Thursday, 28 February 2019

REVIEW: Motown, The Musical - The Opera House, Manchester

What is Motown? A record label? A sound? An Ideology? A family? For those who had their music published on the Motown label it was probably all of those, and this Musical, about the rise and fall of entrepreneur Berry Gordy is a fast-moving evocation to those heady days of 'colored music' going mainstream.

The plot is simple; we are the audience to witness the 25 year Anniversary Celebration concert in honour of Gordy, and all his past recording artistes have come back to sing for one night together. But the company is failing, in debt, and all his proteges have left and signed with other labels, and Gordy simply does not want to celebrate something which he feels he has lost.

The rest of the show takes you in flash-back chronology through Gordy's life from being a small boy interested in boxing, to owning a grocery store, to writing songs, and finally to being the owner and producer of Motor City Town Records, sorry make that Motortown Records, which finally became Motown!

Using ultra-modern technology to create multi-coloured and multi-layered 3D screens for set and moving images was a nice idea since it makes it easier to tour, but sadly for me at least, this technology was not available at the time the Musical is set, and although the psychedelic twirly patterns and transluscent lights were gaudy, hippy and trippy, they somehow seemed too bright and difffused focus from the performances themselves.

My other criticism of this show is that it moved too quickly. This was a whistle-stop show. Blink and you missed something; cough and you missed a whole scene! The costuming and hair styles were wonderful, and they really did take you quite accurately through the years, but the libretto (if indeed it can be called that) skipped too much and left the audience with too many gaps to fill themselves. Further, there were very few songs performed in their entirety. This made it far more of a montage and much less of a Musical. I was actually unsure of what to call this show as it flirted between 'pop concert', 'news', 'musical', and 'variety concert' with alarming alacrity.

The cast however didn't seem to mind; in fact, just the opposite, their enthusiam for and commitment to this show was palpable, and their energy levels were almost off the scale. Cameos of famous recording artistes of the era such as Smokey Robinson (Nathan Lewis), Marvin Gaye (Shak Gabbidon-Williams), Stevie Wonder (Daniel Haswell), and a young Michael Jackson (one of four boys in rotation) were enough to create woops of approbation from a majority middle-aged audience. The choreography was excellent and on pointe every time, and with the ensemble tributing The Temptations and The 4 Aces, these proved to be very popular too.

Much was made of Gordy's relationship and consuming love of Diana Ross and her eventual split from The Supremes. Ross (Karis Anderson) played the part with youthful glee as a naive and willing star-in-the-making, and a hard-nosed businesswoman towards the end. Her first solo performance at The Frontier Lounge in Las Vegas was one of the more poignant moments of the show.

It was however the powehouse performance of Edward Baruwa aa Gordy which really made the show for me. He simply 'owned' the stage and the show lifted a notch on his every entrance and a notch even further when he started to sing. His solo rendition of 'Can I Close The Door' was both heartbreaking and powerful, and was the absolute stand-out moment of the show for me.

Set against a backdrop of civil unrest; a time when segregation was enforced and racism was rife, through to the recording of Martin Luther King's speeches by Gordy, and then moving on into the Vietnam War and again the dividing of a nation that that brought with it, Motown's music was joyous, high-spirited, hopeful, and more importantly all-inclusive, and it still is to this day. The political 'message' of the show was never understated, but neither was it overstated either; and its omnipresence in the show helped us to remind ourselves of the political struggles these real people had to cope with.

A high energy show, full of heart, and lots of soul, with a truly feel-good vibe and positive message, which, in our own times of civil unrest, can't be a bad thing!

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 27/2/19

REVIEW: The New Romantic - The Vaults, London.

The venue was The Vaults in London, which consists of a series of performance and arts spaces in converted railways arches underneath Waterloo station. Almost immediately next door is a graffiti tunnel, a space that has clearly been willingly allocated to artists, which was absolutely buzzing with activity when I walked by – it is a side of London that I rarely get chance to see.

“The New Romantic” was part of VAULT Festival 2019 and took place in the Cavern Room – directly inside one of the railway arches it is a long room with a series of wooden benches that housed the audience. Whilst not being the most comfortable seating, it was able to accommodate what appeared to be a full house or very close.

The play is centred on the topic of polyamory – the practice of an intimate relationship that involves more than one partner, with the full consent of all partners involved. People who identify as polyamorous believe in an open relationship with a conscious management of jealousy and they reject the view that sexual and relational exclusivity are necessary for deep, committed, long term loving relationships.

Without wanting to give away too much about “The New Romantic” I feel I need to mention the stage as we arrived into the theatre. It was a simple set-up with some chairs on either side, a sofa, some further chairs and a small table and most notably a naked man playing a double bass accompanying a stripped back piano version of “Do You Think I’m Sexy”, the Rod Stewart song. Even more bizarre was the fact that his mouth had been gaffer-taped.

In the opening scene we met the main two characters of the play Antonia (Milli Proust) and Erin (Eleanor Henderson) – they were in a hospital waiting room and both hysterical about the state of Bruno who was in surgery after an allergic reaction to coconut. Soon after we were thrown into a period of time several months earlier when Antonia and Erin first met in a nightclub. This was the start of their relationship which soon afterwards also involved Bruno (Edward Davis). Antonia kissed Erin after an evening of drinking wine and instead of breaking up with Bruno as she had planned, she suggested a threesome – something both Bruno and Erin were very happy to go along with.

As time passes by it is very clear that Erin and Bruno are just as close as Antonia and Bruno and without realising it they are now in a polyamorous relationship. Only one night changes everything and they are suddenly left in a situation where they question both themselves and the relationships between all three people.

“The New Romantic” covers a topic that is rarely shown in the mainstream media and for doing that it has to be applauded. The storyline is a simple one and perhaps a little predictable but what stands out about this play more than anything is the powerful performances of both Milli Proust and Eleanor Henderson – they delivered some real drama into what would perhaps have otherwise been entertaining but not spectacular. This play is a dark comedy and it is not without its moments of laughter but the underlying story is one of the relationship between Antonia and Erin which they made so believable and so real. Both already have many credits to their names but I certainly hope to see them with leading roles in much bigger productions in the future.

Reviewer - John Fish
on - 27/2/19

REVIEW: Avenue Q - The Storyhouse, Chester

So, yes, it is risqué and un-PC, with songs like ‘Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist’ & ‘The Internet Is For Porn’ - and the novelty value of Sesame Street type puppets in grown-up scenarios could have worn a bit thin fifteen years after it was first performed - but the triple Tony Award winning musical Avenue Q must have something else that has made it endure for 15 years. And it does.

With music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and with a sharp script by Jeff Whitty (known now as scriptwriter of the Oscar nominated ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’), this ‘funny, dirty little show’, as Marx puts it, ‘…makes fun of blacks, Asians, Jews, frat guys, gays, Indian cab drivers, Scientologists and Republicans. The only people we’ve ever had complaints from were the Republicans.’

College graduate Princeton moves into a shabby New York apartment on downbeat Avenue Q, which is populated by an eclectic, multicultural mix of life’s hopefuls, hopers and dreamers, including Kate (the girl-monster next door), Rod (an in-the-closet-and-in-denial Republican), Trekkie Monster (the ever-randy Internet sex-addict), ‘Lucy The Slut’, (a predatory Miss Piggy-type vamp), and, erm, erstwhile child star, Gary Coleman, fresh from suing his parents for ripping off his fortune.

It’s an interesting psychological experiment to plot just when you start switching your focus from watching the actors’ faces, to moving your view to the hybrid actor-puppets – but by the end, the puppets have you in their grip. Nor do you ever question that muppet-type creatures & monsters live alongside and interact with humans as neighbours.

The characters behave in ultra-human ways, enjoying sex with gusto, getting drunk, married, sacked and worrying about where their lives are heading. It’s a Bildungsroman of sorts, a spiritual journey which stays (just) the right side of sentimental but contains enough heart and earnestness to convey what it means to be human, struggling to survive and to find purpose in life. Depicting extremely adult themes such as racism, gay relationships and internet porn are, to paraphrase another reviewer, easier to get away with if you’re cute & furry.

The traditional brash, euphoric finale of musical theatre is also subverted here, and in its place is a quieter sort of melody, one which promotes stoicism and faith in the future, in an age when we demand more and more from life and want instant gratification. The final song gently promotes the necessity and importance of biding your time and enduring life’s setbacks ‘for now’, trusting that things will improve in time. It’s a bittersweet end to a pitch-perfect musical.

Cressida Carre’s jaunty direction & puppet-maker Paul Jomain’s garishly coloured creations give visual and verbal punch to this unexpectedly poignant story of ordinary folk muddling through with patience, hope and friendship, where there are no guaranteed happy endings and where ‘everyone's a little bit unsatisfied’.

The eleven energetic cast members double or triple-up and their performances are (and I am normally highly suspicious of this word) flawless, with electric standouts from Tom Steedon and Saori Oda. They’re going to need some stamina too, as the play is on a mammoth national tour, ending in London in August.

Given that when the show was first performed, George W Bush was POTUS (the lyrics of the final song swaps his name for Trump’s), this is a play that has simply not dated. And to get a standing ovation in Chester on a Monday night? That takes some doing.

An absolutely watertight production. You have six months left to catch it. And if you can catch it in the beautiful Art Deco Chester Storyhouse – an arts centre, library, cinema & theatre smashed together, with Lemn Sissay’s poetry splashed across the walls twenty feet high – even better.

Reviewer - Tracy Ryan
on - 26/2/19

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

REVIEW: Blue Öyster Cult - The Brudenell, Leeds.

So I'm outside in the smoking area waiting in preparation for Blue Öyster Cult. At 25, I'm one of, if not perhaps the youngest, audience member here tonight. This was very much a middle-aged affair, which is cool. The fact that Buck Dharma (at 71!) and his entourage are packing venues around the globe still is mighty impressive but, perhaps not surprising given their initial stardom and now cult band reputation.

So I'm trying to grasp an idea of what to expect from these guys without basing a piece on The Reaper. I asked couple Mark & Julia whilst bumming a cigarette: “Don't fear the reaper!” interesting. In fact this was everyone's response. Cult saying? Their only noteworthy song? Let's find out...

The Temperance Movement warmed up BÖC and did a fine job for the crowd but I'm not sure BÖC reciprocated that, they were rather lukewarm and the audience replied by being stationary, waiting for something to happen. Don't fear the reaper…

The set turned up a notch when 'Burning For You' filled punters' ears with delightful, feel-good sounds, which got everyone's feet tapping and now experiencing a good show instead of expecting one. Bassist Dan Miranda was the enthusiastic one of the five, though his bass was suspiciously quiet - sound issues did seem to be a problem from the beginning with the support actually providing a more powerful sound. BÖCs sound levels ramped up as they continued to get into the gig.

The major appeal of this gig was BÖC's transitioning through their entire body of work, an abundance of rock, alt rock, early psychedelic rock, rock & roll. Every form of rock under one roof. The song 'Screams' was even a refreshing change in rock vibe with a funky organ sound brought into play.

Naturally with a band this seasoned you'd only expect excellent playing but in particular the newer members, Richie Castellano and the drummer (who's name unfortunately alludes me) were spectacular. The effortlessly charismatic Eric Bloom introduced a song about “two guys who went to get some weed then got arrested. Yeah.” This mainly instrumental piece brought out the energy of band and crowd alike with Castellano going on a wild shredding solo to the only midway applause before Dharma got in on the action and riotous drumming brought out the nostalgic teen in these leather clad, 70s rock-tee-wearing punters.

Next Bloom brought out his inner television reporter, voicing concerns about the one and only Godzilla. By this point the crowd were in full swing and really enjoying the classics which form foundations to the band's fame and longevity. The last one was of course the inevitable 'Don't Fear The Reaper' which to tell you the truth came out of nowhere! I really expected a major build up to the showpiece but it almost came in pretty flat. It was irrelevant though, everyone knows and loves this fine body of work.

BÖC are a great band and you could tell everyone in the room appreciated rolling back the years to watch this classic rock band and I suspect it'll be one of if not the last time they touch English soil to relive the loyal fans' youths. The problem was that, at points, the effort felt forced from the band but this is understandable when bordering on near fifty years' playing some of these tunes. A humbling occasion with some brilliant moments from everyone involved.

Reviewer - Tobias James
on - 26/2/19

REVIEW: A Skull In Connemara - The Coliseum Theatre, Oldham.

A play so dark the audience was torn between those bellowing with laughter at the gallows humour and those transfixed by the wild violence.

I had the pleasure of seeing Martin McDonagh's 'A Skull In Connemara' mid-way through its run at the Oldham Coliseum Theatre, an in-house production with a star-studded cast, directed by Chris Lawson and design by Katie Scott.

Upon entering the theatre the experience had begun, with traditional Irish music playing into the foyer and bar areas, the lively melodies had me very nearly tapping my feet in anticipation for the start of the play. Here also a mention must be made of the wonderful ushers of the theatre, they are genuinely friendly, charismatic and helpful. They are a treasure that makes a visit to Oldham Coliseum extra special.

The action takes place in the small Irish town of Connemara, the infamous gravedigger Mick Dowd played by John O'Dowd is tasked with digging up the remains of his late wife Oona, suspicion still lingers that he murdered his late wife. Upon opening the grave the bones are discovered missing and it becomes a classic detective drama of 'who dunnit?'. A veritable tapestry of red herrings were laid down in the first act, my mind reeled coming up with possibilities of what could be the resolution, I was completely shocked and satisfied by the ending.

A cast of four represented a pocket of a close-knit community, their Irish accents were delightful to listen to, but at times voices were almost inaudible as they were too quiet or directed upstage without enough power to project across the audience.

O'Dowd, playing Mick the bereaved Gravedigger, had the audience questioning his guilt throughout the play, moments that could have been played to portray the character as a monster were played instead with a masterful subtly that kept his true nature mysterious, such as the scene where he reminds Lee's character, Maryjohnny to pick up her bingo pens. The pens are lying in close proximity to him, as she approaches he is in striking distance, but O'Dowd plays the moment with an imperceptible nonchalance or well-contained violent intent.

Each of the characters had humorous traits that made them endearing and equally a darkness that led to suspicions of their guilt in the desecration of OOna's grave, especially Jenny Lee's fallible Catholic granny Maryjohnny.

Liam Heslin playing the gravedigger's dopey assistant Mairtin shone in his role, his comedic ability was great and physical control during fight sequences was brilliant. It is the actor reacting to the blow who makes the violence look authentic and when Heslin took a hit it had audible reactions from the audience, very well acted. Also worth mentioning was Griffin Steven's comical and dramatic performance of Thomas Hanlon - The Guard, an official of the law with aspirations of being like TV detective Quincy. The motivations and thought processes of the character almost visible on his face, it was a meticulous performance.

Fight Choreographer Kaitlin Howard made excellent use of the talented cast, the brawls that broke out consumed the stage with chaos, shockingly authentic but it was evident the actors were in control and safe and it was easy to enjoy the well portrayed violence.

A wonderful set by Katie Scott, two interior walls of a living space, painted in muted colours gave the impression of a well lived in home, which when back lit became translucent giving way to the view of an expansive graveyard, complete with real mounds of dirt. When the soil began to fly around the stage, the smell of fresh dirt filled the theatre, making for a visceral experience. Lighting made the transition from interior to exterior even more believable with ever so subtle changes in colour to show they were now outside under moonlight rather than in the warm glow of electric house light.

The time flew by in the theatre, I was completely enthralled in this world. If the purpose of theatre is to stir a reaction within its audience then Martin McDonagh's 'A Skull In Connemara' directed by Chris Lawson is definite good craic down at Oldham Coliseum. I would highly recommend catching this before the end of its short run.

Reviewer – Kerry Ely
on – 26/2/19

photo - Joel Chester Fildes

REVIEW: The Grenfell Project - Bread And Roses Theatre, London.

In the early hours of June 14th 2017, a fire broke out in a 24-storey tower block in North Kensington, London. What happened next, the BBC described as 'one of the UK's worst modern disasters'.

The emergency services were called and came to the scene quickly, however, complications in the building's cladding meant that the fire spread across the tower which burned for a further 60 hours. On the scene, there were more than 250 London Fire Brigade firefighters and 70 fire engines, 100 London Ambulance Service crews, over 20 ambulances, specialist paramedics, London Ambulance Service's Hazardous Area Response Team, the Metropolitan Police Service and London's Air Ambulance.

By morning, as people checked their Instagram for Kardashian updates and ate cereal, it became apparent that this horrific event claiming 72 officially recorded lives in the Grenfell Tower block in the country's capital in one of its richest boroughs might have been avoided and that this was more than an accident.

The residents of Grenfell Tower had, in the past, complained that the building was a fire hazard which caused public outrage of the management company KCTMO. Kensington and Chelsea Council were also severely criticised. Protests and unrest grew in the local community, and concerns over fire safety became national news. Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a public inquiry.

The Bread and Roses Theatre in South London is home for The Grenfell Project this week. The devised piece was sensitively executed by a talented young company and was a moving and robustly researched piece that tried to comprehend the what, how and why those events ever happened.

The company have painstakingly pieced together reports, interviews and meetings to present a visceral verbatim drama describing the loss of life and the aftermath in our diverse capital. Dealing with personal testimony and giving spotlight to the voices of those who were affected by this disaster made the production all the more horrific and fascinating. Eleanor Crouch brings her ensemble together to discuss and piece together the events before, during and after with eye-witness accounts of the night and of the subsequent inquiries.

The company, Esther Asabi, Daniel Brindley, Jamahyl Chan-Ellis, Eleanor Crouch, Gabrielle Ellison, Victoria Izzard and Amy Sherlock do a very fine job of playing the multitude of people effected by events.

It's a diligent piece, well plotted and deeply respectful. A painting of the tower makes up part of the set, created by Damal Carayol, who lost loved ones in the tragedy. He created it as a 'painful expression of anger'. He presented the piece to Teresa May in 10 Downing Street as part of his successful efforts to bring more diversity to the enquiry panel.

As a piece of theatre, sometimes less is more and with a few less lighting cues and a little more courage in the subject matter - stripped back storytelling - this earnest work by a talented company could make some serious waves.

Reviewer - Lucia Cox
on - 26/2/19

REVIEW: Animal Farm - Pendleton Sixth Form College, Salford.

This was a play I was very much looking forward to seeing. Having studied Orwell in some depth years ago, and having read the book several times and seen the film, I was more than curious to see how this would translate onto stage.

In this, Peter Hall's reworking of the novel, he stays extremely close to the original story, and for those who don't know the story, then in a nutshell it is one long and masterful political allegory warning us of the dangers of indoctrination and brainwashing based society, with specific reference to Communism and the Russian Revolution. Although the protagonists of this story are animals, (which walk and talk and think like humans) the events which unfold in this play closely mirror those of the events which lead up to and during Russia's 1917 Revolution. It is stark and surprisingly clear when the story is told this way.

On entering the theatre this evening we were presented with a very detailed and realistic looking farm set. The farmer's cottage to one side, the barn in the rear and a stage full of hay bales and wooden slatted fencing, and the all important flag pole DSL. What also impressed me very much this evening was director Les Williams' choice of incidental music to accompany the play. Mostly (or even perhaps all - I was listening only subliminally) were pieces of late Romantic / Early 20th century classical works by Russian composers such as Prokofiev, and so very much in keeping with Russia / Revolution and dissonance. What didn't work so well however were the three small black tables used as podia for the speeches etc. They were not part of a farm's accoutrements and therefore looked out of place and very 'stagey'.

The biggest challenge with this play however, is not the stage (although the building of a windmill must have caused a few anxious looks from the technical department!),  but the fact that the vast majority of the cast are all farm animals. And herein lies a directorial nightmare - how to make this happen and be believable and watchable. Having never seen the play before I have no yardstick from which to gauge, but have seen countless plays and shows for children where actors have played animals in what have become known as 'skins'. This premise works well enough when only one or two of the cast are animals, and so Williams wisely chose not to deploy such an idea here, and instead make the animals altogther much more human in both demeanor and look.

The problem with this idea was that it took too long a time to understand what each animal was. Hens were the same size as pigs who were the same size as shire horses, and the costuming, although clever - light pink boiler suits for the pigs, brown dungarees for horses, white woolly jumpers for sheep etc - there was not enough distinction in there at the start, it took a long while before we actually knew each animal. This might also be down to the fact that the first scene of the play is extremely long-winded and perhaps not strictly necessary either. It could easily have been omitted and reported. Such a static and wordy scene at the very start of the play did nothing to pique my interest, despite knowing the story very well. I also did not understand the need for a narrator either. The role was completely unnecessary. [I have also seen Poppy Waxman on stage before, and know that she can do much better than the seeming 'sightreading' she gave us this evening].

Once the play did get going however, it was excellent and very enjoyable. Attention to detail given in so many areas, down to specific and nuanced mannerisms both physical and vocal, as well as some interesting group work. Of course the pigs were the 'stars' of the play, and Max Race's Squealor and Connor O'Brien's Snowball were superbly measured performances. Leon Jackson gave us a 'worker', a 'commoner' - one of the masses who just happened to have "greatness thrust upon him" with ease. His droning monotonous voice and dogged slouch matching perfectly the affected 'one of you' poses communist leaders tend to adopt. His development from pig to leader to quasi-human was astounding.

Other very notable performances - in a hugely talented ensemble cast - came from Elliot Blyth's portrayal of Boxer (wonderfully sympathetic and relatable), Amelia Ball's Clover who becomes more and more suspicious with every entrance but finds herself, like every other animal, unable to rail against the oppression. Phoebe Fitton and Ella Mecks were perfectly cast as a couple of hens. Their physicality and voices pitched perfectly and dressed identically, they could so easily have descended into a comedy routine, but quite rightly never did and delivered lovely performances. It was the four sheep, acting as one, which provided the light relief and their unison chanting - despite their ignorance of understanding - was delightful.

Williams' direction was tight, secure, and I really enjoyed all the unison chants and signs of solidarity with arms high in the air, which would get visibly less and less high as the play progressed - a beautiful touch which worked so well.

Perhaps (for me at least) Peter Hall's script is not the best, but it did certainly stick very closely to the novel and kept everything in the right order, making it a clear and undiffused watch for first-timers to the narrative, and under Williams' sympathetic direction these students (16 and 17 years old I believe) flourished and produced an outstanding piece of theatre which deserves a wider audience.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 26/2/19

REVIEW: The Mousetrap - Theatre And Convention Centre, Southport.

The Mousetrap is undeniably the longest running play in the world. The mystery and suspense of Agatha Christie’s most famous and greatest play has still retained all its charm and elegance. The Mousetrap continues to run and run by keeping the audiences on the edges of their seats by the Queen of Mystery, Agatha Christie. The play is an evening of murder, mystery and madness all rolled together. As it is the West End’s longest ever show, it’s such a treat that the show is now being extended into a national tour, which makes it more accessible to the masses of people throughout the country.

A snow blizzard closes in on a remote guest house, Monkswell Manor, inevitably trapping a group of strangers together, whilst a murderer is on the loose. The gathering soon realise that there is a murderer in the midst and the hunt begins to find out the identity of the killer.

The story opened with the murder, and as the snow bklizzard worsenes and no chance of leaving the house, the guests become more and more nervous and suspecting of each other. Eventually, like majority of Christie's Murder Mysteries the police are summoned, the uspects gathered together and the murderer revealed in the final few moments of the play.

The cast all had strengths, although for me personally,  Ithought Harriet Hare as Mollie and Geoff Arnold as Sergeant Trotter were fantastic. Special mention to Lewis Chandler, who provided so many good one liners throughout the play and provided the comedy in such a dark subject area. The personalities spiralled onto the stage as their characters' presence was felt more. There was a lot of chemistry shown throughout the play as the characters began to get to know each other.

Great to see Gwyneth Strong in the principle line-up, as I haven’t seen her since her Only Fools And Horses days. Her performance was very strong as her portrayal of Mrs. Boyle was very genuine and real.

The set was really good, very practical for all the scenes. Costumes were also very good. A lot of detail was taken in dressing all the characters. The lighting and music played an incredible part in this play in order to increase the tension and suspense. Overall, a fantastic play to come and see. It’s still such a timeless classic that will continue to run for many more years to come

Reviewer - Mark Cooper
on - 25/2/19

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

NEWS: cast announced for Kate Wasserberg's Rita, Sue And Bob Too when it comes to Salford's Lowry Theatre in April.

Cast announced for Kate Wasserberg's Rita, Sue and Bob Too.

Directed by Out of Joint’s Artistic Director, Kate Wasserberg, Andrea Dunbar’s ground-breaking play ‘Rita, Sue and Bob Too’ comes to The Lowry Tue 9 - Sat 13 April

Gemma Dobson, winner of a Stage Debut Award and a UK Theatre Award for her performance of Sue returns to the cast. She will be joined by John Askew playing Bob, Alyce Liburd playing Rita, Susan Mitchell playing Mum, Samantha Robinson playing Michelle and David Walker playing Dad.

Andrea Dunbar’s honest, refreshing play examines the northern female perspective through the misadventures of two teenage girls. Dunbar’s work introduced a unique working-class voice to the stage, with Rita, Sue and Bob Too’s fearless realism immortalized in the cult 1987 film adaptation.

Alyce Liburd (Rita) joins the company following open auditions held in Bradford which received over 100 applications. She has performed as Princess Jasmine in Aladdin at the Lawrence Batley Theatre.

John Askew (Bob) recently performed as Jim in And Did Those Feet Fall at Bolton Octagon, and has performed on stages around the country in Gypsy Queen.  He is soon to be seen in Starz The Rook, based on the novel by Stephanie Meyer.

Susan Mitchell (Mum) has appeared in Emmerdale, Coronation Street and DCI Banks. She recently appeared on stage at Sheffield Crucible in My Own Space.

Samantha Robinson (Michelle) played Rita in Educating Rita at Colchester Mercury, and has performed for Northern Broadsides, West Yorkshire Playhouse, The Bush, Bristol Old Vic and elsewhere. Her many TV credits include Cilla.

David Walker (Dad) has appeared in Emmerdale, The Royal and Coronation Street, and on stage most recently in Hangmen in the West End.

Dunbar’s ground-breaking play, directed in 2017 by Out of Joint’s Artistic Director Kate Wasserberg and co-produced with Royal Court Theatre and Octagon Theatre Bolton was seen by over 30,000 people across the country.

Rita, Sue and Bob Too
Dates: Tue 9 - Sat 13 April
Times: 8pm. Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Tickets: £20.50 - £27.50

NEWS: Libraries across Greater Manchester transform into perfomance spaces for brand new theatre project for local schools


From Monday March 4th, 10 of the area’s libraries will enter the world of Alluriat - an immersive and interactive theatrical adventure for 7-11 year olds. Presented by Cheshire based theatre company Forest Tribe – this original production is aimed at enticing local schools and children to engage with and see their local public spaces in a whole new light, showcasing how art in libraries need not be restricted to story hour.

Book shelves, reading spaces and meeting rooms will transform into a watery wonderland to tell the tale of Alluriat - a bond that seems unbreakable beneath the waves. Told by two performers – Purvi Parmar and Jennifer Kay - using puppetry, illusion and physical theatre, this bold new show fuses stunning visuals and state-of-the-art digital technology to explore themes of love and division, nurture and abandonment and environmental change.

Directed and choreographed by Forest Tribe Artistic Director, Debbie Bandara, and written by artist, sculptor and blacksmith David Freedman, based on his original poem of the same name, Alluriat creates a unique and interactive world for young audiences outside a traditional theatre setting, and offers a learning experience outside the confines of a classroom - to engage children with high quality live performance and their local libraries.

Starting in Wythenshawe Forum Library on March 4th and taking in a number of libraries including Longsight, Manchester Central, Salford, Trafford, Abraham Moss, North City (Harpurhey), Oldham, Blackburn and Stockport before concluding in Bolton on Thursday 21st March – this two week tour is open to local school children from the surrounding areas who have been specially invited to experience this original and groundbreaking production and to take part in accompanying workshops and tours of their local library. Its compact and visually arresting set will transform each of these public spaces into a performance area both exciting and new to delight audiences, expand young minds and bring creativity into the learning experience.

Andrew Orr from Blackburn with Darwen Library Service, who has been instrumental in putting this unusual tour together with Forest Tribe comments: “We were thrilled to have this opportunity of showcasing our libraries to local schools and enabling young children to see how exciting and magical our spaces can be both as reading experiences but also as places of fun and wonder. It has been brilliant to work with Forest Tribe and see where creativity and education can fuse to present something new - which we really hope can change pre conceived ideas of what a library is for. We really cannot wait to welcome the children through our doors to see their reactions.”

Manchester City Council’s Executive Member for Schools, Culture and Leisure - Councillor Luthfur Rahman says: “We can’t wait for Manchester school-children from across the city to experience this amazing spectacle. Our team work year-round to make sure that a host of free cultural activities and performances for people of all ages are hosted, so that as wide a range of our residents as possible are inspired to make the most of their local library.”

Forest Tribe Dance Theatre was set up by Debbie Bandara in 2016. Based in a restored watermill in Cheshire, Debbie and David Freedman, writer and set designer, develop work with strong social and ethical themes, inspired by living and working in a hydro-electric powered mill. Forest Tribe have performed across libraries in the north of England as well as the Lowry in Salford, Tara Arts in London and Theatr Clwyd in Wales.

Alluriat was developed as an R&D piece in 2016 with Arts Council funding and support from Oldham Library. Schools education packs and lesson plans are available to download to accompany each performance.


Monday 4th March
Wythenshawe 10:30am 1:30pm Forum Library Wythenshawe Forum Square M22 5RX
Tuesday 5th March
Longsight 10am 3pm Longsight Library, 519 Stockport Rd, M12 4NE
Wednesday 6th March
Central Library 10:30am 1:30pm St Peter's Square, Manchester M2 5PD
Friday 8th March
Trafford 10:30am 1:30pm Old Trafford, Limelight Centre, St Brides Way, Old Trafford, M16 9NW
Monday 11th March
North City Library 10:30am Rochdale Road, Harpurhey, M9 4AF
1.30pm Abraham Moss Library Crescent Road Crumpsall Manchester M8 5UF
Tuesday 12th March
Oldham 10:30am 1:30pm Oldham Library and Lifelong Learning Centre Greaves Street Oldham OL1 1AL
Wednesday 13th March
Blackburn 10:30am 1:30pm Blackburn Library, Town Hall St, Blackburn BB2 1AG
Thursday 14th March
Salford 10:30am 1:30pm Broughton Library Rigby St, Broughton, Salford M7 4BQ
Friday 15th March
Stockport 10:30am 1:30pm Central Library Wellington Road South Stockport SK1 3RS
Thursday 21st March
Bolton 10:30am 1:30pm Bolton Library & Museum Services, Le Mans Crescent, Bolton BL1 1SE

Monday, 25 February 2019

NEWS: Founding members visit construction site of the new Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Founding members visit Octagon Theatre construction site

Gerry Russell and Dr. Phillip Butterworth, two of the five students who oversaw the original development in 1967, visited the Octagon Theatre construction site last week.

In 1967, five students alongside their drama lecturer, Robin Pemberton-Billing, laid plans for a new theatre in Bolton. Taking only seven months of construction, the theatre was officially opened on 27 November 1967 by Princess Margaret.  

Last week, two of the original co-founders, Gerry Russell and Dr. Phillip Butterworth were joined by Leader of Bolton Council Cllr Linda Thomas and Chief Executive of the Octagon Theatre Roddy Gauld, to be given a tour of the site by lead architects from JM Architects David Jennings and Mark Whittaker, and Wilmott Dixon site manager Graham Lee.

One of the founders, Dr. Philip Butterworth commented on the visit “As you might imagine, this was a nostalgic and inspiring tour conducted by the architects and builders whose commitment and enthusiasm for the project is obvious.

Most of the building work will take place at the rear of the auditorium on the site of the old rehearsal studio and achieve a height of six stories. The decisions to re-allocate the internal spaces have been very well considered. The auditorium space will not change. After all, this is the heart of the theatre as it was created as the first fully-professional flexible theatre in the country in 1967.”

Gerry Russell said “When, with Philip Butterworth and three other Loughborough College students, together with Robin Pemberton-Billing, our drama lecturer, and I first came to Bolton in the 1960’s with the somewhat crazy idea of building and opening a new theatre in the town, I was staggered by the reception we received. In a whirlwind few months we went from an idea, met civic leaders, went through planning consent, fundraising, etc., to a new building, taking just seven months from foundation stone laying to opening.

That was 50 years ago and I still remember as though it were yesterday that first night in November 1967 when the Octagon opened its doors for the first time to a ‘full house’.

After a site visit yesterday, I was left with no doubt that this is an amazing, exciting project with so much vision, which will take the Octagon forward - hopefully for another 50 years! I cannot wait to see the final outcome of this very ambitious scheme and wish all involved every success.”

Roddy Gauld, Chief Executive at the Octagon Theatre spoke The Octagon is a remarkable story of a college lecturer and five students who designed a revolutionary new theatre.  That theatre became the Octagon, and now over fifty years on, it’s an absolute honour to show Gerry and Phil, two of those students, around the site.  The theatre they imagined was flexible, innovative and had community at its heart.  This redevelopment will continue those principles including creating more space for our youth and community work. 

 I’m really happy that Gerry and Phil are supporting the changes we’re making, and can’t wait to welcome them to the re-opening next year.”

Leader of Bolton Council and Greater Manchester Portfolio Lead for Culture, Cllr Linda Thomas said: “The Octagon has been a jewel in Bolton’s crown for more than half a century and it was great to see the founders’ enthusiasm for the plans and reminisce about the theatre.

“We have supported the Octagon every step of the way from its conception and it is exciting to see the work being carried out to transform the theatre for its next chapter.

“It is a crucial part of the town’s culture and heritage and we can’t wait to see it open its doors to the community once again.”

The new town centre building is set to reopen in 2020 and the Octagon still has £600,000 to raise to complete the work.
 Find out more about how you can support the Octagon Reimagined project and ways you can help fundraise by visiting

NEWS: Fuel's smash hit Barbeshop Chronicles kicks off its UK tour in Manchester


The Royal Exchange Theatre and Contact present 


By Inua Ellams
Directed by Bijan Sheibani

7 – 23 March 2019

  • Contact and the Royal Exchange Theatre are working in partnership to present the north-west premiere of this critically acclaimed production. 
  • Full casting has been announced this week for the first leg of Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles which begins in Manchester. 
  • Maynard Eziashi, Mohammed Mansaray, Anthony Ofoegbu, Jo Servi and David Webber return to the production, with Michael Balogun, Tobi Bamtefa, Adé Dee Haastrup, Emmanuel Ighodaro, Demmy Ladipo, Rudolphe Mdlongwa, and Elander Moore completing the cast. 
  • Barber Shop Chronicles is a co-production between Fuel, National Theatre and Leeds Playhouse
 Fuel have today announced the cast for the UK tour of Inua Ellams’ critically acclaimed BARBER SHOP CHRONICLES. Returning to the stage by popular demand the UK tour opens at the Royal Exchange Theatre in partnership with Contact and runs from 7 – 23 March.
Newsroom, political platform, local hot-spot, confession box, preacher-pulpit and football stadium - for generations, African men have gathered in barber shops to discuss the world. These are places where the banter can be barbed and the truth is always telling.
Directed by Bijan Sheibani and designed by Rae Smith, BARBER SHOP CHRONICLES is a heart warming, hilarious and insightful new play with music that leaps from a barber shop in Peckham to Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos, and Accra over the course of a single day. 
 BARBER SHOP CHRONICLES is a Fuel, National Theatre and Leeds Playhouse co-production.

NEWS: Darkness of the original 18th century tale is brought to Birmingham Royal ballet's Beauty And the Beast, at Salford's Lowry Theatre this March!

Image of a ballet dancer in a gold dress being held by a dancer dressed as a beast.
Image: Ballet dancers perform in Birmingham Royal Ballet's 'Beauty and the Beast.'
Darkness of original 18th century tale unveiled in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Beauty and the Beast.

David Bintley’s gothic fairytale comes to The Lowry Wed 20 – Sat 23 March.

The storybook fantasy of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ unfolds at The Lowry Wed 20 – Sat 23 March. Love conquers all in David Bintley’s mysterious and magical production, which highlights the intriguing darkness of the original 18th century fairytale.

A cruel Prince, cursed to spend the rest of his life living in a fantastical castle with the animals he callously hunted, finds salvation in the heart of a beautiful girl.

Caught stealing a single rose, Belle’s desperate father exchanges his youngest daughter’s freedom for his own life. In his distant castle the Beast, stripped of his handsome features and his very humanity, must win her heart, or spend the rest of his life in bitter solitude...

In this enchanting story of inner beauty, witness transformations, wild waltzes, soaring birds and a relationship between Belle and the Beast that is at first terrifying, but ultimately serene and beautiful.

Choreography: David Bintley
Music: Glen Buhr
Designs: Philip Prowse
Lighting: Mark Jonathan

Listings Information
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s ‘Beauty and the Beast.’
Dates: Wed 20 – Sat 23 March
Tickets: £19 - £50 and children £10 - £20.
Times: 7.30pm. 2pm on Thu 21 and Sat 23 March.

REPORTAGE: An Audience With Graeme Harper - VideOdyssey, Toxteth, Liverpool.

In a quiet street on the outskirts of Liverpool city centre small arrows for road-signs guide you to a low-level unassuming building that houses a myriad of rooms packed with creative opportunity. This is Toxteth TV ‘a community-based media centre, providing education for young people in film production, start-up units and a central cafe area.’ The Tardis-like atmosphere where corridors opened onto rooms of various sizes had the feel of a much larger space than it looked from the outside. This was a fitting setting for an audience with the British ‘Legendary Doctor Who Director’ who is the only person to have directed episodes of both the original run (1963–89) and revived run (2005–) of the BBC programme. 

Starting off in ‘the café area’ a long, low-ceilinged, rectangular room decorated with comfy sofas, retro TV carcasses and packed with 1970’s computer consoles, set to ‘free play’ for the occasion, you could be forgiven for thinking that you had fallen Alice-like into an adult youth club or sixth-form common room. Instantly immersed in the experience, there was a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere. An expectant buzz around the room increased as each mostly bespectacled and predominately male (and bearded) new audience member arrived. This was no ordinary audience. A tiny smattering of small, well-spoken, well-behaved children represented the next generation of Dr Who fans. A quick headcount added up to thirty-two but it felt like so many more. Firmly seated on my high stool and only slightly pitying those with standing room only I was jolted from my high-school reminiscence by the announcement that we were about to start and could we make our way to the ‘studio’. 

A mere two paces across the corridor led our eager party through sound-proofed doors into a simple TV recording studio. Three rows of chairs faced two small armchairs with a coffee table in front of a white curtain wall backdrop. Blinding overhead lights shone on the set as two TV cameras pointed from either side of the audience. This was now fully immersive and only piqued audience expectancy as we ceased to be individuals and had become part of the cast.

Interviewer Matt Charlton from 5064 Productions announced the schedule that included an interview with Graeme Harper, then a thirty-minute break followed by narrated TV and film archive footage and a Q&A that added up to a four-hour programme. Finally, we were introduced to Harper, a small man in a good suit with comfy shoes. What followed was an unexpected directing Masterclass. Dr Who fan, Charlton enthusiastically filled in episodes (as we would movie titles), names and characters whenever Harper hesitated, demonstrating the interviewer’s in-depth research and knowledge. 

The first half was an autobiography of Harper’s life from a ragged kid, always in trouble at school to BBC Runner and then director of films and visually stunning action-packed TV series. Harper was enrolled in the Italia Conti Stage School at the age of ten with the backing of his educational social worker. Cast in an adaptation of ‘Pickwick Papers’ he accidentally became a child actor as they wanted a red-haired boy, (which he thought hilarious as it was shot in black and white). Harper stayed at the school on the condition that any earnings were retained to pay for his tuition fees. Not very good at acting, by his own admission, he managed to leave school with £200 in his pocket having paid off all his fees. The experience, however, left him with an understanding and empathy for actors. Something that shines in his work, not least of which was demonstrated in some previously unseen film footage of actual rushes (unedited director’s film clips) that he’d brought of David Tennant and Billie Piper’s final scene together in Dr Who. 

Clips of Coronation Street’s famous fiftieth anniversary tram crash episode, which he was specially commissioned to direct, showed his skill in creating blockbuster type action on a low budget within a tight time frame. Audience questions were strictly Dr Who based and revealed trade secrets in costume, pyrotechnic and stunt challenges. For the record Harper loves the new Lady Doctor as she embodies the traits of all the previous Doctors. He confesses to preferring the simpler storylines as he didn’t understand some of the ones he directed.

Now aged 73, Harper is at the stage where he would happily be asked back for the right project but thinks it unlikely. He appears baffled by his own success. Typically understated he said his secret was to surround himself with the best people in the business. Like a favourite grandfather he gives you his full attention and answers questions with just the right amount of name dropping and anecdotes. Just enough to leave you wanting more. A brilliant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Reportage - Barbara Sherlock
on - 24/2/19

REVIEW: Nish Kumar: It's In Your Nature To Destroy Yourselves - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

Supporting Nish Kumar this evening was the excellent Rosie Jones. She’s lewd, crude and absolutely hilarious. Rosie also has the ability to tell the same story twice to a bigger laugh on the second time round. I don’t want to spoil any jokes but the Pyramid Scheme is a close second to Ryan Gosling. 

Nish Kumar has been having a very 'tricky' tour so far and seemed quite pleased with the large turnout from the ‘Heartland of the Socialist Republic of Remainistan’. He recounted several stories of displeased audience members that I found quite baffling. From the Mash Report to his appearances on Question Time to his Twitter, Nish Kumar is politically outspoken and entirely unambiguous in his views, so it is bizarre to hear that people were unhappy with the show. One man stuck his fingers in his ears and another incident resulted in police involvement. What exactly were these people expecting? Kumar is an unapologetic and self-styled ‘remoaner' and his show embodies that. We heard his views on Brexit, British Asians voting Leave, disappointing high-profile comedians, transphobia, Incels, well-intentioned but overbearing male feminists, and racism at the airport. As Nish said himself, this is not a show to challenge the audience. This is a show to make us laugh. In a very angry and cathartic way. Kumar is very aware of his privilege in having a platform and is using it brilliantly to speak his truth to power. He is a genuine role model and a very funny one too. 

As may be obvious from a few choice quotes [sic: edited], this is also a very sweary show and there is one joke in particular that may cause awkwardness amongst any families bringing younger sons. The content is exactly what you’d expect; political, observational, cutting and very, very funny. Nish Kumar also took the time to encourage support for the Manchester-based, award winning comedy club XS Malarkey that has started many an excellent comedians' career.

Reviewer - Deanna Turnbull
on - 24/2/19

REVIEW: 25th Birthday Show - The Frog And Bucket, Manchester

Twenty five years ago Mr David Perkins, supported by his family (mainly his mother back then), opened a comedy club by the name of The Frog and Bucket. This comedy club was to become one of THE fixtures of Manchester’s culture and nightlife and, along with trips across the pond to seek out talent there, the brainchild and nurturing of some of the country’s best and much-loved comedians of the 1990s and 2000s.

Having helped and showcased the likes of Sarah Millican, Lee Mack, Jack Whitehall, Peter Kay, Paul Sinha, Keith Lemon, Roy Walker, Steve Coogan, Al Murray, Omid Djalili, John Bishop, Johnny Vegas and Jason Manford, as well as many more, Perkins welcomed those present at the club’s 25th/Silver birthday celebrations by announcing that they had reached one million customers and thanked his general manager who marked 10 years, announcer and sound man Colin who marked 20 years and the two Tony’s who marked 25 years, along with his daughter Jessica who now runs the club and has done for 14 years.

In a night of nostalgia, celebration and laughter, we were delighted to welcome one of the original MC’s Alex Boardman who compéred the acts and facilitated the whole night, on-stage. His experience and perfected style is clearly natural to him and he is a joy to have in the role. He met his wife here 23 years ago at New Year and recalled that, before its current purpose, the building was a Yates' Wine Lodge. He used to be a teacher and this confidence and passion for entertaining and presenting to an audience is evident.

The first of the acts on the programme was Steve Royle who juggled, balanced and oh the things he can do with a guitar or three, modelling balloons and a few ping pong balls(!). His clever routine and interaction with the front row of the audience was great and, with a bit of observational comedy and one-liners, he was a good starter for the night’s proceedings.

With attendees from as far as Bahrain, studying in Glasgow, it was nice to see the diversity of the crowds in the audience. With Kiri Pritchard-McLean on next, before her ‘Victim, Complex’ tour comes here for a 'popular demand' gig on Sunday 12th May after a sold-out gig on Tuesday 19th March, the only female on the bill, she brought sparkle to the stage. She quit her job with the hopes of making it big on the circuit and used to work in the club’s office, so it was great to see a personal affinity. Her routine was very funny and included sexual references to acts between her and her boyfriend.

The first special unadvertised guests of the night were the TV legends, from the PG Tips advert and such series as Benidorm, Johnny Vegas and Phil Ellis. Unfortunately both struggled to get a whole audience laughing and sadly had to talk over one another to mask their inability to ad lib without preparation. The inclusion of a vibrating puppet spotted being used by a man on the front row, helped them greatly to have a focus. Johnny did managed to laugh a lot at the other comics whilst watching from the bar thereafter, and it was nice to see them joining in the celebrations.

Oldham-based Tony Burgess was next, with his proper Manc style, and his routine about the difference between classes and real Manc, comparing homelessness with Didsbury and the Northern Quarter, was welcomed and funny.

Mick Ferry, whom we had as compére for the Valentine’s Special, came next with a routine around a stag do featuring a peer and posh comedian trying to break up a fight. He also poked fun, as did others, at the club’s owner around his empire and positive financial state, justified with Mick also starting at the club with Alex.

Former ‘Flowery Tw*t’’ rap band member (apparently), Steve Harris gave us a set of observational scenario-driven gags, including a hilarious trip to a Northern zoo, complete with sound effects.

Throughout the evening there was a man stood near the entrance getting more and more drunk, as he admitted, doting over each comedian he saw near him. It was a real surprise to have his invited onto the stage for a set which, in my opinion was a mistake, and probably learning curve for the present comedy course students, due to his lack of focus, theme and general ability. Although some of his babbling did draw laughs, I think that much of the audience were shocked but tolerant. Introduced as Steve, he said his name was Kevin. As Alex said about Johnny Vegas and Phil Ellis’ performance, this was very bizarre.

Next came Josh Jones, self-introduced as “a little bit gay”, who gave us an insight into gay life and showed us that he is not a pushover. He is one to watch...carefully. Alex returned to explain the 3 best places to have an affair, which, although educational and funny, was a clear filler so that the final and real headliner of the night could do his bit as the extra special guest...Jason Manford! His routine around weight loss, a Scottish fellow speed awareness course attendee, his family and children and his advice for others, is genius and the usual outstanding man we know and love, when he isn’t being sent pictures of people others think look like him. As well as his comedy career, Manford is an acclaimed singer and actor, having starred in The Producers, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Sweeney Todd, Guys and Dolls, and having had his own music tour. It was recently announced that he is set to star in the new musical whodunnit comedy ‘Curtains’ which tours and will come to Manchester in October.

It just goes to show that the art of comedy will never die and that institutions like The Frog And Bucket are an instrumental part of life, happiness and release and that they are the best places and ways to encourage and bring out the talents of now and the future. With superb concessions on Thursdays and Fridays, and Beat The Frog on Mondays, there really is no excuse not to go to this place. Please do it at least once and you will get the buzz! I can't wait to attend many more gigs here!

Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 24/2/19