘The Hurting Kind’, his third album since The Civil Wars split. Supported ably by Lyla Foy, who played a handful of songs which had an ephemeral, dreamy quality, but quickly became indistinguishable from one another. She has a beautiful voice, and this was notably evident in her opening song and a her last two, but it was hard to find any hooks or enduring melodies in her live work, though there was enough to warrant me giving her rather good album ‘Mirrors the Sky’ a go as I write this.

At twenty past nine my wife had enquired if a technician, who was on stage at the time, was our act for the evening. I assured her that she’d remember who he was and tried to describe him to her. “He’s like a tall, more handsome Captain Jack Sparrow who has made an effort.” I said, but my wife still didn’t remember. When John Paul White arrived on stage moments later, wearing his customary sharp suit, she said “Oh yes.” in a breathy, knowing tone that Kathleen Turner would have been proud of “I remember him.”. One can hardly blame her; I have a man-crush and I am not ashamed.

White began with a song that immediately showed off his range, effortlessly switching between soft gentle verses and a powerful chorus that, as it carried through the room, you noticed not a single imperfection in his voice. What a singer he is; with such control over his voice that we were instantly drawn in. The large audience were mature and clearly avid fans of his music; Respectfully listening without any need to hold a phone aloft all night. Once some noisy simpletons finally went out back to collect their coats, I noticed that White’s ballads had reduced his fans to complete silence. They were hung upon his every word and you could hear a pin drop, both during the quieter moments of his mournful songs and whilst he chatted to the crowd with great humour to add context to some of his lyrics.

White showcased his new songs, which were striking in their simplistic beauty and lyricism. The new album will be very good indeed if this is anything to go by. His voice, controlled and sliding through notes with a country inflection is captivating, whilst his guitar playing draws a rich sound from a single acoustic guitar. By the end of the night I was longing for a change of tempo or timbre, with most of the set being sparsely finger-picked ballads, despite there being some more meaty, mid-tempo songs in his canon. White also omitted any songs from The Civil Wars in this set list, adding more mystery to his former disavowed band, but short-changing fans who had no doubt developed their loyalty to him through that enterprise before his solo work. A shame.

Overall an evening spent being serenaded by John Paul White’s faultless voice made for an excellent live gig.

Reviewer - Ben Hassouna-Smith
on - 28/1/19

REPORTAGE: What's Happening Salford: Talking Drama with Northern Core Theatre - Salford City Radio

Lunchtime on Tuesdays - an hour long programme hosted and DJ'd by professional magician Carl Royle, is a programme dedicated to local events in and around the city of Salford with an emphasis on community.

This Tuesday it was the turn of Northern Core Theatre Company to join Royle as hos guests and chat about their work in Greater Manchester. Royle's chatty and down-to-earth style makes it an easy listen and he seemed genuinely interested in the subject and the people he was chatting with.

Northern Core Theatre is joint owned by actress Anna Swan and writer / director James Ernest, and they have already performed one original piece of theatre in Salford last year. A play at The King's Arms pub theatre called Oct.O.Pus, which was described as a cross between 'Black Mirror' and Northern Gritty Drama.

Royle mentioned that he seen this play with his daughter and that the one thing that impressed him the most was that the cast took the time to come round to the audience in the bar afterwards and Swan spent a long time chatting to his daughter. "A lovely human touch".

Northern Core Theatre are on the look-out for a producer who would be interested in taking this play further, either on a UK tour or an extended run.  In the meantime, Ernest is already busy working on a new play, titled Pluviophile, about a family who don't allow their children out of the house. Again a dark and rather twisted tale by all accounts.

Northern Core Theatre also run drama workshops for children in Poynton, and currently cater for the 7 - 11 age group. However they are wanting to expand by opening the age ranges in their Poynton studio, but also to open more workshops in other areas too, perhaps even starting a group for those who wish to make a profession out of acting.

Royle chatted to both Swan and Ernest about their own careers and background and played a few up-beat tunes during the hour - which went very quickly. The message of the programme quite clearly was trying to engage young people from the community to get out of the house and get away from the computer / TV screen and play and interact together. Northern Core's mantra is Theatre For All, enabling in the community.

Reportage - Matthew Dougall
on - 29/1/19

REVIEW: The Jersey Boys - Palace Theatre, Manchester

Yet another Juke Box Musical to hit Manchester this season, and one that I had been waiting to see for some time, having missed it on previous occasions. I had been told how slick, how professional and indeed how real the portrayals of the characters were and that this Musical, unlike most of its ilk, had a lot more dialogue and background story to it.

I took my seat then with great anticipation, but was immediately put off by two things. First, the set. This was a corner's cutting, budget set, which took the same format as many other touring musical production sets I have seen recently: namely a split level set with a gangway to the rear and metal steps either side. Are set designers lacking imagination these days, I wonder?! It was bare, minimalist and even when the smaller set items were brought on, the stage looked very bare and metallic. The second thing was the opening song. A French modern rap. I failed to understand the connection between this and the rest of the musical, and it certainly was not in keeping with it.

Unfortunately my knowledge of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons is very scant, not being of the generation that were teenagers during their fame, but as we went along, I recognised several of the songs. After coming home though I did a little research myself to see if I could compare the originals with those I heard on stage, and I have to say that the sound was extremely similar. I was taken aback Valli's singing voice on stage, but it actually was very similarly pitched to that of the real Valli. Such a high falsetto range, on par with The Bee Gees.

The main problem with the musical for me though was the speed at which the story (and the sets) rattled along. With 22 songs in act 1 alone, The dialogue needed to be pacey, but sadly, because I had no prior knowledge of the story and the band, I did find it very hard to follow. There was a lot of 'taking it for granted' that the audience were up-to-speed. I assume majority would be, since the musical will appeal to Valli fans in the vast majority, but nevertheless, it sped along at break-neck speed at times, and since the minimalist set, failed to change significantly, the only help were cartoon drawings and other images displayed on a large screen above the walkway at the rear.

Michael Watson played Frankie Valli, and despite looking like Tom Cruise, Made a fine Valli alter-ego. The band's former, leader and seeming business manager, who ran the band into massive debt, and flirted on the wrong side of the law, Tommy DeVito, was played with a certain 'Godfatheresqueness' by Simon Bailey, whilst the two other band members were  Declan Egan as Bob Gaudio, the songwriter who preferred staying out of the limelight, and Dayle Hodge as a bass-player with a resonant bass voice too, Nick Massi, who always seemed to think it was maybe time he should form his own band.

It was a high voltage musical, moving swiftly and seamlessly, and it was highly enjoyable. I would have liked to have listed to a few more of the songs in their entirety rather than having them cut off for narrative or segue. Perhaps fewer songs overall and a slower and more emotive exposition would have made me both understand the story and sympathise with the group's plight and journey far more than I did. A feel-good show about the original 'Jersey Boys', which was certainly more gravy than meat, but the Valli fans were highly entertained and we all left the theatre in high spirits singing 'Sherry' or 'Walk Like A Man'.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 30/1/19

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

REVIEW: The Unexpected Guest - The Garrick Theatre, Stockport

I have always enjoyed Christie's work (and I've appeared in a few of her plays myself) but surprisingly I've never seen this particular piece. This was also my first visit to the main stage at the Garrick in Stockport. It's a very nice standard shaped theatre with raked seating – you might call it a “little theatre” with its 151 seats – and even though I was sat towards the back of the auditorium, I wasn't that far away from the stage. I could hear almost everything, with just one of the younger actors being a little quiet and hard to hear at times. 

The set, beautifully created by Mark Roberts, Sarah Farrell and the stage crew, is a perfect backdrop and they are to be congratulated for their attention to detail. Similarly, the props (managed by Helen Cheetham and Elaine Pratt) and the costumes designed by Kate Smalley and her team are very good and appropriate for the era (1958). 

The action opens late at night in the drawing room/study of a remote house in South Wales, owned by Richard Warwick (Morgan Edwards) and his wife Laura (Alison Abel). As this is a mystery play, with quite a number of twists and turns, I don't want to say too much about the plot itself. Warwick is an invalid (and in a wheelchair) as a result of a serious injury incurred during his time in Kenya as a big game hunter. There are symbols of his past life all around the room - the Masai shield and spears, the trophy of a deer's head above the fireplace and so on. We learn that he drinks heavily and spends his night time looking out through the French windows and occasionally taking a pot shot at passing wildlife with one of his many guns. Richard is also painted as a very cruel man, made worse by his incapacity. The night in question is very foggy. A man - ('the unexpected guest') – appears in near darkness not long before midnight. He says he has crashed his car into a ditch nearby due to the dense fog and he enters the Warwicks' home through a window in the study, purportedly to make a telephone call and seek help. The man (Michael Starkwedder, coolly played by John Wild) quickly insinuates himself into the scene he has discovered and begins to persuade Laura into a course of action and series of events which echo throughout the whole play. Laura (brilliantly performed by Ms Abel) is totally believable in a tour de force performance as the mistreated wife who herself has a guilty secret which is revealed later in the action. 

There is an excellent supporting cast: Miss Bennett (Kathryn Way), Richard Warwick's mother (Julia O'Toole), Henry Angell (Chris Rogerson), prospective MP Julian Farrar (Dan Pothecary) and the police personnel (Adam Williams, Alex Newman and Joshua Holden). However, I was especially impressed by Russell Knight's portrayal of Jan Warwick, Richard's much younger half brother, which he sensitively brought to life along with adding some good touches of fun and humour. Other than a couple of tiny technical hitches (to be expected on a first night!), the typically wordy dialogue flowed effortlessly. 

All in all, a very enjoyable evening, worth turning out for in nasty weather. I would wholeheartedly recommend this production whether you're a Christie fan or new to the genre. Thanks also to the staff and volunteers at the Garrick for their help and hospitality. This production runs every evening until February the 2nd, starting at 7:30pm.

Reviewer - David Swift
on - 28/1/19

Monday, 28 January 2019

REVIEW: The Turk - The Lowry Theatre, Salford

A genuinely ambitious piece of theatre; a one man show, lasting a full two hours, composed of non-stop dialogue and singing. A period piece, exploring a gradually disintegrating mind whilst putting a lifetime into a philosophical context. An exploration of the progressive effect of addictive drugs upon an isolated individual, alone in the ocean. A retrospective of a life pushing the boundaries of both engineering and entertainment. Musing on past associations. And this is not even an exhaustive list but it provides an introduction into the show that is The Turk.

The setting of Johann Maelzel, a sick and dishevelled man amidst a disorderly collection of boxes and bric-a-brac certainly set the scene, aided by effecting lighting. The only ‘company’ that the protagonist had was the head of Turk; all that was left of a clockwork figure created to play chess; an early Victorian attempt at AI. Throughout the show, Maelzel conversed with the Turk as if it were a real person, going through a variety of emotions and reacting to non-existent comments and actions of the inanimate object. His mind was clearly jumbled but not so much that he couldn't make insightful observations about his life and existence itself. The Turk of the title is the invention of entertainer and mechanical engineer Johann Maelzel. With it, Maelzel has worked the early nineteenth century show grounds of Europe, winning audiences with its mechanical chess playing performances.

This was not a chronological story-telling and we were frequently treated to what appeared to be what was happening inside Johann’s imagination and thoughts rather than what was really happening within the bowels of the ship in which he languished. The acting by Michael Sabbaton was a tour de force and the singing not just impressive but remarkably varied, ranging vibrant, military-style songs to music with a definite hint of the Middle East to even a Victorian version of George Formby, complete with tiny ukulele, in old Music Hall style.

A wandering journey through addiction, grief and hopelessness, speckled with humour to remind us that darkness is never total. Sabbaton’s character Maelzel revisited the elements of his existence as his life began to expire.

This impressive one man show shifts and rolls through shades of regret and loneliness interspersed with a pleasing repertoire of songs both comic and tragic. As alcoholism and tropical disease twist their knives into Maelzel’s increasing self-absorption, The Turk remains the only companion able to share his fractured remembrances and loss of purpose. Sabbaton achieved a courageous portrayal of anxiety, longing and a life robbed of peace.

The overriding philosophical message is that hopelessness cannot exist without the possibility of hope to replenish its lack. As Maelzel approached his end, he chose to believe his existence meant nothing, with a disregard for the wealth of artistic and intellectual talents that have made his life unique. Appropriately set in the hold of a cargo vessel, Maelzel’s memories appear to drift and toss, but are charting a slow course toward their inevitable conclusion

The Turk was created with extraordinary abilities under the hand of its designer, and so was Maelzel. The Turk is an automaton, but the man is made in a higher image, obvious to anyone who can see beyond the turbulence of himself.

The Turk is currently on tour around the north of England. For further information, please log onto

Revieer - John Waterhouse
on - 26/1/19

REVIEW: Foden's Brass Band Concert - RNCM, Manchester

The Royal Northern College of Music’s (RNCM) Brass Band Festival kicked off with a concert from 'National Brass Band Champions of Great Britain' Foden's Band, formerly Britannia Band, and the opening recital was attended by enthusiasts of all degrees, from all across the globe. The festival is regarded as one of the most important festivals of brass band music, often featuring new commissions, ground breaking performances of contemporary repertoire as well as classics of the brass band repertoire. It is described as ‘the only place to see all of Britain’s top brass bands in a non-competitive environment’.

Under the baton of guest conductor Dr James Gourlay, who travelled from the USA, under the leadership of Musical Director Michael Fowles, compere and artistic director Paul Hindmarsh (known from BBC Radio 4’s Festival of Brass) welcomed those in attendance before introducing John McCabe’s ‘Overture: Salamander’ which was a very ambient piece which seems to depict a sequence of scenes. Played at tremendous speed in parts, each note played was matched perfectly in time by the percussion section.

Second on the programme was William Heaton’s ‘Trombone Concerto’ which allowed guest soloist and seasoned trombonist Ian Bousfield to speak a bit about how he got into the piece before performing it. A score from 1945, written with a connection to The Salvation Army Staff Band, originally as an Oboe concerto with a String orchestra, it was reworked for brass, ingeniously with great effect and success. The four tubas to the back of the section made up for the absence of the percussion section. It was a real nostalgic offering with nods to the 1950s and a really austere piece.

After the interval, where audience members were able to peruse a selection of sheet music, instruments and recordings in the foyer, we were treated to what I found to be the most inspiring and emotive part of the evening. As the band’s Composer-in-Residence Andy Scott was welcomed to the stage to introduce and present his final composition for the band after a ten year tenure, the whole auditorium was in awe of his talent and enthusiasm and sat adoringly with interest. The piece entitled ‘Edwin’ is named so after a former member of the band who was called up to serve in the war. The band begged him not to join but their efforts were in vain and he sadly did not return and did not get the chance to meet his son. On the soprano cornet donated to the band with a proud inscription, when the time came, Principal Cornettist Mark Wilkinson played a solo as part of the piece. This only added to the most special piece in the programme which was a world premiere(!). Andy gave a special mention to ‘unsung hero’ Jim Charles, who is now the band’s librarian, who has been with them for over 50 years.

The penultimate piece of the night was Henry Geehl’s ‘Threnody’ (for former conductor Fred Mortimer). A rather uplifting piece which had the whole hall silent. We ended with ‘Severn Suite’; a piece written in 1930, and the result of an invitation to write a test piece for the National Brass Band Championship. There are five movements, which follow each other without breaks: 1) Introduction (Worcester Castle), 2) Toccata (Tournament), 3) Fugue (The Cathedral), 4) Minuet (Commandery) and 5) Coda - Lento. The ‘Fugue’ is a reworking of a recent but unpublished piano piece, ‘Fugue in C minor (1923)’ and the ‘Minuet’ is based on wind chamber works written in the 1870s, but the remaining three movements are, so far as is known, original compositions.

The finale/encore was led by James Gourlay and was the traditional ‘Amazing Grace’, in a sectioned and rather dynamic form which worked very well and enhanced the patriotism of the genre of Brass.

Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 25/1/19

REVIEW: Gypsy Queen - Moss Side Fire Station Boxing Club, Manchester.

Gypsy Queen, by Rob Ward, has been building on its successful runs at Edinburgh Fringe and is about to go on tour again around England and Wales.

As a one-off event, prior to its opening night of the tour, it was staged in Moss Side Fire Station Boxing Club instead of in a typical theatre space. The entrance to the club room was difficult to find, but we added this to the excitement of attending a performance in an unusual setting. Once inside, we clambered between audience members on gym benches to get to our seats. The venue was warm and – apart from the pop-up bar – was as genuine as a boxing club could be. The authenticity did not seem in any way staged, and it more than likely wasn’t. The entire performance took place in the ring and the action was almost perfectly visible from any part of the audience space. It was exciting before a word was spoken.

Gypsy Queen is a two man play with both actors taking the parts of various characters. Each character had the capacity to be played as a stock character – Irish traveller, Liverpudlian boxer, boxing coach, gay lover etc and indeed there was an element of this in their portrayal. This is not a negative criticism but a technique that allowed each character to be easily identified – this was further helped by the use of simple motifs in the costumes. In time, the actors – Rob Ward (who also wrote the play) and John Askew added levels of depth to these characters in a natural way.

The writer told us at the end of the play that exploring homosexuality in sport is something that was important to him and the team and that they had intended to bring up these issues. Staging it in this boxing club must have made that ring truer. The LGBT community is a natural audience for this play, staging it here made it more accessible to the wider audience. The story moved at a fast pace and was easy to follow while also having a certain complexity.

The simple premise – a less tragic romeo and Juliet story of sorts – touched on a wide variety of elements – self discovery, love, death and loss, rejection and surprise acceptance, religion and faith and choices in life. These all were woven into the tale and superbly crafted by the actors.

The lighting, sound and stage props all worked well. There was a Brechtian thread of the audience being part of this production, and a knowledge from our part that reality is suspended through means of the staging, but more importantly in that our passive participation in this event has an effect on us, and hopefully an effect of positive change. Ward does not try to lecture us, or preach, or indeed does he spend much time on the negativity of homophobia but instead brings us to see the hope and indeed the reward of courage and trust.

This is a beautifully written play, clever and warm at the same time.

Reviewer - Aaron Loughrey
on - 27/1/19

Reviewer – Aaron Loughrey


REVIEW: The Classic Rock Show - The Lowry Theatre, Salford

“The Classic Rock Show” is described as bringing the original recordings back to life on stage, with a huge sound and light show. When you add to this that they are attempting to do this with the songs from bands such as AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Dire Straits, The Eagles and many more then this is a very bold show.

On arriving at the larger Lyric Theatre at The Lowry in Salford, the thing that immediately stood out was that this was very clearly a big budget show. The stage was laid out as you would expect for a big rock band show – lead guitars, bass guitars, drums, keyboard and many microphones. No expense had been spared on the equipment with world class amplifiers and sound equipment all on show, as well as huge spotlights. There was also a huge screen at the back of the stage showing images of the music they were about to play.

The lights went down and the band took to the stage, albeit with something of a lacklustre entrance. No big build up soundtrack with a crescendo on arrival – the band walked on with guitars in hand and immediately start playing. Having said that, they were playing “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin and playing it note perfect – it was very clear immediately that we were seeing some excellent musicians and singers here.

The first half of the show continued as we heard songs from Steely Dan, Deep Purple, Supertramp and Patti Smith. The big screen was generally showing images of the album cover from which the song was taken but occasionally this showed a clip or some video footage instead – it would've been great to see more of the video footage for each song but that would be a harsh criticism.

The highlight of the first half for me was a rendition of “All Along The Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix – probably the greatest rock guitarist of all time. It is here that we got see the talents of lead guitarist Howie G and these talents are enormous. His guitar playing is right up there with anything I have seen on stage before and his vocal as Jimi Hendrix was superb – his voice is suited to only some of the songs being played tonight but the thing this show does so well is use the right people on the right tracks.

The first half of the show ended with a Bruce Springsteen song “Jungleland” which included a superb saxophone solo from Alex Dee. The audience provided some warm applause with a few shouts of approval but I left for the interval thinking that I wasn’t sure if this was a theatre show or a rock gig – the talent of the musicians and singers as well as the stage set up told me this was an out and out rock gig but there was something missing, the atmosphere wasn’t quite right and had I written my review at that point it would have been one of slight disappointment.

The second half of the show kicked off in style – Dire Straits classic “Money For Nothing” and not only was this played again to perfection, the big screen showed the music video from back in 1985 which involved animation mixed with band footage and was ground-breaking at the time. The other point I noticed here was the fact that the video was almost perfectly lip-synced with the band on stage – this was impressive.

“The Classic Rock Show” then dialled things up with “Hotel California” from The Eagles with Howie G playing a double neck Gibson guitar, seemingly identical to the one played by Don Felder in the original. By this point the audience were on their feet and this continued as we heard songs from David Bowie, AC/DC, Van Halen, Gary Moore and the iconic Meat Loaf song “Bat Out Of Hell” performed as the full 7 minute version by Jimmy West and newest member of the show Chris Ousey.

Lynyrd Skynyrd's track “Free Bird” was the final song before the encore and involved a shirtless bassist Wayne Banks as all of the guitarists became even more animated to keep the crowd on their feet and dancing.

The band returned for the encore to a huge ovation as the audience appreciated what they had seen, particularly in the second half. Joe Cocker’s “With A Little Help From My Friends” was next and the band finished with “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who and were cheered and applauded by the whole theatre as they joined hands for a final bow at the end.

If you are a fan of classic rock music – which essentially is rock music from the 70s and 80s then this is most definitely the show for you. It is worth the price of a ticket purely to see how talented Howie G is but the second half of the show is something special. I am certainly glad I didn’t have to write my review in the interval as my perception was completely changed by the end – this is a rock gig without any doubt.

Reviewer – John Fish
on – 27/1/19

Sunday, 27 January 2019

REVIEW: Propel #2 - HOME, Manchester

It's round two for Propel. This time we were in Home Theatre's magnetic main space. Once again, it was the same format as the last event. This was a showcase of new theatrical works in progress from four theatre companies. The event was curated by Javaad Alipoor, a theatre maker, director, and writer, known for his work at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre and Theatre In The Mill. Alipoor was a pleasant host for this evening's event. Again, the audience were asked to give instant feedback and their thoughts on each of the performances throughout the night.

The first performer to take to the stage was Naqqash Khalid, in a piece called, 'Before A pack Of Wild Dogs Eat My Face'. A multimedia and naturalistic performance, it explored grief and masculinity on stage and screen. The fourth wall was deliberately employed here as the audience were invited to look into a private living room showing a man's everyday life. We don't learn what the man is grieving about - he doesn't speak and the grief is internalised. However, prior to reading the summary, it appeared to me that the piece was about obsessive compulsive disorder. There was repeated footage of him washing up plates in a sink, he regularly rearranged furniture, and looked visibly stressed. Perhaps this was the manifestation of his grief? Maybe he was attempting to neutralise his bad thoughts? The loud beats on a drum and the droning musical notes established a chilling atmosphere.

Kayleigh Price's 'The Left One Out', was an autobiographical, physical theatre piece commenting on social issues and pressures. The performance zoned in on anxiety, frustration, patience, and the misrepresentation of the female gender. It felt like we were watching a panic attack unfold. There was a social comment on how we live in a world where segregation is discretely embedded in our subconscious. I felt like the misrepresentation of the female gender could be explored more going forward, although the frustration, anxiety, and feeling powerless shone through in the choreography. There were moments of strength and determination followed by sudden slipping and falling. Price's rock scream, done in time with the background thrash metal music, complemented the performance themes and was expressive. The Stealth tone, backwards speech, and extremely loud noises made it an intense and uncomfortable experience. That is a positive comment though because we could sympathise with how she felt. 'The Left One Out' very much channelled Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty.

After the interval, a contemporary performance called, 'The Accident Did Not Take Place'. Performed by YESYESNONO and a guest performer from the audience. Despite the title, an accident had taken place but the context surrounding it was unclear. We were invited to join the theatre company in this world of mass media news and social media truth. It was about conspiracy theories and a post-truth world. Each of the performers told the audience how the accident happened but each of them had a different version of what apparently took place. The narrative raised the question which sources of information we can trust. It revealed how easily ignorance can spread. The audience member on stage became the character involved in the accident. He was instructed to do things during the performance, such as say a particular line or copy the performers who were dancing to Madonna's song, 'Like A Prayer'. Why this song? Anyway, after having a think, this performance concept seemed to be a metaphor for how we follow each other blindly like sheep. Specifically, we may receive news from one source, trusting its credibility without considering it might not be accurate, and then share it with other people. They blindly do the same and so on and so forth. One of the conspiracy theories investigated was the 9/11 attacks: this was interesting. The performance accentuated the idea of what is real and what isn't. For future reference, I think there could be more consideration on the style of the text delivery into the microphone.

My favourite performance of the night was the last piece, 'You Are Who You Choose To Be', by Melody Sproates. Sproates is a non-binary writer, comedian, and cabaret artist. Making performance works that entertain, challenge, and inform people on transgender and non-binary issues. The whole performance stemmed from Sproates being sick and tired of being asked: "Are you a boy or a girl?" Essentially, this is a theatricalised version of a YouTube video, encapsulating meme culture in the process. The script utilised the notion of intertextuality: specific words and sentences from pop culture, music, and interviews were chosen to communicate Sproates's experiences with the gender binary on a backing track. This backing track was masterly, lip-synced to by Sproates. Going forward, this piece has real potential to be developed to find out more about Sproates's story and make a positive impact on its audience. The performance was fluid, funny, beautiful, and inspirational. The comedy timing and eye contact with the audience was golden. I especially loved the prod at Piers Morgan. A fantastic, skeleton printed T-shirt was worn by Sproates as well, highlighting the point that all of us are simply human beings. 

Yet another great night out at Home Theatre.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 26/1/19

REVIEW: The Classic Rock Show - Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool.

It was a cold, wet wintery night and rain was hitting the window panes like pellets from an air rifle; definitely a night for staying warm and cosy at home with a glass of wine and a good film in front of the TV. But I’m so glad I didn’t choose that option as with the rest of those who’d braved the unforgiving weather conditions we made our way into Liverpool Philharmonic Hall to watch the show.

As I settled into my seat I was reminded of school Prize Giving ceremonies I had attended in the same venue whilst attending Liverpool Girls College not so far away. Little did I realise back then that I would be sitting watching a rock concert perform on the very stage I received a prize from my very stern headmistress who definitely would not have approved of tonight’s performance.

Looking around the foyer it revealed that classic rock music has an audience of most fans over the age of forty, but there were exceptions with couples I spotted in their twenties and thirties.

I could feel the eager anticipation from the audience as the show was about to start. A large screen at the back of the stage came alive showing clips from artistes such as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, AC/DC and Queen and as the performers arrived on stage I categorised them as three guitarists, two lead singers, three backing singers and a drummer but as the show progressed I was delighted to see how multi-talented they all were as the three backing singers took the lead on many of the vocals and played a host of different instruments during the show.

Celebrating some of the world’s greatest guitarists, they played tribute to many of the all-time guitar legends celebrating their renowned performances as videos of the artistes were synchronised with their singing and playing on the screen. But this was more than the tribute show I had expected as they performed with note-for-note precision, bringing the original iconic and age-defining recordings back to life on stage, with a screen and light show to compliment it. The performers were brilliant singers and instrumentalists and as I watched the synchronised videos playing it was difficult not to believe that the original artistes weren't singing and playing.

The opening Led Zeppelin song, 'Whole Lotta Love' set the scene for a night of nostalgic classic rock and the audience lapped it up as Jess Harwood, (whom I had thought of as one of the backing singers and also a member of the tribute act Rumours Of Fleetwood Mac) followed with 'Stop Dragging My Heart Around' whilst Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty were depicted singing it live on the screen.

Next came 'Reelin' in the Years' by Steely Dan from their Can’t Buy A Thrill album which got everyone clapping with enjoyment. Howie Gee, one of the lead guitarists then played 'Highway Stars' from Deep Purple’s Machine Head album. Playing his Fender Strat guitar it was hard to differentiate between the original by Ritchie Blackmore.

Lead singer, Chris Ousey who was introduced as a newer member of the band sang the Supertramp 'Logical Song' which included a beautiful saxophone solo. Part of an interview with Eric Clapton was portrayed on the screen as 'Sunshine Of Your Love' exploded on stage with Wayne Banks playing a bass guitar without fret as Jack Bruce had done on the original recording.

Next came 'Jungleland' from the Bruce Springsteen album Born To Run, which featured a slow saxophone section which was greatly appreciated by the audience as was the following Jimi Hendrix legendary 'All Along The Watchtower' track which was pre-empted by a snippet of an interview with Jimi on screen by The Vault. Tumultuous applause followed the performance.

The audience was by now warmed-up and eager anticipation had turned to admiration as Jess Harwood took front stage again to deliver the Patti Smith number 'Because The Night' from the album of the same name.

No-one in the audience could fail to recognise the voice of Ringo Starr as he belted out in a strong scouse accent “I’ve got blisters on me fingers” which accompanied a cartoon of The Beatles' White Album on screen as the thumping beat of 'Helter Skelter' started with Chris Ousey taking the lead.

We all enjoyed watching David Bowie on screen getting ready for a performance of Ziggy Stardust whilst all members of the CRS band reproduced a track from his Ziggy Stardust 1972 album. The final track before the break was Mark Knopfler’s 'Money For Nothing' synchronised with him performing on screen. We all waited with baited breath for the second half.

And it certainly didn’t disappoint. Chris Ousey opened with The Eagles' 'Hotel California' with Howie Gee accompanying him on a double neck replica guitar as used by Don Felder in the original recording. It was a brilliant rendition and as white strobe lighting appeared on stage Jess Harwood once again took lead vocals with 'Alone' by Heart. She was rewarded with rapturous applause and the lead guitarist received a standing ovation. Jess then went on to sing 'Landslide' accompanied by the lyrics of the song on the screen. It was a beautifully haunting melody sang as a tribute to Fleetwood Mac.

'Bat Out Of Hell' by Meatloaf followed with lead singer Johnny West mimicking a motorbike rider and looking incredibly like Meatloaf (only slimmer). The rendition brought a standing ovation from the audience who by this time were ready for a boogie. Everyone stayed on their feet, clapping and swaying to 'Let’s Dance' as a video of Bowie was shown of him performing the track with local Aborigines in Oz.

The AC/DC track 'Highway To Hell' brought the house down with everyone clapping and elated cheering at the end. This was the precursor to 'Jump' by Van Halen with everyone dancing along to the well-loved track. Bass Guitarist Wayne Banks declared that “Liverpool was the best show of the tour” which was greeted with cheers as 'Lynyrd Skynyrd' chords echoed throughout the auditorium whilst the audience stood throughout the long guitar section before rewarding the band with more ecstatic clapping and another standing ovation. The band left the stage to the sounds of “More,” enthusiastic clapping, whistles and cheering.

A disappointed audience thought this was the end but they wanted more and as the lights were dimmed once more they were rewarded with Joe Cocker’s 'With A Little Help From My Friends' with everyone clapping along in tune followed by The Who’s 'Won’t Get Fooled Again.' If the house hadn’t been brought down before, it was now. Wayne Banks threw off his t-shirt and everyone was on their feet joining in and bopping to the music of yesteryear.

It was a brilliant night and with the promise of a 'meet and greet' by the band in the foyer, the audience drifted out into the rain once again, happy and elated. If you weren’t a classic rock fan at the start of the show, you certainly couldn’t fail to be by the time you left.

Reviewer - Anne Pritchard
on - 26/1/19

NEWS: Manchester theatre company to stage 'Anti-Valentine' play for February 14th

Rom-Coms be gone: Manchester theatre company promise ‘Anti-Valentines’ production this February

BAFTA winner Jack Thorne play ‘Mydidae’ to get its Northern debut

Wonderhouse Theatre Company – led by Stockport based David Gregan-Jones – is offering a “more authentic” Valentine’s Day experience, this February 14th. 

“When it comes to living and loving in the real world,” says Gregan-Jones “we know it’s not always cherubs and chocolates. 
“We wanted to give Manchester audiences an insight into a relationship that is more honest, cathartic and loads more compelling than the verse in a Valentine’s card.”

Between Wednesday 13thand Saturday 23rdFebruary, Wonderhouse will be staging the Northern premiere of ‘Mydidae’: a play written by BAFTA winner Jack Thorne, who is also responsible for TV’s Skins, This is Englandand Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Gregan-Jones will be performing alongside Hollie-Jay Bowes, known as Hollyoaks’ Michaela McQueen and, more recently, from Channel 4’s No Offence and the 2018 award-nominated production of The Newspaper Boy.

Staged in a specially-designed bathroom set incorporating a full sized bath at the Hope Mill Theatre in Ancoats, characters ‘Marian’ and ‘David’ let an attempt at a romantic candlelit bath descend into shaving and peeing, as well as an autopsy of the most painful events in their relationship. 

Gregan-Jones said: “Bringing new theatre to Manchester is a real priority for Wonderhouse and we’ve been big fans of this play for a while now. It really examines all sides of love – the warmth, the humour but also the sadness and the more vulnerable moments. 

“We’re hoping it’s a bit of an antidote to the Valentine’s season, when some of us might just hit auto-pilot - buy the flowers, go to a restaurant but never really appreciate why.”

When describing Wonderhouse, BAFTA-winning television writer Russell T Davies says: “Wonderhouse are exciting. A joy to watch.”

Mydidae was first performed in the Soho Theatre, London in 2012 and starred Phoebe Waller-Bridge – writer of hit TV show Killing Eve and BAFTA winnerFleabag. In a review, the British Theatre Guide said: “What makes Mydidae worth seeing is its portrayal of recognisable people just like those that we meet every day in the pub, office or even our own homes. Put them into stressful situations and you never know what might happen.”

To follow up, Gregan-Jones said: “The writing is amazing. It considers human nature just as much as love - this is definitely not just for people in relationships. I’m missing my anniversary and Valentine’s Day to be part of this, so I might be single sooner than I hoped anyway.”     

For tickets and more information, visit

REVIEW: Steel Magnolias - Stepping Stones Nursery, Bolton.

I have been fortunate enough to review two plays in Bolton this weekend: one amateur and one professional but both performed by theatre companies who are ‘homeless’ (without their original performance space). Phoenix Theatre Company are an amateur group who had performed their plays in a church hall, not far from this venue until it’s demolition in 2003 but now hire any venue where they can afford to perform their many plays. This year alone sees three different venues and I approached this one with trepidation as I had never seen theatre performed in a ‘Day Nursery’!

On entering the Nursery, past the play equipment and shelves of miniature wellington boots (very cute), I found myself in a large room which had been transformed into a theatre space. The box office, welcome drinks and set up of the auditorium gave me a hint that this was a well-loved group with many people taking the lead in creating a sense of professionalism in its work.

The stage was floor level and the backdrop created by frames, covered in black cloth. The set looked like a second hand furniture shop had thrown up on it as there was so much furniture for the size of space. However, it soon became apparent that there wasn’t a piece which wasn’t functional in the entire play. The feeling of working to a budget was prevalent in many ways so I still remained sceptical about what I was about to watch.

Steel Magnolias is set in a hairdressing salon, in Louisiana in the 1980s. It follows the story of six women, spanning three years. It is an romantic comedy but ultimately a tragic play as it tells the tale of their lives through their hairdresser chats or ‘banter’ as they might call it in Bolton! The play was originally performed in London and New York in the late 1980s and was adapted into a film with an all-star cast in 1989. I am a big fan of the movie and the stage play.

As soon as the actors playing hairdressers were underway, it became very apparent that we were in good hands; Truvy played by Laura Roberts and Annelle, played by Jade Atkinson had created top class accents and characterisation. One by one, the clientele of the salon arrived on the stage and I waited for there to be a weak link (especially in the Bolton-Louisiana accent transition) and it didn’t happen. The supporting roles of Clairee, played by Diane Pepper and Ouiser, played by Christine Morton, had fantastic comic timing and created a gentle release to the dramatic tension in the story. All six cast members were equally wonderful with complete believability in their roles.

But my favourites, had to be the mother and daughter duo, Shelby (Catherine Cropper) and M’Lynn (Joy Plowes) who were outstanding in their bickering relationship between overprotective mother and independent daughter. Their rapport with one another was incredibly realistic and they maintained a natural chemistry throughout the entire piece. Cropper’s acting in the role of Shelby was completely natural as the excitable bride to be. When she has a diabetic hypo, in act one, we see the reason for M’Lynn’s over-protection and the moment could easily have been overplayed but both actresses acted the part with such subtlety, it really was a wonderful moment to behold. Despite knowing this story so well (and without giving any spoilers), it was very clear that in the final act, M’Lynn’s acting left the audience stunned and glass-eyed with her wonderful interpretation of the role.

The entire play was clearly brilliantly directed by Louise Davenport as everything was so slick and professional. I particularly loved the choice of sight-lines looking offstage and into mirrors, meaning so much of the play was addressed to the audience; a simple but extremely effective feature. With a tiny budget, Davenport has created a masterpiece. . .and all in a Day Nursery with a tiny audience.

My only hope is that the amateur theatre awards adjudicators from B-A-T-S and NODA have seen this performance, as I truly believe what I watched was something special, from the talented performers to the wonderful direction. I cannot wait to go back and see this company again.

Reviewer - Johanna Hassouna-Smith
on - 26/1/19

Saturday, 26 January 2019

REPORTAGE: Off Cut Manchester - 53Two, Manchester.

OFFCUT MCR is a fantastic start to what I hope will be a continuing feature of the Manchester theatre scene. The Off Cut Festival was originally based in London and for five years was a fantastic platform for discovering new writing, acting and directing talent. It now finds itself in Manchester hosted by 53Two, who will also be providing the winner of the ‘Audience Best Play Award’ with support from their FOUNDation programme.

15 plays were performed over 3 nights to full audiences who then voted for their favourite plays and performances. The winning 6 plays were then invited to perform again on the fourth night, where the audience would once again vote for their favourite play and a panel of industry professionals would choose Best Writing, Best Directing and Best Ensemble.

The 15 Plays were: 'Summerland', (Brian Coyle). 'The Fish And The Sea' (Jeff Nolan), 'Born On The Right Side' (Maddie Wakeling), 'Grow' (Gemma Langford), 'Home' (Alexandra Keelan), 'Best Friends' (Lewis Charlesworth), FOMO (Curtis Cole), 'Home Fires Burning' (Kevin Cuffe), 'Here We Are' (Anne Price), 'There’s A Fly In My Room' (Rachel McMurray), 'Tortoise' (Naomi Westerman), 'Tremble' (Rob Johnston), 'To Sleep' (Stephanie Lacey), 'Granola' (Gemma Whitely), and 'Click' (Chantelle Dusette),

As voted for by the audience, the Final 6 Plays were: ‘Click’, ‘There’s A Fly In My Room’, ‘The Fish And The Sea’, ‘Granola’, ‘FOMO’ and ‘Grow’.

Click (Directed by Olivia Neilson. Performed by Emma Haworth and Daisy Moston.)

My companion suggested this piece would make for an excellent TIE performance about the dangers of internet grooming. And I think she’s right. The piece has a genuine resonance with real life experience and could be highly effective in this way. Much credit to Chantelle Dusette here for creating dialogue between 13 year old girls that sounded real and this undoubtedly helped Haworth and Moston deliver their easy and confident performances. These two young actresses have a lot of potential and I hope to see them again. ‘Click’ also delivers on a harrowing twist thanks to an effectively simple device. Though it would have been nice to see more of that simplicity in the whole production, as overambitious technological frills lead to a few stumbles and missed cues.

There’s A Fly In My Room (Directed by Chloe Beale. Performed by Gemma Hepworth, Liz Webster and Sonia de la Moitie.)

Rachel McMurray brings us a piece about living with anxiety, delivered through a series of first person monologues and amusing reenactments with the comedy assistance of Webster and de la Moitie. Despite the serious issue being dealt with here, the play resists the urge to get too bogged down in dramatic heaviness that can often border melodrama. Gemma Hepworth as Caitlin lead us through an exploration of her anxiety with a resigned smile and world-weary humour. McMurray and Beale have deftly toed a line where they never downplay the negative effects of anxiety but always kept the tone light enough that the audience could enjoy and laugh along with Caitlin.

The Fish And The Sea (Directed by Jake Pratt. Performed by Lynda Arron, Royston Mayoh and JP Smith.)

There were only two plays in the final six where I was genuinely surprised by something that happened. The Fish And The Sea was one and it was certainly the most surreal. This play by Jeff Nolan is delightfully mad, hilarious and original. Arron, Mayoh and Smith are clearly enjoying every moment of their performance and the audience was right there with them. Though due to the uproarious laughter set off by every other line, the actors did sometimes struggle to find that balance between maintaining pace and pausing for laughter, which meant a few important lines were lost in the noise.

Granola (Directed by Leni Murphy. Performed by Lee Martyn and Elaine McNicol.)

Perfect - Okay, there was one very jarring and out of place lighting choice - but otherwise a beautifully balanced script, tight performances, natural direction and a fantastic surprise. It was also the only play that rewarded a second viewing; knowing the twist just added an extra layer of enjoyment. I was incredibly impressed by this piece and would like to see more from all of them.

FOMO (Directed by Joe Gilmour-Rees. Performed by Sophie Giddens and Matthew Heywood.)

This was a very sweet, charming and funny play. The staging was dynamic and occasionally a little over the top but it still never once felt forced. The script had a fantastic ebb and flow, with convincing dialogue and lot of laughs. And Giddens and Heywood had a wonderful chemistry that was very easy to watch. In fact, the whole piece was very easy to watch and enjoy.

Grow (Directed by Paul Worrall. Performed by Beth Nolan and Matthew Thomason)

‘Grow’ is the only play of the six that felt underdone. It had a strong and recognisable truth at its core; the grind of job searching and benefits wearing out your soul is a resonant one. Nolan and Thomason’s performances were warm and funny, and its inventive staging was used effectively. But the ending felt underdeveloped; there’s a strong emotional arc but there’s a lack of exploration that made the resolution underwhelming.

On the fourth and final evening the winners were announced!

Audience Performance Award - Beth Nolan (Grow) and Elaine McNicol (Granola).
Audience Best Play Award - GrowPanel 
Award for Best Writer - Gemma Langford (Grow)
Panel Award for Best Director - Joe Gilmour-Rees (FOMO)
Panel Award for Best Ensemble - ‘Grow’
Reviewer’s Pick - ‘Granola’

Additional Notable Performances -

Parisa Nikkah-Eshgi (Born On The Right Side)
Jessi Parrot (To Sleep)
Emma Haworth (Click)

My only gripe with an otherwise perfect system is that ‘Audience Best Play’ is not necessarily the same as ‘Best Development Potential’. ‘Granola’ for me was the most fully formed and tightly executed piece and well deserving of any award, but would not necessarily have been the best candidate for development. ‘Grow’, as I said earlier, was full of potential but underdeveloped, and so an excellent candidate for the development opportunity that comes with that award. It may well be worth considering making the development opportunity its own award. It is a very technical gripe and takes nothing away from what OFFCUT and 53Two have achieved here.

Reportage - Deanna Turnbull
on - 22/1/19 - 25/1/19

REVIEW: Quatuor Danel: The Weinberg Cycle - The Martin Harris Centre, Manchester.

The University of Manchester hosted a series of events based on the music of Weinberg this week at the Martin Harris Centre. The Quatuor Danel ensemble were the performers at the heart of this event as musicians in residence at the University of Manchester since 2005.

The Friday evening concert saw three of Weinberg’s string quartets performed – the 7th, 8th and 9th – which were all composed within a few years of each other. Each quartet had a very distinct character and warranted different approaches to interpretation.

The first quartet performed – No. 7 in C major – had a clear element of folk music, reflecting Weinberg’s Jewish heritage. Wandering melodies based on Klezmer modes and frequent use of drones and quartal and quintal harmonies were evident. At times the drones indeed sounded like an accordion. An effect I am sure was intended. There was a melancholy air to this music – Weinberg’s father was a well-known composer and conductor of the Yiddish Theatre in Warsaw. Weinberg grew up surrounded by this music.

The second piece of the night – the 8th quartet, also in C – had a much more melodic shape, perhaps one of the reasons why it is his best known quartet. This piece had moments of pathos and was a true expression of the human condition. Weinberg suffered a lot – he lost a sister and his parents to the holocaust and then, in soviet Russia, he was under observation by the secret police for several years before being arrested. Although, unlike his compatriot Shostakovich, he did not delve into political statements or exploit his suffering through his art, an emotional impact is always present. This is a wistful, introspective piece.

The third quartet – his 9th, in F sharp minor, has a different energy with a driving opening leading in to an almost chaotic first movement with a dense polyphonic texture, much repetition and moving through the structure at an alarming pace. This piece really shows off Weinberg’s knowledge of string instruments and displays, very quickly, a wide range of instrumental techniques in bowing and articulation.

The performance by Quatuor Danel was more than flawless - it was perfect to extreme detail. The instruments seemed to be tuned with such precision that you could feel the resonance between the parts. In this regard, the Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall at the Martin Harris Centre has a fantastic acoustic that was perfect for this level of musicianship. The rhythmic complexity and exploration of the instrument technique were mastered to present a deeply meaningful performance. The music of Weinberg is a combination of neo-classical and modernist styles which can be quite intense – in a way the style itself is a commentary on Russian and European history at this time.

The ensemble members clearly know each other very well. It was interesting to see the leader, Marc Danel perform with great physicality - sometimes with a leg or other in the air - whilst the other musicians were perfectly poised. Danel seemed authentic in his physical expression and was not a distraction, although I must say that there was a distracting breathing that was heard throughout the entire performance. This can be heard also on some of their recordings.

Danel addressed the audience after the final quartet and introduced an encore piece. It was very difficult to understand what he said, English not being his first language, but I believe that he said that they had intended to perform an abandoned movement from one of the evening’s performances as an encore, but instead played two pieces that were only discovered recently, dated 1950. This was to be a UK premiere of these pieces. They were quite distinct in character from the quartets – much more melodic, displaying Weinberg’s neo-classical style much more than his modernist style. It was very well received and indeed was a pleasant and complimentary change from the intense music we had heard before.

Reviewer - Aaron Loughrey
on - 25/1/19

Comment from Matthew Dougall...

I went along to the afternoon free concerts today again at The Martin Harris Centre and listened to this wonderful band of 4 excellent musicians play the first 6 quartets of Weinberg. It had been my intention to cover the evening concert too and review all together, however I had to cover another show and knew that Mr. Loughrey would be a much better reviewer for this type of music than myself. All I can do here is simple say that it was my first time listening to / watching The Quatuor Danel, and I have previously no knowledge of the composer Weinberg either, and so I echo Mr Loughrey's thoughts here entirely. I too was wowed by the musicianship and precision of playing, and yet I too, heard the breathing, thinking nothing of it and wouldn't have commented on it but for it being brought up previously. However, superb and highly enjoyable.